Fiddleheads and Pitchforks

My mother does not approve of swearing. Of even the most mild sort.  My sister and I were not even allowed to say ‘shut up’ to each other without being sharply reprimanded.  When my father used to say “what the hell?” in absent-minded consternation over some project he was attempting to repair, she would quickly remind him with his name or an exclamation of shock, that our young, innocent ears were in the vicinity. One of my very earliest memories when I was about 6 and my sister 4, was when we collected our first trial instruments from the London Suzuki Institute, Jennifer’s being the instrument she still plays hours daily as her profession and passion, and mine being the instrument I finally sold to help fund my own profession and passion.4

 

As my mother, who had had to take a few lessons on each instrument first just so that she could help us at home, was attempting to make a sound from Jennifer’s strings (in front of both sets of grandparents, I might add, who were most interested in these new additions to the family) she became exasperated because no sound was emanating, and in her frustration she said her “F-word”:  “Oh, FIDDLESTICKS!”  without realizing how incredibly apt and timely this choice of ‘swear word’ actually was.  (Although we laughed at her, it became even MORE apt when we realized the problem was in fact to do with the bow, or ‘fiddlestick’  – she had forgotten to resin it!)

Richard’s sons both took violin lessons for a while too, and we still have each of their instruments at Blue Belldon Farm, for some reason, but of course I’ve never owned another ‘cello  (“violincello” is its proper name; thus the apostrophe in front of it each time is technically correct) since I was 18 and sold it to buy my first proper showjumper.  Our father always got a kick out of saying that Jennifer was busy ‘FIDDLIN’ AROUND’ whilst I was outside just “HORSIN’ AROUND’.   But the daily reminders of ‘fiddling’ are everywhere around us.  As mentioned last week, the New Denmark ‘Music Ranch’ has a country band every Saturday night with Atlantic-based expert ‘fiddlers’ (although having been brought up on ‘proper classical music’ and the term ‘violin’,  Mom and I don’t quite have the appreciation that we should have for the fast ‘fiddling’ that is a tradition in these Eastern provinces.)

But as soon as I came here last spring I began seeing and hearing the word ‘fiddle’ in another sense.  Fiddleheads are everywhere!   Plaster Rock, one of our nearest towns, is the Fiddlehead Capital of Canada, and being that our goal is to live self-sufficiently here, Mom/Joy gave us a book called Edible Plants of Atlantic Canada.  The chapter that takes up the most pages is all about the picking and cooking of fiddleheads.  They are highly celebrated here and other than the World Pond Hockey which was mentioned in last week’s blog, they are a main attraction to the area:

Fiddleheads are one of the first signs of spring, and since we had a bit of a thaw last week, and actually see some grass blades emerging in the Birch Grove and under the apple trees where the ground is slightly warmer because of the tree roots, we are perhaps prematurely, already getting excited about harvesting these delightful delicacies. Fiddleheads are essentially ferns before they become ferns. They are the furled up stage of a fern when they just start to shoot through the ground in early spring.  As they emerge through the fertile, wet April soil, they grow and unfurl quickly, sometimes lasting just a few days in their furled-up stage.

Though all ferns have a fiddlehead stage, it’s the Ostrich fern that is most commonly eaten, and it tastes, when boiled and then sauteed in butter, very much like a combination between broccoli and asparagus. In the farmers’ markets, where they will only be sold for about 10 days, they can be quite pricey, so we definitely will be hunting the marshes and swamps for them ourselves!

Fiddleheads grow prolifically throughout the damp areas of the Eastern Seaboard. Though they are not hard to find, people tend to keep their locations secret so they will not be over -harvested.  Scary thing, though.   Some fiddleheads look like the Ostrich fern varieties and are not only not edible but can be toxic. So, just as I didn’t attempt to harvest the multitude of wonderful-looking mushrooms that sprouted all over our lawn last autumn, I am tentative about this process also.

 

In the book Mom gave us as a Christmas present, it mentions an interesting bit of folk lore: it was once believed that to eat fiddleheads would make one invisible! (Kind of ironic, given that the old Polaroid above DOES make us look nearly so!)  Shakespeare even refers to this in Henry IV, Part 1  when he writes “We have the receipt of fern-seed; we walk invisible”. The “fern-seed” superstition pops up again in “The Fair Maid of the Inn,” a  17th century comedy by John Fletcher, et al., as well as in Ben Jonson’s “The New Inn.”  A wonderfully-named fiddlehead cookbook ,  “Fiddleheads and Fairies”, by Nannette Richford, includes many references to the mysticism behind these succulent tasties.

A neighbour recently gave us a frozen bag of them to try. (Herein is a humourous example of rural life, especially among the proud Danish community.  This lady’s husband was ill, so I made some extra chicken and vegetable soup for them, and sent it over in a thermos with Richard. He came back with home-baked coffeecake, a bar of marzipan and the aforementioned bag of frozen greens!)  We ate them immediately for lunch, boiling for about 6 minutes as directed (just in case there are any dangerous toxins left in them!) and then frying with some butter and a touch of salt.  Absolutely delicious!

I put a walnut in the one photo, to show you the size of them before cooking (although they don’t actually shrink in size as do so many vegetables, as you can see when put out on the plate at right.

That day must have had violins and decorative scrolls in the vibrational airways, because in the afternoon, in our Scrabble game, I could have TWICE put down variations of the word ‘violin’ (although nothing on the board ever did lend itself to my doing so!) And once while I was waiting the half-hour or so that is standard for Richard to take his bloody turn, I looked over to where one of his boys’ old violins (out of their cases to get humidity from our humidifier) was laid out near my beautiful hand-made butter dish by Ontario potter Natalie (from Remembrances Pottery , a friend who worked hard to make the Carlisle Country Craft and Old-fashioned Market Mercantile a success :   https://www.etsy.com/shop/RemembrancesPottery )  How beautiful these ‘scrolls’ look side-by-side!  And you can certainly see where the “Fiddlehead” delicacy gets its name!

 

Richard went to meet his brother where he lives in Saint John this past week, and they had a flying trip down to Cape Cod to look at some car parts his brother wanted.  Richard noticed that the fiddlehead is a symbol of beauty throughout the province, as this sculpture in the city centre is a popular photo for tourists year-round as well .  (That’s right, neither Saint John nor Boston/Cape Cod have snow anymore!)

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So yes, while we’ve enjoyed the respite of the winter months to recuperate from the struggles of the big move out here, on top of the arduous efforts to plant, tend, harvest  and preserve both garden and orchard, we ARE looking forward to spring! Mom/Joy is even more anxious than we are for it, as she just returned from her two weeks in Florida with her Aunt Jane, and was none-too-pleased to see those 8 foot banks of snow still along our back roads and caked on the cliff walls as we climbed up Lucy’s Gulch!    She had brought back for us a T-shirt each with a happy stick figure on a lawn tractor, and this has definitely got Richard chomping the bit in anticipation of the first time he can fire up the ole John Deere.

 

It was his idea to wear the shirts with the snow outside the window in the background.  The irony is actually a bit sad at this point, however!  We harken back to last spring, the week before I moved out here, when my friend Leanne was visiting from Scotland.   She’s coming again this summer, and Richard has promised her another try on the lawn tractor. (Although she’s a good ole country girl as well, who grew up on the 25,000 acre estate on which I worked with her in Aberdeenshire, in 2009, she had never had the opportunity to cut grass on a tractor, as all the bigger jobs on the estate were naturally done by the team of maintenance staff and groundskeepers! So she put up with the long-winded professorial lectures from my dear counterpart, and endured his shouting when her ‘track’ wasn’t perfectly aligned, or when she didn’t raise the mower at the right moment, and apparently she’s coming back for more of the same – only on the sides of mountainous hillsides this time!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI look back now on this dreadful Ontario ‘flatness’, and just think how blissfully happy we are to be here,  with our stellar and breath-taking views, away from the busy roads, (I remember waiting to snap the above shot so I  could catch the moment with no cars whizzing by on the highway!) the pollution, the noise…  But I DO miss being able to be out in the garden already, as I know some of you in Ontario are doing!  My friend Anne in Carlisle thought it hilarious to send me the following. The chick is even wearing my hat and peasant skirt here!

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That’s about the size of it here, too. We are desperate to get turning over some ground with the pitchfork and rototiller!  Remember last spring, when I posted this cartoon, where Richard thought he was made to look old but I thought I looked JUST like the female graphic?

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Well, I told him I wouldn’t do anymore ‘devilish’ comics with pitchforks in hand this year.  So instead, I have done an artists’ rendering of the Canadian Gothic, complete with live-in mother:

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And I even have the artist, in fields of gorgeous green, painting it on his canvas!

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Surely Pippi can’t complain about this, as it’s his actual FACE?  Anyway, the pitchfork is representative, not just of the devil and devilish qualities, but is of course exactly what it stands for – the act of ‘pitching something to the side’.  So, although my mother detests  swearing of any kind, and although my old  co-“Katima-victim” Dave Landry taught me that “Fiddlesticks” is not the REAL “F-word”, I have taken it upon myself to tell winter to go

 

 

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And stay tuned for next week, when we WILL begin planting, whether or not there is still snow out there (and there will be!).   We ordered all our seeds yesterday (organic, with biodegradable packaging, from the same company as last year – Hawthorne Farm in Ontario), and Richard has made most of the seeding tables for our basement greenhouse.  All that remains is to drive over the ‘wall’to Trumpty Dumbty-land, where we can buy flourescent lights much more cheaply than here, sadly, get them hung, get the earth into the tables, and voila!  Seeds will be going in for our whole next year’s quality smorgasbording ! It’s nearly time!  Dirt under the (non-existent) fingernails again! Wahoooooooooo!

The Vilified Vicar and the Coerced Canine

Last week you read about life off
The farm called "Blue Bell  - don"
This week's a silly story, 'bout
Winter HERE, and who has come...

For many neighbours in this valley
Pop by for words of praise
Or blessings of encouragement
To get us through cold days.
*************************************


Last June, our Smitty, "RESCUE DOG",
Took a hunk of Eileen's arm
(Eileen lives just up the hill
On the neighb'ring Danish farm).

But since then, Eileen's persisted 
In attempts to "Buddy Up"
With our Labrador/Rottweiler cross,
So abused as a young pup.

Quite early on many a winter's morn
And when my bare ass hangs off our bed,
Eileen and Thunder, her fat old pooch
Pass right by my window ledge!

And traverse to our side porch
Purpose :  "Can Smitty come and play?"
And in pajamas, Richard porch-leans
And thus in bright sunshine will stay

And visit while the dogs scoot 'round
And Smitty gives Eileen a slurp
To say he's ever so sorry -
Then jogs off with a belch and a burp!




But Thunder doesn't like 'being used'
As a distraction or a foil
For his mistress, to make another friend...
It rather makes his old blood boil!

So off he totters back up hill
And Eileen must quickly trot
She once more passes the big window
But this time I'm 'out of cot' !

For the less one sees of my repose
With menopausal flashes
The happier one will usually be-
NOT to see protruding asses!

Speaking of 'behind' the times
Every Thursday Mom enjoys
Offering, like in days of old,
Piano lessons to teen boys

Who want creative outlet
In this remote mountain vale
And often in the kitchen
Our entertaining will prevail

As one mother we'll call Fairlight
Who's a hermit quite like me
But feels her son should benefit:
He plays; she has a cup of tea!

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On Sundays, it's off to St. Peter's
For miles you can see the steeple
As it sits up there on Clockedahl Hill
And beckons all Danish people.

This year, its special hundredth
Is a time we will rejoice
And celebrate its history
With song in much-raised voice

We appreciate its craftsmanship
And the beauty of its wood
We enjoy the parish folk so much --
They're welcoming, warm and good.

 

A neighbouring town is Plaster Rock
And is famous for two sites
The place where massive ferns will grow...
(Read of this in my future writes),

And the world site of Pond Hockey
Where every Febr'ary cold
Hundreds of teams from 'round the globe
Play on the small lake of old.


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In fact, it too celebrates this week
It's in its one hundred-FIFTIETH year!
Since 1867, teams have skated
On that ice so sheer.

Teams named with silly humour
Like "Pond Scum" and "Timber Twats"
Or, one of our favourite names:
"The Raggedy-ass River Rats" !

There are teams of men, but ladies too
And they're all TOUGH, outside the tent
Where beer is poured quite freely
At this world-renown event.

How often in the winter
Do you see an outdoor sport
Where the loos are placed in snowdrifts
And the players roughly cavort

RIGHT beside Joe Public
Which is why the nets are tiny
(Though Richard had a puck zip by
And he fell right on his hiney!)

 

 

Meetings in small communities
In the rural countryside
Are another way of getting involved
And taking some local pride.

While Richard worked the potato fields
Last fall, to feel a part
I'm now off to meetings galore
Historic, Planning and Horse Club, to start!

While Founder's Day celebrations
With parade, barbeque and dance
Are traditionally planned, I don't see how
A tomboy like me could enhance

A BEAUTY PAGEANT? of teenage girls
Who will dress up and model and pose.
All I know is grubbies and sweatshirts
NOT lace, and sequins, and hose!


And while a saddle club's more my style
I can't seem to find the straight path
Everyone argues and thinks they're right
(Mostly women, who cat-fight with wrath!)


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Saddle Clubbed-to-Death
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Pretending we all get along…
So, I'm not sure how long I'll be meeting
In these groups where I've tried to fit in
But I'll give it a go, for this year at least,
Do duties with tongue-in-cheek grin.

Another winter-time delight
In mountain-country deep
(Other than waiting for spring to come
By reading oneself to sleep!)

Is having neighbours over
To play games into the night
But this week, we were brought to realize
That mere Scrabble evokes a good FIGHT!

For many years I've struggled
To beat Richard at this game,
A few times I've come close
But more often, I admit with shame

That though I'm a teacher of English
He can whump me by a mile
And as he's most competitive
I don't always end with a smile.

Joy bought me a version that
SHOULD have helped more
But, until this year, it
Did NOT bring me to fore:

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However, just this winter
I've finally learned to beat
That man I call my partner
Who's NOT happy in defeat!

And this weekend we found out
That ANOTHER man is faster
And of equal strength to Richard's
- And THAT man's our meekest pastor!

His wife, like me, got upset,
And I understood her scorn
As myself, the organist, (and Richard, too!)
Began to feel forlorn.

That vicar is competitive!
Just like ole Rich, he sits
And plans so many moves ahead
While we just take the hits.

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Richard at work trying to beat all…

 

 

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Despite extra points for authors' names
Or a literary phrase
(The pastor's wife got "Dante"
Which SHOULD have put him in a daze

As it was like the devil himself
From the famed Inferno came
To visit the board and take over at will...
-But Pastor STILL won the game!)

While all this serious intellect
Went on beside our fire
Down the hall were bellows and grunts
And great yells of "You're a LIAR!" 

As Balderdash was loudly played
And later, "Dirty Marbles".
So, we took deep breaths and calmed ourselves
To ease the tension of these squabbles.

"Everyone to the living room!"
I called, for my favourite time
Is when drama and hilarity
Team with parlour games of rhyme,

Or witty word games, acted out.
Thus, within this larger group
Charades became the favourite
Of this New Denmark troupe.

But again, like Richard, Vicar sought
To beat my team right out
(Both from Ontario with German surnames
- Could THAT be what this is about?)

How could my team of thespians
Act out "Titanic", or "Moby Dick"
Without pointing to body parts
That were embarrassing in front of The Vic?

But HE had no compunction
About hurling himself to the floor
And writhing about with urgency
To try and get the top score!

*******************************************

Ah, the cold days of winter, then
Have been thusly passed with ease
As long as the dogs don't bite
And pastors continue to tease.

For whether or not my butt is seen
After 9, either day or at night.
When Thunder's coerced to go for a walk
And Eileen might be in for a sight,

And whether or not hot chocolate
Isn't drunk as much as the liquor
It takes for Peter to do "Titanic"
With his nipples, in front of the Vicar,

We'll always get through the storms
Of this 'time on hold' of all seasons
In the hill-billy mountains of N.B.
With our Raggy-ass River-Rat Reasons!

                                                     - J. Ivanel Johnson, 2017


 

Storm Addendum

Richard really wanted these storm and winter shots posted while the storm is still ongoing here in the Maritmes… Enjoy, all those with grass!

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Yesterday, on our way home from Perth, with our church steeple far across the valley in the distance…

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Richard, when he’s supposed to be out skiing, talking to a neighbour instead. To give him his dues, though, he’s done TWO night skiis of over an hour long, calling me from 3 miles away on the walkie talkie!

 

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right across the road from us

 

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Mom/Joy, taken last week – she is happily ensconced in Florida as we endure yet another storm out here today and  tomorrow…

 

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Richard and I have both enjoyed skiing and snow-shoeing this winter!

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When the plows go by (and they are very good here, even though our road is only a secondary one!) they leave some beautiful patterns on the tree trunks.  Can you see the big white heart, here, for Valentines day?

Keys to the Castle and Waltzes in Wellies

In the dead of winter, and especially when you live as self-sufficiently as possible, there aren’t a lot of reasons to leave the farm.  And with the amount of snow-storms the Maritimes have had this year, and the higher-than-average accumulation in northern New Brunswick, travelling isn’t always possible even when you DO need to go into a town because your library books are due or there’s a doctor’s appointment.

As I haven’t had an overnight away since coming here last May, and with both Valentines and my birthday coming up, we decided ONE night away (if Smitty the nerve-riddled rescue dog would allow it) was deserved, at the very least!

We had noticed that in one of the nearby towns (all our towns are about equal distance from us – 40-45 minutes!) there were posters up everywhere for a Masquerade Ball this past Saturday.  Now, this just seemed so unlikely in Boonesville, Appalachia,  (most social events centre around church, hockey, cards, or if there ARE dances, they are country and western ones for the seniors, over at The Music Ranch, where ole Harley tunes up his fiddle-players every week!) so we were quite excited to see what this Masquerade Ball was all about. Thus, since we had also been wanting to see inside the eccentric Castle Inn in Perth-Andover, and because I was a guest at the Saddle Club meeting down there on Sunday, we made arrangements for a neighbour to spend Saturday night upstairs in Mom’s suite (she’s in Florida with her Aunt Jane to get away from the last ravages of winter here). So we gave the keys to ‘our castle’ to Zeb, and we packed up and went.  Twenty-four whole hours away from the farm!

This is the poster that started it all:

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Perth-Andover is a lovely town bordering on Maine, and with the Tobique River running through it and a Maliseet First Nations Tribe with a reservation on one end.  Upon arriving in town we went for lunch at our neighbour’s sister’s bistro. It’s a lovely little spot, always decorated for the occasions, and facing out onto the river, reminding me very much of all the bijou cafes in the national park town of East Glacier, where I lived in Montana.

The photo across the river is of a large building that was once the courthouse — more on this later, but the town is full of more historic homes than you can imagine, very “New Englandish” but with the kind of large early Victorian homes and architecture that remind me of what I envisioned as a youngster to be Nancy Drew’s hometown of Riverside in New York, along the Hudson …Visitors down further south in Fredericton will also enjoy many of these types along the Saint John river there:

 

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above, Richard, at our back table at the Riverfront Bistro,  whose owner grew up next door to us in the hills of New Denmark… even though Perth is 45 minutes from Blue Belldon Farm, you’re still liable to know nearly everyone you run into! see Mary’s’ Bakery, below!

 

Richard and I had a lovely luncheon at the Riverfront Bistro, but we forewent Shirley and Charles’ decadent desserts because I wanted to enjoy our Castle dessert later that night, while cozied up at the fireplace I’d seen photos of!  So we went next door into Mary’s Bakery for a muffin instead.  (I’ll just do one of my typical Facebook rants here – BUY LOCAL!   Although Perth has the usual Tim Horton’s (which drive me nuts anyway, but don’t get me started on all the reasons why on that one!) and Subways, WE make sure the lovely downtown of any of our 3 towns have our business instead, and I wish more people would be considerate of the small-town shop-owner in this way.)  Although I have recently done a LOT of publicity for the Valley Horse and Saddle Club, trying to help them plan of series of clinics for  this season, as well as some theory nights, I was disappointed to learn (as Mary is on the board of Directors for the club) that the meeting was postponed on Sunday. So, there went the first big disappointment of our special weekend plans!  (I WAS boosted to find that the editor of the local Blackfly Gazette, which I will be mentioning later as well, HAD kindly and free of charge put in both the ad I’d mocked up as well as the article I’d suggested about the club’s efforts to build their membership and activities. Thank you, Stephanie! More later…)

Below, Richard entering Mary’s Bakery, with actual photos of the Saddle Club activities on her walls, and some of her family and friends, too- yup, that’s how small town and rural this part of New Brunswick is!  While some  in large cities worry about posting photos of their children or grandchildren ANYWHERE for fear of preying eyes, folks in these parts proudly display their kiddies on the walls of their shops! 

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Below, both the Riverside Bistro and Mary’s Bake Shop, all decorated for Valentines!

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We then climbed the mountain to the castle. This is what it looked like part-way up:

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The Castle was built in the 1930s (when most others were struggling financially) as a summer home in the then very-touristy Perth-Andover. It was designed to replicate an even larger mansion that the family’s friends owned on Long Island.

Above, two old geeks who don’t get out much, attempt a ‘selfie’.  The icicles hanging from the roof of the inn were GORGEOUS! The river rock was collected from both the Tobique and adjoining Saint John rivers.

Upon registering, we discovered our second disappointment of the barely-started weekend:  the restaurant was CLOSED for the months of Jan. and Feb.  Despite the Castle, with its spa, pool and jacuzzis in most rooms being a romantic attraction for the month of February, it seems to me – the place was on skeleton staff and there were only the two of us and one family of 4 staying there!  Thus, Richard was proud to be given the actual Keys to the Castle, as we told them we’d be out later!  Here he is, entering via the keys to the place:

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Although bitterly disappointed that we wouldn’t be having the romantic cozy dinner right within the confines of the inn, and huddled up to the fireplace I’d seen photos of, with a glorious mahogany mantle and bookshelves, I still thought our room was pretty and the jacuzzi was exactly what my old legs and feet needed after 9 months of rugged moving, gardening, harvesting, renovating and entertaining! Also, Smokey the purr-ball was happy to greet me and have a cuddle in the lounge.

 

After my bath and reading for a bit, we went exploring the basically-closed inn.  I was disappointed that while the pool was open, the big hot tub was also shut-up for the season. I’d been looking forward to some serious relaxing in there as well, and I do think the manager should have told us what parts of the inn WOULD be closed when I called to make the reservations!  Alas!  Here are some photos of the historic architecture and SOME of the offerings the Castle Inn has to offer – when IN SEASON, anyway!

 

 

After a nap and some more reading, we began to get ready for the Masquerade Ball, which, as you may have noticed on the poster above, said “Formal Wear is Encouraged…”  I couldn’t find my old dressage tails, but I did have my dressage top hat for Richard, and a ‘soldier’s’ suit jacket I thought would look especially dazzling.  I spent some time making our masks as well, because I gave away most of my costume collection from various drama-teaching tickle trunks when we moved out here.  I curled and wound up my hair, and got out a fan and shawl, and we took another (better) selfie:

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I told Richard that I wasn’t going to remind him of how to waltz, as it would jinx it and the ‘ball’ wouldn’t have any good waltzing music.  But he did request a few steps be taught, and thus, we jinxed it as I knew we would.  When we arrived at the venue, (3/4 of an hour late, as we thought we were being ‘fashionable’) the parking lot was still primarily empty, and we could hear (gulp) rap beats and see flashing disco lights .  As we entered, we had to fight our way past smokers on the porch who were wearing camouflage and baseball caps, and spitting into the snow drift off the railing on which they leaned.  This, of course, did not bode well, but I still held out some hope, and was relieved to see that the 3 or 4 teens behind the counter who welcomed us were wearing somewhat dressy attire and had masks on.  ( I later learned, bless ’em, that these were the 4 19 year-olds who’d organized the whole thing, one of them being a VERY gay  young fellow who must have struggled all his life to find a niche in these rugged rural mountains, and thought he’d help arrange this dance!)  At the front counter was also a table full of beautiful masks which were laid out for attendees to wear if they’d forgotten their own.  I thought all of this was a good sign at the time, but though it was now nearly 10 o’clock, when we entered the dance hall (full of white-covered, rose-petal-strewn tables and seating for about 200) there was only 1 table at the back full of already-drunk ,20-somethings wearing, if they were male, jeans that fell about their cracks, with punk chains intertwined through various orifices and, if they were female, jeans so tight, regardless of their shapes, that you could SEE their buttock cracks anyway! All had on sweatshirts with various beer slogans.  No other tables had ANYONE at them, save one near the front with a couple in their 60s who HAD, it seemed, made an attempt to dress up and wear masks.  We later figured out they were the supportive grandparents of one of the girls who’d helped organize the ‘ball’!  We sat at the table right behind them and awaited more attendees…

The music at first, was horrifying – just recorded ‘songs’ (mostly rap) at the requisite full blaring volume with the only two words we could make out of the lyrics being “SEX” and occasionally “BITCH”.  At least 3 long numbers passed like this, where no one danced, but a few of the ‘kids’ came and ground their hips about for 20 seconds here and there…

Still, no one else came into the hall, and only the back table, and the 4 of us at the front were sitting in the hall at all… but at least the music changed to a good variety of songs from the ’70s and ’80s. A few pieces Richard and I might actually have danced to HAD THERE  BEEN ANOTHER SOUL ON THE DANCE FLOOR.  But we could imagine what that table of drunks at the back would do if we got up and started sashaying our way around to “Jack and Diane” …

Then, around 10:45, some more people DID start to come in – first, a couple both wearing cammos, with matching baseball caps.  Then, a couple of ‘good-ole-boys’, weighing in at about 350 pounds each, and with ripped jeans (NOT ripped by Abercrombie and Fitch, either!)  Next came a handful of farm-boys who, as Richard said, had just come in from ‘sloppin’ the hogs’.  They had on tall and very clunky rubber boots, not the stylish slim-fitting type of Wellingtons we often wore in England.  More mud on them than snow.  They did not sit at any tables, but hung around the door. I suggested to Richard that I might want to take a photo of them all there, and he said ‘Fine, if you’d like to see me get beaten to a pulp and taken to the hospital with this mask punched into my cheekbones…’

Thus, we have this illustration: requested-attire

 

We did not stay long after this last group came in, but I did hear the next day when we stopped for lunch on the way home, that the young organizers had been SOOOO disappointed, and so were we!  For them, as well as for ourselves.  Just goes to show that when you try to introduce something new to a rural area, it is NOT met with positive results.  Rural people do NOT like to try anything new, nor go out of their comfort zone in any way.  I know this, as I’ve been a tomboy and country person my whole life.  But I am ALSO a person who loves history, the arts, culture and, while a tomboy and home-body at heart, I do like to dress up and get out once in a while.  This night was NOT worth it.

We’d ended up having overly-spicy pizza in our room instead of a romantic meal in a historic dining area by a fireplace, and we’d ended up dressing up for a Valentines dance where we didn’t dance and no one else came in dress code – or really, even CAME!  We left, feeling quite gutted that our  brief weekend was turning out so askew, although we COULD see the humour in the “Waltzing Wellie-wearers”.

Trying to make the day not an entire waste, Richard suggested we make use of the pool and go for a swim.  Being a tomboy, and one who has mostly worn breeches and boots or blue jeans most of the summer months, rather than shorts or swim-suits, I do NOT like the water much.  But Richard went to test the water and said it was VERY warm.

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I went in up to my waist.  It was NOT warm.  I got out.

However, Richard did enjoy himself briefly with a quick trip down the water-slide (shown below) and 10 minutes in the steam-room (not allowed to show)…

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Our room’s view was very pretty, right at the end of the castle, partly dug in to a hillside, and there was a beautiful full moon. It should have been the perfect Valentines’ get-away, really, had all gone according to plan.  Anyway, the moon was there:

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The last thing I was looking forward to that night was SNL. As we have no television at the farm, I wanted to see Alex Baldwin host Saturday Night, and LIVE, for once, instead of via youtube feeds, RIP that insane Twitler/Humpty Trumpty to shreds. I did catch Melissa’s Sean Spicer, but fell asleep before Alex Baldwin came on in the People’s Court skit. So that ended all my exciting forays into “Fun Off the Farm” for THAT day! We are pathetic!

 

The next day I did enjoy another jacuzzi in our bathtub, and Richard brought me a bagel and strawberry from downstairs, so that was romantic.  He apparently actually TOASTED the bagel himself, though why he can’t manage the toaster at home, I’m not sure….

Then, as the Saddle Club meeting was postponed, we headed for home.   I’d like to say a little something about organizing things of a rural nature, here.  Most readers will know I ran the Carlisle Country Craft and Old-fashioned Market Mercantile for years in Ontario.  It SHOULD have had more than 500 people attend it over the two days each summer, but alas, it was never to be more, despite moving to a busier location in the 3rd year.  Everyone also knows that despite constant and on-going publicity, the Rural Creators’ Collective shop never garnered the kind of attention I felt it deserved.  And here in N.B., things don’t seem much different. There is an artists’ collective shop in Perth as well, but though it said in the Blackfly Gazette that THEY were going to be open Sunday morning, we went by and they were not….  likewise, despite two weeks of work on publicity for the Saddle Club, est. in 1972 and inc. in 1982,  (-in less than a week I helped get their  FB page followers from 47 to 108!, AND had the following Blackfly Gazette articles published).  Yet, rather than going along with this advertising momentum and hopefully picking up more members with the publicity including the treasure hunt and prizes I was offering, they unceremoniously ‘postpone’ the advertised meeting, (they also did the same thing for the January meeting!)  with no reason given or any attempt to just move it elsewhere. ( I also attended ANOTHER meeting this past week here in New Denmark — where yours truly, Chip the Tomboy who has never worn nail-polish, rarely worn a dress or make-up, and who buzz-cuts own hair with nail scissors, was DELEGATED  to organize the Danish FOUNDERS’ DAY BEAUTY PAGEANT this spring! Another bit of hilarious irony that will have to wait for another blog posting. I don’t even BELIEVE in pageants, but it is part of their tradition, and I do believe in THAT). Some of you may know of the Christmas church choir disappointments Richard and I suffered this past holiday as well. So –  like the lasses (and one lad) who organized the Masquerade Ball and decorated the dance hall so beautifully – did I mention the amazing job of streamers, curtains, hearts, cut-outs, balloons and ribbons all arced over beams of the ceiling? – I am very discouraged these days with how no one in rural communities sees the need to EVER change, or listen to others’ fresh ideas, or embrace a new event or to use publicity to their own benefit!  This coming weekend we are holding a Games Night at the farm.  Out of 15 couples invited, only 2 have responded that they’d like to come, and they only want to play Scrabble, despite several other games being offered.   It’s winter in the rural valley, folks.  GET OUT OF THE RURAL RUT and try something new!  If it’s not offered FOR you, try organizing it YOURSELVES (doesn’t mean anyone will come, but at least you’ve tried!)

Now, about this fabulous Blackfly Gazette out of Perth.  It’s run by Stephanie Kelley (an incomer from Florida, who is proof that a new idea in a rural area CAN work if you keep plugging away) and Jonathan Gagnon.  Ever since we arrived here in May, I’ve been picking up this great little local paper wherever I see it, as it is FULL of fun verses, editorials, articles on rural living, and especially, a great directory for events going on in the big valley in which we now reside!  For someone new to the province and living self-sufficiently as we are trying to do, it’s the perfect balance of variety and humour about this area and the resources at hand.

Here are some examples of the last two issues, articles I particularly love as they are so in-keeping with the area (as always, click on any to see the entire photo/article)

 

From the Bistro window, remember, I took a photo across the Tobique River to the other side of the town, where the beautiful old courthouse stands.  The Blackfly did an article on this this week, and I feel VERY strongly about it, and must quote part of Stephanie’s own writing here, as many of you will recognize that these are similar to my own words, which I’ve reiterated time and time again in many rants… Stephanie is a little more eloquent and a little less angry than I am, but nonetheless, the message is the same:

“The Old Courthouse is a building that should be a showcase for our historic downtown with an art gallery, a  tea room, boutiques. It could become a destination business, the kind of place that draws visitors in to visit from out of town. We need more of these places, businesses that people get off the highway and come into the village to see what’s going on. This is why arts and crafts and good restaurants that are INDEPENDENT AND SERVE GREAT FOOD, not corporate junk, can help to turn a village into a tourist destination….”

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She then goes on to give several examples and some ideas for what could be done with the lovely old building, and ends by saying these sentences, very near and dear to my own heart: “This may all sound like pie in the sky dreaming, but we are at a cross-roads in time, and there is truly a battle going on for our minds and souls. Do you want to play the Matrix Game, where it’s all about consumption of cheap stuff and where ‘he who dies with the most toys wins’? In the end, the communities and their people that survive and thrive will be those that are LOCALLY BASED, with local production of goods, services and especially food.”

So there, to all of you who didn’t go to the Valentines’ Masquerade Ball.  So there, to those that don’t book yourself and your sweetheart into an amazing Castle Inn, so that they  DON’T actually have to SHUT DOWN in the most romantic of seasons! So there, to all of you we saw going in to Tim Hortons and Subway (a whole hockey team!?) as we drove out of the lovely town yesterday.  So THERE to those of you who don’t appreciate the good work of publicity and organization others do FOR you, whilst you just sit on your laurels and complain (or  postpone/cancel). And a final So There, to those who could have made a rural  pioneer art show and shop, full of eco-friendly local artisans actually MAKE A GO OF IT! (Not TOO bitter about all of that, still, NOPE!)

This is what Stephanie and Jonathan’s Blackfly Gazette did for the Valley Horse and Saddle Club this issue, JUST BECAUSE I  ASKED.  God Bless ‘Em!  And I’m going to make sure they get all the attention they deserve, and that I can bring to that great little paper for years to come!

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She even gave my coaching at the clinics and Rustic Revivals (above) a little plug for free, which  is greatly appreciated.  I want to do the same for them, even if the rest of the club never mentions these efforts!  Thank you, Blackfly Gazette!

And, just as a post-script to our 24 hours away from the farm, which ended in so much disappointment… that damn dog REFUSED to go out of the house for Zeb. Flatly, stubbornly refused.  The poor kid tried everything he could within safety confines we’d structured for him (Smitty DOES bite, as he’s always so anxious).  So he went a full 24 hours without going outside to do his business (he didn’t go inside either!) and thus also never got fed, as the kibble was meant to be put in his bowl ONLY when he was safely out of the house!)

So, what with that issue, and all the others, I doubt very much if my long-fought-for ‘romantic weekend away’ (which I’ve actually been asking for at Christmases and birthdays for the last THREE years) is likely to happen again any time soon.

Not to mention, come spring, we hope to have draft horse,  dairy goat and laying hens to add to the roster of “animals that need looking after!”

Thanks a whole heap of pig-manure, you moose-hunting/pig-slopping dance-goers!

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Log Cabin Legends, Part II: Phyllis

Many of you may have read with interest the history (as much as we had found out so far) of Blue Belldon Farm, a few months ago. If you didn’t, you may want to look at it first, before reading this continuing saga of the family who was 50 % responsible for making it into the farm and farmhouse it is today. The link is here: http://www.bluebellmountainblog.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/log-cabin-legends-the-j-j-s-of-blue-belldon-farm/

This past week we finally got to meet 92 year old Phyllis, the last remaining of the first family whose children were born here when it was a log cabin.  By the time she was born (1925) her father had built the 3 original bedrooms upstairs (where Mom/Joy lives, before and afters of those at end of this posting) so she was born upstairs. However, as she can no longer do stairs, I asked to take a photo of her in the threshold of what was her father and mother’s original cabin (behind her, in what is now our bedroom) and the summer kitchen, (now the main kitchen) or what her Aunt Carrie ,who wrote the book with most of our information, called simply ‘the back shed’.

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Phyllis  (Jensen) Macdonald, age 92

Phyllis’ mother, Ida-May (Rasmussen) married Johannes Jensen, age 16, in 1918. A few years prior to this Johannes (John C. as he became known in the community) bought the little cabin from the original Danish settlers, ANOTHER family of Rasmussens, with 2 grown sons, who all moved to Maine. Johannes’ sisters (and Phyllis says he had MANY) came one at a time and kept house for him until he married young and beautiful Ida.  Sadly, Phyllis didn’t offer up any photos of her mother in her teen years or older, but according to the photo we have of her as a six year old (in Part I), and by all other accounts, she was lovely.

By the time they married, Johannes had added a summer kitchen, or shed, which went right up to the rafters.  He and Ida lived winters in just the one divided room (now our long bedroom). In the front was a small kitchen and sitting area by the stove, and in the back, under the loft, was their bedroom. Carrie remembers herself and her brother Hartman coming over to visit and going up the ladder to sleep on the floor of the loft, above her sister’s and brother-in-law’s heads.  The summer kitchen, which is now OUR kitchen, was used in good weather for eating, as the family could gather around a big table, and for cooking so the main part of the log cabin stayed cooler.  It was, of course, also the room for doing laundry and taking baths!

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Perhaps a better example of what their summer kitchen was probably like was this:

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as they apparently had a stove and not a fireplace for cooking out there.

The outside of the house at the time of Ida-May and Johanne’s marriage looked much like this:

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Phyllis doesn’t remember the tunnel to the barn, though she remembers it was mentioned “once or twice”. Apparently the first Rasmussens dug it, then Johanne decided he could walk the short distance to the barn, even in winter, and thus had it filled in?  As the first 2 children began to grow, Johanne raised the roof on the cabin and summer kitchen, made the summer kitchen a more permanent structure and all-year kitchen, with their bedroom above it, and the children’s bedrooms above the main log cabin (one room in what would have been the loft and the other beside it.  Phyllis remembers the ‘alcove’ or hall/landing having the big closet that is still there today, and she talks about the lovely hardwood floors there and in the bedrooms.  Luckily for us, no one ever put nasty carpeting in the 3 original bedrooms, and the floors were in excellent shape there. Also, happily, no one had ever painted the wainscoting or doorframes or original closet doors, as in so many old homes.  However, the stairs, which her father built, and the ‘alcove’ as she calls it (nearly a room in itself) had had 1960s indoor/outdoor carpeting put down and it was a hellacious job to get it all up, because of course the underpadding had cemented itself to the hardwood after all these decades!

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Mom/Joy did most of the tough work herself on the indoor/outdoor carpet, pitching in with just a scraper at first, and then Richard bought a heat gun which made the job a little faster, but not much.  While Mom was in Newfoundland visiting my sister and nephew (her only grandchild) in October, Richard and I stripped and then refinished the alcove and stairs so it is finally finished as close to possible as what Phyllis says is the original. (Although she lives just down the road, up the valley on the other side of us, Phyllis never visited this house in all the decades since she left, and I’m grateful that when she did peek at the stairs and wainscoting, it was exactly as she remembers it being when her father and mother had their renovations finished.  I expect she would have hated to see the carpeting!  Here are some before and afters, as always click on each to enlarge and read caption:

and the afters:

Phyllis remembers when she was about 3 or 4, her father putting in some more windows. When the two childrens’ bedrooms (one for the boys, one for the girls) at top each got their own window, it was a big deal for them, and at that time, what was the main part of the original log cabin (the winterized part), also got a new window, and it became the living room, or parlor. (Later, when the Pedersens  were here for many decades, through the 60s to the 2000s, it was the perfect spot for the dining room, once they’d made the addition to the whole house all out the back. Where our fireplace is now in our living room, Phyllis reckons is about where the original barn was, and under the living room, then, and along our hallway, was where the mysterious tunnel was!) Phyllis doesn’t remember having indoor plumbing here, so the dormer that is the upstairs’ bathroom (Mom’s) was added MUCH later, probably when Phyllis’s brother Lester took over the farm for his father.  And our bay window in what is now our bedroom was added in the late 1970s. It has by far the best view, and is a lovely place for a window seat and to sit in the morning sun.  Hard to believe there was NO window on that wall originally, until Johanne and Ida put the small one in. But then, windows let in bad cold in winter, and also there were still so many thick forests they might NOT have had a view! This is as close a facsimile as I can come up with of the family and the house when Ida had just had her last child and Phyllis was about 3 or 4. As there are apparently no real photos (Phyllis certainly doesn’t seem to have any that she remembers!) I’ve had to do some creative photoshopping!

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Anyway, poor Ida!  She lost her own mother only a few months after she was married (Georgine was 41).  Then, after she had 5 children, she got very ill, when she was in her late 20s.  Neither her sister Carrie nor her own daughter Phyllis have really said with WHAT. Carrie doesn’t mention it, and Phyllis doesn’t remember it ever being spoken of, although her son Bliss mentioned that in her ‘better memory years’ she’d mentioned that her mother had very painful neuralgia.  As neither Georgine (Phyllis’s grandmother) nor Ida lived very long, but neither died in the no. 1 cause – childbirth! – I got wondering… One cause of neuralgia is M.S.  Phyllis had mentioned that one of her own daughters, just in her late 50s now, has very bad M.S., and I have wondered if perhaps all three generations of these women didn’t have it!  They did try hard to get treatment.  In Carrie’s book she remembers walking the long miles home from the schoolhouse, and being picked up in the wagon by the doctor, who’d driven all the way from Grand Falls. He knew her well, but didn’t say much on the ride home, and when she got there, hers and Ida’s mother (Phyllis’s grandmother) was already dying. Carrie CLAIMS she doesn’t remember her being sick at all prior to this, though, but she was taken to hospital and died there, in 1919, right after Ida-May had married Johannes and moved out!  Then Ida, ten years later, starting feeling unwell and sore all the time.  About 1929 or 1930, Phyllis thinks, she went by train to Montreal for treatments.  And here is why Phyllis is really struggling to remember as much as we’d hoped… At this point Phyllis and little Max were ‘farmed out’ to various relatives – mostly aunts- in the community. So, the older children were left in the care of Johannes, but the two youngest weren’t here much for the next several years.  We’re not sure which hospital in Montreal Ida was in for many weeks, but Phyllis said several times that she did have surgery – apparently she wrote some poetry before and after the surgery… ( I have some of hers written about her own mother, Georgine, and would someday like to see these others that Phyllis has. I love that her mother was a writer, and would sign her work with her initals, I.J., which are the same initials as my own grandmother, also a writer!)  The hospital was likely either the Royal Victoria ( aerial photo below in 1928, right at the time Ida might have been there!) or the oldest hospital in Montreal (started in the 1600s!) the Hotel Dieu.

 

 

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(above) Hospital ward of the Hotel Dieu in Montreal, early 1930s, when Ida would have been visiting.  My heart goes out to this young woman, who’d had to painfully go by train – with whom? Not Johannes, surely, as he’d have had the farm and the children… a sister? But Carrie never mentions going with her… Surely she didn’t go alone! And the lonely nights on that ward- is that when she wrote her poetry when she was so scared, and worried about her surgery, but perhaps hopeful it would ‘work’ for her???… So sad!

 

Obviously, whatever the surgery was for (and I’m determined to find this out someday, somehow – perhaps the little country community museum just up the road from us will cough up more info when it opens in the summer!) it didn’t work.  Poor Ida came back here to the farm, and after another year or so, a bed had to be set up for her back downstairs again (in what was originally hers and Johannes’ original corner of the log cabin, but had been changed to their living room! This is, of course, now OUR bedroom! So it’s had the most changes of any room in the house, though it’s got the original log walls from the 1880s sandwiched between the siding and the plastering.  It’s been: kitchen/bedroom with loft, then living room, then bedroom for Ida again, then living room, then dining room, and now our bedroom! Whew!)

So, Ida was in so much pain and was so weak (why?  MUST try and find this out somehow!  Seems crazy that her own sister didn’t write of it, despite many books, and that her own daughter doesn’t remember, but there it is!)  she could no longer make the stairs at night.  Phyllis remembers when she was 8, being brought to see her mother. She remembers standing at the side of her mother’s bed and her mother hugging her (must have been painful, physically and emotionally for Ida!) and her mother saying “Phyllis, do you want to stay over here with me tonight?” And Phyllis says she remembers very clearly not wanting to cry, and not understanding… and she just shook her head and went back home with her aunt.  She feels such guilt now, because she THINKS, though she isn’t positive, that her mother died the next day. Regardless, it was the last time 8 year old Phyllis SAW her mother. Obviously she feels guilty that she didn’t stay over with Ida-May that night, because it’s one of the very few really detailed memories she has of being here at all!

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Ida’s and Johannes’ gravestone, just up the hill at our two churches’ cemeteries.

 

Thus, Phyllis stayed with more aunts in and around this close-knit Danish community until she was about 10, it seems. Then she came back here to the farm “off and on” she says for a few years, but it sounds like she wasn’t really getting along with her older siblings who lived here permanently, NOR her father, and in her early teens she ‘ran away from home’. Her words, and that’s all she said about it, as she was getting upset.  Sometime I’ll ask her son more of what he remembers being told of this, originally, as I believe he knows more than he wanted to say in front of his Mom! Anyway, Phyllis went on to finish high school, and started teaching in the area right away (as they did back then – after a few years over in “California Settlement”, she did go to her one year of teachers’ college).  I’ve spoken to and read of MANY students who remember her as the best teacher they ever had. Her own son Bliss had her as teacher in Grades 1, 4,5 and 6 and he didn’t even mind!  Right below us, down in the valley (we can see it from here) is a little corner school that then became the Women’s Institute and is now Martha’s Place Antiques and Collectibles (in the good weather, and on weekends only).  This was one of the schools in which Phyllis taught, ironically just a stone’s throw from where she was born, and where her mother died.  But she never set foot back in this house again, apparently, until last Tuesday to come and visit us! (click on below photos to read captions)

Phyllis’ father, Johannes, raised the three older kids here at Blue Belldon and then his son Lester, who most liked farming, took over from him and raised HIS children here.  Then, in the 1950s, the Pedersens bought it, and just like Ida-May and Johannes – THEY had 5 children. But this time all girls!  We’ll be having dinner with a few of  them and their mother in the next month or so, and hope to have another whole era of history and building renovations to share here after we get some more facts. So exciting to have this kind of background, although we WERE disappointed that Phyllis couldn’t remember more. But she was such a little girl, and then essentially left her birthplace for good about age 6, becoming a foster child and tossed from household to household. So she’s got good reason not to remember as much about her early years as we’d hoped!

Here are some before and afters of the 3 original bedrooms upstairs, likely built between 1920 and 1922 by Johannes and Ida-May.  Click to enlarge and read captions.  Mom has left the wallpaper up in all 3 rooms from the Pedersen’s daughters’ choices, circa 1970s and 1980s, as it’s ‘farmhousie’ and, she thought, still bright and cheery.  The ‘yellow room’ was the room above the original summer kitchen which became Ida and Johannes’ room (it’s the only one with a closet, and is slightly longer than the others. It’s also likely the room in which Phyllis and her siblings were born.  )  The one bedroom that’s attached to the bathroom (which is in the dormer, an addition long after Phyllis’ time) is Mom’s kitchenette now, and the other is her Loom Room.

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Before of yellow room, with the furniture that was in it before we purchased the house
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After: The ‘yellow room’, which was the parents’ room, Johannes and Ida’s. This is Mom’s guest room now. We travelled 4 hours to go and get this furniture from a resort that was remodelling.
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One of the two original ‘children’s rooms’. Either the boys or the girls’ room – with furniture in it from prior to us purchasing the house.
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This is now Mom’s Loom Room, and she has her drop leaf dining room table in there too and is braiding a rug on it for my sister (see postings from December)

 

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This, Phyllis thinks, was the girls’ room when she had her first 6 or 7 years of life here. The people we bought if from just had it as an exercise room.
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after: it is now Mom’s lovely kitchenette. She has great views out both this room, and out the Loom Room windows, looking across the valley, down to the school that Phyllis once taught in, and over to Blue Bell Mountain. She didn’t like the antiques Martha’s Place had to offer for shelves and an island, though, so she got these ‘flat packs’ and put them together herself! Although, the kitchen counter and cupboards to the right on the wall are our recycled laundry room cabinets that were hung way up on the wall. (See posting of our bathroom renovation for the befores of those!)

 

To finish this posting, I’d like to add Ida’s own writing,  and all I have are these two tributes to her own mother (and Carrie’s, who saved and published them). She wrote these a few months after Georgine Rasmussen, their mother, died age 41 , which was just a few months after Ida married and came here to live (and die, age 33) . These were written, thusly, IN THIS VERY HOUSE,  in 1919, very nearly 100 years ago:

A Mother:

A mother is the dearest friend, God ever gave to man, For others often do forget, But mothers never can.    I.M.J.

We have so many friends we love,And they may love us too, But mother dear, there never was, A better friend than you.       I.M.J.

 

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