All posts in the Maritimes category

Stark January

Published January 25, 2013 by megdedwards

jan 11 002Are you feeling a bit tense and irritable?  Did you just unfriend someone who annoyed you? Are you reconsidering your job, your marriage, your hair style?  Are you questioning every life choice you have ever made?

Do not act on your impulses at this time of the year. Leave your hair as it is. Changing  your circumstances is not going to change the weather.  Most likely you are just going a little ‘wintery’ . It is a saying I just made it up.

As January creeps  inexorably into February we begin to twitch and give hard stares to strangers.

Now let’s just say this, any mood swings or feelings of cramped irritation at the restraints that are part of your life , they all count as ‘first world problems’. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

It is stressful to have debt, it is stressful to be unemployed or badly employed, it is a drag that you can”t afford a holiday, or even a dinner out, but in the long run we all have good food and warm shelter and it is a fair bet that we always will have  these comforts.

But still, there is a harsh quality to a freezing January day that tests any good humor.

When I find myself standing at the window staring at the icy sea, and wondering whether I should make really chocolatey brownies, I know it is almost February.  When I find myself  thinking fondly of an evening glass of wine, in middle of the afternoon, I know the days are cold and short.

Today the sun crept up over the hoary frozen vista like a warning.  ‘Appreciate the day, Godammit’, said the Sun. I heard it distinctly. Last night the full moon lit up the frozen slippery garden and peeked in the windows, and it sang a sweet melancholy song,  ‘Sleep peacefully, all bundled up in warm blankets.  Be a happy beast, hibernate when you can’.

I know what I have to do this coming month.  The first thing is buy a big box of wine. The second is invest in good chocolate. The third is plan some dinner parties; have people over, make food, open my house.

And of course, feed the birds and critters, walk in the woods and, very important, take vitamin D and a massive stinking Vitamin B complex.

East Coast Challenges: Buying Furniture

Published July 2, 2012 by megdedwards

One of the challenges to life in the Maritimes of Canada is furniture purchases.

I have mentioned this to my Upper Canadian friends and they scoff and, by their silence or pursed lips, seem to suggest I am lazy and or dim, which is their general impression of east coasters in any case.

‘Just go to a second hand shop’ they say.  Oh, I go to second hand shops. The Thrift store in our local university town has a constant circulation of stinky old furniture with the occasional sound dresser or desk, and those get SOLD stickers plastered on them as soon as they hit the store floor.

If you are desperate for a dresser you have two other choices, over priced ‘anitique’ shops or the press board shit furniture from Big Box Stores.  Quite honestly I think that antique hunters raid the second hand stores and truck the stuff back to Ontario or into the States. It is hard to find that unexpected gem among the crap.

In our peripatetic life we have left furniture behind in our many moves, never using a truck.  And without generous relatives we have needed to find kitchen tables, couches and beds.

Sometimes we have used the ‘hunting’ approach. Locating the couch or bed, we would circle around it and then drag it home.  In search of a futon couch it was necessary to go Moncton,  accept the inevitable terrible service and buy a full priced item of  questionable value.

In comparison to the big ‘hunt’ style of furniture acquisition is the womanly style of ‘gathering’.  ‘Gathering’ is a necessary strategy out here in the east, a survival technique for the barren grounds of the Maritimes, where the couches no longer roam free.

I prowl and scavenge for furniture. My eye is always peeled. This means that whenever I am out, in any capacity, in any place, I am thinking about lugging home a piece of furniture.  Garage sales? Plant stands? Wooden chairs?

If I am visiting my Mother in Toronto I just have to close my eyes to opportunity as I know I cannot ship it back home. But if I am wandering in the local environment of  Tantramar I will keep an eye out at all times.

It might be an old English armoir obviously created for small rooms, or a wooden desk, or god forbid, a red velvet couch. I am always looking for a red velvet couch. All my life I have been looking for a red, or even better, a dark green velvet couch.

My husband will accuse me of being an impulsive shopper but in this accusation is no understanding of the ‘gathering’ style of hunting.  ‘Gathering’  ebbs and flows and never ends.  ‘Gathering’ involves negotiations and machinations, begging for trucks, shuffling of furniture, and a long term view.

So it is the opposite of impulsive, it is gradual,consistent and thoughtful.

And that is the state of mind I was in when I bought a red velvet antique couch while attending the opening of a museum in a historical house. They wanted to get rid of the couch, they promised delivery. It was a good looking red velvet couch and even ugly couches cost more. So I put the money down.

Complications arose that caused me a sleepless hour or so in the middle of the night; Joe was aghast, there was no where to put the new couch because the new room, where I will shuffle the old futon couch, is not finished.  But my mind held the vision of the red velvet couch sitting in my newly painted study, and I held on to that picture in my mind.

I started my negotiations with the minutiae of life.  If I got rid of the old piano I had bought in a fit of chagrin when my Mom told me I could not have the old family piano, then I could put the couch there until the back of the house was finished.

I put an ad up in kijiji for a free piano and then held my breath a bit and within a week a very nice man drove up to the house and practically singlehandedly shoved the very old, worn and massive piano into his equally massive truck and drove away with a big smile.

I was honest to a point with the man on the age of that piano and how it was good for kids to learn how to play. I had, in fact, had it looked at and it was so old you could only tune it so far.  I know the family piano will make its way out to me some day so I will wait for it while Frank practices on an electric piano (just not the same at all).

One step closer to a new couch.  We are many months away from that couch being in my newly painted study. But it will happen eventually. I know that with sure conviction because I have seen myself make things happen before.

Children have been born and houses have been bought and all on the wings of planning, patience, striking when the iron is hot, and the skillful art of negotiation.  And underneath this ‘gathering’ and nurturing mentality,  I have a a belief in myself and my path before me that makes things happen.

I am swimming in the waters of life, head above the surface, gentle calm breathing, eye on the the shore.  Sometimes I hunt and sometimes I gather. What, was that a rocking chair on the side of road, stop, back up, we are taking that home.

Tantramar News

Published June 10, 2012 by megdedwards

Jerome Bear joins the drumming circle celebrating his Swearing in Ceremony in becoming Mayor of Dorchester.

Up until last spring I wrote for The Times and Transcript doing local news and features for the daily paper published out of Moncton. It was a great gig and I enjoyed it.

The job began more than 10 years ago when I made a ‘cold call’ to the paper’s news editor saying that I was looking for work. We had just bought our house in Baie Verte and I knew that I did not want to drive for an hour to get to my call center job.

As an aside, an hour commute for rural people is not the same as an hour within a city. It is not just the cost of gas but the challenge of driving though major snowstorms on highways that may not be cleared.

But back to my employment story, I ended up scoring the Council Reports for three villages outside of Moncton (Hillsborough, Petitcodiac and Salisbury).

I was very happy with that even though I had to get my husband Joe to drive me to the meetings because I had foolishly let my Driver’s Licence lapse!

In later years, I took up three more villages closer to home and added freelance reports from my coastal position that included reports on new businesses and events from Sackville, Dorchester and Port Elgin.

I also began to write feature pieces for Leigh Williams, the editor for the Life section of the Times and Transcript. I really enjoyed those longer pieces but you do not want to know what you are paid for a three interview, 1000 word feature article.

Then the big cut came, a terse and unapologetic email from Brunswick News telling us that freelancers were no longer needed. They were going in a different direction, they were moving to more of a 24 hour on-line presence.

Which was fine. Well, not really, it was a kick in the teeth, but what can you do? And I went back to my Library Studies and finished my Certificate.

But in the meantime I have been asked many times during the last year to write on a subject that someone wants published. I have been asked where my articles are, and when I am returning.

And bit by bit I have begun to recognize that there is a desire for my local writing, and that I can fill that void.

If the Times and Transcript can go on-line, then so can I!

In my writing I covered everything from municipal politics to theater reviews. I enjoy writing about entrepreneurs, artists and business take overs (they happen in small towns).

I have recognized a need and identified a market, and I have already placed myself on the map as someone who can and will write about the local news and events with clarity and enthusiasm.

So I am going to start my own on-line news site called Tantramar News.

By the fall I plan to have my own website and a subscription base, however humble, of my own.

To start the ball rolling, I traveled to Dorchester to cover the swearing in ceremony for the new First Nations Mayor, Jerome Bear.

Check out Tantramar News at:

Jerome Bear joins the drumming circle celebrating his Swearing in Ceremony as Mayor of Dorchester.

Stay Calm, Be Brave and wait for the Signs

Published March 10, 2012 by megdedwards

I have been spending much of my time thinking and writing in my wonderful philosophy class that I am taking long distance from Memorial University in Newfoundland.

Prof Craig Cramm offers a gem of a course for students looking for an elective, and the class has more engineering students than philosophy students.

This is my last class towards a Library Studies Certificate. This class was not a mandatory feature of the program, but I made it so.  In fact, the university had a required course called Business 2000 that was mandatory except that they no longer offered it. The long distance department didn’t seem to have any control over whether the business department would ever offer it again, and I was not willing to take the university up on their alternatives: apply to a separate institution that offered the same course for more money or take a first year English course.

Actually I was really annoyed and frustrated by the university’s disinterest in providing a solution and that made me question my years of dedication to acquiring the certificate. So after a series of terse emails that ascended eventually to the director of Lifelong Learning, I made it clear that not only was I not going to take another business course from a different institution in order to graduate, I wasn’t going to take a first year English course either.

I explained that most people in the library certificate course were sitting on a BA anyway and were trying to upgrade their hire- ability (not really a word except in places where people actually work).

I think they got tired of hearing from me and agreed with alacrity when I suggested that I take Philosophy of Technology instead, a second year philosophy course with no prerequisites. I argued that the course was in line  with the general theme of the library certificate that emphasized, repeatedly   in each and every course, how librarians must accept the modernization of the library and ‘get with it’.

Make the library more like a community center, create promotional material and book displays as if you are selling a product, start blogs and websites: technology savvy librarians need only apply, no ‘shushing’ allowed!

So this winter I took advanced technology, which taught me a lot and made me pretty darn comfortable with playing with technology and figuring out things like ‘deep linking’.  Then I moved into the philosophy of technology and it has provided a intellectual challenge and pulled everything together beautifully.

I am reading and thinking about technology, morality, ethics and action. It is fabulous.  It was just what I wanted, a real course with serious reading and thinking. I have written better essays for this course than I ever wrote when I was a young undergraduate.

The prof has asked us to make a leap with the last essay and write about how the ideas that we have discussed in the course apply to our own lives.  I am thinking about that with the intense mental application that this almost fifty year old woman seems to apply to everything she does.

Of course I could write about how in the last ten years of living in a fairly isolated community I have had regular work with a daily paper without ever meeting my editor face to face, and taken 12 courses from a university in a province that I have yet to visit. Technology has been a bonus for me. It has kept me engaged and even employed while living in an isolated hamlet on the side of the sea.

But my mind is thinking about something more slippery. While living in this area I have brought up my kids, home schooling some of the time, and volunteering and organizing much of my time, to the benefit of my family and the community.

If I needed or wanted a program for myself or my children I created it from library clubs, to toddler drop ins, to dance classes.  I did it for myself as much as for other people.  But I seem to be burned out now. Not only do I not want to create or plan any community event or activity, I don’t even want to go if someone else plans it.

I want to retreat, and be peaceful with myself. I want to write and think and be left alone.  I want to stop engaging with a community that gives back so little to me.

I am turning inward and reserving some time and space for me.  Acknowledging this fact has been cemented into place by a recent rejection. The school’s retired principal asked me to apply for a job in which I would teach GED (high school equivalency) to local adults. I thought about it and decided to apply although I realized it would be a huge commitment.

Of course I went through the letter writing and interview process just to be rejected. And this for a job that I did not know existed until someone asked me to apply. I felt like a big idiot and sucker. They hired a staid and putty faced woman of the community who is known for her religious fervor and judgmental glare.

I should not have applied at all. I should have known better.  It stung, slapped my ego, because it reminded me of all the times I have not got the job. It might be partly a generational thing where there were always too many of us with similar credentials and not enough jobs to go around. But I have always scrambled to create my own jobs.  The recent gig with the paper was great because it paid and gave me some respectability within this community.

So I am wondering how to put this in perspective. For me personally, I do not want to reach out to my community anymore. I want to offer something but from a different place. I do want to be part of the bigger picture, but I think I need to go back to my shy self contained self to do so. Something like writing literature for children, a place where you know you will have an effect albeit a quiet one. That is what I am thinking about.

So back to the blog, which like all the things in my life, is something I have created out of nothing.  It is an open journal and a map that shows you your path while you are still traveling.

And back to my general mantra, which came from a really cool and hilarious Canadian radio show that you can find on youtube called Dead Dog Café:

Stay Calm, Be Brave, and Wait for the Signs.

Illness onto death, or let’s just not talk about it.

Published January 17, 2012 by megdedwards

Portrait of Phyllis Anderson by Meg Edwards

We happily live in a bubble of health until we are struck down.  It is very hard to live in a constant state of appreciation for your present health without getting maudlin or morbid.

It is probably best not to think about it at all. The people who live best do seem to have a way of pushing death and illness away from their thoughts.

I was sitting at the hairdressers the other day enjoying my splurge. My hairdresser has a way of not only making me look fantastic but feel great too.

And I have been watching; she does this for everyone who walks in the door. She is a miracle worker. I can truly understand why hair stylists don’t get into social media because when they are off work they must long for a less social life.

But my luxury buzz, a cup of green tea and the new Elle magazine handed to me by the delightful Susan as the die sinks into my poor head, was being brought down by the general conversation.

The women were bringing their stories to the chair, and quite a few of them were nasty stories; for example, a friend of someone who had a pain in the elbow that turned out to be cancer and was dead in a few months, another story of a child who went from having pneumonia to palliative care in a few weeks.

With two children on antibiotics at the moment I had a horrible chill when I heard that. The woman telling the story said it made her focus on the happiness of her family.  I understand this reaction but it does not resonate with me. First of all, the point of the epiphany is that shit can happen at any moment. How am I supposed to relax thinking about that!

Illness and death was chilling my innocent giggles over Tabatha Southey and Guy Saddy’s always amusing columns in Elle. People get a little heavy in the cold months.  My theory about life is that I will face each challenge life hands me as bravely as possible, but I will take no unnecessary risks. (I am a Rabbit in Chinese astrology.)

Not for me the bungee jumping that plunges me into an African river. But, if I actually must leap into a river in order to save a child, I will.

A lot of the time I think that I will be brave when the call comes for me to leave this life.  But as I sat in the chair with die sinking into my hair, I realized that I can’t really know. I am pretty sure I will freak out and mourn pretty intensely.  I have a lot of things I want to do and the way I am going, it is going to take me a few more decades to achieve all my dreams – like learn how to dance Samba, finish some dusty stories, play a ukulele in a band, return to India, and maybe even foster children.

I remember thinking about aging when I was young, and picturing a life that was not far off to what I have now.  I thought my husband might be bald, but he isn’t!

But my vision had this very rosy light hearted emotional halo around it that cannot be carried into aging.  I felt light and strong and as if anything was possible, when I was in my twenties and now I carry more weight, figuratively and actually.

I do my best to stay young. I have studied the best role models around me.  I had a good neighbor and friend, Phyllis Anderson (nee Goodwin) who was 100 years old when she finally agreed to move to a home.  Up until that time she crept about her house, put her bed in the study, got meal on wheels and managed just fine.

When I visited her in her house, delivering her mail or bringing her soup she didn’t really like, she was always up for a visit.  She would pull herself out of her armchair where she had passed out while reading the paper or knitting, and make her way to the kitchen. With her back bent over and her hands gnarled with arthritis she would fill the kettle and get ready for a good gab.

I never heard her complain. She once told me, in passing, that she had breast cancer in her sixties and lost one breast. She kept everything in perspective for me. I realized in astonishment that she had spent my entire life being an older woman and widow; the last 40 years of her life made up my entire life.

She had been a nurse in Montreal in the twenties. She had gone to all night parties; she had married late, in her forties, and her husband had not lived much longer. Much of her midlife disappeared into one short line about delivering meals, taking in borders, and being on the Church committee. I have a few of her old journals, she kept them all, and they mostly talk about the weather and what she had achieved that day.

“A fine day, got the laundry on the line. Planted some daffodils and cut lawn. Alice came over for tea”.

Her memories remain in my mind. One time she was being pulled on a sled by her brother and a dog, and the dog took off with her behind it.  When she was about 10 years old she made up her mind to have her long hair cut by the blacksmith into a bob and shocked her family. She got measles one year and lost a year at school and was very annoyed that her friends got ahead of her in their studies.

She went to Fredericton to study in Normal School and became the school teacher at the local one room school house and walked or rode a horse to that school.  Later, she went off to Montreal to study to become a nurse, being called back at one point because her Mom was dying. When her Dad’s second wife became ill later she had to give up on living in her own new house with her husband (the house I live in now) and go live with her parents to care for them.

You can see why I stopped in for coffee at the end of the day. She had a collection of anecdotes that mostly focused on her life as a child and how it always stormed on her father’s birthday in March. And a few stories from Montreal when she lived the high life. I heard the stories over and over, relishing some in particular. When she worked the night shift in Montreal at the Royal Victoria Hospital the nurses would sometimes take their break on a balcony of the hospital. They would pull out a chair and a big blanket, and then just sit and look over the city lights and hear the hum of the city.

She loved company and she seemed to love life. She loved to see my children and would pull out any old cookie she had to feed them.  A visit from a man, whether he was an antique collector, a nephew or my husband to help her with her taxes, always brought out her best and most lively personality.

I have many strong memories of her. Some of my new neighbours implied that I would not have liked her when she was younger as she had a strong Conservative and critical nature. Maybe we would not have got along, I don’t know. But when we met we were friends.  We enjoyed each other’s company.

And to be quite frank, I had more in common with Phyllis than I did with many of the other neighbours who had never left this hamlet. She was an educated and traveled gal.

From a selfish point of view, I liked her because she liked me.  She knew when I was lonely and she knew when I was sad. We would talk and have coffee in the late afternoon, and after a full day of childcare and no friends, I would leave feeling more like myself.

I did cry when she died, and only for myself.  I loved having her there. When she went to the hospital with a sore hip I went to visit her with the kids almost every day. It was a cold bleak spring and I would stop at the Tim Horton’s to get her a small hot chocolate in a ‘roll up the rim’ cup and a buttered bagel.

She lit up when she saw us, and there was nothing more hilarious than her determined strong fingers working that rim. It took about 10 minutes but she would roll the rim! I saw her pleasure in the buttered bagel and the deep chocolate taste.  I have never seen anyone enjoy an afternoon snack more.   I think  it  reminded her of her days as a nurse when she would take the trolley around in the afternoon and offer the patients  tea or hot chocolate and biscuits.

She did not mourn that those days were gone; she did not live in the past. But she did think that the casual outfits of the nurses were very odd. In her day she wore a pristine white dress with starched hat and sleeves. She had one repeated story where she found herself on the back elevator with a bundle of used diapers. An important personage had been invited to use the staff elevator in order to avoid attention and be able to visit his wife. She was mortified because she had folded back her starched sleeves before entering the elevator in order to avoid mussing them with the diapers. So she was puzzled by the present day nurses’ wrinkly pajama style uniforms and the casual look of doctors as well.

When she moved to the local old age home she still fought off the wheel chair. At 101 she had liver cancer and it was, of course, untreatable. I visited her there with my kids and often found her completely absorbed in a game of bowling or bingo. She had a competitive nature and liked to win.  She had been a strong and athletic woman.

The last time I saw her she was lying down, and basically quietly dying.  She tried to sit up and eat a bit of cake, and she dawdled her finger back and forth trying to catch the attention of my baby Maud.  She was still in the present moment. Then she fell asleep. The next time I went to see her they sent the nurse to tell me she had died. Her room was bare. They auctioned everything out of her house.

The house sat empty for a while, and god I wish I had just bought it (I did not have the money but maybe I could have raised it) because the next thing I knew Anglophones from Montreal moved in and cut all the trees down and molested my daughter. I am not kidding about that, it is all true, although presumably the molestation was more important than the tree devastation, but it is just funnier to me to say it that way.

I am laughing because I have a dark sense of humour.  Phyllis would have laughed too, because she knew that what didn’t actually kill you, was just food for conversation.

So, let’s have a tea, and talk about that, have a bit of a gossip, and let’s not talk about illness and dying.

Artists are Drawn to Baie Verte

Published January 8, 2012 by megdedwards

At a lively dinner party last night my neighbor insisted that I write about how artists are drawn to Baie Verte because of its beauty.  I nodded my head, and sated with our delicious and happy dinner party, I said, ‘I’ll do it’.

When I organize a party at our local Baie Verte Hall, the back windows glowing in a stunning sunset over the marsh, I can easily collect about thirty artists who support themselves with their art and are acknowledged in the ‘outside’ art world.

There are artists living around every corner. We even have a yearly event called Art Across the Marsh in which the artists invite people to visit their homes and studios and see how they live.

But these days the small hamlet of Baie Verte is in quite an uproar about a recent article that described our area as desolate and depressing. When I say uproar, I mean that everyone is talking, which means that I heard from one or two people that someone ought to write a letter.

The neighbours have been talking about an article published in the Telegraph Journal by Mike Landry, about a friend of ours, artist Anna Torma.  Up until a day ago there was a direct link to the article but on-line news is no  longer free so this link may take you to the Telegraph Journal subscription page.

Landry takes pains to begin his article, a complimentary and extensive interview with Hungarian born artist Anna Torma, with a long description of his dreary drive to Baie Verte.  His aim was obviously to contrast Anna’s lively and colorful work with the bleak surroundings of rural New Brunswick.

An evocative beginning for his article, truly, but the description of the roads he traveled said more about him than Anna. This was a man who really does not like the rural landscape.

His description immediately put me in my mind of my mother’s reaction when we bought our old house. She used the same word as him, desolate. And I think she went on to say it was devoid of life. She saw a flat grey horizon, possibly reminding her of her childhood in Saskatoon, where we saw a fabulous coast teeming with life.

“On any grey winter’s day,” begins Landry, “heading north on Route 16 from AuLac to Port Elgin is a desolate drive”.   He continues to describe in detail his sunny winter drive through our delightful and picturesque part of the Maritimes. In his view the snowy hills and dales and the sun bleached barns decorated in icicles are depressing.  I can’t help but think, in comparison to what? Long straight streets, shiny new high rises?

My opinion is that the writer, a man with a recognizably Acadian last name, escaped his rural background to live the young person’s dream in a big city, only to be transplanted back into the land that he once so happily escaped. His promotion, or otherwise, has left him with a fairly good job in Saint John, but bitter and envious of people who are ‘really’ living in Ontario.

Although it may have been his intention to draw attention to the vibrant art of Anna Torma through the juxtaposition with the lonely bleak landscape, he let us see into his heart. He misses the big city and his big dreams.

The older residents of Baie Verte, who have lived here all their lives, were offended by his description. But all the others, the ones like me from ‘away’, are keeping mum.  We are content that our busy, ambitious friends from back home are not drawn to our quiet corner.  We don’t want to advertise our little piece of paradise.

But still I feel that I must defend the honor of my born and bred Maritimer neighbours so I will tell you that not all the artists and writers here are transplanted Upper Canadian ‘hippy’, or the more recent term, ‘hipster’ drop outs.

One of my favorite artists is my neighbor, Noreen Spence, the one who suggested that I write in defense of our beautiful marshland.  Noreen is a retired nurse in her eighties who walks every day and is busy bringing up her 18 year old granddaughter. She would not call herself an artist but her walls show the evidence of someone who examines, explores, and then feels the need to express.

In her reading room she has some humbly framed but beautifully captured water color paintings of the bay in its fall splendor of burnt orange and bright blue. And in the kitchen there is a fabulous rug hook hanging on the wall that is an impressionistic masterpiece of the bay.

With carefully chosen wool she has recreated the view I see from my window, but she did not follow a kit or a pattern; she just dug in and did the hard work of an honest artist, who tries to translate the beauty she sees into something from her own hand.

The bay outside my window draws me out every day. Sometimes I drop what I am doing, grab my camera and try to capture the beauty of our particular landscape.  When my youngest child is picked up by the school bus I wander up the road, and then down an old railway path that leads me into the woods. The walk takes almost an hour but I don’t notice the time passing as I examine the tiny footsteps in the snow that show the busy social life of wild animals.

I look forward to every season, even the winter one that we are in right now.  We can expect huge storms that bury us in deep drifts, frozen pipes, lots of nights around the woodstove, daily trips to the bird feeders, and the bay, in its arctic beauty offering up its daily feast for the eyes. The eagle swoops, the crows wait in the tree outside my window for peanuts and a small red fox whips across the white blue tundra of the frozen sea and out to the island to look for some dinner.

Far from desolate, the view outside of my window is alive and draws you into the natural world. When it has been a long cold winter I feed the birds and little animals every crumb of our compost. The fact that we are not living in a mass of humanity makes us more humane, and the fact that we have to depend on each other for help occasionally makes us live a less isolated life than in a city.

Artists do seem to be drawn to the area; it is a good place to think and create. But that Anna Torma, internationally acclaimed artist that she is, is also known for her parties.  In the summer she makes goulash in a pot on an open fire and we all drink wine and sit on blankets under the weeping trees just as she did in her homeland.

We really do like Zellers!

Published November 24, 2011 by megdedwards

I opened a Facebook page called ‘Save our Amherst, N.S. Zellers’! and I meant it.

You would think living in a small rural area would save us from the constantly changing landscape of retail take overs but, in fact, it makes us all the more vulnerable to it.

There are two small towns near where we live and unless we want to drive for almost an hour to the shopping mecca, also known as Moncton, we need to be able to find presents and knick knacks at affordable prices nearby.

I remember when Sackville had an old Steadman’s, oh boy, those were the days!  A small Five and Dime with a selection of stuff from soap to toys. All you need, not too big. Locally owned. It is gone now and I  have been forced to go to Amherst, an odd town in neighboring Nova Scotia with lovely large houses reminiscent of a time when there must have been railway money, but now the town’s only draw is its malls on the outskirts of town and, two, count them, two Tim Horton’s. But at least I could still shop at our Canadian Zellers.

A confession, if I have to feed two kids and myself ,who is probably crashing during this shopping expedition, Tin Horton’s feeds three people with a shared muffin, bagel and cream cheese, tea and drinks for 10 bucks and you can’t beat that. No bad fries on offer.

Back to Amherst, It also used to have a Burger King, now no longer. My son called it “Booger Queen’ , much to my delight.  We loved the Booger Queen. It had a play area, I had small children. It had veggie burgers and KD that  the kids liked and made me feel  that I was not offering my kids some meat from sad  cows taking up land in South America. There were some nice folk that worked there who probably don’t have any jobs at all now.

So off I go to Amherst these days, sans Booger Queen, for a modest Christmas and food shop. Amherst has a little mall with about ten stores in it,which is just my style. Practically right out of the seventies. This tiny mall does not give me a headache and I don’t have to pile in and out of the car too many times.

It has a  Zellers, a dollar store, an electronic shop, a strange store that sells clothing to old  ladies, another store that sells overpriced furniture,(I think these two shops are telling me something about the section of the demographic that has extra money)  a Sobey’s and a Tim Horton’s. Done.

It used to have a Blockbusters but that’s another story. Or, in fact, the same story. It is sad that small Canadian towns are so dependent on American mega businesses. I don’t like it. And we know that big corporations make big decisions about what is working and what makes ‘enough’ money, and that those decisions  have nothing to do with us.

For example, all the stores that are closing or have closed in Amherst were actually making money. They made enough money. People had jobs, and they liked those jobs. For every person I have talked to about corporate franchises closing down their local stores, I have been told that their store did make money. Burger King was popular, and so was Block Busters.

In our little economy, if they had been owned by local independent business owners, it might have been enough. After all, we are not trying to get rich out here on the east coast, just pay modest mortgages and have enough money to celebrate Christmas with a bit of bling.

But for the corporate accountants who see the ‘big’ picture, these far off franchises are not making enough money to justify keeping them going.

What is the solution? To take control of our businesses practices from within our country.

We should be encouraging our own Canadian businesses, and backing them with our taxes, so that we are not vulnerable to every turn in the Amercian economy ( good luck with that, I realize).

And now they are taking away my Canadian Zeller’s! All the workers have been given their notice and the place will be finished soon.  A large company bought it and it will not be replaced by Target or anything like it, most likely. It will just be gone like all the other stores.

And this is the thing, most people will say, just go to Walmart. But I do hate Walmart.  It has a limited McDonald’s for snacks, reeking of saturated fats.  And let me say again, I do hate Walmart.

It is in the less charming mall area, where there is only a Superstore and a Kents.

There’s lots of cheap stuff at Walmarts, and some stuff that is too expensive but I start to think everything is cheap and, somewhat brainwashed by the awful music,  I start to make wierd shopping choices.

There is no indoor mall with people sitting around on benches, and no visiting Santa Claus. No nice old cafeteria in the middle of the store, mostly patronized by families or elderly couples out for the Tuesday dinner special.

So I just have to say, I like the Zellers. It was Canadian! Doesn’t that mean anything anymore?  

And I will miss it. And Walmart will not replace it.

The restaurant in the Zellers reminds of the days when my Grandmother would take me to Eaton’s for a special shop. Of course, those days are long gone too.

Let’s Go to the Cinema!

Published November 21, 2011 by megdedwards

It was a Sunday afternoon and I could edit my essay on XML in the Library System or take my kids to a matinee at our local film theater, the Vogue Cinema.

I got my priorities settled fairly quickly and grabbed the kids. A half hour on country roads and we are in quiet little Sackville, a town that is very lucky to have its own independently owned film theater.

This month the kids and I have been to a bunch of children’s films, Puss in Boots (very funny) and Johnny English (OK) and yesterday, Happy Feet Two ( cute but the vision of environmental changes in the north can’t help but be a bit depressing).

We are looking forward to the new Tin Tin movie, the Muppet movie and whatever ‘girl flick’ I get to go to with my 19 year old daughter. We don’t go to any other movie theater, preferring to support our locally run cinema.

I also go to the movies with my husband when we get a chance!  Thursday nights have been a traditional night out since we discovered the Sackville Film Society. We have a beer at the local pub, Duckie’s,  and then head to the theater where a line gathers in the road as the crowd makes its way into the theater.

Thursday nights with the Film Society are a great date, the films are always good, picked carefully by a group of volunteers and lead by our very own internationally acclaimed photographer and Mount Allison professor Thaddeus Holownia.

The films are either something I missed and wanted to see, or something I have read about, and wanted to see.

We have seen lots of interesting films there, but I will never forget being introduced to the most wonderful filmmaker ever on the night we watched “Goodbye Solo” by Ramin Baharani. I was a puddle of tears at the end, and I won’t try to explain the film here, but I was crying from a mixture of sadness and joy.

The Vogue is pretty packed on a Thursday night, and sort of like going to a party. Sometimes Holownia introduces the film, or begs the audience to have patience with a film that is still being transported across the marsh during a storm.

The occasional technical problems are all part of the fun; the audience knows it is participating in a lost art and is in a receptive and grateful state of mind.

Sometimes Holownia makes a passionate plea to the college kids, a big part of the winter audience, to encourage their friends to put down their laptops and come out to the ‘happening’ at the Vogue.

We love our local independent theater and prefer to go to it than see a film in any other venue. It is smallish, with old chairs and it is a bit hot in the summer and a bit cool in the winter, depending on the size of the crowd. College kids work in the canteen and the staff and owner are very nice.

The Vogue Cinema is a gem and we are always grateful for its existence, hoping fervently that our own loyalty and the loyalty of other audience members will keep it going.

The owner, Jeff Coates, has also invested in the local Neptune Drive-In, which was about to close, and now runs both.

Coates seems to like what he is doing and has enough support from the community to continue.

The existence of our own independently owned film theater puts Sackville, N.B. on the map; a lot of bigger cities don’t have one!

Cheers to the Vogue Cinema!

Digital Archives: ‘The Evangeline Collection’

Published November 14, 2011 by megdedwards

My recent course work in Library Studies has lead me to a beautiful digital collection on the Nova Scotia Legislative Library website called “The Evangeline Collection – Commemorating 400 Years of Acadian Settlement”.

Hi I’m Meg Edwards, How may I help you?

Published October 21, 2011 by megdedwards

I live in the Canadian Maritimes among some of the most kind, polite and thoughtful people in the world. We smile at strangers, wave at cars in our small rural village, hold doors and offer help.

It is lovely and the one time someone was randomly rude to me in a parking lot, I turned to him and said, “Are you not feeling well”? That is how lovely it is.

Even teenagers talk to me, sometimes laughingly apologizing for their language, (can’t be worse than me on a bad day) and I have even seen teenagers upbraid each other for rudeness or littering.

The division between the very rich and the very poor is not overly painful in the east because we seem to have a large middle class that encompasses everyone.  Most people can afford to buy their own house, which evens the field considerably.

So for the most part there is not much snobbery, people are pretty straight forward and down to earth. I think the Scottish/English blood was much improved by a liberal mixing with the local First Nations and the French Acadian people.

We have a  lovely university town a mere twenty minutes from where I live that offers all that you want in a small town, a thrift store or two, little cafes, an  independent cinema, an  artist run art gallery and all the offerings of the local university.  And in this delightful town are some of the most snobbish and unfriendly people in the Maritimes.

There are people in this town who carefully avoid eye contact so that they do not have to say hello. While this may be common in big cities it is ridiculous in a small town. I refer to them as the ‘bourgeoisie’ because that seems to identify their aspirations and general social pretensions.

Some are college professors and some just think they are better than other people. When we first moved to the area I was eager to meet people and have parties. Those parties did not quite materialize, although I do have a bunch of artists that I like to have over.

This conversation will give you a clear picture of the social dynamic of this little town. I wanted to get to know a local professor, known to be ‘shy’ (give me a break). I thought that since I was great at parties and for coffee meetings, we could be friends.

For a few years she avoided eye contact, then one day we were stuck in a small entry room waiting for a theater production to let us in. We were approximately 2 inches apart. I said,” Hi, I’m Meg Edwards”. She said, “Oh hello, oh yes, Joe speaks very well of you”.  I said, “Yes, well, he has to he is my husband”. And that was the last conversation we had.

You would think this elite collection of people would have approved of me and my husband Joe. Joe’s got a PhD in British History for god’s sake. But we are not snobs, and this may have affected our life choices and job possibilities all along. We come across as sort of ordinary.

And we have done all sorts of jobs. When we first moved to New Brunswick  12 years ago we had no money, a student loan, a freshly minted PhD (him), an article recently published in Homemaker’s magazine (me), two cats and two kids.  We moved in with my beloved brother and took his advice, take any job you can get and then move up.

We had to take any job, we were desperate, and we are not bilingual. He worked in a packing factory at first and then got a sessional job teaching at the local university. I worked at Zellers, I kid you not, and then at a call center.

I learnt a lot at the call center. First of all, the only reprehensible call center jobs are the ones in which you make outgoing calls.

I tried it once; I called a lonely old lady at dinner time and could not make another call.  But I ended up working the night shift at a package delivery company in the brokerage department.

It was an odd environment; every worker is tethered to their pod by their head sets, and often they get up and stretch or pace as they talk to the customer. The workplace is a busy droning beehive full of women working at night to hold their families together. That was also when I learnt how to have a conversation with your eyes while speaking to someone completely different on the phone.

Here is some invaluable information. If you don’t like the representative you first spoke to, call again and try someone else.  You might get me. I forgave brokerage charges all the time just as long as the person was not rude. The ruder the person was the more I sat back in my chair and thought, fuck you then. For nice people I would give elaborate explanations and create files and call them back with resolutions.

Meanwhile, I have vivid memories of those phone calls and I was entertained. I can hear you opening the cat food, and I can hear you going to the bathroom. Those ear phones are stuck to our heads for our shift. The most excruciating for me were people who had to eat and talk. I have a weakness in that department and had to hold the phones away from my ear.

As a curious person I would allow the conversations to wander.  I met many IT people starting new entrepreneurial careers in exporting and importing. I was in people’s homes every night, hearing their dinners and their problems. I loved it. I talked to shocked  Americans on the very day that New York City had been attacked.

But the very fact that I have worked at a call center is going to embarrass the cold fish elite in that small town.  But never mind, as Kurt Cobain would say, after ten years I have found the gold in the muck and have a few wonderful friends.

Quite possibly the muck is only there because the university town imports people who think they could do better. And in this part of the world, we are content to let them go.

Bye Bye, now. Have nice day!

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