A Good Home, Favourite Small Towns and Places

Charm Alert! Small Town Bowmanville

The small town of Bowmanville has been good to my books, but I visit as often as I can because I love this town.

Blog Photo - Bowmanville Main Street1

I don’t live there, but some of my favourite places and people do.

Blog Photo - Bowmanville Small House with Red Door

This includes:

*The people at what I have called “The friendliest centre I know in Canada: BOAA”. (An association for adults over 50, where friendly volunteers, members or staff greet you the moment you enter.)

Blog Photo - BOAA - Cynthia signs Book with volunteers

*The heritage district of gorgeous old homes with huge trees and lawns covered with blue Scilla in Spring

Blog Photo - Bowmanville House in Spring - with Blue Scilla lawn

Blog Photo - Bowmanville Large House with Stone wall

*The small stores and restaurants — some family-owned, even by the third-generation of local families — that line the streets.

Blog Photo - Bowmanville Main Street2

And my favourite store in all of Ontario: The Willow Branch.  

Blog Photo - the Willow Branch and Street

Owned by two sisters, Tammy and Rebecca, sometimes helped out by younger relatives.

You go into The Willow Branch expecting one thing, and you find a treasure-trove.

Blog Photo - The Willow Branch Display in window

It’s a gift store, a candle store, a what-wonderful-things-will-I-find-today kind of store.

Blog Photo - the Willow Branch display of succulents and candles etc

Blog Photo - The Willow Branch bags with quotes

Blog Photo - The Willow Branch Funny sign

The store’s contents reflect the seasons (and a sense of humour), though the florist shop at the back is always blooming.

Blog Photo - The Willow Branch - Flower bouquet

Blog Photo - The Willow Branch floral arrangement

Blog Photo - The Willow Branch - Rebecca at open Freezer

Blog Photo - The willow Branch - Rebecca1

Almost any gift you could need to buy for someone is here, whether it’s Summer outdoorsy or Autumny or Hallowe’eny stuff.

Or thick wool socks for the Canadian Winter, or something for the fireplace.

Blog Photo - The Willow Branch Northern comfort thick socks

Fun gifts for adults or children, male or female — it’s all there. (You’ll even find my Myrtle the Purple Turtle books there.)

And what else you’ll find, in great abundance?

Polite, friendly, helpful service.

Brava to Tammy and Rebecca!

Blog Photo - The Willow Branch front of store

The Willow Branch is located in the Heritage district on Bowmanville’s main street, at 77 King Street. 

 

A Good Home, Afternoon Tea, Humour

Afternoon Tee-hee

My friend and I planned to have afternoon tea at an historic estate during colder weather. It’s known for its grand mansion, beautiful gardens and tearoom.

The day before, she sent me an email.  “The tearoom is open but the online reviews were kind of nasty, which is sad.”

But we had fond memories of tea in the conservatory attached to the mansion.

“How can they mess up tea?” I argued. “Let’s go anyway.”

blog photo - afternoon teapot

The estate’s enormous black wrought-iron gates were wide open. A sign pointed the way to the tearoom – not in the conservatory, but a small 2-story house on the grounds. 

We pushed the heavy wood front door, but it did not budge.

Hmmm.  The sign clearly indicated the tearoom was open. 

We knocked. Then knocked again. 

Through a glass section of the door, we saw a woman’s face, grimacing with the effort to unlock the door. We almost cheered when she succeeded but settled for thanking her, warmly.

~~

It was colder inside than out.

“But the tea will warm us up,” I said.

“The place is empty.” My friend raised her eyebrows.

“But we have our choice of table!” I said.

We chose one beside the window overlooking the grounds. We kept our coats on.

We admired the view, then the table-setting: crisp white tablecloth, pretty vintage teacups and saucers.

blog photo - afternoon tea cup and saucer 2

“Would you like some tea?” Our server asked, shivering, despite her thick sweater.

“I’ll have coffee — if you have it, please,” my friend replied. She was taking nothing for granted.

“I’ll have Earl Grey tea, please,” I said. Tearooms always have Earl Grey.

“I don’t think we have Earl Grey”, our server replied. “We only have Tetley.”

Shorthand for orange pekoe, we guessed.  But tearoom staff should know that Tetley makes many teas. This was not a good sign.

~~

Our cups were frozen. 

“Could you please warm the cups?” my friend asked. “Just some hot water should do it.”

The server removed our cups and disappeared into the kitchen.

Minutes later, she returned with coffee, tea and a teapot. She also brought scones.

“I warmed them up for you,” she said, eager to please. “And I warmed the butter too.”

The scones were indeed warm; the butter was frozen solid.

But by now we knew: we liked her. She was an older lady, maybe close to 80; a volunteer, likely filling in for someone else.  Here alone, freezing in this icebox, she clearly didn’t know tea.  But she was friendly, polite and trying her best. So would we.

~~

Coffee and tea served, my friend and I were just about to begin sipping, glad for some warmth, when we noticed — coffee was seeping out of her cup. Rapidly.

We grabbed our napkins, sopped and dabbed and wiped. It was no use. My friend rushed to the kitchen.

“She’s knitting,” she whispered when she returned.

“I’ve never seen that before,” the server arrived and said,  staring as if the leaking cup was an alien creature.

“No worries,” we said, consoling her.

She returned with the coffee in a different cup, and waited, shivering.

“It’s cold in here,” I commiserated.

“The furnace broke down”, she replied.

~~

Two women and a girl arrived and sat at the next table. The server greeted them warmly and left to fill their orders.

A few minutes later, a loud clatter and men’s voices; the furnace-fixers appeared in the hallway.

Nearly an hour passed before the room warmed. We spent the time sipping,  chatting and giggling.

“I wouldn’t trade this for the world,” I told my friend.

“You wouldn’t?”

“Imagine if we’d gone somewhere else. How could it possibly be more interesting?”

We giggled some more.

~~

A frightened shout came from the next table.  One of the women jumped up, shook herself and stared in horror at something on the floor.  A long brown bug. 

Their unwelcome guest dispatched, the women settled down again. The server brought their order and their chit-chat turned to knitting. The server showed them her blanket; the women oohed and aahed.  It was a lovely thick wool, in shades of blue.

Two new customers arrived. The server placed her blanket on a nearby table and hurried off to greet them.  It slowly slipped off the table and onto the floor. My friend jumped up to rescue it.

~~

“I seem to remember telling you this place got some bad reviews,” my friend said as we drove away.

And I said: ‘How can anyone mess up tea?’ I replied. “I think we just found out.”

But what an adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

A Good Home, Art, Artist

When Anger Leads to Art

Imagine: you’re an attorney in New York, dealing with brutal cases and people — some of whom are your colleagues.

One day, out of the blue, you discover a love for painting. At first, it’s only stress-relief.  Then onlookers start reacting. It seems you may have some talent.

Blog Photo - JJ Trees and city

~~

A wife and mother of two young children, JJ did her best to ‘leave the work at work’. But two years ago, she felt her frustration growing.

“Being a Black woman in the legal profession in New York City can be brutal. I have been bullied countless times by my White adversaries.”

Worse, she came to realize: “There is nothing fair about the justice system in America”. That was a heart-breaker; JJ had attended law school because she thought she could make “real change”.

Then she started to read news stories about another woman of colour being bullied — very publicly — in newspapers and online. JJ felt immediate empathy for her.  

“Seeing a hardworking, passionate, intelligent, go-getter woman of colour being demonized, dehumanized on a daily basis by a segment of the media not because of anything she has done, but because of her Blackness” triggered both a realization and an awakening. 

“The world will not change much as long as there are closed-minded people who would rather dwell on negativity than shedding light on the good in this world. It won’t change as long as people with public platforms continue to use their platforms to spread lies and half-truths. Some people have been suppressing their hate, waiting for the right moment to strike.”

~~

Blog Photo - JJ first art class - woman painting

During this time of growing frustration, JJ attended a friend’s bridal shower and was invited to take an art class there with other women.

Before it was over, she was hooked. 

Blog Photo - JJ 2nd painting

“Until that class, I never painted a day in my life.

“I got married immediately after law school, had my first baby within that year. I never even thought about taking a painting class until my friend’s bridal shower. I was suddenly hit with a realization that I probably missed my calling.”

She started to post her early paintings on social media.

blog-photo-jj-4th-painting.jpg

Blog Photo - JJ Woman and Baby

Encouragement turned into admiration. Admiration turned into purchases.

Blog Photo - JJ Trees and water

Stephanie, a Canadian buyer of one of JJ’s paintings says:

“I feel blessed to have watched and encouraged her growth as an artist. What inspires me is her expression of life with passion, strength and such beauty it literally hits me in the belly when I look at them. Whether it’s on social media or at my home where I have two gorgeous paintings, I smile with great pride for a sister of the soul.”

Blog Photo - JJ Waterfall-under-the-moonlight

JJ says painting allows her freedom.

“I can be brutally honest, and a lot of people don’t like honesty. Painting allows me to use my creativity as well as my honesty. Through my painting, I express myself freely without the constraint society places on women, especially a Black woman like myself.”

Blog Photo - JJ Waterfall3

JJ’s paintings arouse different emotions in the people who have purchased them or encouraged her to turn her hobby into her dream.

Blog Photo - JJ Trees3

Ava, who lives in Texas, says JJ’s paintings give her “instant peace and joy”.

“I like her paintings because they make me feel serenity and they have an effortless effulgence to them.  I think her work is professional and more than just a hobby. She has talent, the kind you are born with and the kind you have to work hard to achieve.”

JJ paints almost every day, and has recently launched her website myhobbyturns2dream.com .

Blog Photo - JJ Barn Village

~~

POSTSCRIPT:   JJ didn’t want to identify the woman who helped inspire her art “because so many use her name for the wrong reasons.”

I insisted. 

She then revealed: “I confess that without the hateful media campaign against Duchess (of Sussex) Meghan, I am not sure I would have looked for a hobby to channel my anger and frustration against racism.”

Blog Photo - JJ Sisterly

Quoting Michael Jackson’s lyric “Man in the Mirror”, JJ says that, with her paintings, “I’m starting with the woman in the mirror. I’m asking her to change her ways. And no message could have been clearer.” 

But her greatest realization was inspired by the duchess herself, who has persevered and succeeded, in spite of the hate against her.

“It made me realize I should not settle for anything less than greatness.”

~~

*The paintings above may not be replicated. Property of the artist.*

A Good Home

Colin and Justin

In 2013, Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan made me cry.

And then they made my husband cry.

But our whole family loved them for it.

colin and justin

I had followed their writing and TV shows: they are brilliant designers. But they didn’t know me.  How surprising then, that  Colin and Justin should have done something special for my first book that helped launch my career as an author.

It happened at a time when I was coping with serious injuries from a car accident and had lost all self-confidence.  Gone were the days of being a high-flying TV exec, of heading up big projects, of knowing my own strength.

Now, I badly needed to believe in myself. The book I’d been writing over twenty-plus years was about to be published.

Colin and Justin’s support, and that of other readers and reviewers, made an impact. On me, and on the book-reading public.

Book Cover - A Good Home

A Good Home became both critically acclaimed and a bestseller.

In the years since then, I continued to follow Colin and Justin’s projects, cheering them on when they launched a new TV show and an excellent home accessories line.

Blog Photo - colin and Justins Log Cabin

Occasionally, I dropped them a note. But I still never met them.

Yesterday, an appointment fell through. I ended up strolling through a nearby store, delaying the long drive back home.

I looked up at two men and recognized them instantly.

With several books to my credit, I once again know what it’s like to have fans; I know what it’s like to be approached by strangers. But no fan could have behaved as bizarrely as I did yesterday. 

I think I yelled something like “Colin and Justin! It’s me, Cynthia Reyes!”

And then I hugged them. 

They probably should have called store security.

But Colin and Justin hugged me back as if deranged women with windswept hair, absolutely no makeup — and no attempt at coolness —  attacked them in stores every day.  

Blog Photo - CR with Colin and Justin

They asked about my writing, and whether their support had helped. I was so proud to tell them that it had. 

If you look at the back cover of my first book, A Good Home, you’ll see a lovely testimonial from Colin and Justin. But if you want to know the full story, and why my family and I are so grateful to these two men, please read this:

https://cynthiasreyes.com/2013/09/07/the-review-that-left-my-husband-speechless/

Thanks again, Colin and Justin. For your brilliant designs. For being kind to a stranger. And for being you.