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Gwen Tuinman

Novelist

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women

How to Make Butter in a Churn

In the novel I’m currently writing, one character— a farm wife living in the early 1900s—operates a home dairy and sells butter to local families. I recently discovered an inspiring historical document about a farming couple in the butter business—Samuel and Jane Spares from Northfield, Hants County, Nova Scotia.

Between 1885 and 1890, the Spares sold $770.00 of produce generated by their farm. Three quarters of those funds were generated by livestock products, but the remainder was owing to butter, oats, hay and wool. “The 350 lbs. of butter sold (an average of 58 lbs per year) was the most important of these products. Churned in the kitchen by Jane Spares and her daughters, home-produced butter remained an important element of this farm’s commercial output until the establishment of a dairy factory in the district after the turn of the century.”

With an interest in butter-making, I set out to learn the process used by our early families.

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Women Speaking

I once played a dinner-party game with friends. We took turns drawing cards from a deck of conversation starters. What famous person, dead or living, would you like to have dinner with? That sort of thing. The question I drew asked what famous person’s voice would I like to take on for a day.

Thought of certain theatrical artists and actors arose as I combed my mind for candidates. They train their voices for the stage. They learn to annunciate and project. Actors know how to breathe. You’d think breathing would come naturally. I often forget to do it when I’m anxious or overly focused on a task.  A well-meaning new acquaintance once commented unbidden, on the pitch of my voice and the way I spoke from ‘high in my throat’. She claimed that these aspects pointed to mother issues I’d yet to unpack. I gaped at her. Although I’ve written openly about the mother wound, the betrayal of my vocal cords felt like an ambush.  

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Choose to Challenge

When I was nearing the end of high school in 1981, a forward-thinking teacher challenged one of my classes with this riddle.

A father and son were in a car accident in which the father was killed. The ambulance brought the son to the hospital. He needed immediate surgery. In the operating room, a doctor came in, looked at the boy and said, “I can’t operate. He is my son.”

Who was the doctor?

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