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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Here's to the farmers

We had a bunch of little boys visit the farm recently, and it took two farmers to entertain them. As our Sunday dinner gathering wrapped up, we were faced with the question, what to do with all the kids. Our children are in their twenties now, except for our granddaughter, who is not yet walking. We don’t have any toys for boys between the ages of two and six. I had put a DVD in the machine but it quickly became quite clear that our niece Maryanne’s boys had far too much energy to sit and watch a movie. Enter the Farmer. Farmers, plural. Another was spotted in our back forty, working a combine.

My husband has endless patience. He cooked a meal for family and friends and then wandered outside, kids in tow. While the rest of us did dishes and gathered on the porch with our after-dinner drinks, he helped the boys into their boots and instructed them on the avoidance of cow paddies and electric fences. They all joined hands and stepped into the barnyard. He lifted them up and strapped each of them onto the ATV behind him. Their three little bums just fit nicely on the bench above his seat. They were headed back to watch the combine, and they were excited. We could hear the hootin’ and hollerin’ as they bounced over the rocks in the yard and headed out to pasture.

Half an hour later, we noticed we could no longer see the ATV and we couldn’t hear it either. I figured they had gone on a trail into the forest. Another half hour went by and I started to worry that the four-wheeler was pulling its occasional trick of waiting til you get to the farthest point on the property, then konking out. I hoped he wasn’t stuck back there with three little boys and a disabled bike.

Finally we decided to send out a search party. Maryanne and her man pulled their boots and sweaters on and headed out into the field. Just then, we saw the ATV come barreling through the hole in the fence.

Emmett, the eldest, hopped off first. “Aunt Diana we got to drive the combine!!” His eyes were huge with excitement. I looked at Keegan, and little Logan. They both had glowing, happy faces.

“Well. I’ve never been on a combine,” I informed him.

“I know. Uncle Jim hasn’t either. But I have!!” Emmett kicked off his boots and threw the door open to the house to go and tell the rest of the family every detail of his adventure.

That farmer likely came around the bend on his combine and saw three little faces (and one big one) watching him from their ATV and then he had a really good idea. He was likely looking forward to heading home for a hot meal himself, but he took the time to give them a good long ride around the field. He even showed them how to drive the machine. It’s something they will never forget.

The cows wandered over to the fence to see what all the excitement was about. I showed the boys how to gather the fallen apples off the ground, giving the fruit a little kick first to make sure they weren’t housing any wasps. Mocha the tame red cow and Dono the Bull will take the apples right out of your hand. Mocha is unafraid and enthusiastic. She wraps her long sandpaper tongue around your hand and pulls the apple into her mouth. Dono is more delicate and polite. He nibbles the apple off your palm and takes a cautious step backward.

The rest of the cows are too shy to be fed by hand so we bowled apples through the fence to them on the ground. Those cows ate so many apples I’m sure they had belly aches afterwards. Just like us.

As the sun began to set on another perfect Sunday, we heard the geese approaching. We watched as they honked into v-formation and lowered themselves over the barnyard. They passed directly over us, on their way to the creek. As they reached us, they stopped honking. All you could hear was their wings flapping like a steady hum. I love that sound, even more than the honking because I feel it’s almost an honour to have them fly that low over your head. You won’t hear that in the city.

Here’s to the farmers, who occasionally remind us that simply getting outside is entertainment enough for one day.

Friday, October 7, 2016

There's a cow in the middle of the road...

The Friday before Thanksgiving we reached a high of 25 degrees in the sunshine. It was one of those days with absolutely no respect for the date on the calendar. Unlike some areas of Saskatchewan that were digging out of over two feet of snow, however, we were sunning ourselves.

Perhaps it was the uncharacteristically warm weather heightening the aroma of ripe apples and tomatoes on the vine. Maybe it was the sound of the tractors on the neighbouring fields, taking the soybean off. Whatever it was, the autumn fever was driving our farm animals crazy.

One of our cows (not Mocha this year – I guess she is getting old and lazy) keeps breaking out of the barnyard and wandering into the yard in search of something different to eat. She spends her time leisurely grazing on our lawn or the neighbour’s, before heading into the cornfield or under the apple tree for dessert. When I confront her she just stares at me. She knows she is in trouble but she also knows she has time. I have to go and get my boots on and I have to open the gates to the yard. She heads down the driveway and turns right to stroll up the road. I have to get her before a car whips around the corner. I start running through the pasture to head her off at the pass. Like I need this excitement this morning. I just had my hair done.

I grab a stick and whack it on the fencepost, being careful not to come in contact with the electric wire. The force of the Gallagher would send me flipping backward into last week. I’m thinking, I don’t need to be in the hospital this weekend. We have about 40 people coming for dinner.

The cow sees me. She looks surprised – alarmed, even, to note that I have made it so far ahead of her down the field. With just a fence between us, she now feels her freedom is threatened. She turns tail and hops over the stone fence, re-entering the neighbour’s yard. I hear their tiny dogs barking in the house. I can see their little furry faces in the window, their mouths wide open. Oh well, at least the cow is off the road.

I ran back up to the barn, whacking the fence as I go to push the cow up the field. She decides to check the gate into the barnyard, which I managed to swing open for her before my cross-country sprint. Predictably, she stops trotting and strolls through the gate. I hop the fence and push the gate closed behind her.

“Bad girl!” I holler, and she moos something rude in response as she joins her friends at the new hay bale the Farmer put out before he had to leave. He had an appointment to bring turkeys to the processor and he was running late. Seems someone left their door open and they decided to seize the moment too. I wish I had seen my husband running around the field, herding his turkeys. That would have been worth catching on video.

This is the third time this year we have had escapee animals – and with them wandering toward the roadway, it’s a bit of a concern. We will have to take some time this weekend to walk our fence line and shore it up where we see breaks. There are a few more weeks of wonderful smells to tempt my cows into bad behavior. Once it snows, they stay home.

I guess it is time to decide which of our dozen calves will be heading to market next month. Normally we send all the males but it depends on beef prices. We cut into our winter hay storage during this summer’s drought so I know we are not flush with food for winter. It would help if we had less mouths to feed.

It doesn’t help that our bull has developed the habit of turning the hay feeders over. Once the hay is on the ground, the animals just use it for a lovely plush bed. Dono likes the way the metal feels on his head. He spends the day pushing rusty old antique farm implements, fallen trees and tractors around the yard.

I think it’s time to say goodbye to him too. A new bull will be on the job for mating season 2017.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

To eat or not to eat. That is the only question.


I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with my weight. It’s more like alarmed. I have never really had an issue with weight – I fluctuated within ten pounds of an acceptable number for my height, my whole adult life. I gained a solid thirty pounds with each of my three pregnancies and most of that fell off after a year or so. But within about five years of my wedding to the Farmer, I realized I had gained 25 pounds. Yikes! I was beginning to think that happiness was fattening, until I happened to stumble upon a certain episode of the Dr. Oz show.

Right around the time I was wondering why I couldn’t seem to shake the extra thickness around my waist, Dr. Oz was explaining that the part we refer to as the ‘love handles’, ‘spare tire’ or ‘muffin top’ is a product of hormones that are a natural part of being a middle age woman. That being said, there is not much you can do about it.

The onset, after the age of forty, of all those lovely hormones, causes our hair to thin and dry out, skin to wrinkle, joints to stiffen, moods to swing and abdomen area to thicken. You can exercise and diet, sure. That will build muscle mass and strengthen your core – great for supporting your back and relieving back pain. But the abdominal thickness is prone to returning. We are just programmed that way.

I’ve gone on diets where you lose a significant amount of weight cutting out simple carbs, starches and sugars for two solid weeks. You focus on lean meats and cruciferous vegetables. I love that word. Cruciferous. These are not crucified vegetables but rather those in the cabbage family –broccoli, cauliflower and, cabbage. You steer clear of bread, pasta, potatoes and anything packaged or processed. Along with weight loss, you gain an amazing clarity of focus and thought. I truly think that is the lifting of the chemical fog that comes with the ingestion of preservatives in our modern diet.

Alas, you cannot stay on this extreme diet forever. It is not advisable to cut out any one food group – unless you have a medical aversion to it like an allergy or celiac disease. I think it’s healthy to know exactly what each food offers you, and what each food (or non-food) poses as a challenge or risk to your health, mood or stamina.

I have learned to listen to my body. If I’m craving red meat, I am likely in need of iron. I will eat a lean steak, although I may be craving a burger. Sometimes I give in to the burger too, but I have noticed if I eat a fast food burger I immediately get a low feeling. It’s like the food has a depressant quality. Must be the preservatives.

I no longer crave milk, either. And when I do have a latte or flat white coffee, the dairy in it upsets my stomach. I don’t think I can digest it anymore.

My mother-in-law brings delicious homemade desserts to Sunday dinner. She watches closely to see who eats them. If we avoid sweets, bread, pasta or potatoes, she scoffs that she fed her family that way for years and they are all in good health. Then I have to explain that the bread she made her kids sandwiches with did not have preservatives to keep it fresh on the shelf for days. The meals she made consisted of whole foods with no added chemicals or processing. Today we have to be careful what we eat, and aware that those modern, pre-packaged items will affect us in weird ways sometimes.

I’m afraid to say I have been the guinea pig. I have tried the diets and I have come to the conclusion that the best way to live is to listen to your body. Eat what you crave, but in the healthiest, purest form. Eat the bread – just make it a fresh choice and not a pre-packed, overly preserved one. Stay away from low fat, as it is full of chemicals and non-digestible products that will just lead to ill health in your system.

And above all, be happy that your body is healthy. So what if you can’t fit into the jeans and t-shirt you wore ten years ago. As I get older I find it’s more about how I feel than how I look.

Happy Thanksgiving, and bon app├ętit!



Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Marking the onset of fall...with a sick day

I was home sick today. I slept in, under the spell of cold medication. I got up for work but by the time I dressed and brushed my teeth I was in a feverish sweat, my headache had returned and I could not breathe through my nose. So I returned to my pajamas and my bed.
After a pot of herbal tea and a nap, I awoke refreshed, but weak as a kitten. Here is what I accomplished, even in that condition: I baked two loaves of zucchini/chocolate chip bread; I picked a bushel of tomatoes off my withering vines (and threatened to fall in out of dizziness); I cleaned the cats’ communal litterbox; I battled with the failing washing machine and won; I emptied and refilled the dishwasher; I removed the summer’s nail polish from my toes; I read a chapter of my book; and I wrote a chapter of my book.
Oh yeah – and I wrote a column. All in all, it was a very productive sick day. It’s a good thing I was home, too, because I helped to avert disaster in the kitchen.
The Farmer was home, preparing a hunters’ lunch for opening day. He had thawed goose from last season and was making a bourguignon stew. Potatoes, beets and carrots from the garden were being steamed and he was roasting a huge chunk of venison. This is how the hunters clean up last year’s bounty before they head out to collect this season’s catch.
He was preparing to mash potatoes when he thought to call out to me, “Hey. Any idea what this stuff is that I found in the freezer?” He stood there with a melting, dripping container of calf colostrum. We freeze some of that first milk, also known as liquid gold, so that we can feed it to any newborn calves who are failing and weak. It perks them right up and gets them on their feet. And the Farmer was about to add it to his mashed potatoes. Mmmm. Creamy.
“No! That’s colostrum!” I yelled. He just gave me a look and shook his head  before firmly locking the lid back onto the container. I’m going to make sure that stuff gets labeled before it goes back in the freezer.
It’s time to change summer sheets for flannels and a quilt. I put the summer quilt in the baby’s playpen for extra padding at nap time when she comes to grandma’s house. I’m airing out the sheepskins to put on the living room floor where we sit and watch Netflix. The baby has decided she loves to roll around on the soft and fluffy sheepskins. They will make a cosy spot in front of the woodstove – which we will also have to fence off so baby doesn’t get burnt.
The Farmer has been busy cleaning up fallen trees so we have a stocked woodpile and we are ready for the ominous Farmers’ Almanac prediction of a nasty winter. We will get past Thanksgiving first, because we need our back porch to host forty people for lunch. Then we will board it up and stack the wood floor to ceiling within reach of the back door.
September flew by, and suddenly October is upon us. Time to put away the sundresses and sandals – but not too far away because I am optimistic that we will be heading south in the dead of winter – and dig out the boots and sweaters.
My garden hasn’t quite finished yet – the severe drought we endured all summer seemed to have no ill affect on the tomatoes, kale or zucchini. We have actually filled a deep freezer with one bag of tomatoes a day. Our resident sauce maker will be busy – especially if he wants to make room for turkeys next week. The potatoes aren’t much bigger than the seed potatoes I planted and the cucumbers are kind of boomerang-shaped from searching for water but other than that, it was a good harvest.
The Marketplates event at the Kemptville Farmers’ Market was a raucous success – it makes me proud to see so many people coming out to buy from local farmers. We still have a few farm-fresh turkeys left so if you would like to reserve one for Thanksgiving – just email me. A new shipment of The Accidental Farmwife books has come in, so I will stock the shelves at the B&H Community Grocer, Rooney Feeds and Grahame’s Bakery, where you can pick up a copy.
Fall is here – now if I can just make sure the Farmer doesn’t come down with a huge man-cold, we will be able to enjoy our favourite season.

Introducing Autumn 2016 (published week of Sept. 22)

It is beginning to feel like Summer is leaving and quietly closing the door behind her. Like a brash and brassy blonde, all heat and fire and drought, she is gathering up her skirts and heading out toward the sunset. The nights are too cold for her. She will linger a bit longer in the daytime but at night she will be invisible. Hiding in the bushes. 

Summer’s cousin, Autumn, is on her way. She is scheduled to arrive Thursday, September 22nd at 10:21am. She has more energy and spirit than the lazy, slow-moving Summer. Autumn has her paint palette ready to coat the leaves on the trees before they dry up and fall to the ground. She will use a bright crimson on the Virginia creeper that clings to the side of our farmhouse. A touch of burnished gold for the oak tree; lemon yellow for the apple and burgundy wine for the maple.

The turkeys are getting nice and fat. We don’t have to worry about them flying up and roosting on the fence so much anymore; most of them are too heavy to launch themselves. Our turkeys are getting loaded on the truck and heading on an endless vacation the week before Thanksgiving. They will be ready the Friday before your holiday dinner so if you are in need of a big bird for your family celebration, let me know.
This weekend the Kemptville Farmers’ Market is hosting their annual fall harvest MarketPlates event. This is a true celebration of local food where you get to meet the farmer and sample their wares. From their Facebook page: “MarketPlates pairs regional chefs with local producers to create delicious and unique dishes that are sure to satisfy the most discerning palate.” For $20 in advance or $25 at the door, you get 12 tastes. Big Sky Ranch is bringing their little beasties for a petting zoo, so the kids will be entertained as well. Live, local music will set the mood – including Carey Graham who always puts on such a great show.
The rest of us regular vendors will also be on hand this weekend, and I’m bringing some extra baking to raise money for a friend. My daughter’s boyfriend Yuki Yamanaka is heading to Italy this fall for the World Championships in Muay Thai kickboxing. He needs plane fare and a bit extra for his trip so some of my family members are pitching in to bake some goodies for a fundraiser. We’ll have squares and muffins, cookies and brownies and loaves. 

I’d like to thank everyone who stopped by to hear me speak at the 14th Annual Literary Follies. It was a very special event as my future son-in-law (Carey Graham) did an awesome performance on Saturday, singing Tragically Hip songs and sharing some of his extensive knowledge about the writing process and meaning behind the songs. 

For someone who speaks on the radio for a living you would think I would be quite comfortable addressing a crowd. But a live audience always freaks me out a little bit. Last week I spoke to the seniors at the Russell Fair and at first I thought maybe they weren’t really interested and then I realized they probably couldn’t hear me very well, as we were in a hockey arena with terrible acoustics. I had trouble seeing to read my book as well, and thought it sure would have been nice if I had remembered to bring my glasses. When I sat down, I found the glasses on my head. How appropriate. I was having a seniors’ moment. In the end some people came over to chat with me and buy my book so I guess they were interested after all. I’m not very good at reading a crowd. 

When I was at the Literary Follies in Kemptville though, I looked out at the audience and recognized so many faces of people who have been following my column for the past nine years. People who encouraged me to publish my stories in book form and interested readers who are asking me to write another.
Maybe it was because I started the day at 4am by babysitting my granddaughter so her parents could go hunting. I might have been a bit overtired. In any case, I wasn’t nervous at all. I felt relaxed as I told my stories and read three chapters of my book aloud. 

More likely, it was the positive, encouraging energy of small-town cheerleaders, book lovers and friends that put me at ease.
Get out and enjoy some of what North Grenville has to offer, before winter comes along and sends us into hibernation.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

This is why we can't have a goat.

There is a man on Beach Road selling his goats. I have been stopping at his corner to watch the baby goats playing in the yard, butting heads, climbing up onto their shelter and jumping off. They are so frisky and intelligent. I have always wanted a goat. He has a big “Goats for Sale” sign on his fence now. I pulled over yesterday to get a closer look and the goats stopped playing to stare at me. I baahed at them and they responded, then went back to their head-butting game.
Alas, I cannot have a goat. This is why. Back in the 1980s, a gang of very badly behaved goats ruined any chance of me any owning one of their kind. At the time, the Farmer (who wasn’t a farmer then) was travelling the prairies visiting farmers on behalf of a credit union. On one especially hot day, he was travelling a long, country road, enjoying the breeze through the windows of his K-car. He arrived at a goat farmer’s house and went in for a chat.
That particular farmer didn’t get visitors very often, and he loved to talk. So when my husband (who wasn’t my husband then) arrived, this gentleman put the kettle on and opened a new box of tea biscuits. My husband is never one to rush away from a conversation or a pot of tea. For the next two hours, the two men chatted about the weather, crop yields, finances, and women. In that order.
This is how the goats spent the same two hours. Noticing the shiny new vehicle in the driveway, they decided to amble over and take a closer look. Goats – even Manitoba farm goats – fancy themselves mountain climbers, and will climb onto anything that they encounter. The first goat reached the roof of the car and did a little tap dance to proclaim himself King.
The second goat assessed the situation. If he climbed up top and joined the larger goat on the roof of the car he would likely be shoved off. Then he noticed the open windows. The Farmer had conveniently parked the car next to a pile of old wooden pallets, so the goats could step up and hoist themselves in. Within about twenty minutes, the K-car, a company issue, was occupied by four rather curious and snacky goats.
Now, goats have iron stomachs and they have been known to eat leather shoes, hardcover books – even tin cans. They don’t have to be hungry. They just consider it their duty to taste everything.
This is what they ate: the upholstery of both front car seats and a good portion of the rear bench; the Farmer’s briefcase handles and most of the papers within (he had left that conveniently open as well); the Farmer’s ham-and-cheese sandwich, apple, cookies and potato chips; the map of Manitoba; the novel he was reading; and the left of his pair of hiking boots. The goat was working on the right boot when the Farmer emerged from the house. His host laughed and said, “I hope you have goat insurance!” The story grows longer every time my husband tells it, with embellishments and items added to the goat menu. The morale always remains the same: we will never own a goat.
About four years ago, we were visiting friends and they told us another goat story that only added to my husband’s (then he really was my husband) dislike of goats. They had visitors with a shiny sportscar. While on the back porch enjoying a barbecue, the resident goats noticed the flashy car, came closer and caught a glimpse of two other goats in the reflection. A fight ensued and after about half an hour of head-butting the stubborn car-goats, the sportscar was covered in dents. That story told, my Farmer gave me a look and said, “don’t ever ask me for a goat.” He knows me so well.
So, if any of you are up for the challenge, starting a hobby farm or a goat cheese business and you need a couple of goats, I know where you can get some. I have been told we are sticking to beef cattle and turkeys.
Note: Diana Fisher will be doing a reading at “The 14th Annual Literary Follies” books and music event on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 12:30pm, Grenville Mutual Insurance Bldg., Colonnade Drive, Kemptville.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The family that you choose

Sometimes you get to choose your family members. That honorary aunt or uncle may not be related to you by blood but they are there for you when you need someone one-step-removed from family to confide in. They know you like family, but the other complications aren’t there. They aren’t as likely to flip out if you tell them something shocking – that distance allows them to just take it all in stride and give you wise, objective advice.
Colette was that person for me. She didn’t have children of her own and her beloved husband had passed away so she was always very interested in what was going on in our lives. Colette was my grandmother’s best friend over the last twenty years or so. Maybe thirty. She was part of all our family celebrations and gatherings, and we loved her like family.
Colette had been suffering with a bad back that wouldn’t heal, in recent months. She didn’t make it to our last few gatherings, and that wasn’t like her. She lost her footing a few days ago and fell. She never did wake up. The doctors discovered she was also full of cancer. It was in her bones.  That explains why she didn’t get better and the pain never went away. The pain is gone now.
For as long as I can remember, Colette has been the life of the party. She would laugh loudly and raucously, over Dad’s dirty jokes, especially if he mixed her a drink that was a bit too stiff. She was also very fond of my long-legged, handsome husband, because he reminded her of her man, whom she had lost when they were still very much in love.
She asked about and remembered every detail of my daughters’ lives, and was as thrilled about the new grandbaby as the rest of us. I like to imagine her somewhere now, resting painlessly, her best self, maybe dancing, with her beloved Garnet. Or maybe she is enjoying cocktail hour with my Dad. It is his 75th birthday, after all.
When Dad was sick, in 2007, he told me he dreamed of a place where people were dancing. The men could dance as well as the women – they were doing the jive. There were lots of colourful, gleaming sportscars parked outside, and dozens of dogs running around. I told him it sounded like his perfect Heaven.
Colette and I never had a similar conversation but if I had to guess, her Heaven would be full of tall, handsome men (the ability to dance would be ideal), fine, beautiful things like gold jewellery, crystal and flowers, and maybe a horse or a dog or two. No cats. Colette was terrified of cats, which I discovered when she was at the farm one day and a bold barn cat chose to rub up against her leg. (Why do they always go for the people who don’t like them?)
We will miss Colette and her sage advice, her raunchy sense of humour and her zest for life.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner and we will likely fill the house again with about forty people but there is a trend happening. The elderly members of our tribe are leaving us slowly, and the younger ones are coming up to fill the places at the table with their chosen mates and friends. This year we have a new addition, as it is Leti’s first Thanksgiving. She will be ten months old and ready to try some of the traditional feast. Hopefully she will also have a tooth or two by then, to help her eat it.
Also at our table will be three or four people not related by blood, but part of the family just the same. They are part of our group because we love and care for them and we want to celebrate life with them at this traditional time of year.
And gathered around us, the silent guests at every family dinner. Because they haven’t really left us. They’ve just gone on ahead. We keep them with us through our stories and memories and toasts, delivered teary-eyed, with glasses held high.

On the subject of Thanksgiving, if you too are hosting a large group, consider serving them a farm-raised turkey. Ours start at about 25 lbs each. The Kemptville Farmer’s Market will be open until Thanksgiving as well, featuring the bounty of many local farms and gardens.