Search This Blog

Follow by Email

Sunday, November 13, 2016

On removing a sliver of the darkness

Leonard Cohen was in his thirties by the time he found his calling. He had poetry within him his entire adult life – perhaps even younger. He wrote passionate poems and gathered a meagre following – but he never found success in that realm. It wasn’t until he began writing songs that he found his place in the world.
In interviews, Cohen explains that his songwriting was not simply poetry set to music. He said the words to a song come from a different part of the heart. Poetry, he said, is the expression of an inner voice or running commentary. Songwriting is sharing that voice with everyone else who cares to listen. 

When Cohen wrote the song “Hallelujah” in 1984, it did not receive critical acclaim. One critic said he “didn’t get it.” Like many songwriters, Cohen’s own performance of his songs is an acquired taste. It’s when the song is adopted and adapted by someone else that it comes to life. And man, did that song come to life.
The first person to make “Hallelujah” his own was Australia’s Jeff Buckley, in 1994. His haunting version, where his voice breaks and he runs out of breath, pulls the listener along with him through whatever painful memories the melody evokes. 

The song has travelled globally, inspiring artists to put their own spin on it. I, like many other Canadians, didn’t become aware of the song until it fell into the hands of Ms. Kathryn Dawn Lang of Alberta. I don’t believe the song came to her by accident. The artist known as k.d. lang took that tune and put her own mournful, spiritual phrasing on it. She ploughed the depths and reached the heights of emotion with that song. She sings it barefoot. It is the one song she cannot leave out of any concert playlist. To many people, her version of Leonard Cohen’s song has become her signature. And it has become his masterpiece. 

I love many of Leonard Cohen’s songs – especially when my daughter and her fiancĂ© sing them. Cohen continues to inspire today’s generation of singer-songwriters with the music that he had to punish himself to complete, his lack of confidence stopping him in his tracks time and again. 

A few years ago, Facebook informed me it was Leonard Cohen’s birthday. I know his page likely wasn’t manned by himself, but I sent him a note anyway, and asked for his advice to today’s young artist starting out. I was surprised when I received a reply, just after midnight. 

September 22, 2007, 12:16am
“Good evening, Ms. Fisher. A certain thread runs through some of those who practice Zen - this thread is woven from the strands of Shikan-taza. 'Shikan' means 'nothing', 'ta-za' means 'to sit.' This thread is woven from the strands of the idea that meditation is nothing more than sitting, can mean nothing more than sitting, that it is only when one releases his or her desire for enlightenment that enlightenment truly comes.

Woven through art, I think, is the fine silk thread of observation. True art, whether paint or music or literature, shows us where we came from, who we are, what we are to be, always from a different angle, in a slightly different language, and therein truth is discovered, piece by piece.

Learn to listen, to quiet yourself, to watch the present go and the future come, hear the great pulse of this universe, and then to teach to us the facets you witness. If you can remove a sliver of the darkness from my blindness, you are a true artist.”

I sent the note to a former McGill classmate of Leonard Cohen, who lives in Kemptville. He said there was a very good chance the note was written by the artist himself, as “it sounds like him.” 

The note is one of my treasures, and it reminds me to be quiet, to listen and to share what I’ve heard.
That is Leonard Cohen’s legacy and gift to us – he wants us to listen to ourselves, to believe in ourselves and to follow the path that is so clearly laid out before each of us. We all have a calling. It isn’t necessarily what we do for a living, but it is what makes us come alive.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Influenza is a pretty word for a not-very-pretty situation

I’ve always thought the word ‘influenza’ was romantic. You imagine beautiful young maidens in long flowing dresses and tresses perishing of influenza and consumption. Just heating up and wasting away, in a long ago fairytale setting. That’s before I got the flu and held onto it for two solid weeks. It ain’t so pretty anymore.
They’re really pushing the flu shot again this year and so of course I got mine. I was in the doctor’s office for my monthly B12 shot when the nurse asked me if I wanted a flu shot. It was in my arm before I suddenly remembered that as soon as I had the shot last year, I got the flu. This year it took nearly a week but it did eventually show up, as feared.*
Luckily I was just transitioning to working from home again so I didn’t have to miss any time at the office. But after a solid week of cold medicine, cough syrup and Vic’s Vap-o-Rub, I started to investigate more natural methods of dealing with flu symptoms.
Which brings me back to the year we had two Chinese boys living with us. The winter of 2014 was a particularly harsh one, and like nothing these boys from the seaside town of Suzhou had ever seen or felt before. When that first chill set in, they started looking around for some of their traditional herbal remedies.
The boys drank about six cups of dark Chinese herbal tea with ginseng and raw honey every night. They drank so much hot water during the day they wore out an electric kettle and I started to research water intoxication to ensure they weren’t drinking too much.
One night as I tucked in to sleep, I smelled something very strange wafting through the air. I could smell cooking. I got out of bed and padded down the stairs in my robe and slippers to see what the boys were up to in the kitchen. There was no one there. I went back upstairs, noticing the smell was growing stronger. It was a strong herbal, onion-y aroma – not unpleasant, but I didn’t want to sleep in it.
I hoped they hadn’t brought food up to their rooms. Opening my bedroom window for fresh air, I closed my door and went to sleep.
The next morning I passed Big Jerry in the hallway on his way to the bathroom. The smell of garlic followed him like a green cloud and seeped from his hair, his skin, his every pore.
“Jerry!” I laughed, startling him fully awake. “If you eat raw garlic like that you aren’t going to have to worry about the girls getting too close.” He just blinked at me and continued on his way. Later the boys explained to me that they eat copious amounts of raw garlic in China when they feel a cold coming on.
“We don’t want you to get sick,” they explained. I told them they were making me sick with the smell and they needed to back off a bit on their health kick. I hid the raw garlic in the back of the beer fridge. The next morning it was obvious they had found it. The Farmer had to drive them to school with the windows down on the truck.
When the Farmer is sick – about once every five years – he coats a wool sock with Vic’s and wraps it around his neck. This season he is using a neck warmer. He wears it all day when he’s out building his log cabin, and sleeps with it on at night. I’m going to steal it while he’s in the shower and give it a run through the wash.
Maureen at the Kemptville Restaurant says she protects herself against the flu-wielding public by taking raw ginseng all season long. It comes in little vials and it’s really cheap and effective. That’s the next trial on my list, because I don’t think I can handle drinking garlic soup all day long. I realize you can also take concentrated garlic in tablet form but – guess what?- the tablets are sealed with some kind of compound that gives me migraines. I just can’t win.
Cold season is disgusting. And why do the effective cold remedies have to taste so bad? Buckley’s, ginseng, raw garlic – at least we don’t have to worry about spreading the cold by kissing. No one is coming near me with a ten-foot pole.

*you can’t get the flu directly from the flu shot, as it contains a dead virus. However if your immune system is already compromised, you may be vulnerable to viruses in circulation.

Monday, October 31, 2016

How I spent my summer vacation

Yes, I realize we are halfway through fall already but I just wanted to share with everyone a little bit of what I’ve been up to these last few months. 

On July 3rd, I left my radio job in Kemptville and went to the big city to become the evening news producer at CFRA. The team was wonderfully supportive and welcoming. I was very impressed with their company culture where everyone is on the same level and even the little guy gets a thank you for a job well done.
I learned how to scan the newswires and social media feeds for news tips, and whom to call for an interview at each of the main hubs – police, fire, paramedics. There wasn’t the same connection with community as there is at the small radio station in Kemptville – but then we were speaking to a much larger group of people. 

My commute was 150 kilometres round trip, daily. I got up in the morning, did some work around the farm, made sure the Farmer had something to warm up for dinner, then I hit the highway for the city around 1pm. Quite often I had lunch with my husband before heading in – because otherwise I would never see the guy.
Once in the city, I made my way through heavy traffic and LRT construction to the Byward Market. I pulled up to my parking lot on Clarence, just a ten minute walk from work. I wriggled my large Ford Explorer between two yellow lines every weekday afternoon. Sometimes I had to crawl out through the passenger door so I wouldn’t hit the neighbouring car with my door.

On my walk down Clarence and up Dalhousie to York, I saw the same homeless people every day. I didn’t give them the spare change they begged me for, because I could see that some of them were dealing with mental health issues and I didn’t want to contribute to their self-medication. I did, however, hand out a lot of snacks. I became known as the granola bar lady. The people with no teeth waved me on. 

After my shift I slipped out the back door of the studio onto York Street, keys splayed through my fingers like I was taught long ago in a self defense class. Call me paranoid but I never did become relaxed after dark on my ten minute walk back to the car. Maybe it was the fact that I reported the public shootings and stabbings each day on the news. 

One night mid-August I was greeted at the door and escorted across the parking lot as I often was, by Bonnie and Clyde – the two rats that lived in the back of the former Fat Tuesdays restaurant. Once out on the street, I was accosted by a blonde woman, about my age, who would be pretty if she had all her teeth. I reminded her that I didn’t hand out cash but I did have a rather soft ham sandwich she might enjoy. She took it with thanks . Later in the fall I came upon her sleeping in a doorway on a piece of cardboard. She yelled as I passed, “I’ll tell you a joke for a dollar!” and startled me. I told her she should find a safe place to sleep indoors. She said it’s safer outside. 

That same night I saw two people doing something questionable in the empty lot on the block where I parked. Another person was urinating in the corner beside the Shepherds of Good Hope building. Dozens of people sat outside, huddled in tight groups and alone. The smell of marijuana wafted through the air. A group of young men – probably in their mid-20s, with pants barely hanging onto their hips and hoods pulled up even though it wasn’t cold, followed me two blocks. It was a full moon that night. A strange energy in the air.

Around the end of September we found out that one of our elderly family members is quite ill. He will have to attend a number of medical appointments and needs an escort. His partner needs company too as she is not comfortable being left on her own. I have one grandmother who recently had a shoulder replaced and needs help around the house, and another who is 101 and needs regular visits and care. 

As I returned home after work one night in early October and saw my husband had once again fallen asleep on the sofa, an empty pizza box beside him, I made my decision. All things were pointing to my leaving my job in the city and returning home, to work on the farm. 

Some people – I’ve met them – would give their two front teeth to work in radio. I realize I’ve been lucky to have had that experience these last five years. But it’s time for a change. I will be working at home, offering freelance writing and editing services, Now I can make my own hours and be available for the folks who need me. 

So if you’re looking for me, I’m on social media @farmwife and I’m out here in my farmhouse office in Oxford Mills, on O’Neill Road. 

Farmwife out.

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 appétit!