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Sunday, June 16, 2019

A memorable Father's Day on the farm



When I think about Father’s Day on the farm of course I remember all of the fabulous Sunday dinners, grilled to perfection by the man himself, the Farmer. Friends and family gather along our 16-foot picnic table on the porch he built. He is the centre of our home and he pulls the family together every weekend over a warm meal cooked with love. So of course we like to make a big deal out of celebrating him. He is usually feted with some good books (second hand is fine; he isn’t picky – and they come with recommendations), red wine, Timmies cards and the occasional cigar, which he enjoys in intervals, while riding his lawn tractor.
My last Father’s Day with my own Dad was in 2007. At the time we didn’t even know he was sick. It wasn’t until August of that year that he decided his back pain was actually worth a trip to the hospital. It turned out to be pancreatic cancer, and an aortic aneurysm. In September we learned he was terminal. This is when I married the Farmer, and our weekly Sunday dinners began soon afterward. That winter, my family circled around my father, spending as much time with him as possible. Although it sucks to lose a parent so early in life (he was just 66), we were blessed with the knowledge that the end was coming soon – so that we focused on the important conversations and left no love unsaid.
Elsewhere on the farm, we have animal fathers – but just a few. One year we brought a new ram to join our flock. He was a bit different from the rest of our pure-white Dorset and Rideau family. As the Farmer backed the truck into the barnyard, he gathered an audience of curious 4-legged onlookers. He opened the back window, pulled down the hatch and out popped a floppy-eared Blackface ram. You could almost hear the communal gasp of surprise. The females actually took off in a wave of white fluff and the other ram stamped his hoof in challenge. They weren’t sure of what to think about this animal who appeared to be like them, but wearing some sort of face mask.
The new ram signalled his unwillingness to fight by lowering his eyes and trotting off after the females. After a few minutes of chasing the girls in circles and trying in vain to make new friends, our poor little Philip (I wanted to name him Floppy but the Farmer said that might give him a complex) retreated to a shady corner of the barnyard and lay down to sleep away his stress.
This routine continued for several days. Then finally, one day I looked out the window and there was Philip, lying in the shade of a huge boulder, with two females on either side of him (but Gracie was his favourite). He looked quite pleased with himself. And later that season when the Farmer tied a colourful piece of chalk around Phil’s neck, the funny-looking floppy-eared ram happily marked a number of females as his mates.
The following spring, we watched to see what kind of lambs the ewes would have. The first few, sired by Rambo, King of the barnyard, had the usual bleach-white fleece and curls. Then, one morning, a little black-faced lamb appeared. The rest of the ewes and a few older lambs approached carefully to check him out. But perhaps the most interesting reaction was that of his father, Phillip.
The black-faced ram was just meandering out of the barnyard to see what all the bleating was about when he spotted the lamb. The first little lamb he had seen in this new place, who looked exactly like him. His gait changed then, to more of a strut, as he went over to sniff and poke and check this lamb over from floppy black ears to wiggly black tail.
From then on, Phillip seemed to have a bit higher stature on the farm. He had done his job, sired a few lambs, and made his mark on the flock. It was Father’s Day on the farm for Phillip.
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Sunday, May 12, 2019

A wife of noble character, who can find?


A wife of noble character, who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Proverbs 31:10

My mother-in-law passed away last month. She had suffered with Dementia. When we heard, we hopped in the car for a drive into the city to see my father-in-law, Wally. He was sitting on the couch at his daughter’s house, and he was exhausted. I went and sat beside him.
“I’m sorry you lost your girl, Wally,” I said, patting him on the knee.
“Well, we knew she was sick two years ago,” he explained. “The Dementia got worse, day by day. And I lost her, day by day.”
At first, it was kind of cute, the way Lorna would forget things: her purse, her bowling schedule, how many glasses of Cuvee Speciale she had had…and then it began to take us by surprise. Soon she was forgetting recipes she had practiced for over fifty years. Each Sunday she asked, “whose baby is that?” or “Which of my sons are you married to?”
Lorna wasn’t sure what was happening, but she learned to cope. She would just smile and nod and pretend that she knew who was addressing her. But if you were a relatively new acquaintance, from the past five years or so, your name would escape her. The disease took hold and the decline came quickly these past few months.
Lorna met Wally in the early 1950’s. He was sitting on her mother’s living room couch one day when she came home from school. Her brother Bill had brought him home. Lorna took one look at the handsome man with the big grin and flashing eyes, walked into the kitchen and told her sister Dot: “See that man in the living room? That’s the man I’m going to marry.”
Wally and Lorna were married for nearly 7 decades. They raised 5 children together. Wally worked in metals at the National Research Council and while Lorna worked at a bank for a time, her domain was the kitchen. The aroma of her baking attracted neighbourhood kids to the kitchen door, where they were allowed “two cookies each” from the jar she kept there. Each day at lunch her children ran the few blocks home, where Lorna had covered the dining room table with open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on her fresh baked bread.  Every Thursday she made dinner for the extended family. Her recipes were handed down through the generations, to her children and grandchildren.
When it was time to sit down with the pastor and put a celebration of life together for Lorna, Wally had some strong ideas. His wife was not overly religious, he said, but she did like to attend church regularly. We got out the Bible and started choosing psalms and prayers of remembrance. Suddenly it hit me: “Lorna was a Proverbs 31 wife,” I said, explaining the verse about the Wife of Noble Character, who was known for her strong work ethic, integrity, charity, strength and love of family. We decided to include that verse in the service readings.
Wally surprised his sons by producing a long list of music he wanted played at Lorna’s celebration, including the original Deep Purple: “when the deep purple falls, over sleepy garden walls…” I thought that was perfect, because Lorna loved the colour purple. Her favourite song Stardust also mentions the colour purple in the first line. We made sure there was a touch of purple among the simple garden flowers at her ceremony, and those of us who didn’t wear purple clothes pinned on a purple ribbon or butterfly in her memory.
Wally led the readings with a memorable tribute to his beloved “Lorn.” He barely looked at his notes but rather he scanned our faces as he spoke about his love for his wife. His kids got up and took their turns then, adding a few laughs here and there, as Lorna would want.
Finally it was time for the pastor to read Proverbs 31. It was the perfect summary of Lorna’s life. And when she got to verse 22, the pastor looked up and smiled, “she was clothed in fine linen…and purple.”
Maybe Lorna had a hand in planning her own celebration of life. It was a simple, honest and straightforward service – much like Lorna herself. And as I looked around the room at four generations of Fishers and Patersons, I wondered if Lorna had pictured something like this family legacy on that day, decades earlier, when she first spotted Wally sitting on her mother’s couch.
Just look at what you have made, Lorna. Well done, thy good and faithful servant, indeed.
In memory of Lorna June Paterson Fisher.
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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Farmers are the Kings and Queens of upcycling


I hate to spend money. My husband might spit out his coffee reading that line (if he read my column, which he doesn’t), because he has seen my Visa bill. So let me clarify: I hate spending too much money for something. I do enjoy a good retail therapy session – but it has to be filled with amazing deals, great finds and super sale prices or I will have buyer’s remorse, and likely return what I bought.
My parents raised us to be thrifty, and I have worked hard for my money since I was a young girl. I know the value of a dollar, as they say. I was also a single mom going without luxuries in order to pay the utility bill and put food on the table. That is when I discovered thrift shops, second-hand stores, and consignment. We have all of these stores in Kemptville, and my closet is full of the treasures I have found on their racks, at a fraction of the original price. I am happy to know that I am reducing the amount of clothing going to a landfill, by buying second hand. And you find things that were made to last – wool suits, leather jackets, silky blouses and designer dresses – for the price you would pay for a trendy new top from a big box store (which might actually fall apart after 3 washes – the top; not the store).
When I married the Farmer and moved in, I used to laugh at all of the examples of things that had been put to good use for a second time: a rusted out farm implement became an art installation in the garden; broken deep freezers were turned into feed storage bins; and an old bedframe, complete with springs, was attached to the side of the house so the vines could grow on it. But my Farmer learned how to upcycle from his uncle, when he spent summers on the family dairy farm near Winchester. That uncle was raised in the 30’s, during the time when nothing was wasted or thrown away if it had an ounce of use left in it.
Yes, you can go to the farm store and buy nifty, new-fangled items with which to store and serve your animal feed – or you can make your own from things you have around the house. Old ice cream containers make great scoops for corn and sweet feed. Those rubber nipples for feeding lambs fit right over the end of a soda bottle. An old kiddie pool makes a great pen for baby chicks, and the upturned lid to a garbage can makes a great field dish for sweet feed when you are trying to attract a cow.
I’m even learning to save and recycle seasonal décor: the decorative pine cones, ribbon, foam sponge and pot from my Christmas garden arrangements have been put away until next December, when I will walk around the property collecting the red dogwood, emerald pine and white birch branches to create my own display. Those two pieces were worth $50 last year.
We need porch shades to reduce the sun in the back of the house in the summer. It gets really hot at dinner time and the setting rays blind whomever decides to sit in the spot that is directly in their path. I found a page of exterior shades on Amazon, and showed the Farmer. They ranged in price from $17 to $267.
“I just took the old porch apart at the cottage site,” he announced. “I’ll bring the blinds home from there.” Well, that’s a good idea too. The cottage itself, when it is finished, will be a hotbed of recycled items. I doubt there will be anything new in there at all. From appliances and rugs to furniture and décor, it will all be coming from our basement – the family catch-all for unwanted things.
My Word of 2019 is “Less.” It stands for a lot of different things: less eating and drinking, less worrying, less spending. The next time I go to spend money on a non-consumable something I think I need, I’m going to put my single mom hat back on and think like the Farmer: “Do I really need it? Can I find something else I already have to serve this purpose?”
I found an old leaky cooler today and upcycled it into a recycling bin for our empties. I’m starting to get the hang of this.
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How to paint a farmhouse kitchen




I woke up on Good Friday and had the sudden impulse to paint the kitchen. We had two full days to get it done before Easter Sunday, when better than 30 people would be filling the house for lunch. I didn’t see the problem. The Farmer groaned, rolled over and went back to sleep. I went downstairs and started taking things off the kitchen walls.
My husband, a child of the 60’s, loves old knickknacks and especially things that remind him of his youth. I think the collection of pastel-coloured plates we have on the wall above our china cabinet once belonged to June Cleaver. I carefully removed them, along with my collection of brightly coloured and patterned olive oil, cookie and cigar tins. I’m not crazy about having an array of dusty old duck decoys on display in our dining area but I do live with a hunter. I also got the screwdriver out and took down the wooden sign that says “Welcome to the Farmhouse Kitchen – meals served with love – always open.”
Next I had to take some spray cleaner to the top of the cupboards, where grease collects. The Farmer, God love him, cooks a bit like the Swedish Chef - with enthusiasm, and the occasional fling of sauce, flour and spices. It’s messy work. I found spaghetti on the ceiling and dried peas behind the fridge. He doesn’t even like peas. I have no idea how they got there.
Soon I realized why the Farmer had groaned about the prospect of painting the kitchen. When he finally gave in and joined me in my project we took down two lights, a ceiling fan, curtain rods, a smoke detector and a pot rack. Once the ceiling and walls were bare, I started taping the edge of every wall, door and cabinet. Then I went to the basement to get the bag of old dropsheets that used to belong to my father, the family painter. I remember being enlisted to help paint my own bedroom in the house we built on Johnston Road. It was 1980 and Patsy Gallant was singing “From New York to L.A.” on the radio. If I look carefully, I can still find the rose-beige paint on the striped pink sheets.
The last thing to be painted over was the growth chart that had been etched into the wall between the kitchen and living room. One after one, each child and foster child that had lived here had stood against the wall and endured the measuring of height with a pencil tick over their tousled heads. The Farmer was silent as he read each name, height and date before erasing them with a few brushstrokes.
Painting is an opportunity to rearrange and redecorate. But when the final coat dried, just in time to set up for Easter dinner, we put everything back exactly as it was. For another twenty years, God willing.
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Cultural observations from the other side of the pond



I was supposed to stop and get something for dinner on the way home from work. But as I walked through the doors of our local grocery store, I got distracted by the harbingers of spring: tiny Easter table centrepieces of purple pansies, yellow tulips, pink roses and Styrofoam eggs in brown paper baskets. Suddenly, I was back in Europe, walking along the port in Marseilles, sniffing baskets of fresh lavender. Ten minutes later, my list ignored, I was at the cash with a basketful of flowers, a baguette, some olive tapenade, pâté and goat cheese. We were having tapas for dinner. I might be back home but mentally, I am still cruising the Mediterranean.
I finally got the Farmer to Europe. I have said before, I’m pretty sure he was a WWII fighter pilot in his former life, because he is obsessed with war movies. His entire adult life he has watched these films – the grainy black and white footage found on YouTube is his favourite. So against my better judgment (due to my propensity for motion sickness on an air mattress in a swimming pool) I stuck him on a cruise ship with 4,500 other souls and we toured the Tyrrenhian Sea, enjoying day trips in Palermo, Malta, Barcelona, Marseilles and Genoa. We got a whole weekend in Rome. He thought he had seen all there was to see of ancient Europe, in movies and books. But there is something special about standing at the entrance to the Roman Colosseum, smack in the middle of a bustling metropolis, surrounded by locals, tourists and the ghosts of gladiators.
My husband toured history. I toured for the culture. When I go to another country, I want to eat the way the locals eat and I want to live the way they live. We took the hop-on, hop-off bus tours and visited all of the required sites but when we got hungry we wandered off the beaten path. We followed dimly lit, cobblestone streets too narrow for motorized vehicles, and stumbled upon local cafeterias (the Roman version of a family diner) that served fresh, homemade and well-priced local fare.
The Italian way of eating is antipasto (first plate), pasta (second plate), meat and veg (third plate) and dessert (fourth plate). They don’t snack. They eat well balanced meals three times a day and after lunch they nap for a couple of hours. This is how they are able to put dinner off until at least 8pm, and go dancing at midnight. It was against everything I had learned about healthy eating habits but I did my best to do as the Romans do, when in Rome. It’s a good thing we walked an average four hours a day on our city tours or I might have had a bit more baggage to bring home if you know what I mean.
I spent my 51st birthday in Palermo. I believe you can never have too many pairs of boots and so I was on the hunt for something in Italian leather. There were plenty of shoe stores but when I made the universal sign for boot (a karate chop to the top of the calf under the knee), the salesladies just laughed and shook their heads and mumbled that it was the wrong season for boots: “saisonee malee” or something like that.
As we gave up and headed back to the port I spotted a store window full of boots. And next to the door, a huge poster that said 50% off (because it wasn’t the season for boots!). Alas, when we tried the door, it was locked. A quick consultation with two Italian ladies who had joined me to admire the window display confirmed that most stores were closed from 1 to 3pm. I was out of luck.
Suddenly a man appeared at my elbow. “Are you just looking or will you buy?” he asked, bleary eyed.
“Oh, I want to buy,” I assured him.
About twenty minutes later I had not one but two new pairs of Italian leather boots and Andrea, my new Sicilian friend, had a healthy sale heading into his siesta.
I really wanted to go back to the shoe store ladies and show them my loot, pulling a Pretty Woman: “Do you work on commission? Big mistake. Huge.” In reality the Farmer saved money on my gift because even two pairs of boots in Palermo were priced lower than one pair of Italian leather boots back home.
The pizza and pasta were undercooked, the coffee was too strong and the people were a little rude but I’ve got to admit, Italy, you’ve got style. I think I will adopt your post-lunch siestas and your food-centred celebrations. Barcelona, Malta and Marseilles, we barely met but I appreciate your attitude, love your colour and plan to return someday soon.
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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Happy Easter to you and yours - whatever that means to you



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They say you don’t remember much before the age of 4, so I’m assuming our granddaughter’s first two Easter celebrations were a bit of a blur. She’s well aware that something is up this year, however. Even a pre-schooler can’t ignore the constant barrage of bunnies, chicks and pastel coloured eggs in every store she enters.
Leti’s mom used to help me run my home daycare when she was a little girl, and she was a preschool teacher herself for a time as an adult, so she is well versed in arts and crafts for fledgling artists. I will soon have new artwork for my fridge: bunnies created by tracing a pudgy little hand, baskets of coloured eggs that are primarily pink (her favourite colour), spring flowers, and butterflies. When my fridge is covered, I move the creations to our secondary fridge. It’s hard to put them away but I tuck them into my photo box when I need to make room for more.
We are not a regular churchgoing family. Our holiday customs seem to always centre on food. When it comes to Easter traditions on the Fisher Farm, it pretty much comes down to chocolate fondant eggs. For as long as I can remember, those huge (size of a goose egg) solid candies have been part of our springtime celebrations. My mother was part of the local sorority, Beta Sigma Phi. The “Laura Secord’ style fondant eggs were their creation. I think every kid whose mom was in that group is now addicted to those eggs.
When I became a mom, I made a huge mistake. I bought the vanilla, the sugar and the canned milk and I started making the eggs myself. Now my kids (who are 25 and up, raised on these eggs…) look for these decadent treats each Easter.
I have shared the recipe in the past. Basically it’s a solid ball of sweetened condensed milk and icing sugar and butter, rolled up and dipped in melted chocolate. Just Google solid fondant Easter eggs and Bob’s your uncle. And don’t forget to brush your teeth afterwards. Last year we had our lovely Norwegian international student offer to make the eggs. She loved to cook and wanted to take part in our traditions. She was possibly unprepared for the messy situation of sticky, icing sugared fingers.
We had fun teaching Leti and her cousin Walt how to hunt for eggs. The first year, the 18-month-olds wandered around the yard like two tiny drunk men, smacking into each other, trying to figure out what I was saying. “Go get the eggs! Look! There’s one!” Walt was way ahead of Leti on this, and when he opened the plastic egg to find jelly beans inside, he would offer her a candy, then change his mind and swipe it out of her reach. It was very entertaining for the adults to watch. Leti, unoffended, would sit on the steps then and swing her feet, giving Walt the side-eye of suspicion.
Last year, the 2.5 year olds suddenly knew how to play the game. They collected the eggs, but Leti, twitterpated, was more interested in following Walt around the yard. We got some wonderful photos from both of those Easter egg hunts. Someday when they are teenagers we will show them pictures of stolen kisses and shared giggles on the porch.
Easter at the Fisher Farm is all about family. We host about 40 guests for a lunch at 2pm on Easter Sunday. The young families show up first, so the kids can do the egg hunt. Then our 5 children and their mates, our siblings and parents and aunts and uncles show up for the feast. We may not be a huge churchgoing family but we know we have a very unique situation here. 
For lunch, we serve a turkey we raised ourselves. It lived free range in the barnyard, a short but happy life. We go to Albert’s for the ham, because what is Easter without it? Guests bring side dishes and Grandma always shows up with some local maple syrup. Easter is nice and late this year, so hopefully we will be able to enjoy a walk in the back 40 after lunch. Because that is our church. The trees are the steeple. The stone fences are the pews. God is all around us. We are blessed and we know it.
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Give the dog a bone - and stand back!


For the first year of his life, Fergus was quite thin. He was born the runt of the litter – that is part of the reason why we chose him from among his fatter, fluffier siblings. But no matter how much food we gave him, Fergus just didn’t gain the weight he was supposed to in the first year. He just wasn’t food oriented – and he preferred running for the ball over napping and all other activities. He was the product of his own self-induced bootcamp: a lean, mean barking machine. Except for the mean part.
We were used to our skinny Minnie Golden Retriever. He wasn’t emaciated or anything – just very slim. But when I posted photos of Fergus on social media, I would occasionally receive negative comments. “Your dog is so thin!” “Oh! Poor Fergus! You really should feed him more!” Honestly.
I took Fergus to the vet and they confirmed that, while our pup was on the diminutive side for his breed, he was also perfectly healthy. He was not underweight, but hovering nearby (within a pound of that rating). We were already feeding him the puppy food that supports fast growth, and agreed to keep him on it until he was 18 months old. We continued to feed him on demand, whenever he wanted to eat, because he never over-ate.
Occasionally we laced the food with something slightly fattening and delicious. We poured cooled bacon fat on the kibble. Laced it with the fat off a pot of fresh chicken broth, or coated it in a thin layer of peanut butter. I continued to throw Fergus’ beloved ball for him, but when he slowed down, I offered food and water. Then he ate.
Slowly, over the next year, Fergus gained weight. His hollowed out hip area became sturdy and solid. Now he is a very handsome, muscular young dog. But you know, he will probably always be on the lean side. And that’s ok.
I don’t know why some people felt the need to tell me my dog was skinny, in social media posts. It isn’t as if I was unaware. I do appreciate their concern, but I’m pretty sure the same people wouldn’t have the nerve to accuse me of not feeding my dog enough if they met me at the dog park. The anonymity of social media can make people bold.
Now, I do have a problem with Fergus for which I might consider taking some advice. For a dog who is rather unconcerned when I fill his bowl with kibble, preferring to eat at his leisure, nibbling a few bites at a time and only after he has had exercise, Fergus is a whole other animal when you give him a fresh beef bone.
A friend of mine has a Golden Doodle and noted the same food aggression in his fluffy little dog. This creature that resembles a teddy bear most of the team becomes a growling, snarling beast when you go near him and his bone. It’s funny at first…and then a little scary!
My daughters have raised dogs, and their advice is to train them as puppies to accept having their food taken away and given back again. Well, we did that with Fergus. He appears completely uninterested if I take his bowl of kibble away. If I take his bowl of leftovers (people food) away he might look a bit disappointed, but he certainly doesn’t growl at me. But all that changes when the dog gets a bone.
Online advice from the ASPCA says that it is completely natural for dogs to exhibit “resource guarding” behaviour. Apparently some dogs will even guard stolen socks, or food that they can see on the kitchen counter. Thank goodness Ferg isn’t that bad. He just wants his bone, and he wants to be left alone while he enjoys it.
The most common advice I am seeing online is to let the dog alone while he enjoys his bone. Of course, we have control over when he receives a treat like this, and we know to give him his space. But being unaware of the strange workings of the canine mind, I am worried about what might happen if Fergus exhibits this resource guarding behaviour when we have children visiting the house.
If you have advice on how to handle this, I would love to hear it. You can email me at dianafisher1@gmail.com.
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