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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.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

For the love of books: the region's biggest book fair is on Aug 26-28

My love of books started with Nancy Drew. As a primary school student I would head to the high school in the afternoon to wait for my dad, who taught there. After visiting the cafeteria for a still-warm chocolate chip cookie I would follow the strange maze of half-staircases and cavernous hallways to end up at one of the most modern rooms in the old building: the library.
There was plenty of natural light flowing into the library because of all the windows but the books were kept in the centre of the room, away from the light. If you stood in the centre of the bookcases you were surrounded by a dusty, musty smell that has been filed in my memory among my favourite perfumes and aromas. Dusty books are right up there with Guerlain perfume from Paris and fresh baked bread.
Every day I would sit on the floor in between the bookcases, facing a row of about 100 Nancy Drew books. I began at the beginning. Volume 1, The Secret of the Old Clock. Carolyn Keene brought girl-detective Nancy Drew to life, describing everything from what she ate to how she dressed, what she thought and felt and saw. I was mesmerized. And I read my way through that book, and another, and another, until I had finished the whole series.
When I didn’t understand a word, I went to the librarian, Mrs. Scott. Her nickname was Dusty but she was anything else. Wavy red hair and energy to spare, she bustled me over to the dictionary and had me look each mysterious word up in turn. I still do that today when I meet a new word.
After finishing the final Nancy Drew book in that original series of 100, I asked Mrs. Scott (her real name was Ramona) if there were any other similar books she would recommend. Books with strong female characters I could emulate in my imagination.
“You’ve finished all the Nancy Drew books.” She seemed a little bewildered and doubtful.
“Well…yeah…unless you’ve got more somewhere,” I answered.
When my dad came to collect me that afternoon Mrs. Scott notified him that I, at age ten, had read all the intermediate level Nancy Drew books. The next thing I knew, I was sitting alone in a stuffy office in the back of the library, taking a test to determine my I.Q. The librarian had suggested I be enrolled in classes for ‘enriched’ students from now on, because I was clearly brilliant. I failed the test miserably.
“I told you she isn’t enriched,” scoffed my dad. “She just loves books.” And that was the end of that.
After working my way through the books in the high school library, I got permission to walk to the town library after school.  Sometimes I walked and read at the same time. I knew the path between the public school and high school and college where my mom worked so well, I never tripped. Sometimes I was late for piano lessons, however, because I would walk right by the house with my nose in the book, missing the address altogether and having to double back. I preferred the afternoons I was free to head to the college campus where I would climb a tree and sit there, reading, obscured from the view of the college students passing on the pathway beneath by the thick tapestry of leaves.
Yes, I was a bookworm. I still am. It’s my guilty pleasure, my stress relief and my escape as well as my inspiration and my challenge.
This weekend, North Grenville will once again host the region’s largest book fair. It’s in a huge warehouse at the Ferguson Forest Centre. Money raised at the fair goes to the Kemptville Youth Centre, to help them pay their annual utilities bills.
The books are conveniently categorized so you can find your favourite themes easily. I always head straight for the Canadian female writers. Elizabeth Hay, Camilla Gibb, Alice Munro…but they have tens of thousands of titles every year and they sell for a buck or two so you can afford to venture off into unknown territory if you’re intrigued by something new.

So grab a big tote bag and head to the book fair this weekend, fellow book lovers. You can indulge this guilty pleasure, at least, knowing you are simultaneously doing something awesome for a very good cause in the community. Dibs on the Nancy Drew.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Keep doin' the rural wave


 
The Kemptville Farmer’s Market is more than just an opportunity for me to sell some books and unload a truckload of zucchini. It’s my social time. I get to visit with people I haven’t seen in years, catch up with close friends and meet loyal readers of this column for the first time. Many thanks to everyone who takes the time to stop by and say hi.
Sometimes I get really good suggestions for columns too. Last week a woman said she would like me to write about the disappearance of the rural wave. Many farmers still do it – it’s a hard habit to break.
When you’re on the road headed to market and you pass another pickup truck, you put two fingers to your temple and give a quick salute. Some of you just raise your hand slightly from the steering wheel. The light effort is symbolic of the casual nature of the wave. It may also be a sign that you are a bit low on energy, as you have been working hard on your farm. Your laidback nature is indicative of your lifestyle. You take your time and live in the moment, aware of your surroundings. The weather determines your daily activities. You’re on farm time. You probably drive a bit slower than city folk as well. What’s your hurry? That kind of wave. That is how it is done. And it seems to be a lost art.
I grew up in the country outside the bustling metropolis of Kemptville when it boasted a population of about 4,000. There were no subdivisions to speak of, and we knew just about everyone in town and the surrounding hamlets. We didn’t live on a farm but we certainly knew how to do the rural wave. It was a comforting gesture. It said, “I know you. We are neighbours. Go safely.” My father in his Chevy Silverado rarely missed the opportunity to wave as he passed someone he knew.
I still get to do the rural wave a few times a week, because I live near a single-lane bridge. If two vehicles are approaching this bridge from either side, you have to decide who will go first. Now let me tell you, it’s a sure sign that you aren’t from around here if you speed up to get across the bridge before the other approaching vehicle gets there. The neighbourly thing to do is to decrease your speed and pull over slightly. When you are close enough to the bridge you decide who is closest and let them go first, obviously. If you both reach the bridge at exactly the same time, it is common courtesy to let the other person go first. Pull over, signal to the ditch and that will indicate to the other person you are letting them go. Sometimes the courtesy volleys back and forth a few times before the final concession is made.
“You go first.” (beckons the other driver with a flick of the wrist)
“No, by all means, you go first.” (a come-along motion)
“Oh all right then, thank you very much.” (driver proceeds across bridge, deploys the rural wave).
I have to admit I don’t recognize half the vehicles or drivers that I used to. We have grown in population and I’ve lost track of who owns what farm. Other than at the single lane bridge crossing, there are only a handful of people I wave to when I pass them on the road. These are family members, and lifelong friends like, for example, Jim Perry. Being a truck dealer he is always in a different set of wheels but I’m pretty recognizable in Dora the Explorer so he usually recognizes me and waves first. As the descendant of a multi-generation farm family, the rural wave is a habit he likely won’t be breaking soon. And yet I’m sure when he recognizes and waves at some people, they probably give him a confused look.
“What? Is my headlight out? Should I pull over?” the uninitiated can be bewildered by the wave. It is probably best to reserve it for those who know its purpose.
But for those you recognize, wave away. You might get a text a short time later, asking you what’s going on, but you can explain you are just being neighbourly. We’re from the country and we like it that way.

email: dianafisher1@gmail.com
www.dianafisherbooks.com

Monday, August 8, 2016

Talkin' turkey on the farm




I was heading out to the compost pile early one morning when I felt I was being followed. The cows were already out in the field so it wasn’t one of them. I turned around and no one was behind me – but when I looked down I saw four turkeys standing at my feet. They had followed me across the barnyard to the compost heap and were curiously examining what I was depositing.
“Hey! How did you guys get out?!” They looked up at me and warbled in a perfect chorus. I have no idea how they do that. It’s like they communicate telepathically within seconds and decide they are all going to speak at once. They do it all the time and it freaks me right out.
The Farmer thought the turkeys might like their free range area expanded a bit so he cordoned off a sheltered area in the stable with snow fencing. Then he slid both the back wall and the front wall of the stable open so the breeze can pass through. It’s quite comfy in there, and about ten degrees cooler than outside. We put the turkeys back in their pen for safekeeping at night – we don’t want anyone escaping to wander the yard where they might get picked off by a predator. And it has become apparent that they are quite capable of escaping their snow fencing.
I walked back to the stable, the turkeys in tow. They shuffled along behind me, stopping occasionally to nibble grit and weeds on the ground. Examining the snow fence, I could not clearly see their exit route. There were no gaps in the fence and the bottom had been pinned down to the dirt floor. They must have jumped up and flown over the top. And the Farmer said turkeys with their pin feathers removed cannot fly.
Then I noticed a problem. Their feeders were empty. I dragged a 40k bag of feed off the pile and hauled it into the fenced area. The turkeys followed me in, gullibly. They commented in unison about the new development. They were getting fed. I wonder if they took any credit for collecting me from the barnyard and willing me to do their bidding.
Turkeys don’t eat much but we have a few more birds this year so they are going through the feed pretty quickly. Not as quickly as the cows though – I think our dozen  head and their babes  are halfway through their winter hay already due to the lack of rain and no grass growing on the meadow.
The turkeys have it easy. They seem quite content, and I would like to think they have made it past the age of being targets for raccoons and skunks. I could be wrong there, but fingers are crossed.
I surveyed their domain. The double horse stall had been turned into a turkey pen, and they are quite cosy in there. Turkey poop lines every flat surface – again, a sign that they are able to fly at least a few feet in the air, up to roost. I knocked some of the dung off, shoveled it up, and spread some fresh, dry hay across the spongy floor. Immediately several turkeys appeared on either side of me. They climbed up onto the piles of hay even before I could release it from my fork. I gently pushed them aside with my foot so I could spread the hay out.
“Oh, you like that, huh?” The birds nestled down into the dry hay, preening, cooing and clucking. The brushing action of the hay must feel good under their sweaty feathers in this heat. It dries them off and fluffs them up.
By the time I finished dressing their pen the birds were all shiny and white again. And the four who had escaped to go and find me looked quite pleased with themselves, snuggled together on a fresh pile of hay in the corner.
As I turned to walk away I said “goodbye – have a nice day, birdies…” and they all responded by warbling the same three notes together, simultaneously. I wish they would stop that. Freaks me right out.

email: dianafisher1@gmail.com