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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valentine, be mine...

“…And I will make thee beds of roses and a thousand fragrant posies.” ~ from The Passionate Shepherd to his Love. Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593).
My Shepherd is just as romantic, in his own way. He buys me flowers on our anniversary, although I prefer the wildflowers he picks for me when he’s out patrolling the property on his ATV. He writes me poetry, but his compositions are closer to a dirty limerick than a soulful sonnet. My Shepherd knows what I like and what I don’t like, and he takes both categories into consideration when trying to show me that he cares.
I don’t like paying way too much money to sit in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, crowded with too many other people who have been likewise pressured into practicing this silly tradition. I don’t like being rushed through a meal, no matter how delicious, so that the next sitting of couples can have our table. My Shepherd knows this, so we normally take off to the sunny south during the week of February 14th. We usually celebrate Valentine’s Day, coincidentally, with a glass of wine on a beach somewhere. But not this year.
This year we are home for Valentine’s Day, so we are doing something a little different. This year we are taking note of this romantic occasion by ordering food from our favourite caterer and enjoying it at home, with our own selection of music and candles, followed by a sappy movie of my choosing. But we don’t really feel pressured to do the whole commercialized Valentine’s Day thing. I don’t want him spending money on gifts and flowers. Lucky for me, he is my Valentine all year long.
Take a lesson from my Shepherd. Here’s how you show your sweetheart that you care, when you live on a farm:
-          Take your boots off outside - and your clothes too, if they are smelling of manure or carry half the soil of the garden on them.
-          You might have to hose yourself off before coming in the house too, or jump in the pool. You work in the barn; you don’t want to live in one.
-          Fend for yourself at times. You don’t have to do all your own cooking but everyone appreciates someone who can make their own meals instead of marching into the house and announcing that they are starving to death, therefore making it the other person’s problem.
-          Entertain yourself! There’s nothing more exhausting than being made to feel responsible for another person’s quality of life. Get yourself a healthy hobby.
-          When your mate is going to be late, start dinner without being asked. They’re late. Chances are they will also be hungry.
-          Start the laundry, pick up the (grand)kids’ toys, run the vacuum and do the dishes once in a while. Every person in the household has their own set of responsibilities but if you turn the tables occasionally and do more than your usual share, you will get noticed.
-          Listen to your partner. We don’t need you to fix all our problems, but we do need you to hear them. You would be surprised how much money we save on therapy – and alcohol – if you learn to practice active listening.
-          Surprise your mate. It doesn’t have to be a cruise or a new car – unless she needs one. It could be tickets to a rock concert, or a day at the spa. Think of what she really likes and do it. For no reason except that you want to see her smile.
-          Did she wake you up early again with her crashing around in the dark, trying to get ready for work? Pull a robe and some boots on and go out to start her car for her. Brush the snow off it while you’re out there. You’re up anyway.
-          Try something new, just because your partner wants to do it. This doesn’t have to be bungee jumping or skydiving. It might be ballroom dancing though. Love means moving outside your comfort zone for the other person.
-          Make concessions, break your own rules, look the other way when others are breaking them, and pick your battles wisely. Put up with her annoying friends and family members (not that she has any!) and go along to that event that would not be your first choice, just because she asked you. These are all ways to show your partner that you love them.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours – all year long.
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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Surviving Snowmageddon on the farm

I’ve just finished shovelling a foot of snow off the front step, and I pitched Ferg’s beloved ball for him a few times to give him some exercise. The dog will spend the rest of the afternoon curled up on a sheepskin rug in front of the wood stove, while I putter around the house, preparing for Sunday dinner. It’s Snowmaggedon on the farm.
We may not get too many guests venturing out to our remote farm today, even if the snowplows have cleared the road, because it’s just too cold. The weather man says this is the coldest snowstorm we have had in 100 years, at an average -23 degrees. Normally we get that kind of cold on a sunny winter day – not a snowy one.
It is nice to finally see the snow this winter. It forms a barrier of insulation around the house, blocking the wind and sealing drafts. It has the same effect on a barn. You pray for lots of snow when you have animals giving birth in winter, for this reason. There’s nothing worse than a bitter, biting wind blasting across the pasture and through the cracks in the barn walls, freezing the baby animals inside.
The trick to a creating a warm barn is to pack the animals in closely together. They warm up the place with their body heat. Cows don’t mind the cold, and they give off plenty of heat so if you can host your goats or sheep in pens surrounded by cows, you’ve got it made. It will be warm as a sauna in there.
One day several winters past I went to check on my baby lambs and the blanket that we hang outside that room in the barn had frozen to the wall. I hurried to pull it loose, worried that my newborns had frozen to death in their sleep. But as I opened the door to the lambing room, a wall of damp heat hit me in the face. It felt like a steam room in there.
In every pen, a fat ewe lay comfortably chewing her cud, her babies tucked in beside her. That was a very snowy winter. The snow had formed a solid blanket around the barn, and we had a really good lambing season with a low mortality rate.
One of the worst lambing seasons we had began during a winter of very little snow and very low temperatures. When it did snow, it blew right through the cracks in the barn walls, forming small drifts in the lambing pens. We hung blankets on windows and doors and stapled feed bags to the walls but without the barrier of snow outside to insulate the barn, we just couldn’t keep it warm enough.
That year I was constantly bundling wet newborn baby lambs up in towels and running them to the house, tucked inside my barn coat. There I carried them down to the basement, where the Farmer had set up a playpen with a heat lamp over it. I rubbed their little bodies dry and thawed out their frozen feet before carrying them back to the barn to meet their exhausted and overwhelmed mothers.
We had to put heat lamps in the pens, to keep the lambs alive. We turned them off at night, though, because the Farmer was afraid that one of the ewes might pull the hot lamp down into the hay, setting it alight. Hopefully someone has invented a cool-touch heat lamp since our lambing days – or a better way to keep animals warm in a drafty barn.
Ideally if you are raising animals in a Canadian winter, you will erect a coverall barn or Quonset that you can heat if necessary. Big Sky Ranch, our local animal sanctuary, used donations to build a closed barn for their rescue animals. This winter, however, they have to turn on the heat to keep their 100 shelter animals alive. It will be a costly season, so if you can spare a few dollars, send it their way. Or if you just want to look around the house or barn and see what items you can spare for donation, head to their webpage for their wish list.
On our own farm, we got smart and locked up the ram until December so the babies wouldn’t be born until April. He wasn’t pleased but we had a lot more healthy lambs born in springtime.


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This winter is for the birds

Maybe the birds know what’s coming better than we do. They seem to be more voracious than usual, at the bird feeder. I have a rather large lantern-style feeding station, and my troupe of chickadees and blue jays can empty that thing in just about forty-eight hours. I think that’s supposed to mean it’s going to be a long, cold winter. The birds know these things.
I have one feeder hanging on the side porch where the cats can watch from the window. I cleared them a spot on the side table where they sit and comment on the proceedings outside. The cats make a weird clucking noise when they see the birds. Sammy fell off the table today, startled by a jay that appeared to be flying straight for him. He gave me a dirty look as I laughed at him.
The other feeder is outside my kitchen window so I can watch the birds while I do dishes. On the window sill I have two small books: Peterson’s Field Guide of Eastern Birds, and the Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Familiar Birds of North America. When a new feathered friend pops up, I try to find them in the books.
I’m not much of a bird-watcher. I don’t go on bird-watching hikes or excursions or anything. I just like to know what is visiting my feeder. It used to be mostly blue jays and chickadees. Now I get the occasional rose-breasted grosbeak. It’s amazing how the sudden sight of an unfamiliar bird can take your breath away. Especially when it’s uniquely coloured, like the grosbeak, which appears to have received a splat of red paint on its chest by a painter’s wet brush.
A few weeks ago we had a family of yellow birds at the feeder. I’m going to suggest that they were some kind of warbler. I guess the next step in my bird-watching is to listen for the individual birdcall so that I can confirm my identifications.
This morning we had special guests, when a couple of cardinals stopped by the feeder. Their red feathers make a beautiful sight against the white backdrop of snow. When you see cardinals it’s supposed to mean you are being visited by the spirit of someone you lost. I’m not sure who came up with that idea but I think it’s a lovely sentiment. And we only see the red birds once or twice a season.
We seem to get different birds every year. That makes it interesting. I get tired of watching the blue jays bully the chickadees away from the feeder. And that idiot woodpecker is getting on my nerves. He has pecked open the side of the feeder so that the seeds leak out. Then he takes them and shoves them in a crack that he created in the wood trim under our bedroom window. Just make yourself at home, bird.
As the winter wears on and the birds come to rely on my feeders, I notice they are staking out their territory. The bigger birds are at the lantern feeder outside my kitchen window. The smaller chickadees are at the long tube feeder outside the cats’ window. This is undoubtedly the safer of the two feeders for the birds (despite the voyeuristic cats), because the other feeder is on the back porch. The neighbour’s cat, unlike my own pampered felines, doesn’t mind the cold. He leaps up onto the porch railing and sits rock still under the feeder, waiting for a feathered snack. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t fooled one yet. They keep their distance, squawking at him from the cedar tree until he gets bored or hungry and goes home.
The Farmer has a live trap for squirrels on the back porch. It’s right beside the feeder, where they are often spotted hanging out, stealing a snack. The other day I was working in the kitchen when I heard a rhythmic banging noise. I looked out the window and saw a blue jay, stuck in the live trap. I had to move quickly to save him before he damaged one of his wings. He was panicking, thrashing around in there.
The Farmer wasn’t very happy to see that I dismantled his live traps, but I can’t take the chance of a bird getting caught in there again. The long, cold Eastern Ontario winter is hard enough for them. I’m trying to make them as comfortable as possible.

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Shall We Dance?

Multiple messages were piling up, unread, in my Messenger inbox. I rarely check that file, so by the time I finally saw them, they were at least two weeks old. I almost missed my chance to be part of something really fun.
I was a little put off by the first message I read: “Hi Diana. Our mutual friend (Samantha!) suggested I contact you regarding an event for the Volunteer Centre of St. Lawrence-Rideau. Can you please call my cell when you have a moment?”
Hmm. How ominous. The second message was not much better: “Hi Diana…I know I am trying to reach you at a busy time of year; we all have so much on the go. I was wondering if you might find a few minutes to call my cell this weekend…?”
I’m lucky the poor woman didn’t give up on me. She was only trying to recruit volunteers to take part in the 8th Annual Dancing Stars of Leeds Grenville. I guess our friend Samantha told her I rarely turn down an opportunity to dance – or to help out a local charity, when asked. And my mother always said, if someone gets up the courage to ask you to dance, you say yes! But of course this isn’t exactly what she was referring to.
I have always been a dancer, in my own mind. When I was a little girl growing up on George Street in Kemptville, my sister and I (and a handful of neighbourhood kids) used to put on front lawn ‘shows’ for the grownups and any passing cars. These were mostly our own version of freestyle interpretive dance, set to whatever song happened to be blaring from my father’s radio. We had to be good, and fast, putting all of our best moves in a short 3-minute song, in order to keep the adult audience’s attention. Dad would laugh, shake his head after a few minutes, butt out his Export Plain and head back into the house.
As a young teenager, my best friend Stephanie and I choreographed elaborate dances to mix tapes that we created by running to the radio and pressing the ‘record’ button as soon as we heard the first strains of our favourite songs. Each tune was missing the first few bars, sometimes more, depending on the distance we had to run to get to the radio. Occasionally we actually got to perform some of these dances for a ‘real’ audience, at a summer camp talent night or a school variety show. I seem to remember playing the part of one of the Pointer Sisters (Neutron Dance), along with a shoulder-padded Janet Jackson (Yes, I did “Nasty Boy.” Not my finest hour).
As the years went on and I had children of my own, I hosted a “daily dance hour” where we would turn up the radio and rock out to our own reflections in the big bay window. Again I suspect we entertained neighbours who were out walking their dogs, my 3 little girls and I. It was a great way to tire them out before bed, while waiting for Daddy to come home.
Throughout my life, I rarely missed an opportunity to dance. I would be first on the floor and last to leave when the ugly lights came on.  
On two separate occasions, I had organized dance lessons. At the age of eight, I was a ballet student at a class held in the old Leslie Hall. I just remember feeling extremely awkward, eternally inflexible, and completely intimidated by the instructor, who seemed to really hate her job. I didn’t last long.
Flash forward to 2016, and I was a dance student again – this time at The Workshop Dance Studio in Kemptville. I walked in wanting to learn some sort of clogging or step dancing – but Nancy talked me into trying tap. Lemme tell ya – it’s harder than it looks! Life got busy and I didn’t get to continue with those classes either, but it would appear that I have been given another chance.
I have been paired up with Robert Noseworthy of Westerra Homes (and the Kemptville District Hospital Foundation) to ‘compete’ in this light-hearted dance contest. The audience will cast their votes with loonies (because let’s face it, we’re all a little loony), and the Volunteer Centre will benefit from the fundraising and exposure.
We will be rehearsing once or twice a week for the next two months, with our performance on March 1st. At the very least, it should be a heck of a lot of fun.
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Thursday, December 27, 2018

What's your Word of 2019?

You still have time to get in on one of the trendiest New Year’s initiatives in recent years. It’s time to choose your 2019 Word of the Year.
The Word of the Year is the ‘new’ New Year’s Resolution. Rather than making promises you can’t keep beyond January (lose 10 pounds, stop smoking, save money…), the Word of the Year affirms the positive. Instead of giving yourself an almost unattainable goal, and then feeling bad when you can’t achieve it, why not give yourself something uplifting to focus your attention upon.
It has been proven that words have power. And although we often make declarations that we soon forget, I guarantee if you choose a word that truly resonates with you, it will stay top of mind all year long. And if you worry about forgetting your word, you can always put it in a visible place so that you start each day with a reminder. Stick your word on the bathroom mirror, or make it your computer screensaver. Attach it to the front of your fridge and tape it on the bottom of your TV monitor. Make it part of your everyday life.
Words have the power to change lives. We have all heard words that hurt. It’s amazing how much a word can scar – and how it sinks deep beneath the skin, so that you carry it with you wherever you go, from that moment onward. That’s why we have to be so careful in choosing the words we use with others – and with ourselves.
Think of the power of a simple “yes,” uttered at the right time and in the right place – such as an answer to a marriage proposal. Or imagine the freeing power of the word “no” – especially for someone who has trouble saying it, and rarely puts their own needs first.
The power of the Word of the Year is affirmation. You can use it to remind you of the positive things in your life, and the positive that you want to bring into your life. The first time I chose a Word of the Year, it was Grateful. Because it’s always a good idea to remind ourselves of the things we have – so that we can practice being content with our situation.
Last year, my word was Presence. In recent years I find I have had trouble living in the moment. I am always looking forward to a day, an event or a moment, and then when it arrives I’m already worried about when it will end. I don’t take the time to truly connect with the people around me and to enjoy the experience, whatever it may be.
Having that word taped inside my cellphone case last year actually helped me to work on being present. When I flipped that phone open and saw the word, more often than not, I decided to flip the phone closed again (sometimes, I’ll admit, after snapping a photo or two of my daughters, my grandchild, my dog or whatever it was that was happening). The word “Presence” reminded me of the power of connection with the people, places and things around me – without a phone screen between us.
As we come to the end of 2018, I look back and realize what a great year it has been for me and my family. I turned 50, we got a pup, we saw our youngest marry her beau, we saw another daughter engaged, I took a great job in the city, and we started a new way of life as I began commuting every day.
I love coming home to the farm and I know I’m lucky to have someone to share it with, who is so supportive of everything I do. We don’t take our blessings for granted. I’m going to choose my Word of the Year carefully – as if I were having it tattooed on me. I find my word is usually something to do with reflection. But for you it could be Calm, Peace, Fierce, Strength, Love, Focus, Risk, Try. Choose a word that will remind you of your hopes, aspirations and goals for 2019. Once you’ve chosen your word, as the ‘kids’ say, go out there and live your best life. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

'Twas the Night Before Christmas, on the Farm

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all of the sheep
Were tucked in their hay-covered beds, fast asleep
All except one little lamb named Lily
Who often got scolded for being so silly
The first to run out, the last to come in
Lily thought life without fun was a sin
She skipped through the fields and climbed on the rock
She never came home until five o’clock
Each night when the sun said goodnight in the West
Donkey knew Lily would give him a test
She’d hide in the fencerow behind a thick bush
Donkey would have to kick and push
Through thickets and thorns to find the wee thing
And soon as he did, Lily would sing
She’d bleat and she’d baa in terror and glee
Dart through his legs and off she would flee
To the barn where her worried mother stood
Snorting and stamping one little hoof
Into her pen Lily would race
Laughing as Donkey gave up his chase.
But on that December 24,
Donkey returned alone to the door
He looked at the ewe and shook his big head
The look that he gave her filled her with dread
A coyote was seen early that day
Stalking and searching out his prey
The wild dogs often came back at night
To catch what they saw during daylight
“I can’t find your Lily,” said the old beast
“Oh dear,” said the ewe, and she looked to the East
The coyotes’ song hung in the air
So eerie but sweet, it gave them a scare
And then, a flash of something so white
Dashed into the barn like a shooting star bright
Lily! The barn cat started his hissing
And mother ewe noticed something was missing
Lily had returned without fail
But somehow she had lost her tail!
Out in the dark, a coyote or fisher
Had tried to steal the lamb but had missed her
All Lily wanted to do was play
But she almost lost her life that day
As Donkey trudged back up the hill
To watch the farm by night
He thought of Lily – now she’s Lil
Who’d given them such a fright
The sun rose high on Christmas morn
As the animals gathered ‘round
To see what the Farmwife was placing on the ground
The scent of molasses filled the air – a very special treat
For animals in wintertime, a snack that is so sweet
But when she looked around she saw that something was amiss
She scooped up the smallest lamb and gave her a big kiss
“Oh my,” she scolded, “come on now, you’ll have your very own pail.”
“It seems that someone in the night has stolen your wee tail.”
Donkey started to wind up his own familiar song
And soon his bray was ringing out, like a bell so strong
“Hee haw, hee haw,” he sang, loud and clear
And all around the barnyard, coyotes shook with fear
The beast was declaring his watch over the sheep
All they had was one tail that they could keep
“I guess,” said the big dog, “we could eat mice,”
“They are here all around and they are very nice.”
And so, with Christmas, we marked one more year
Of life on the farm, which was safe without fear
“Watch out,” said Donkey to the lamb, “I want to be clear,”
“Listen to me or next time you will be missing an ear.”
Life on the farm is never boring
Animals do not rest
Farmers are awake at sunrise
Giving it their best
And so we want to send a wish
To all that may hear
To each Farmer, Merry Christmas
And to all a good year!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

If I should die before I wake

"Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."

 And as for the rest of me, you can take that too. I won’t need it where I’m going.
Most people don’t talk about death with their loved ones. It’s just not a topic that comes up in conversation, unless you are taking on some risky venture like swimming with the sharks. But perhaps we should have a chat with the people closest to us, because you never know what tomorrow will bring.
We need to have a talk about organ donation, with the ones we love. Basically, we have to make our wishes known, just in case. Do you want to have your viable organs harvested and passed on to someone who can use them when you die and don’t need them anymore? If so, you need to do more than just sign an organ donor card.
I read that more than 450 people declined to have their loved ones’ organs donated in 2018 because they were uncertain of their wishes (and that person was either deceased, on life support or otherwise incapacitated and unable to clarify). So not only did those people pass on, but they were not given the opportunity to save a person – or several people – through the gift of organ and tissue donation.
Your view of the hereafter may be very different from mine. Not everyone has a belief system that allows the concept of organ donation. But if you aren’t certain you are against it, I would encourage you to consider being for it, and to make your wishes known by doing a few things.
Sign the card that comes with your driver’s license. Put it in your wallet in case, heaven forbid, you are in a horrific crash and your organs need to be harvested without delay. Many a tragedy has turned into a miracle for a family in need, because the victim of a collision had signed a donor card.
Next, go to the government website: Be a Donor and check to see if you are a registered organ donor. All you have to do is enter your health card number and birthdate and you will see if you need to update your information.
These are great ways to let people know your intentions – that you wish to have your organs harvested and donated upon your passing. Unfortunately, this may not be enough. We are learning that hundreds of people pass away every year and their wishes are not honoured, because they didn’t make them clearly known to the family they left behind. When asked by medical staff about consent for organ donation, many people are saying no, even if a card has been signed by the deceased person.
To avoid this situation, I would urge you to make a point of writing a note in your own hand, stating your wishes to have your organs and tissues donated upon your death. Put that note somewhere safe, with your will or important papers, and make sure you tell someone that it’s there. They need to be aware of it before you die.
Now, I have to apologize for writing about such a difficult subject in what is typically a lighthearted column. I just was surprised to learn that signing the donor card – even registering with the province – may not be enough to ensure your wishes are upheld. If your family has any doubt that you want your organs donated, they can decline on your behalf.
Don’t leave any doubt in their minds. Make sure they know the answers to the difficult questions. Do you want to be an organ donor when you die? And beyond that - do you want to be buried or cremated? Do you want your ashes scattered somewhere in particular? Write it down, and tell those closest to you what you have written.
None of us know the hour or the day when our lives will come to an end. We also can’t know for sure what happens after we die. My father, who was a science teacher, often said “there are some things we just aren’t meant to know.” But on his deathbed, when asked if he wanted his organs donated, he said, “I don’t know if you will find anything worth saving, but you are welcome to it.”
In memory of the donors.
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