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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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Let's K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple, Silly) this Christmas

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A few years ago, it was my granddaughter’s first Christmas. The first grandchild of the family. To say she got spoiled is putting it mildly. And that’s not all – we didn’t just spoil her. We also spoiled each other. We went right nuts, buying gifts for each other. We gathered at my sister’s house on Christmas morning as we have been doing for the past few years. After brunch we turned around and looked at the piles upon piles of gifts. We couldn’t even find a place to sit down. That’s when we knew we had a problem. Like many families, we had out-Christmas’d ourselves. We had too much.
Christmas is about getting together. It always has been, for us too. But we have decided we are going to make it more about spending real time together and less about gifts from now on. We will be sharing a meal, with conversation. Giving time to that elderly uncle who just got sprung from the seniors’ home for the day, and listening to every last one of his long stories. Sitting together in the living room in front of the fire and attempting to sing along as the real musicians in the family give us their rendition of Joy to the World and O Holy Night. Trying old family recipes out on each other, and staying long enough to do the dishes. Singing some more, as we clean up the kitchen. Documenting the event in photos.
It will take some doing, to break the customary holiday spending habits but we are in agreement, it has to be done. I don’t want my family to be stressed, still trying to find the perfect gift for the last person on their list late at night on Christmas Eve. I don’t want them maxing out their credit cards so they can’t afford to do the things they enjoy or buy the things they need themselves. And this Christmas we are also looking out, beyond our family.
This year we have to focus on the people in the world who need us to share a few of our blessings with them. We have enough. We can buy extra groceries and give donations to the food banks. We can take a few hours to ring bells and fill kettles with cash for the Salvation Army. We can buy a gift for a child or senior on the Angel Tree. Fill a box for a woman at a shelter. Bring some warm clothing to a man at the Mission. Goodness knows they need the things more than we do.
For those few, simple and meaningful gifts that we are going to buy, let’s make them memorable, and environmentally-friendly. Let’s wrap our gifts in wearable scarves, cloth grocery bags, or socks! And let’s think about who is benefitting from our purchases. Who is getting our hard-earned money this year? Another big-box store? Nope. We are buying small-batch, handmade, and local gifts this year. Make a small business owner do the happy dance when you buy gift certificates, products or services – or take a loved one to lunch at a local restaurant. Make your Christmas count.
We ‘foster’ a child in a developing country all year round but at Christmas we top up the donation a bit to have more of an impact in the community. This year we are ‘stocking a medical clinic.’ One year we bought a goat for a family. I don’t care if they actually got a goat or not – it’s the thought that counts, right? And I understand the charitable organization in charge of distributing the wealth has to make sure that no family is receiving an obvious surplus of benefits over another family. They share the wealth. So my goat might have been translated into a clutch of chickens, or something else. But I like to think my goat was real. She was female, she was pregnant, and the woman who received her then had a bit of control over her own destiny, with either goat meat or milk to offer in trade.
A Canadian man attempted to track down his gift goat on a documentary in 2010. You can read about it here.
Whatever you decide to do this Christmas, don’t let the hype carry you away and rack up your Visa bill. I know many families are even just deciding to limit themselves to the simple “something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.” That sounds like a good place to finish. Here’s to not going overboard this holiday season.

Season of the Rodent

Mouse rodent cute, animals.

I had a dream about rats the other night. It’s no wonder. Rodents seem to be popping up all over the place these days. First, at the cottage. My husband bought us a lot on Bass Lake and he is building a cottage there. He uses an old trailer on the lot for shelter from the elements. He eats his lunch and waits out the rain on the screened porch. It’s old and worn out but it’s quaint.  I tried to convert that old trailer into a summer cabin earlier this year. The resident mice were against it.
I did my best to make the place hospitable. I swept and cleaned the cracked linoleum floor. I washed and disinfected inside all of the cupboards, closets and cabinets. I put fragrant fabric sheets inside all of the drawers to deter mice building nests within. I cleaned windows, stocked the kitchen with camping dishes, pots and pans and utensils, and I strung up my porch lights.
We stayed one night. It was pleasant enough, and there is nothing like waking up on the lake, to sip your coffee on the porch, listening to the birds. But one night was enough, because the mice were only mildly put out by my fervent sanitizing activities. They returned, full force, and they brought their friends.
“I don’t know why you bother cleaning,” my husband remarked as I once again emptied the cupboards and scoured the shelves. “The mice will just come back when we leave Sunday afternoon.” I looked at the mouse droppings in the towel closet and realized he was right.
I have only made it back to the lake for short visits since then. The Farmer is there nearly every second day, working away on his cottage. He sweeps out the trailer and eats his lunch on the porch. I think the dog sneaks up onto the bed because no one is watching him. I shudder to think what is happening in the cupboards.
“I opened the cupboard to get the tin of soup crackers and the mouse was in there,” my husband reported one day.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I asked him to pass me the saltines,” he laughed.
I told him to make sure he builds that cottage in a way that is decidedly rodent-proof.
Back at home on the farm, I can hear something in the sloped ceiling right above my pillow. I may not have bats in my belfry but I do have squirrels in my attic. The Farmer emptied my closet, climbed up into the attic and set live traps for the little creatures, who are obviously busy preparing for a long winter. I can see them running across the yard, huge beechnuts in their mouths. We have dozens of nut trees on this farm, so they won’t go hungry. But it would be really nice if they would store their nuts in hollow trees like they are supposed to – not my house.
The squirrels are able to take the food that my husband so generously leaves for them, without tripping the traps.
And now there are mice under my kitchen sink. I came down to the kitchen at 2am and there were my cats, lined up in front of the sink, staring at the cupboard door. When I opened it, Sammy darted in and grabbed something. He popped back out and ran past me toward the basement. A long gray tail was dangling from his mouth. I closed the cupboard door, and heard a ‘snap’. The next morning I told my husband he had a mess to clean up under the kitchen sink.
“Sammy caught one and you caught another,” I reported. But when the Farmer opened the cupboard he saw that the trap was empty. Either the rodents are getting smarter or the traps are getting worse.
This evening we were watching Netflix when I noticed a puddle forming outside the dishwasher. We turned the machine off and emptied the cabinet under the sink, again. We found the source of the water. A mouse had nibbled his way through the hose that feeds the water from the sink to the dishwasher. Tonight we won’t put the cats to bed in the basement. They have been given strict instructions to eradicate the house of rodents. I’m not kidding. This means war.
My daughter is storing her sports car in our barn for the winter, and I was worried about rodents getting inside the vehicle and nesting in her leather upholstery. I don’t know what I was worried about. Clearly there are no more mice in the barn.
They’re all in my house.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

What is that now, Junior? Life number 6?

This time of year the cats are in and out of the house, up and down the stairs, looking for excitement. They smell cooler weather in the air and they are invigorated by it. As soon as you slide a door open they zip through it.
I commute to work before the sun rises so I don’t see the cats until dinner time. I can’t keep track of where they are until Tuesday, when I work from home, or the weekend. Last Tuesday Annie and I were in the storage room, sorting little girl clothes to give to a friend who lost her home and all her belongings in a fire. The cats like to go in there, because it holds all kinds of interesting smells. When we leave we have to make sure they are all out again.
I guess we missed one. Today is Sunday and I went into the storage room to look for a futon cover. Suddenly I hear a ‘meow’ and Junior pops his head up from where he is snoozing in the blankets on the baby cradle. He jumps down and flashes through my legs and out the door.
“Junior! What the heck? How long have you been in here??!”
I hope I left the door open Tuesday and the Farmer decided to close it sometime later in the week. Because I would really hate to think I locked my poor cat in the basement for five whole days without food, water or toilet.
I sniffed the air. Huh. No trace of cat urine. Bizarre. I know they are basically desert animals and don’t need a lot of water but can they also hold their bladders for five days? Poor Junior.
I know he was in there for a while, because when he popped out he watched the dog very closely as he ate his kibble.
“Your food is up here,” I said to the cat, patting the top of the bench. Junior leapt up and started chowing down. He was mighty hungry. I stroked the cat’s fur. This is the only time he will allow me to touch him – when he is eating. Normally he arches his back, pushing up into the hand that is petting him. This time he just concentrated on his food.
We have had squirrels in our attic so the Farmer has been up there, setting live traps. Mostly he is just feeding the cunning little rodents, who appreciate the snacks he leaves them. But when Junior was missing for a few days, I just assumed he had gone up the ladder and through the open door to the attic. We left it open for a few days. I guess we are lucky we didn’t get a squirrel or anything else in the house. Imagine waking up to a raccoon on your bed.
I guess that storage room is a lot more soundproof than we originally believed. Junior is a very vocal cat. He often sits in the doorway to my office, vocalizing about anything at all and nothing in particular. He was probably calling to us through the closed door, but we didn’t hear anything. Not even when we went downstairs to put Fergus to bed and every morning when we released him from his crate.
“Why didn’t you call me?” I asked Junior, who just pushed into the older cat, Sheila, on the couch, and let her wash his ears. “And you, Sammy. I thought I could depend on you!” Sammy is the cat who came and woke me when the house was on fire last year. You’d think he would let me know that his brother was locked in the basement. Who knows what he was thinking. Maybe less competition for the cat treats. Survival of the fittest and/or smartest and all that.
I left the baby gates up around the pool this winter so I don’t have to worry about any animals accidentally breaking through the ice. This has happened at least once in the past. It may have happened more than once, but the Farmer doesn’t like to tell me.
I never thought I would lose Junior by locking him up somewhere in the house. I’m horrified to think what would have happened to him if I hadn’t gone looking for a futon cover. I guess I’m going to have to do a roll call every night before bed to make sure all fuzzy little felines are present and accounted for.
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Lucy the Moose on the loose

Photo by Paulina Hrebacka, The Kemptville Advance
A moose wandered out of the Ferguson Forest Centre and out onto the highway on Friday the 12th of October. No one was hurt, thank goodness, and the moose was ushered out of town by police, without incident. She was spotted crossing County Road 18 at midnight and again on October 13th in a soybean field outside Oxford Mills. But she hasn’t been spotted since then, unless people have seen her and are just keeping it to themselves. It’s all quiet on the Western front where the Moose on the Loose is concerned.
It was a big deal, to see a moose up close and personal, in our neck of the woods. We don’t normally get them this far south unless you are in a heavily wooded area. So on the 13th when I saw the cars pulled over at the side of the road and people standing in the ditch, taking photos of the moose and attempting to call her over with their faux-moose mating calls, I decided I would like a word with her myself.
“You can come and live at our place,” I told her. I understand that moose can’t see really well. They rely a great deal on their hearing, for their survival, so it is probably their best sense. I just spoke to the moose in a regular voice and she turned to stare in my direction.
“We have 200 acres. Much of it is forest. We also have soybean, but I don’t recommend you tramp all over it or the Farmer will get ticked off. Stay on the edges of the field, like you are now. If you get thirsty, there’s the creek. And if the winter is particularly cold, you can find shelter in our barn. We don’t have any animals right now. It’s just the Farmer in there, with his sawmill. He’s milling his own wood for the cottage he is building…”
I realized I was speaking to a moose. And I thought the people doing the moose calls were weird.
But seriously, I hope she comes to live on our property. If she doesn’t head back up north out of loneliness, that is. I don’t imagine there are too many of her kind around here. I wonder if she gets along with deer? We have at least one complete family living in our forest. The buck has a huge rack. She might be impressed by that.
A female moose is called a cow. Maybe she would like to spend time in a herd of cattle. She has probably already passed through several head of cattle on her recent journey. If she finds a farmer who is a little nearsighted, she might even blend in enough to help herself to their hay.
We are only 3 farmer’s fields south of where the moose was last spotted. If she continues to follow the creek, she will find us. It’s quite possible that she already has. Fergus the Golden Retriever has been doing an awful lot of barking at night. Perhaps he senses she is out there, in the meadow, just beyond the stone fence.
Our neighbour has been working for months, turning his forest into hay fields. Soon the leaves will be off the trees and I will be able to see past the tree line into his property. With the forest gone, my view will likely be unobstructed for miles. Maybe I will be able to see right into the village.
If that moose wanders out into the open, I will be able to see her. It would be comforting to know that she is in a safe place, and not having too many encounters with humans and civilization. Bad things tend to happen when wildlife and humans mix.
My son-in-law christened the animal Lucy the Moose because she is on the loose. I’m sure she would like to keep it that way. Oh and I know what you are thinking – the Farmer is a hunter. No need to worry, though. He only hunts what he likes to eat and he has had moose before. It was not to his liking. I’ve had it before as well, and I’ve got to admit I’m not a fan. So Lucy is more than safe here, should she decide to wander over and stay.
When the snow comes we will be able to track her like we do the deer in the forest.
It’s always nice to know your property is being enjoyed to its fullest.
 Post script: Lucy has since been spotted on the north side of the Rideau, on Fairmile Road, munching from an apple tree. Apparently she can swim!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

This term, let's do more than vote.

It’s almost October 22nd. This is the time where we are supposed to encourage and remind each other, from 18-year-old to senior, to get out and vote. It’s so important, to exercise your democratic rights this way. You get to contribute to the governance of the amazing community in which we all live.
If you were born and raised here, like me, chances are when you were 18 the primary thought on your mind was not getting out and voting, but rather, getting out of Dodge. But the truth is, most of us, if given the opportunity to live elsewhere, would still choose North Grenville. It is a pretty spectacular place to call home.
I lived in the suburbs. I also lived overseas. When it was time to come home to Canada, my publishing certificate in hand, I just assumed I would end up in Toronto. That city, after all, is the home of Canadian publishing. The Universe had another plan, however. I spent my first few months as a returning expat living at my parents’ house, waiting for my driver’s license, health card and other privileges of being Canadian to be returned to me. During that time, I met and fell for the Farmer. I wasn’t moving to Toronto.
I often think about how life can change in an instant. Sometimes the same opportunities come up more than once. But we still have to take the step, push the button, answer the call, mark the ballot. Buy the lottery ticket or you will never win.
This week, we get to choose who will make decisions on our behalf, for the next four years. Let’s choose carefully. We are in an interesting position, here in North Grenville. We are growing like crazy, but we are also trying very hard to hang on to our small-town feel. We want new businesses and industry to move in, so that our skilled workers do not have to commute to the city every day. But we also want to be able to walk to the store, and to recognize people on the street. We want to keep our small town, but we want it to become sustainable.
After we mark our ballots and learn who the new council will be, it’s important to stay involved. I don’t mean you have to go to council or committee of the whole meetings every Monday night – unless you want to. But stay involved. Get into the conversation on social media. Read your local news. Learn what decisions are being made on your behalf, and hold your elected officials accountable if you think they are not following the will of the people who elected them.
We want to see some big businesses move into our community in the near future. They would be foolish not to. We are perfect for them. We have green space and homes for their employees. We are situated next to the highway, half way between the United States and the Nation’s Capital. We have no excuse not to become a tourist attraction. We are beautiful, with our Ferguson Forest Centre, our South Branch of the Rideau, and our Old Town. We have talented artists to entertain us, fun things to do, and great places to eat.
When the new council comes in, and municipal staff makes plans to replace the Bridge Street bridge, I would like to see it built so that boats can easily pass beneath it. We can be a destination for daytrippers by water. We used to have huge steamer ships come to our town centre.
Local businesses need to realize that we are still a big community of commuters. Ottawa is a government town and many of us are driving North every day to help staff the machine that runs the country. Stay open later so that we can shop locally after work in the evenings. Kemptville used to have a thriving downtown of shops that stayed open late until the last train brought workers home on a weekday evening. We need to look at our past to define our future.
We have many things to consider as we manage our community growth and prosperity into the next 4 years. We want all the things that growth brings, but we also want to remain the community that looks out for its own. We are North Grenville.
Now let’s go and vote.

What will you leave behind?

I am thinking the Farmer and I are going to leave a few things behind for our loved ones when we leave. It won’t all be intentional.
I cut my weekly columns out of the newspaper and file them in binders in my office. I now have 11 years of columns. That’s 572 stories of our life here together on this farm. It’s like a “Dear Diary” of my life.
Most days before I head out on my morning commute I write a note to my husband and leave it on the kitchen island next to the 50-year-old stainless steel percolator that he insists on using for his coffee. I think the drip machine makes a tastier brew and more than once I have accused him of using the perk just for nostalgia’s sake. He does things like that. He has his favourite coffee cup too. I bought it at the Salvation Army. He says it perfectly fits his nose. I didn’t realize his nose was a concern. If I have fresh lipstick on, I seal the note with a kiss. Those ones are his favourites, but he keeps all of them.
If he is going out to show a house in the evening, my realtor husband leaves me a note. It’s usually very short, and funny. But don’t tell him I said that. I’m trying not to encourage his particular wry sense of humour.  The Farmer saves our messages to each other in shoeboxes so that our loved ones’ loved ones can get to know us a little bit better after we are gone. I think he is up to shoebox number 4 by now. They are in a rusty old metal filing cabinet in the basement.
I started writing important little things that I wanted to remember in a hard-covered journal the year we were wed. I still haven’t filled the book, because with my weekly column acting as a journal, I don’t have much else to say. The book is saved for the things that are either too banal, too trivial or too personal to print. That little book will be of interest to someone someday, I’m sure. It is already of interest to me, as I flip back through the past decade of scribbled notes about 30 degree days in November, sheep that had quadruplets, movies that made me cry and jobs that I applied for. It’s funny but I don’t even remember writing half of this stuff and it’s only been a few years since I did.
I also seem to be one of the few people I know who still prints photographs for albums. I actually have too many photos for albums so the Farmer gave me an old cabinet in which to store them. The cabinet stands about four feet tall and it’s two skinny drawers across, seven down. It will take me at least another twenty years to fill it with photos, ticket stubs, postcards and notes. I already have a tallboy of four drawers filled with photos and cards from our first decade together. These are standing right beside the front door of the house. I was thinking of pushing them out onto the front lawn when the porch caught fire last year. Luckily I didn’t have to.
There is something else the Farmer and I will be leaving behind, and it isn’t necessarily on purpose. My husband and I occasionally put money, spare car keys, gift cards and other valuables “in a safe place” for future use. Then we promptly forget where we put these things. I am also in the habit of stuffing ten-dollar bills in out-of-season coat pockets, so as to surprise myself when the weather changes. I do the same with purses that are out of rotation. Someone is going to feel like they won the lottery someday, when they go through our things.
I saw a documentary once about seniors who decide they don’t trust banks anymore. Some of them tape their money to the bottom of desk drawers. They stuff the piano or the mattress with bills or they fill a rubber boot in the attic. Then they forget that they did it. Years later, they pass away and the contents of their home are distributed or sold. Sometimes the new owners discover the bounty. Sometimes they don’t.
To whomever inherits the contents of the humble home that I have shared with the Farmer I would like to say, check every envelope. Do not throw out shoeboxes full of paper without having a read. Look under the chair cushions, and check behind the dresser drawers. I left something for you.