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Monday, September 10, 2018

What's in your spousal account?



This has been a season of marriage. I’ve been to bridal showers and a bachelorette and we’ve hosted a wedding. More than once at these gatherings I was presented with a small square of colourful paper and asked to write my Advice for a Happy Marriage on it. In 300 words or less. That is a tall order.
The Farmer and I just marked 11 years together. This marriage is easy. I know we are lucky – but we are also experienced. The luck part is that we don’t have too many conflicting views about how to run this thing. We agree that we each need our time to ourselves, to pursue our own interests, and we should be supporting each other in those pursuits. We agreed on that from the beginning. The Farmer warned me, I guess, from that first date, that hunting and fishing and watching war documentaries are just some of his favourite things. Hunting season at our house is like playoff season to the sports fan. And the war documentaries? They are just a constant. The television is always broadcasting some grainy black-and-white footage of soldiers or airmen in combat.
 I actually have a theory about that.
I think it’s quite possible that the Farmer is drawn to war documentaries as a form of past-life regression. That’s the only way I can explain his fascination with fighter pilots and infantry. I know his father trained on a fighter jet but the war ended before his training was complete – so I don’t think he is the inspiration behind this particular obsession. I think the Farmer was a fighter pilot in WWII. He likely came to a dramatic end, and he is back here now feeling some kind of spiritual connection to what he sees in those documentaries. Like a cellular memory.
The Farmer knows that, although he also loves a good crime documentary, I can’t handle the gory bits. Courtroom photos of body parts and blood give me bad dreams and night terrors. The same goes for the nasty things that are displayed on TV as part of life and death in the animal kingdom. I don’t need to see a lion taking down a gazelle, thank you very much. My husband knows to change the channel when I walk into the room. And part of a successful marriage is the give and take of the television remote.
So back to the marriage advice. When asked, I usually write down my favourite bid of advice, which was given to me by a grand old church lady when I was a young wife (the first time), in 1987. She said, “My piece of advice to you is not ‘never go to bed angry’ but rather ‘if you must fight, fight naked.’” It’s funny how I can’t remember much from that time but those words have stuck with me!
My second favourite piece of advice was given to me by the Farmer himself. I think he included it in his wedding vows, which he wrote with equal measure of humour and sincerity. He said, “I promise to never speak an unkind word.” That is profound. And it might be difficult for some people but, as I said earlier, I am lucky. The Farmer is pretty easygoing and easy to live with. Of course, he didn’t say “never mutter an unkind word under your breath, so quietly that the other person can’t hear you.” That may have been done once or twice. I’m only human.
And my final piece of advice is to think of marriage like a bank account. You will make deposits into your account whenever you do something thoughtful, caring and loving for your spouse. Those deposits will sit there in your spousal account, waiting for that inevitable day when you totally screw up. We all make mistakes and unintentionally hurt, annoy or frustrate our partners. That is when it comes in handy to have a healthy balance in your spousal account. It will be difficult for your sweetheart to be mad at you for long if you are usually a great partner who carries their own weight, shows consideration, appreciation and interest, and puts their spouse before themselves.
Of course, it’s totally within the rulebook to remind your partner of the balance in your account. In fact, you might have to, depending on how badly you messed up.

Here’s to the next generation of newlyweds. Good luck to you all. 



Monday, September 3, 2018

Would you like your Thanksgiving turkey to go?


The turkeys delicately pick at their feed. They strut around the barn calmly and wander outside for fresh air on occasion. They are quite nervous, however. If there are strange noises or new arrivals in the barnyard, they are more likely to stay inside.
But there is always one in every bunch, or rafter, of turkeys. One rogue turkey goes wandering every chance he gets. The Farmer keeps finding one bird out of the penned area, wandering the barn. If the door is left open, he is often found poking about outside.
I asked my husband how he knows it’s the same bird every time. They all look the same to me.
“Oh, it’s him,” he says. “I know his face.”
We took a week off the farm earlier this month to enjoy a cottage on a lake. The Farmer had to come home every couple of days for real estate business, and to fill the feeders in the chicken and turkey coops. Every day he counted beaks. All was good until the last day of our trip. One bird was missing.  
Travelin’ Tom had busted out of the coop once again. He was sighted high-tailing it through the soybean field, leaving a tuft feathers behind where he had squeezed through the barbed wire fence. The Farmer attempted to follow this trail, but he couldn’t find Tom. My husband, intrepid hunter of wild turkeys in springtime, sat out at night with a flashlight in an attempt to blind and nab his own bird. But the turkey wasn’t coming out of hiding.
One Saturday night, on our way out to a friend’s house for a barbecue, we saw Tom. He was just standing in the bushes at the side of the driveway, watching us go. I think I even saw him wave.
“Saw the turkey,” I said to my husband, under my breath. I hoped my already hard-of-hearing husband didn’t hear me, because we were late for the party and I didn’t want his turkey-hunting obsession to ruin our evening.
“Huh?” He slammed on the brakes. Just then a bloom of white feathers burst out of the undergrowth and took off down the tractor lane toward the barn.
“Oh. Looks like he’s headed home anyway.”
But Tom wasn’t quite ready to return. Perhaps our domestic bird had encountered a gang of wild turkeys who had taken him under their wing, so to speak. A band of feathered friends who taught him how to forage for mushrooms, bugs and berries in the forest. They probably showed him the creek that runs alongside our property, with its fascinating collection of crickets, frogs and fish. I don’t think he could fly up to roost with his wild friends in the trees but I imagine he gave it a good old college try. His adventurous spirit kept him out of doors for several days and warm nights. When it started to get cooler in the evenings, however, Tom wandered back home. He was spotted in the front yard after Sunday dinner.
“Ooh. There’s the turkey!” I notified my husband. The bird was standing in the corner of my flowerbed, munching on a hosta. Most Sundays we have at least two if not three dogs in attendance, and this week the dogs got to the bird before we did. The turkey mustered every ounce of strength he had to launch himself up into the air and over the stone fence into the bush. My daughter Annie, who had been brought up to date on the situation, called her trained hunting dog to action.
Rupert the aged yellow lab with the bad hip put on his game face. He bounded like a deer into the bush and after a bit of rustling and a spray of feathers, he emerged with the massive turkey in his jaws. Annie gently collected the bird and praised her dog, who had been careful not to harm the turkey. The bird, for his part, had gone peacefully into the arrest, playing dead. This is a good thing because he could have done quite a bit of harm to both dog and humans with his talons.
Annie carried the bird back to the barn and made sure the door was barred shut. Quite an amount of gobbling and squawking ensued, as Tom regaled his friends with his tales of excitement and intrigue.
I’m going to save Tom for someone special this Thanksgiving. He will be a meal that comes along with its own story to tell over dinner.
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But...that's not my cat


Our well-used, well-worn farmhouse was in the best shape it’s been in the past decade when we hosted our daughter’s wedding in June. We had new hardwood floors and fresh paint and the porch had been rebuilt after our October fire.
That was the fire that redeemed the trio of lazy cats who live in our basement. Well, one of them, anyway. The other 2 are just riding Sammy’s tail and reaping the benefits of his celebrated heroism.
Sammy is the one who led the charge up the stairs and down the hall to our bedroom that fateful night. Sammy is the one who woke me and alerted me to the fact that OUR FRONT PORCH WAS ON FIRE. The cats saved the house – and us! – that night. The firefighters said 5 more minutes and the flames would have reached the roof, burning the house from the top down, possibly without even activating the fire alarms. Nice thought.
So anyhoo, the Farmer’s rhetorical “tell me again why we have 3 fat, lazy cats in the house?!” was answered that night and I suspect he won’t be asking it again for a while. But this latest development in Life With Cats does not bode well for our felines.
The other day I was in the kitchen, having successfully (I thought) locked Sammy and his buddies outside, when I felt something brush my leg. “How did you get back in?!”
Someone decided to create their own cat door in our sliding screen patio door.
Our cats prefer to stay in the house and when a beautiful day with birds chirping and a breeze blowing lures them out onto the back deck, they like to reserve the right to return indoors at a moment’s notice. Thus the creation of a cat door in the bottom of my screen. I pointed it out to the Farmer, who shrugged and mumbled something about further destruction of his abode by animals of a feline persuasion. He’s much more of a dog person.
I guess that means repairing the door is not on the top of his priority list. Neither is painting the front door that the dog scratched up, actually. The Farmer’s mind is on Bass Lake these days, where he is building a cottage. It’s kind of like the shoemaker’s kids having no shoes and the hairstylist’s kids having terrible hair. I can’t get that man focused on the Honey Do list at home.
So Sammy lets himself out onto the porch through his handy escape hatch. He hides in the vines and cluck-clucks at the birds on the feeder. When he is bored with that, he slinks back inside through the broken screen. The screen is lifted and curled back about a foot and the rough edge is covered in cat hair. It’s quite a mess. I threatened to take the door off and bring it into Home Hardware to have the screen replaced. The Farmer said “Don’t be ridiculous; I can repair that myself.”
The other night we were watching TV when we heard cats howling at each other. I assumed the stray tom was back in the area and went out the front door to save my cat from harm. But there was no one out there. The howling continued, so I went back in through the house to check out the back porch. On my way past the den, I realized the howling was inside the house. And a cat tail was sticking out of the dog’s crate.
I pulled the sleep-curtain that covers Fergus’ crate aside and saw that Sammy (owner of the protruding tail) had cornered a white and brown cat in the kennel. We don’t own a white and brown cat.
“Hey honey,” I called to the Farmer. “Come see this. This is not my cat.”
I explained to my husband that the intruder must have entered through the cat door, like everyone else. He picked up the extremely friendly kitten and gently placed him outside, shooing him in the general direction of the house next door, where he actually lives. But a visit from the neighbour’s pet does not seem to be enough to encourage him to repair the broken screen door.
What will it take? Waking up to find a raccoon snacking on cookies at the end of our bed? Encountering a skunk in the hallway during a midnight bathroom break?
I may have to stage an incident to prove my point. In the meantime I am going to google how to remove a screen door.
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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Flashback to the Summer of '79


Dad and Mom took my sister and me to the Maritimes in 1976. It is a long trip by car, so we planned to leave at 4am to make the most of the day on the road.

I remember waking as soon as I felt Dad’s footfall in my room but I clenched my eyes shut and let him collect me in my blankets, which had been carefully chosen, along with my new cotton pyjamas, for the ride. Already tucked in the pockets of the station wagon were crayons, colouring and puzzle books and a bag of candy for each of us that we had selected from the bins at the B&H grocery the day before. I couldn’t read on the trip because I get carsick, but I had made sure that six of the newest Nancy Drew mysteries were packed in my Barbie suitcase for the holiday.

The sun was just coming up over the treetops of George Street as we snuggled into our carbed and drove away. Dad had planned to arrive at Silver Lake truckstop just as they opened, a little before 6am.

“Best breakfast you’ll ever eat,” he proclaimed. And so it was, but mostly because it was in a restaurant instead of our own kitchen, and we didn’t have to do dishes.

From that trip I remember:
-         -  Collecting shells between the rocks at Peggy’s Cove
-          - Eating lobster for the first time in Shediac, New Brunswick
-          - The beach where my sister stepped on a dead jellyfish and got stung anyway. Dad said she should pee on it to relieve the sting. Today we just take Benadryl.
-         -  A long-haired woman in a leotard doing yoga in the campsite next to ours. She ate yogurt and drove a VW beetle. Mom said she was braless.

At one point on our journey, we rounded a curve and the camper-trailer came right off the back of our station wagon and careened into the ditch. I noticed right away but didn’t say anything at first because I knew it would upset my father. I learned some new swear words on that trip, but not from music. Dad outlawed the radio because they kept playing ‘dirty songs’ like Cheap Trick’s I Want You to Want Me. Instead we listened to the Funny Funkies and Goofy Greats on 8-track cassette. We heard them so many times, we learned the lyrics to every single song. “Ahab the Arab, sheik of the burning sand…Wella wella wella bird bird bird, bird is the word!...Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes and a bone in her nose, ho ho!”

After that first trip, camping became a big part of every summer for my family. We would rent a campsite at Bon Echo Provincial Park for the first two weeks of July every year. Every year we reunited with other families who did the same – kids from the Toronto area – mostly boys. Standing on the edge of puberty, barely filling out our bikinis, this was a big deal for my sister and me.

We spent our days staked out on the beach, my ‘ghetto blaster’ playing The Police’s Synchronicity, or we swam across the lake to the cliff, where we climbed up onto a ledge, ate blueberries and dove into the deep, black water to keep cool. Mom knew we would be out all day so she never bothered with lunch but as soon as we returned, ravenous, to the campsite, we snacked on Ritz crackers topped with thin coins of Polish sausage, cheddar cheese and dill pickles. A camper’s charcuterie, if you will.
That held us off while she got dinner on the bbq. We had to have our meal eaten and dishes done by 6pm, when the camp ball game began. My sister and I were not exactly athletic (well maybe she was but I certainly wasn’t). It was all a big social activity.

After ball we headed back to the beach to cool off. With the sun going down the water was smooth as glass. Dad would drive the boat over from the lagoon and back it up to the beach, just outside the swimming ropes. One after another he taught our friends to waterski. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what a generous act that was – an expense of time and gas money. He was always a teacher, even on summer holidays.

Now my husband and I rent a cottage for a week each summer, just so I can get back to a lake. As the sun sets I settle in on the screened porch with my book, my beer and my camper’s charcuterie. I close my eyes and listen. A loon is calling. And somewhere, a kid is sitting in the water, balancing huge skis on his feet. A motor revs. “Hit it!”
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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Raising the next generation of farmers


I didn’t grow up on a farm. I never imagined myself a farmer…until I fell in love with one. Of our five daughters, only one showed a real interest in the farm. From the age of 15 she was here with us, birthing lambs, taming cows and training a donkey. At least once a week the Farmer had to go out and holler at Annie to put some shoes on. She would be out there barefoot in the barnyard in a bikini top and jean shorts, a baby duck under one arm and a lamb in the other.

Before long we could count on Annie to look after the farm in our absence. She saw things in a very practical way – she didn’t get upset over losses and she celebrated every little achievement, whether it was a healthy calf or a crop of tomatoes.

Annie grew up to have a little farm girl of her own. Leti is fascinated with the rooster next door, the tractor in the shed and the barn cats in the basement. Like me, she can do without the chickens. They peck. The other night Leti was here and the first thing she wanted to do after dinner was head to the barn.

“Well ok, but it’s going to be mucky,” I warned. It had rained quite a bit and the ground was very muddy.

“It’s ok Grandma,” she replied. “I like mucky.”

We got sidetracked on the way to the chickens. The farm equipment was parked in the barn, side by side.

“That’s a tractor,” Leti announced. “And that’s a four-wheeler.”

She studied the third item.

“You cut grass with it,” I hinted.

“Lawn mower!” she exclaimed, climbing aboard the ride-on mower.

She fiddled with the key but didn’t turn it. She jiggled the gear shift and patted the seat, looking behind her as if she was going to reverse out of the barn.

“Let’s do this!” she cried. I laughed.

“Your dad must say that.”

Leti’s dad has her feeding goats and pitching hay. She even went up to her other grandma while she was on her horse and demanded to be pulled up into the saddle. Later we looked at the pictures and I asked her about it.

“That’s Princess,” she said. “I was in the saddle.”

“I see that!” I said. “Were you scared?”

“No. Grandma was there. The horse was hot.” And she changed the subject, going off to look for her golf clubs.

If you are raised on a farm, you are accustomed to early mornings. There are lives in the barn, depending on your waking.

If you are raised on a farm, you live by the weather. Rain or lack of it, sun or lack of it affects everything from your crops to the hay you feed your livestock.

If you are raised on a farm, you know the pleasure and satisfaction of a hard day’s work. You don’t need a gym membership – you just need to get out there and hoe the garden, pitch the hay and muck out the stalls. After working up a sweat, you will appreciate the results of your efforts.

If you are raised on a farm, you know what it means to depend on your neighbours. You rely on them to tell you if they notice something strange – like a brush fire or a flood. You need to keep your relationship in good standing, because your cows might end up on their front lawn some misty morning.

If you are raised on a farm, you have a different outlook on life. You know where your food comes from. You have witnessed births, growth, harvest, and death. Life is less mysterious and startling when you live on a farm. It has a matter-of-fact quality to it, so it does.

A man who works the land has an honesty and integrity about him that is born out of life on the farm. A woman on the farm is in touch with nature and life and the power the earth holds.

We are not guaranteed Leti will be a farmer when she grows up. Maybe she will travel the world and settle in an exotic locale overseas. Maybe she will be drawn to the lights and noise of the city.

But I do know this. When Leti thinks of the comfort and safety of home, she will think of a farm.



Do what you love. Love what you do.


When I was travelling in Germany in the late ‘80s, I noticed an interesting cultural thing that people do there. When you ask someone what they ‘do’, they respond with the thing that they love doing – which isn’t necessarily their job. For example, a bus driver might answer that he plays the guitar. A financial analyst might say that he skis. Or paints. Or makes birdhouses.

It’s possible there was something lost in translation but I found it quite endearing, listening to people describe what they did in life. It’s what they want others to know about them – what they love to do. I guess the trick is to find a way to make a living doing what you love. Most of us are lucky to make enough at a job so that it funds what we love outside of work.

The Kemptville Live Music Festival was a 1980’s high school reunion of sorts – the soundtrack of our adolescent years was blasting from the stage and it seemed as though most of my graduating class had shown up to witness it live and in colour.

At least Facebook is good for something. It helps you to put a name to the faces you no longer recognize, thirty years since the last time you saw them. We drifted around the festival and reconnected and asked each other what we were doing for work, and in life. One girl told me she finally has her ‘big girl’ job – working in a seniors’ home as a recreation coordinator. She said she never imagined she would enjoy working in that environment, but she does. I told her I believe we need more people who love working with seniors to actually be in those roles. Seniors’ homes can always use more quality staff.

For my 50th birthday, my doctor scheduled a list of tests. Happy Birthday to me. Because of blood sugar issues and heart palpitations, I needed bloodwork and an ECG. I was also due for a mammogram and I received a note in the mail saying that if I didn’t pass preliminary testing, I would also be treated to a colonoscopy. I’m at the age where body parts, internal organs and systems start to malfunction and misbehave. My doctor wanted to check me out head to toe. First on the list was a pelvic ultrasound.

I have started a new job downtown Ottawa and I was in the middle of training, so it wasn’t very convenient for me to be taking time off for medical appointments. I tried to get two tests booked for the same day but it just wasn’t possible.

I showed up early for my ultrasound appointment and sat down gingerly in the waiting room (I’m not sure what ginger has to do with it – basically I was sitting uncomfortably). I expected to be waiting for the better part of an hour, as per usual. To my surprise, however, someone popped out to see me within minutes.

The women working in the diagnostic imaging department at Kemptville District Hospital were beyond helpful. They must remember what it feels like to be sitting uncomfortably waiting for these procedures, so they schedule appointments accordingly and do whatever they can to speed things along.

As I sat there marvelling that the nurse featured on the wall poster was actually the same person speaking to me, I saw a note waving in front of my face. The nurse was pointing to my requisition form.

“I see your doctor also wants you to get a mammogram,” she pointed out.

“Yeah, I’m getting a complete list of tests, now that I’m 50…”

“Well why don’t we see if we can get at least two of these done today?” she smiled.
Well I wasn’t expecting that. What a great idea.

When I was in the ultrasound room, the technician worked quickly and efficiently, so I could be released from my misery as soon as possible. The mammogram technician was equally awesome, and funny – which seems to make things easier when you are in such a compromising position. Less than an hour later I was back in my car headed to work.

It’s so nice to see people who really love their jobs – particularly when they are working with the public. Linda, Kayla and Jackie are very good in their respective roles at the hospital, and they make sure things go as smoothly as they can while you are in their care.

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A toady would a wooing go uh huh


A couple of years ago, I had a most horrific experience involving a toad. But first I must say I have always loved toads. I remember collecting handfuls of the tiniest little creatures I have ever seen – each one smaller than a dime – on the south-facing sunny wall of my grandfather’s cottage when I was a child. Many times in my youth I encountered toads in the garden and picked them up to examine their lumps, bumps and kind, smiling eyes.

I didn’t like frogs near as much. They are slimy, they jump out from under your hand a millisecond before you were about to catch them, and their eyes are more cunning than kind.

In Chinese culture, toads are good luck. Many times you will see a large figure of a toad squatting beside the cash register in a Chinese restaurant. It often has a coin in its mouth, signifying wealth and business prosperity.

The magical author Alice Hoffman uses toads in her stories quite often to show that something bad is going to happen. They are warty little harbingers of doom. Well it wasn’t quite doomsday for my toad, but it came close.

I was digging in the cool shade garden by the stone fence when it happened. I stuck my pitchfork into the earth and pulled it out. I heard a strange noise like a tiny, almost imperceptible squeal. I was aghast to see a massive toad on the end of one of the tines. It had skewered him through the fleshy overhang of his belly.

“Oh no no no no….” I muttered to the toad as I gently removed him from the end of the pitchfork. The whole time I was doing this delicate surgery, I was running my old first aid training through my head – the part where you don’t pull the arrow out of the victim it has been shot through. You simply tie a tea towel around the wounded body part – arrow still inside – and rush them to the hospital.
I imagined myself rushing the toad to the animal hospital or sanctuary, wrapped in cotton on the end of my gardening implement. But by then he had already limped away into the dark, cool earth beneath the biggest of my hostas – the one that is called Elephant Ears.

I said a little prayer for the toad and apologized aloud for wounding him. For the rest of the summer, every time I weeded that flowerbed, I looked for my toad but he was nowhere to be found.

The next summer, I was digging in the flowerbed by the stone fence, planting daffodil bulbs. My hand hit something familiar in the cool, dark earth beneath the hosta. I pulled out the warty clump and turned it over. It was my toad. The one I had wounded. He was alive, and looking none the worse for wear, save a large lump on his side where he had once been impaled.

I turned him to look at his face. If he had ever had kind eyes, there was no kindness for me now. This toad had more of a Jabba the Hutt look of apathy and disdain. I put him back in the bushes, happy at least to know he had survived.

The other day I was watering flowers and I moved all of my potted plants into one location to make the job easier. The sun had been beating down on us for a few days without a drop of rain. After a couple of hours under a light mist from the sprinkler, I moved my lilac and fuchsia impatiens back into the shade along the stone fence. That’s when I saw him.

There, in the middle of a pot of double impatiens lay a small toad. I would say he was likely a teenaged toad, as he was bigger than the tiniest I’ve seen and smaller than the biggest. The funny thing about this toad was that he was lying on his back in the middle of the potted plant. At first I thought he was dead, then I saw him wriggle his legs, as if he were trying to right himself. I don’t know if he had fallen off the fence into the plant or what, but it did not appear that he had planned the excursion. I picked the toad up and turned him around to face me. He had the sweetest little face.
Yes I know what you are thinking. The heat is getting to her head. But really, I was so happy to see another toad in the garden. To me it’s a sign that we have cultivated a healthy, vibrant and welcoming place for creatures of all kinds. Even the warty ones.
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