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Thursday, February 16, 2017

The urge to purge old clothing

Apparently people born under the Aries zodiac sign are more likely to be the kind who like to clear out unwanted stuff on a regular basis. I certainly live up to that ideal. Nothing makes me feel better than going through old books, clothes, even pieces of furniture that aren’t being used, and giving them away.
I honestly think you can’t have too many books but if I’ve read them and they aren’t really my thing, I pass them along. I fill a box for the biggest book sale in Eastern Ontario each year, in Kemptville. Proceeds go to benefit the youth centre. Any unsold books go by ship to underdeveloped countries where they are appreciated even more.
With five daughters we haven’t had much trouble finding homes for extra furniture. But anything that really doesn’t suit goes to the Hey Day garage sale to benefit Kemptville District Hospital. That’s where I bought most of the furniture for my first apartment too. Old electronics can also be donated to the youth centre, where they are sold to a recycling organization.
When it comes to clothing, I have a rule. If I haven’t worn it all season and it’s time to put it back into storage, it really should go. Likely it doesn’t fit properly, and that’s why it has been benched for months. Clothes like classic dresses and blazers that I may need for an office job someday get put in the back of the closet. Everything else – turtlenecks that choke, sweaters that ride up, jeans that ride a little too low…get thrown on the bed in a pile. Next, I sort through these discarded items to see if any of them might suit someone else. In particular: shoes I only wore once because the heels are too high for me; a jacket I can no longer close; or a dress that, in hindsight, is really too short for someone with a granddaughter. These get put in a bag for the consignment store. If they are accepted for sale, they can earn me points toward my next purchase there. More than once I have been able to pick out something “for free” because I had a stockpile of points from shoes and clothes on consignment.
Other items that didn’t cost much to begin with get put in a bag for the Sally Ann. I’m a big supporter of our local thrift shore, and I head in there whenever I need something specific but don’t want to spend too much. It’s amazing what you can find. Most of my gardening, camping and farming clothes are from there (which is basically half my wardrobe!).
If you are giving away clothes and they have holes, stains, or they are missing buttons, don’t give them to the Salvation Army. Places like the Sally Ann don’t need to be bothered with things they can’t resell. It just means they have to find another way to dispose of it. Save them the trouble and do it yourself – but don’t throw out your unwearable clothes.
You can also donate your unwanted clothing in a roadside collection bin. If the recycling operation requests “gently used” clothes, they need them for resale. They will sell them to Value Village or send them overseas to be worn again. Many of the wearable items that don’t sell in our local thrift shops after a set period of time also end up overseas on very grateful recipients.
Clothes that don’t get sold can be sent to textile recyclers. Old fabrics can be turned into industrial rags, fiber filling for upholstery, sound-proofing, home insulation and more. So feel good about cleaning out your closets – you’re not just making room for more clothes! Whatever you decide to do, though, don’t throw your unwanted clothing in the trash. Far too much clothing ends up in landfills, and when the fabrics break down they let off fumes that add to our air pollution.
I know I’m enjoying the space inside my closet right now, having satisfied the urge to purge my unwanted outfits. But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m an Aries. My husband, a Gemini, would keep every last bit of clothing he owns if he had it his way. More than once I’ve caught him retrieving a hole-y pair of slippers or a beloved stained t-shirt that I had thrown out.
Each to his own - I now have room to go shopping!!

In search of a Golden

“A farm without a dog is not a farm at all,” the Farmer declared one evening, as we enjoyed a movie with a dog as one of the central characters. It has been about a year since we had to put our 17-year-old dog down. Cody had a good, long life and he is missed. He was a bit untrainable in certain areas, but still a lovable dog. Over the last few years he became deaf so he wasn’t much of a watch dog anymore – he never really was. He was more apt to welcome strangers because many of them came bearing gifts – the gas man shared his sandwich with our dog when he came to fill our tank, and the UPS man always had dog cookies in his truck.
Cody was a runner so when he wasn’t in the house he couldn’t wander free. He got me out of the house every day, because he needed to run down the road, dragging me on the end of the leash. He was also an incredible stealer of food. Even when he couldn’t possibly be hungry. But despite all his faults, he has left a bit of a void in our home. Our next dog will be trained. And we will also build a high fence around our house so he can roam freely. It sounds like the Farmer is ready to start looking.
My husband has decided that his semi-retirement dog is going to be a Golden Retriever. He imagines taking this dog with him to scout properties or to finish up the log cabin he is building. The dog will accompany us on long walks around our farm and he will sleep on Cody’s old blanket, in front of the TV and beside our bed.
I started the search for a Golden, and learned a few things. First of all, it’s pretty tricky to find a Golden Retriever that needs a new home. We could put our name on a waiting list for a spring litter, but that means entering a whole new world of training – waking up in the middle of the night and listening to puppy wailing. The Farmer says he is up for it. I laughed. He doesn’t seem to remember when he brought Chelsea the Border Collie in as a pup. She chewed his shoes, his furniture and his books and created a few permanent designs on the carpet. I’m not sure I’m up for training a pup. Besides, I have always had rescue dogs. There certainly are enough dogs looking for homes. We are bound to find a Golden in the lot somewhere.
I have registered with the organization Golden Rescue. I filled out their in-depth questionnaire and listed our vet and a few people as references. I also discovered that Goldens are prone to a unique set of health problems we have to be wary of. Hopefully they will be able to find us a nice dog that doesn’t mind the occasional barn cat or small child visiting, and likes rides in the car. Sometimes Golden Rescue brings in dogs from other countries like Istanbul, where they are found wandering the streets. Other times the dogs are needing to be rehomed because their owner has passed away, or needs to go into a residence that doesn’t allow pets.
The Farmer has always wanted a Golden Retriever, so that’s what we are looking for. If you know of one that needs a home, let me know!
I will have to break the news to Sheila, Sammy and the barn cats. They thought they finally had the place to themselves. They are in for a surprise. The beanie babies and small stuffed animals that Sheila carries around in lieu of kittens might also be in jeopardy. Golden Retrievers love stuffed toys and they are very possessive about them. We might have to let him choose some out of the storage room, after our granddaughter has first pick.

I heard a dog barking the other night, but we don’t have any big dogs living near us. I was told it might be a coyote. I didn’t realize they did more than yip and howl. Maybe if I walk my new Golden Retriever around the property, he can mark the perimeter and keep the wolves away from my newborn calves. Every animal has to earn his keep on the farm. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A little change does a body good

The Farmer and I walked into the house the other night after having been away for the evening. The scent that greeted us as we walked through the door almost knocked us over. A thick, heady honeysuckle aroma hung in the air like fog. It was wafting down the stairs from the second floor office, on its own legs. It was coming from the tropical plant that I moved there about six months ago.
The dracaena is a very common tropical houseplant / tree that I picked up for about ten bucks nearly a decade ago, when I married the Farmer and decided to make some improvements to his bachelor pad. I have a bit of a green thumb, so the little houseplant now reaches the ceiling. It and my five foot hibiscus and three foot variegated palm tree were blocking all the light out of the sunroom after thriving outside all summer. That is why I separated the plants and moved the dracaena upstairs. Apparently the tropical corn plant appreciated the change of scenery, and decided to flower. For the first time ever.
It was the scent that first drew me to the den. It attracted the cats, too. Sheila was sitting under the plant, on a mini vacation, when I walked in and noticed the stalks of spiky little snowball blooms up near the ceiling. They were dripping a sticky sap, so I moved Sheila. I didn’t want it to get in her fur; it may be toxic.
The first few weeks of flowering were pleasant enough, but when the blooms started to decay, the aroma was quite pungent. I had to cut the stalks off the plant and throw them outside. I hope the tree will forgive me.
Change seems to be good for houseplants. It may be good for other creatures too. The cows, for example, could use a change in location for their feeding troughs. The winter has been so mild; their troughs are now perched precariously on hills of hay surrounded by moats of muck and manure. The two little heifer calves have chosen their favourite napping spots and, after an afternoon of chasing each other around the barnyard, they take a rest. One prefers to nap right in the muck, beside her mother. I don’t know if it’s like elephants and pigs – their hide just feels soothed and moisturized in that mudpack. In the summer the mud is cool and refreshing. I don’t imagine it’s all that comfortable in the winter, but they do have other options. The second calf likes to nap in the bed of hay that has formed between the two hay feeders. She whittles her way in there and fairly disappears from view.
Every afternoon I venture out just before dusk to count cows and see if we have any new ones to put in the barn. Every afternoon I have to move handfuls of hay to find the little one napping there. When the ground freezes and dries up a bit we will move the feeders (and by ‘we’ I mean the Farmer) to higher ground, out of the muck moat.
The coyotes seem to have returned to our property. They left for a time after we stopped raising sheep, but they have recently reappeared. The deer returned when the coyotes left, so maybe that is what is bringing them back. They are hoping to share a meal of venison. We can hear them at night, yip yipping in the back pasture. Their call reminds us to keep a close watch on our herd. We don’t want a calf to be born in the back field and set upon by a coyote before we can move it to safety. Most of our cows are smart enough to head for the barn when labour begins, but not all of them. We’ve never had a calf attacked by a coyote before, thank God, but we have had one freeze to death, because we didn’t know its mother was in labour. It’s a guessing game every year, because the big bovines are not really good at communicating.
This mild winter has been really good to us so far. You don’t realize how much you appreciate running water in the barn until the day it freezes. We will see what February has in store for us.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Working through winter on the farm

Winter months are a great time to get indoor projects completed. This includes the book I have been working on for years. In winter I am not distracted by my garden that needs weeding, a beckoning swimming pool and an inner voice that screams “why are you sitting at a computer on a beautiful day like today?? You should be outside!!”
I put another log on the fire, pour a cup of tea and settle in for an hours-long writing session. Here’s why this particular project is taking so long to complete. I lived in Taiwan from 2003 to 2006 and wrote a number of articles for The Kemptville Advance during that time. Topics ranged from the Taiwanese President’s attempted assassination, to prawn fishing, to culture shock, to the tsunami.  I have some great stories to include in my book from those columns. But it’s going to be a sight more difficult than I first imagined.
When I returned from Asia, I got busy repatriating to Canada, restoring my status as a Canadian citizen and finding work. A few years passed before I decided to try and put my stories together into a book. Like five years. By then, I discovered that I no longer had access to the email account I used in Asia to send the stories home. No problem, I thought. I will just go to the newspaper office and get the stories there. The newspaper didn’t have the emails anymore either. And the floppy discs they had used to store my articles on were by then obsolete. I had no way of opening them to read the files inside. I resigned myself to collecting old copies of the newspapers from that time and transcribing all the articles by hand into my computer at home. That took the better part of a year.
I got busy working for the local radio station then, and writing news every day. When you use your brain to write all day, the last thing you feel like doing is writing when you get home. So the project got put aside again. For another almost five years. I’m sure it’s beginning to feel neglected.
Now that I have taken a closer look at the 50,000 words that I have as a foundation for this book, I realize we have a new problem. The articles that I wrote as a Canadian expat in Taiwan, in the throes of culture shock, actually come across as culturally insensitive and a bit prejudiced. In truth, I had fallen into the “us vs. them” syndrome. I thought I was very open-minded and accepting of the Chinese culture but when I read these ten-year-old articles again, they come across as mildly inappropriate.
Of course I didn’t mean all Taiwanese when I said they don’t treat women with respect or they have very little hope of a getting married after the age of thirty…I was simply referring to a few key individuals with whom I had had conversations on the subjects. But I didn’t make that clear in the articles and so now I will have to go back and edit them all. It will basically mean rewriting most of them.
The other aspect of the project that is holding me back is the idea that I need to secure my subjects’ privacy by allowing them to retain their anonymity in my book. I mean, they didn’t ask to have a book written about them, even if they are extremely interesting people: a drag queen, a drug dealer, a nudist and an escapee from the Mormons, among them. There are good stories there. I’m just not sure how to go about telling them without ticking anyone off.
And so, I rewrite sections of the book, I add new sections and I delete parts that I never liked in the first place. The project continues. It is giving me something to do during the long winter months while waiting for calves to be born. On that front we have two down and ten to go. So far we have two healthy little heifer calves: Holly and Annie.
Note to a reader who took the time to send me a handwritten letter: thank you Eileen for the advice about the cats. I didn’t realize they each need their own litter box. I have two set up but will get a couple more. I hope they appreciate this special dispensation.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Welcoming calving season with a little Holly

Calving season 2017 started a little early this year. Normally our cows give birth in late January to March. But the day after Boxing Day, one cow was hanging out in the barn by herself. When the Farmer went to check on her a while later, there was a tiny calf standing beside her.
The calf was up and moving around but didn’t appear to be eating. The lack of selenium in our soil has led to a weak suckling instinct in both our sheep and our cattle. The Farmer gave the little heifer a quick shot of the miracle supplement and in just a few minutes she was up and under her mother, nursing away.
We like to keep the new family in the barn for the first week or so, to ensure the baby knows who her mother is. Hopefully by the time they are released to the barnyard, they will have formed a strong bond and will be less likely to lose each other in the herd.
Every morning we brought two pails of water from the pump to the inner reaches of the barn, where the new mother and baby were recuperating. We filled the feeders with hay and tossed some old straw on the pen floor to sop up some of the wetness. It gets pretty messy in there in a very short time.
After a few days the new mother had had enough of the spa experience and was more than ready to get out of the barn for some fresh air and sunshine. Her little calf was running circles around her in the pen, ready to head out for a romp. We waited for a mild, sunny day to let the pair outside. The temperature was hovering right around the zero mark when I opened the door to the pen. Mama didn’t need much coaxing, and baby followed along with a little skip. I put some of the leftover hay outside in a spot that was sheltered from the wind. Cow and calf lay down for an afternoon nap.
Within about half an hour, the sky had darkened and a blizzard blew in with a snow squall and biting winds. I worried about the little calf and hoped her mom would lead her into the part of the barn where the cows take shelter from the weather. I stood at the window squinting my eyes, trying to see the little black dot in the snow against the barn. I worried she would be too cold, or get separated from her mom in the blinding snow. Just then the Farmer came in, sliding the patio door shut on the storm behind him.
“I put them back in the pen,” he announced. He said he picked up the little calf and carried her back to the room she had just vacated. The weather was just too nasty for such a new little creature. Mom followed, if a little reluctantly. She was enjoying being outside, but wasn’t about to let her baby be taken away.
The next day we tried again to let the animals outside. This time the pair sauntered as far away from the barn as they could go before hitting deep snow. They lay down together in the sunshine at the far corner of the field, as if to say, “we aren’t going back in that barn, thanks. We’re ok right here.”
The little heifer spends her afternoons lying on the bed of spilled hay around the feeder. The bull stands protectively over her so that no one accidentally steps on her while feeding.
We will have to keep a close eye on the rest of the cows to see if any others are planning a surprise birth. Betty is getting a little slower and she has a funny look in her eye. The other day she didn’t want one of the apples I was handing out, either: a sure sign that she isn’t feeling like herself.
Soon we will have fat cows stuffed into all of the old lambing pens and even the horse stable will be full. One down, eleven to go. Calving season 2017 has begun, with a little heifer calf I named Holly. It would be ideal if the rest of them were born before we head to Jamaica at the end of February. Our house sitters aren’t much for delivering calves.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Vanity is an easy scam target

Age is a funny thing. As a nineteen-year-old bride I often felt ridiculously young in comparison to my first husband and his friends. I remember one woman saying to me, “you aren’t very smart, are you?” I thought about it and realized she was referring to my lack of street smarts. My youthful naivete and lack of experience left me ill-equipped to handle certain situations – but I was educated, well-travelled and well-read, so I could beat the pants off people ten years my senior in a trivia contest. And I took to using five-dollar words that they couldn’t understand. I didn’t have many friends in that group.

Fast forward fifteen years and I was single at thirty-four, dating someone ten years my junior. Being with my young suitor took a great deal of energy. I found I occasionally had to explain away his behavior as one would with an untrained pup. He needed to be entertained, and supervised. At times he used vocabulary I did not understand. The tide had shifted. Never did I feel as old as when I was with him.

In 2006 I fell in love with my equal, the Farmer. He is older than me, but we feel the same age most of the time. And now, with another decade past, 50 is clear on the horizon and 45 is fading away in the rear-view mirror. I’ve had silver highlights in my hair – I like to call it “Arctic Blonde” – since my early 30s. If I were single, I would probably try growing it out. But the Farmer is not ready to have a grey-haired wife. So I dye it back to my natural dark brown, every two months. 

Wrinkles have set in around my eyes and mouth and my forehead looks like a grid, despite daily moisturizing since my teens. They don’t really bother me – I find wrinkles give a face character. It’s the under-eye saddle bags that bug me. I’m not sure where this luggage came from and where it is taking me. I’ve used treatments for sagging skin, sunken eyes, dark circles and puffy lids. Nothing works. I’ve tried natural remedies, getting more sleep, eating less salt, drinking more water and cutting out wheat. The bags remain. I tried wearing more makeup, or none at all. My father’s words ring in my ears: “easy on the warpaint. I wish women would just grow old gracefully.”

I caught a glimpse of myself on camera and was shocked at how unhealthy those bags under my eyes make me look. A smile takes them away immediately, but the resting face reveals all. And besides, you can’t go around smiling all day. You’ll look like an idiot. I know – I’ve tried.

I may have been harping and obsessing a bit too much about my eye bags on social media, because the advertising trolls picked up on it. Soon ads for face creams, wrinkle reducers and complexion enhancers were popping up all over my news feed. One day, during a weak moment of poor judgment, I clicked on one of them.

The ads for Face Replens Eye Cream by Image Revive promised to lift, smooth and lighten the skin under my eyes. I clicked through to the website, and read the inspiring testimonials. Something in the back of my head whispered “there’s got to be a catch” but when I saw “click here for free sample!” I went ahead. The catch is you have to enter your credit card information to cover shipping and handling.

That makes it easy for the company to open an account in your name and send you product on a monthly basis, whether you want it or not. I received my free sample in early November. By Christmas, over $600 dollars had been charged to my credit card by two different skin care companies claiming to have an account in my name. When I complained that I had not agreed to repeat orders after the free sample they agreed to cancel my account. After another half hour of complaining, they agreed to refund me half of the money they had charged my credit card.

Ok, I learned my lesson. I’m going to eat healthy, sleep well, exercise and smile more. I will use coconut oil for wrinkles around my eyes and cucumber slices for puffiness. I’m going to attempt to grow old gracefully, instead of kicking and screaming all the way. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Wishing you the warmth of a hug this Christmas

Winter is feeling extra Canadian this year. Our waterproof, chill-proof boots and coats are being tested, and we find ourselves searching for that extra-warm pair of mittens and favourite toque. The snow is piling up in an insulating shield around the barn, keeping the cows cozy inside. Unfortunately the ground frost has frozen the water to the barn.
As in the winter of 2015, we have to string lengths of heavy-duty garden hose together reaching from the house to half-barrels placed just over the barnyard fence. There the cows will shove and jostle for position so they can get their 5 to 7 gallons per day. The water barrels have to be filled several times, until the beasts’ thirst is quenched. This has to be done twice a day until, hopefully, the water fountain in the barn thaws out.
If my father were still alive, he would be out in the garage, revving up his Yamaha, in anticipation of snowmobile trails opening. The smell of diesel fuel and the sound of the sleds ripping down the trail always bring back vivid memories of Dad in his puffy suit and helmet. Skiers are no doubt hitting the trails and slopes over the holidays, enjoying every cumulative inch of the fluffy white stuff. Even the bitter cold is welcomed by those who rely on it to finish up the ice on their backyard skating rinks. A truly Canadian winter is here, just in time for Christmas.
This weekend we will gather with our family to celebrate another year of blessings. We will also be comforting those in our extended family who have lost a loved one just over a week ago. Suddenly I am back in that hospital room, losing my own father all over again. At times the pain is as fresh as it was in 2008 – and tears so easily take me by surprise. But the loss has taken on a dull shade now, and the happy memories rise up to the top. Dad’s spirit will be with us as we gather for Christmas and watch our newest family member open her gifts.
I bumped into an acquaintance recently in a store. She lost her husband this year – and though neither of them were close friends of mine, because we have both lost someone dear, we have that in common. She showed me the book of photographs she was working on for her family, and her eyes filled up with tears. As I gave her a hug, I remembered someone saying the hugger shouldn’t determine the length of the hug. It should go on until the recipient lets go. And so we hugged there, for nearly a minute, in the Walmart photo lab. It’s a simple thing but the transfer of energy is quite amazing. You can almost feel the serotonin rushing through your body. I’m going to take the time to give out and receive a few more hugs than usual this Christmas. It’s the gift that gives back – and it doesn’t cost a dime.
As 2017 looms on the snow-squall horizon, my new book project waits in the wings. It has been waiting for several years, for this moment. Now that I am between fulltime gigs, I need to focus on getting the thoughts and memories of my three years in Asia up on the computer screen. I sit at my desk in the den and look out at the snow-covered pasture, free of distractions. Chickadees and jays flutter at the bird feeder.  I try to remember the sounds and smells of Taipei – the clatter of a traffic jam, the hum of the subway, the sing-song language, the sweet scent of barbecued pork, the pungent odour of fermented tofu. The beer fridge behind me goes through its crashing cacophony and disturbs my train of thought. The furnace echoes with a clunk and a bang. The cats chase each other, playing hockey with a fallen tree ornament. I will go through some old photographs to help me focus. Memories line themselves up and ask to be turned into stories. It’s as good a time as any, to get this writing done.
Wishing you and your family plenty of time to focus on the things that you enjoy most. The heat of a wood stove, meals made with love, and the occasional squeeze of a bear hug. Merry Christmas, from the Fisher Farm.