Monday, April 9, 2018
It’s normal to experience some symptoms of vernalagnia or spring fever at this time of year. The longer daylight hours, warmth of the sun and fresh scent of new growth in the air just make you want to get up and do something. Some people cut their hair, redecorate a room or buy a new car. Others quit their jobs, move to another city or leave their relationship. Spring Fever can get quite dramatic.
I must confess, I have done most of these things, and yes, their happening coincided with the arrival of spring. I do feel a sudden burst of positive energy when the snow melts away and flowers begin to appear. It could also have something to do with the fact that life is short, I’m not gettin’ any younger, and my birthday is in spring. This year I am turning 50.
Someone asked me how it feels to hit the half century mark. Well, it feels like any other birthday, really. I find myself taking a few minutes to meditate on my life: my blessings, my failings, my leave-behinds. Fifty years is a long time. It used to be “old.” I remember seeing a photo when I was in my teens of a homely woman in horn-rimmed glasses and a stiff-looking dress and being told she was forty. That image stuck in my head for a long time. I remember someone else saying that after a certain age, most women just “let themselves go.” I wondered what that meant. Did men also let themselves go? And what happened when they did?
Honestly, for the first time in my life, I have got to say I feel truly comfortable in my own skin. I feel good. I like this older version of myself. She is more interesting. I do my best to treat my body kindly, to stretch my limbs into action each morning and into rest at night, but my sneaker-clad feet no longer pound the pavement in an attempt to whittle myself down a size.
I slather on the sunscreen and moisturizer, drink tons of water and try to limit fried foods and sugar…but life is too short to always be on a diet. And I have a few friends who were extremely vigilant with their diet and exercise, and they got cancer anyway. So I’m going to enjoy a glass of wine, a fresh piece of bread and an exquisite slice of cheese once in a while.
The one thing that really seems to have changed now that I am 50 is my professional outlook. I used to dream of becoming an acquisitions editor at a big-city publishing house, or project manager at a top-notch marcom firm. But I no longer have the desire to work long hours, even if it means a big paycheque.
In some ways, I guess I missed the boat on that one. Like a woman in her 40’s who suddenly realizes she has missed the window where she can have children, I guess I have missed my opportunity to have a big career. And you know what? That’s fine. I got married the first time when I was 19. I guess I always had my focus trained on something other than my education and professional life. Then it was being a young wife and mother. Now it’s heading into retirement with my partner and best friend.
I missed Easter dinner on the weekend. I lay in bed with the stomach flu, listening to thirty family members and friends laughing and singing and telling stories over turkey, ham and all the trimmings. One by one my daughters and friends popped in to check on me. As I lay there, listening, I imagined them carrying on this weekly tradition without me some day. Not to be morbid – but you never know what life will bring.
I am standing on the hill. On the downslope, I get to take my husband to Europe, so he can see where his beloved Spaghetti Bolognese and Valpolicella comes from. I can get more involved in my community, helping to make change happen. I can write another book.
There will be dozens more Sunday dinners to host, family weddings to attend and grandchildren to love.. Life is not what I imagined it would be at 50 – but in so many ways it is far better than I ever dreamed. I’m an Accidental Farmwife, outstanding in her field.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 5:00 PM
I had no idea that whether or not to fix your dog would be such a controversial subject. I just assumed that when the Ferg turned 6 months old, it would be Off With His Parts. I wasn’t looking forward to having my beloved pup go under the knife, of course, but I just assumed part of being a responsible pet owner was to get my dog fixed. Apparently it is not that simple.
Most breeders and vets recommend you wait to neuter male Golden Retrievers, until they are at least a year old. Some say doing the surgery earlier will stunt the dog’s growth. Others warn of other medical issues, like joint disorders or even cancer. One controversial study says that neutering your Golden at all will triple its chance of getting cancer.
But what about the difficulties associated with dogs that don’t have the surgery? Testosterone mood swings seem to overtake my otherwise fairly well-trained, beautifully-mannered dog at the most inopportune moments. Like when we’re at the dog park, just sniffing out the perimeter. Along comes a cute female of some tiny breed. Her associate is a large, lean, exotic looking beast with bronze fur and gold-coloured eyes. He postures around the female, eyeing Fergus. Fergus catches the look, backs off a bit, then…wait. What’s that scent? The female must be approaching her heat. As he does when he doesn’t understand or is frightened by something, Ferg reacts by snarling. He snapped at the little female, who had done absolutely nothing to deserve such a rude outburst.
I had never seen Fergus act so badly before. I lunged toward his collar and he did a little Houdini move and wriggled right out of it. I was left holding the leash while my dog took off after the little female. Just then, a man emerged from the woods where the dogs had been. As the dogs rushed past him, he bent over and scooped Fergus up into his arms.
“Your dog fixed yet?” he asked.
“Nope,” I responded.
“You’re going to have this problem until he is,” he responded.
Embarrassed and confused, I thanked him for catching my dog, and marched Ferg out of the dog park like an admonished teen. It was our shortest visit to the dog park, ever. About ten minutes from start to finish.
We had put off the neutering surgery because of advice we had received from a friend and a breeder (not ours), who knew of the lymphatic cancer study. The vet and our breeder said we could put the surgery off until the dog started to display poor behaviour. (Does ripping heads off your stuffed toys and molesting your dog bed count as poor behaviour, I wondered?) Someone suggested we wait until age 1 to get Fergus fixed, but not to leave it until after age 2, as that presented a whole new bunch of problems. Someone even pointed out that if we lived in Europe, we probably wouldn’t be getting our dog neutered at all. It just isn’t the custom there, apparently. My head was spinning from all the advice and I didn’t know what to do.
Then I decided, since the Ferg was temporarily under self-imposed ban from the dog park, we could at least go and visit Cousin Rupert at my daughter Annie’s house. I loaded Fergus into the car and off we went, happy as could be.
When we arrived at my daughter’s house, Fergus made a beeline for Rupert. He displayed some extremely rude behaviour around the older dog, and then proceeded to urinate on the floor. All right. That’s enough, I thought.
I went home and booked Fergus’ neutering appointment for the week after he turned one. He is now lying at my feet, in a slightly medicated snooze. He is wearing a onesie that snaps open for bathroom breaks and keeps him away from his stitches the rest of the time. He is eating and sleeping and doing all the things he is supposed to be doing while recovering from surgery.
I’m hoping being neutered will make Ferg a little more docile, a little easier to train, a little less likely to chase the neighbour’s chickens or to run down the road when his radar collar battery dies out. And soon, very soon, we will be back at his beloved dog park, romping through the woods with his other four-legged friends.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 4:59 PM
One of my earliest memories at Kemptville College was climbing up into the branches of a thick maple tree that stood between my mother’s building and the cafeteria. I climbed up with one hand because in my other hand I held a small, hard-covered Nancy Drew novel. I was working my way through all 99 in the series.
A few minutes after my arrival, class let out for the day. From my perch in the tree, I could see a long stream of college kids filtering down the sidewalk and into the dining room. The leaves sheltered me from their view. Occasionally I would catch some of their conversation. I remember the boys in their boots and corduroy jackets, the girls with their long hair and ponchos and wide-legged Howick 4-star jeans. Maybe I imagined I might marry one of those long-legged cowboys one day. I would, actually, but it would take me to nearly age 40 and it would be a professor; not a student.
In those days, students showed their prize cattle on the sawdust-covered floor of the Purvis building. Over the years the building has had many different purposes, including a library and event venue. The floor is now covered and more than one young couple has taken advantage of the natural light flooding through the high windows to exchange vows there. My sister got married on the college campus.
Cathy and I knew the administration building well, with its echoing halls and massive staircases. Our mother was the executive assistant to half a dozen different college directors during her nearly forty-year career. We would walk to the college after school to wait for her to finish transcribing her notes of mysterious shorthand onto her state-of-the-art electric typewriter. She dressed neatly, a scarf tied at her neck, her trademark Beaujolais lipstick on her lips. While directors came and went, Mom was the constant in the main office. She knew where everything was.
We went to the College Royal, staff barbecues and parties, and we trekked to the new Agroforestry Station when it was built, to eat pancakes with college maple syrup and taffy on the snow. My sister and I did not attend the college as students, because neither of us had particularly agricultural aspirations. Still, it was a very familiar place to us. It was an important part of Kemptville, and its biggest employer.
In the late ‘90s, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food passed the college over to the University of Guelph. The college brand changed a bit, and the university took over marketing and recruiting students. For a variety of reasons enrolment began to dwindle over the next two decades. In 2014, the University made a business decision. It would not be accepting new students for the coming term. It was closing Kemptville College, just a few years before its 100th birthday.
The Eastern Ontario agricultural community rallied support as the Municipality of North Grenville fought to keep its college open. The provincial government assigned someone to conduct research into the school, its assets and potential for the future. A task force was developed and a public town hall was held to hear from members of the community. I attended as a media representative, and I was live on social media throughout the session. I posted quotes and photos of speakers so that interested parties across Eastern Ontario who were unable to attend the meeting could still follow along with the discussion. Overnight I gained 300 new followers on Twitter, most of them farmers.
Over the next year and a half, the Municipality entered into discussions with a number of different educational and agricultural entities, in an attempt to strike up a business partnership with the college.
No knight in shining armour appeared to save the school, but lease agreements were made with two different French schools. The tenants are making themselves comfortable for the long term, investing in the facilities.
And now the Municipality has acquired “a significant portion” of Kemptville Campus. Four years after the announcement that the college would close, the doors remain open. A new election year is upon us. Residents of North Grenville wait to hear what the new Kemptville Campus will look like.
The Municipality is planning to establish a non-profit organization, much like the one that began the Ferguson Forestry Centre. This body will work to bring tenants into a new educational,
environmental and low-carbon community hub on campus. Those leaseholders will pay the bills to keep the college buildings maintained and operational.
That is the plan for the future. Hopefully it will grow organically to include connections with innovative partners in sustainable farming, energy-saving greenhouses, local food and more. It’s a bit of a question mark for many, but I for one am excited about the possibilities.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 4:56 PM
I knew we had a problem when I came home and saw a stuffed toy in the driveway. It was the same stuffed hippo/unicorn I had returned to the neighbours the day before. Fergus loved it because it had floppy bits that would rattle when he shook it. But the appearance of the toy on our property meant that Fergus had been to theirs. Over his boundary and through his zap zone. His wireless containment system was no longer working.
I went into the house and Mina confirmed my suspicions.
“The neighbour brought him home. She wasn’t happy.”
I put Fergus on a leash and handed the end of the leash to the Farmer. Then I marched over to the neighbour’s house, where I apologized for my dog-son the chicken terrorist.
“Oh, it’s ok,” the neighbour said.
“No it’s not ok!” I replied. The poor hens were standing at the top of the ramp in the doorway of their chicken coop, too afraid to emerge. I learned that Fergus had been over to the neighbours’ house about half a dozen times in the last week, while we had been away in Mexico. More than once he had been caught with one of the big, decorative birds in his mouth. No doubt he loved the way they squawked when he chased them. I doubted he wanted to hurt them. For Fergus it was all about the chase. But now we had a coop full of hens with PTFD – Post Traumatic Ferg Disorder – and they were having trouble laying eggs because their nerves were shot. Something had to be done.
We replaced the batteries and Fergus’ collar beeped, but no longer zapped. What good is a beep without a zap? The system is meant to beep when Fergus goes across his pre-set boundary, and then it is meant to deliver a sound zapping – just like when you get static electricity from the carpet. This “static correction” is meant to teach the dog how far he can wander on his property. It’s meant to keep him home and out of trouble. Usually, it works.
I went to the local pet store to replace the collar, which I thought had worn out. I discovered a new collar cost nearly $300 – the same as a whole new unit. I decided to check out the website and call the company before spending all that dough. Sure enough, they said my problem was more likely that the system required a reset. It was still beeping, after all. It wasn’t completely dead.
The base transistor of the wireless system can’t be anywhere near metal. If it is, it might short circuit. Even a power surge or electrical storm can cause this to happen. I moved the transistor base and, with the help of the lovely call centre gentleman from Atlanta with the southern accent who kept calling me “ma’am”, I reset the connection.
The next step was to test the zapping mechanism.
“When your kids were little, you tried the medicine before you fed it to your children, right?” the call-centre Southerner reasoned.
“Yes, but I didn’t get zapped,” I complained.
“It’s just a little prickling,” he promised.
So I took a deep breath, pulled on my big-girl boots, grabbed the shock collar and walked out into the yard.
They actually have a drinking game in Taiwan that involves everyone at the table inserting one finger into this little disk. Someone pushes a button and the circuit on the disk goes around and around like a roulette wheel. Finally it stops, and the person whose finger is inserted in that particular portal gets zapped. I’ve never seen a woman play that game. I guess that kind of ‘fun’ is more appealing to men. Which makes me wonder, why didn’t I ask the Farmer to test the shock collar? Fergus the Golden Retriever is my husband’s semi-retirement dog, after all.
I passed the parked cars in the driveway. I crossed over the boundary of the yard, and the collar in my hand started to beep. I pressed the metal prongs against the palm of my hand, gritted my teeth and prepared to be zapped. Nothing happened. I took a few more steps down the laneway and suddenly I felt a prickling, like when you touch the cat after it has been rolling on the couch.
That’s it? Well, I suppose it would have more of a deterrent effect if the prongs were up against my neck, as they are on the dog. And I wasn’t about to try the collar on. It isn’t my size or colour.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 4:54 PM
Saturday, March 10, 2018
I once had someone comment on that anonymous, uncensored platform called social media that she took offense to the term “farmwife” and thought I should change it. I had to laugh and think for a moment before responding. I understand the farmwife feminist movement. These women feel the need to speak out against tradition where it refers to the perfect farmer’s wife. They are fighting for the right to do things their own way, while living and working alongside their farmer-partner. They don’t want to feel pressured to meet the expectations of a farmer’s wife as set forth by previous generations: the pie-baking, early-waking homebody who keeps a spotless house, perfectly behaved children and a happy, well-fed husband in hand-mended clothes. But the term “farmwife” fits perfectly with what my stories are trying to convey: the experiences of a non-farm-raised woman who married a farmer. It’s sort of tongue-in-cheek, if you will. I’m no one’s stereotypical idea of a farmer’s wife.
March 8 is International Women’s Day. We have come a long way since the first IWD in 1911, when the Suffragettes were getting things done. Still, the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away. If we want things to be different for our future generations, we need to set the course for equality now.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress. Global activism for women's equality is gathering momentum with movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp.
How can you join this groundswell to #PressforProgress? Step One: Know What You Bring to the Table. Believe in your own contribution to the group effort. Insist on equal pay for equal work, fair treatment and respect – on the job and outside work. For generations, women around the world have been taking chances – some of them quite risky – that result in a brighter future for themselves and those around them.
My grandmother Mabel recently celebrated her 95th birthday. Back in the 50’s, she quickly rose from an entry-level accounting position to the top of the Finance Department at the Supreme Court of Canada. Knowing the way women were treated in the workplace back then, I asked her how she managed to succeed like that. She said that as a junior financing clerk she was getting ready to do an important presentation to upper management one day. As she stepped into the conference room, one of her superiors took the file from her hand, thanked her for her hard work, said that he would be presenting it to the team, and asked her to sit up front so that she could take notes... She calmly and firmly took the file back from him, catching him completely by surprise. She told him that he could sit up front if he liked, while she did her presentation, so that he could take notes.
Grandma knew what she brought to the table. There are inspiring stories of women game-changers around the world, and the men who are getting out of their way and supporting them as they do what they do best.
Many of us look around and think, we live in Canada. Women are treated equally here. It’s part of our labour code and our legal system. But then we have someone make an inappropriate comment about how we are dressed, or we are faced with unfair demands at work. If a situation feels a bit off, ask yourself if a man would be put in the same situation. Some men have always treated women with respect – revering them for their talents and celebrating their successes. But many people – men and women included, have been raised to believe that women, in our highly emotional states, just can’t take on the same roles as men, because of the logical thinking that is required to get the work done.
200 years to gender parity. That is a long time from now – but if we want a different world for our great, great grandchildren, we need to make changes in our own lives today. #PressforProgress. Demand respect and fair treatment. Calmly correct someone when they mistakenly assume that because you are a woman, you can’t focus on the task and do the best job. Be Like Mabel. Know What You Bring to the Table.
They say the definition of a farmer’s wife is a woman who can mend the jeans and the fence that ripped ‘em. Well, I can do neither. And that’s ok. In this partnership, I am respected.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 6:56 AM
Sunday, March 4, 2018
I was telling my family a story after dinner one Sunday when one of my girls said, “What’s that, Mom? I didn’t hear you.” And another smart-aleck daughter replied, “That’s ok…wait a moment and she will say it again!” The girls shared a look and a giggle, turning to smile at me.
“Huh? What are you saying?” I protested. “I don’t repeat myself…do I? Do I say the same thing twice?!”
Then I realized I totally do repeat myself. I blame this new way of talking on the Farmer, for a couple of reasons. First, he is hard of hearing and I often have to repeat myself around him. And second, he is also in the habit of repeating himself. So I think I have adopted his speaking style as a subconscious way of accommodating him. I’m speakin’ his language.
I went to a friend’s place once where the woman of the house was using this particular style of speech. If I may make yet another Looney Tunes reference, it reminded me of Foghorn Leghorn or Elmer Fudd: “That’s a very big rabbit, I said. I said, that rabbit is huge.” Her son joked and called his parents “Pete and Repeat.” Now I realize I have become the second half of that equation.
And now I am extremely self-conscious about the way that I speak. I noticed I repeat myself by saying the same thing, two different ways if I am giving instructions or guidance to our live-in foreign students.
“You already said that,” Tega from Nigeria smiled at me one day. Well I know I already said that but clearly I felt it was necessary to say it again. “It bears repeating,” I commented, and walked away. How fitting a phrase for my predicament. Oh well, she had better get used to it. Mina from Norway has put up with me for five months already without complaint. Whether it’s “don’t feed the dog at the table,” or “lock the door when you leave the house,” they are likely going to hear it twice. Probably in the same exchange. You can never be too careful about some of these things.
I looked up repetition in conversation online, in an attempt to self-diagnose. There are a number of possible conditions leading to my affliction.
I don’t think it’s a matter of forgetting what I just said and saying it again just to make sure. I do have selective memory loss (I only seem to remember the good stuff!), and I don’t think my short-term memory is in trouble. But I do suspect I may have a fear of not being heard. Mostly because I do this repetition thing around my partially-deaf husband, or when I am surrounded by a dozen or more family members at a noisy dinner gathering.
Perhaps it is a sign of insecurity that I repeat myself. But more likely, I think, it’s just a sign of age. I have come to this conclusion because I think I started repeating myself right around the same time I noticed that dark circles had appeared under my eyes. The same eyes that very swiftly began to fail me when I looked at the computer screen and attempted to read what was printed there. Within the space of about six months, around the age of 48, I noticed several significant signs of aging. My grey hairs are resistant to hair dye now. My wrinkle cream no longer plumps out my wrinkles. (It isn’t a miracle cure – it can only do so much!) I have unidentifiable aches and pains in weird places for no apparent reason. I have hot flashes that feel as though the bed is on fire at night.
These are all just observations. I’m not really complaining. I think it’s kind of cool, getting acquainted with my aging self. After all, I have almost made it to 50. I have seen one daughter married and one granddaughter born so far. I am one of the lucky ones. Many women my age are fighting parts of their own bodies that are trying to kill them. At this point, knock on wood, I am able to celebrate my health and the ability to do things that annoy others, like repeating my statements ad infinitum.
I like that phrase so I’m going to say it again. Ad infinitum. Just to annoy my daughters.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 7:57 AM
I had a great morning with my granddaughter one day last week. We ‘sang’ karaoke, watched a bit of Paw Patrol, had some snacks and searched out all the cats in their hiding places. Then we decided it would be a good idea to get some fresh air. We threw the ball for Fergus a few times, then took his radio collar off so that he could follow us out of the yard on a walk.
I put the baby in her sled and started pulling her over the snow. Fergus led the way, bouncing with excitement. Either my granddaughter is a lot heavier than I remember, or I’m a lot weaker. When we reached the back of the second field I had to turn and head back. My arms were shaking and my legs were aching from the effort. I looked back and she was happily muttering to herself, “I see a bird...,” one mitten trailing in the freshly fallen snow. I tried to stop her from putting it in her mouth but it was no use.
Finally back at the house, the baby spotted something through the trees in the yard next door. A miniature John Deere tractor in all its green glory was parked there next to the neighbour’s house.
“Tractor,” she stated. “I drive tractor.” And with that declaration she rolled out of the sled, onto her knees and struggled to standing position in her snowsuit. I was too worn out from the sled pull to protest. Off she tottered through the snow. The neighbour had let her play with the yard toys once before, so I decided I would indulge her for a few minutes.
I picked her up and helped her over the cedar rail fence and into the neighbour’s yard. She examined one snow-covered item after another: a slide, a miniature car and finally, the tractor. She climbed inside – no easy feat in snow pants and boots – and started moving levers as if she were shifting gears with Dad on the farm. That’s when we heard the chickens.
As I was focused on the baby and her explorations, I had totally forgotten about Fergus, the Golden Retriever. He had been watching those fancy chickens since the day they arrived, about a week after he did. When he was a small pup he was afraid of the funny-looking birds and their squawks startled him. Well apparently now that he was several months older and wiser, he had decided he was no longer afraid of the chickens. He was intrigued by them. Fascinated, even. And he wanted to show that he could retrieve them.
I told the baby to stay – she looked frozen in the tractor so there wasn’t much danger of her moving. I took a few leaping steps around the house to where the chicken coop stood and there was Fergus, with a big black bird in his mouth. I felt like that character on Bugs Bunny who has to keep smacking Sylvester the cat on the bottom to get him to drop Tweety Bird out of his mouth.
Somehow I managed to convince Fergus to release the chicken. The bird staggered away, with ruffled feathers and a few left behind on the ground. Fergus was trying to spit downy fluff out of his mouth. I scooped him up under the arms and marched him home, a few feet at a time. As I struggled I realized that for the second time that morning I was getting a truly strenuous workout, and I was likely going to pay for it later. Fergus grunted and didn’t help me with his transfer to the house, where I locked him inside. He popped up in the window and barked as I returned next door to get the baby, who was still in the tractor, watching the whole chicken circus.
“Ch-ch-chicken….ok?” she asked, worried.
“Oh yes, chicken is ok,” I assured her. “She’s probably pretty mad at Fergus for messing her feathers, though. Do you want to come see the chicken?”
The baby nodded yes so I helped her to climb out of the tractor and approach the chicken coop. The big, black bird stood in the doorway, warily watching us come closer. The little girl squatted down so that she was eye to eye with the bird. They stayed like that for a few minutes, checking each other out.
“Bird is ok,” she announced after a while, brushing snow off her pants and heading back across the yard to our house.
Note to self: bring the neighbours one of our chickens out of the freezer as a peace offering.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 7:52 AM