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Friday, December 18, 2009

To Dr. Sandhu, a big thank you!

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, so I can wish you Merry Cwithmath!
Christmas came a little early for me this year, when Dr. Raj Sandhu of Dentistry @ Kemptville gave me an implant and with it, a reason to smile.
They say you lose a tooth with each pregnancy. Not so in my case. My teeth and nails were strong and my hair was shiny throughout my three pregnancies. But living in Taiwan for three years left me with a big gap in my grin.
I drank mostly bottled water when I was in Taipei, because the tap water wasn’t the safest. Every year they get a breakout of hand-and-mouth disease or some such thing, and I wasn’t going to risk it. Neither the tap water nor the bottled water in Taiwan contains an adequate amount of fluoride, so tooth decay is a common problem. Most of the toothpastes are little more than baking soda, and they don’t contain fluoride either.
Going to the dentist in Taiwan is an experience for sure, but it isn’t an expensive one. I think I paid about $300NT or $12 CDN per visit. The hygienists at the clinic around the corner from my apartment wore skimpy uniforms that were so short and tight, they had me wondering if they were working for tips. The front wall of the dental office was open to the street like a garage, and passersby would often stop to take a curious look inside the mouth of the patient being treated. It didn’t look like the most sanitary of environments in which to be performing medical procedures, and I decided to avoid it at all costs.
When I took a trip home, I returned with a suitcase full of all of the drugstore items that one had difficulty finding in Taiwan, including fluoride toothpaste. I brushed my teeth three times a day and flossed when I remembered to, about twice a week. But the liquid invert sugar that is squeezed into every edible or drinkable substance on this island eventually caught up with me. I began waking up in the middle of the night with pain in my mouth. It was time to give in and see the dentist.
The dentist seemed competent, and his English was perfect. But when he told me I would need a root canal to repair my infected tooth, I balked. I was not about to have dental surgery done in a room that is open to all the sounds, smells and pollution of Taipei.
So I let him seal the tooth and prescribe painkillers to tide me over until I returned to Canada. Thankfully, my leaving date was only a few months away.
Back on Canadian soil, my dentist confirmed that I did indeed require a root canal, followed immediately by a crown. I spoke to my insurance company, and was told that the crown was not covered. A few months later I switched to another insurance company, and tried again. Again I was denied. Finally, I decided to go ahead with the root canal and hold off on the crown until I could afford the $3600. But it was too late. My tooth cracked in half and had to be removed.
Now, I don’t think I’m a truly vain person, but losing a tooth, even one on the side of your mouth, certainly changes the way you smile. I found myself shielding that side of my face with my hand when I spoke or laughed, and my smile changed to a diminished, closed-mouth version of my usually wide, toothy grin. I became very self-conscious of getting my photo taken, and even resorted to photo shopping my missing tooth back into my portrait before printing or posting.
Then, one day, some clever advertising caught my attention. A new dentist office was opening and they specialized in implants. I decided to go in and talk to them, to see exactly what was involved and how much it would cost. Maybe I could pay it off in installments.
One week later I had an appointment. We did a claim and learned that $1600 of the $3600 cost for the implant and crown would be covered by insurance. I was advised to apply to a credit company to pay off the rest, in interest-free monthly installments.
Two weeks after being approved, I had a bolt installed where my missing tooth used to be. I felt a bit like Frankenstein and certainly resembled him when I smiled, so I tried not to do so with an open mouth very often. Three months later, the bone had healed and it was time to get my specially-made crown for which I was paying $200 per month.
When I looked in the mirror that the dentist held up in front of me and he told me to “smile big”, it was easy to do just that. And I’ve been smiling ever since.
Thank you Dr. Sandhu and the staff of Dentistry @ Kemptville, for your conscientious efforts to keep your patients calm, comfortable and smiling.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gearing up for Christmas

One or two of our ewes are “bagging up”, as the Farmer says. That is a rather indelicate way to explain that they are developing an udder. Apparently they were impregnated by Rambo back in July, before we had a chance to lock him up. In any case, all signs point to at least two of our ewes giving birth before Christmas.
The snow has arrived, and no one likes to be born into a snowdrift so we wrestled (correction: the Farmer wrestled) the expectant ewes into the lambing pen. They look pretty comfortable in there; the Farmer just finished stapling plastic up over the open windows yesterday.
I’m happy to see the udders because it means the ewes will have milk and I won’t have to worry about staggering out to the barn in the middle of the night with a heated baby bottle full of milk replacer. Not that I mind feeding new lambs. I’m just not very fond of it in lieu of sleep.
Of course, when there are lambs in the barn I am always running out there to see what they are up to. The lambs get themselves stuck in the feeders, they fall into water buckets, they squeeze out of the pens through gaps in the wall and then can’t find their way back to their mothers. They are constantly getting into trouble. A friend of mine suggested that we put a video camera in the barn so that we can watch sheep TV. But I can see myself getting obsessed with that. I’d be checking out the monitor every few minutes and panicking when one of the little ones moves out of camera range.
Someone else suggested I use a baby monitor, but unless the sheep are trying to communicate with me directly, I probably won’t be able to figure out what they are talking about. Besides, I gave away my baby monitor back in 1993 when it started picking up conversations in other homes. I felt too much like a voyeur. And I’m sure our neighbours with monitors would really appreciate having the sounds of a hundred sheep cutting in on their frequency.
While we wait for the sheep, we prepare for Christmas. Even those of us who are militant about not falling under the commercial spell of fuss and expense have things to do to get ready.
You would think that our 200 acres would yield at least one good Christmas tree. Well it didn’t. The Farmer and I rode the ATV to the back of the pasture where the spruce grows. None of the trees were suitable candidates for our symbol of Christmas, but we thought we might lob the top off one of them to make a tree for our daughter’s apartment. My dear husband hauled himself up into one of the trees, face full of snow and branches, in an attempt to saw the top off of it. It wasn’t until I picked my way through thorn brush and deep snow that I saw the other side of the “tree”. It was completely bare of branches. He finished sawing and it fell to the ground. I watched his (snow-covered) face as he walked around to examine the back of it. “It’s not a Christmas tree. It only has one side. If we give her this she will think we don’t like her anymore.”
And so we came back to the house soaking wet and empty-handed. It’s a good thing too, because when the offspring arrived for Sunday dinner, she announced that maybe she didn’t really want a tree after all. Sigh. She’s such a city girl. I gave her some extra garland and a package of gold balls and told her to have fun decorating. I’m glad she wasn’t too disappointed.
After dinner, I gave the girls the job of decorating our tree (a beautiful 7-foot model, purchased at the Johnson Brothers farm on Townline Road). As they untangled garlands of beads and hung ornaments in strategic places all over the tree, they chatted and laughed. I took pictures. Poured some rum into my eggnog and put my favourite Christmas CD on in the kitchen.
“You know it’s Christmas when Mom breaks out the Celine Dion,” my eldest declared.
Happiness is watching my girls together, laughing, teasing each other, and reliving memories of Christmases past.
As always, but especially during special occasions, the ghost of Dad is in the room, laughing along with us, and reveling in the joy that is family.

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Hooray Hooray we're into the hay

It’s a sunny Saturday but the wind is blowing a gale and it’s absolutely freezing. I tiptoe out onto the porch and tap the thermometer, which I believe is stuck at 5 degrees Celsius. We spent the morning working on the farm – I mucked out the horse stalls and the Farmer cleaned the geese he got yesterday, then we boarded up the back porch where we will stack the winter wood for the stove. The Farmer stood on the tractor and lifted the lawn furniture that I handed him up into the stable loft. I chased the cows out into the pasture and pulled the page wire fence across the opening so that we could move the first of the precious bales of hay out of storage and into the feeders that we will use all winter. The cows watched us carefully from the other side of the fence. Betty sniffed at the sweet hay wafting toward her on the wind and mooed at me. Mocha licked the rubber strap that held the fence in place. They are hungry.
My job is to keep the animals at bay while the Farmer moves hay into feeders with his tractor. We don’t want another incident like last year when Ginger nearly became a beef-kabob on the end of the tractor fork.
Finally it is safe to open the fence and let the cows in to feed. Betty moos when she passes me on her way to the feeder as if to say, “It’s about time!”
Mocha has grown so much, her collar is growing tight. She licks at my hand and tries to shake me away as I loosen the strap. All the while she keeps eating the tender hay. Julie the First is covered in soft black curls now. She skips away and gives a little donkey kick when I try to touch her. I need some sweet feed. I want to train her as I have with the others, to come for the sticky molasses-laced grain. That is the gentlest way I know how to lure the animals into a stall or a head gate.
The Farmer rests a round bale in another feeder in the barn yard for the sheep and horses. The Belgians are the first to discover it, and they spend the rest of the morning there, grazing in the warm sun. They watch us working in the stable, me throwing manure into a wheelbarrow and the Farmer stirring up clouds of feathers as he plucks. The horses have soft, downy auras of winter hair emerging. They prefer to be outside, but we try to get them in at night so that we can check them over. Ashley is favouring her hind leg on the right. I will coax her to lift it later. Although that isn’t the difficult part – it’s keeping the heavy hoof up for examination and cleaning when she wants to put it back down. The farrier is due for a return engagement in December and I want the girls to be good for him – so we had better do some more training. I give the horses a hug around the neck and they kiss me on top of the head, rubbing remnants of corn into my hair. Nice. Must remember to shampoo later.
Lunchtime is soup, sandwich and tea, to warm the insides for more work. But I won’t be going back outside today. I have a column to write and a manuscript to work on, emails from the office to answer and – oh yeah – a house to clean. I wake up the teenager who will be my assistant and she is not appreciative.
I take my tea to the computer and look out the picture window at my husband, who has just cleaned his gun. It is muzzle loader season next week and he wants to be ready. The deer have eluded him so far this year. I watch as he aims his gun at the boulder that mysteriously split in two last summer. The shot makes my heart jump. I see the horses, several acres away, take off in the opposite direction. The Farmer notices me watching and smiles, giving me the thumbs up sign.
Ten minutes later the curious horses are up sniffing the boulder that the Farmer was using as a target. I watch as he tries calling them away from his range of fire. When they won’t come to his call, he tries shooing them away. Eventually the horses grow bored of this game and wander away. The Hunter’s next shot sends them galloping down the field to the open pasture below. I decide to stick my head out the patio door to scold him for scaring my horses. As I step out of the den, however, my heart jumps again. A skunk and coyote are lying on the floor of the family room. The Farmer has proudly brought his carefully preserved pelts into the house to show me. Just then I hear the truck driving away, so I don’t have the opportunity to ask where he intends to display these treasures. The wall of the stable, over his tool bench, sounds like a good place to me. Surely he doesn’t plan to adorn our walls with these furs?
And he thought my Gustav Klimt print was offensive.
I step outside and watch as the sheep, which have recently discovered the bale of hay, tear it apart chunk by chunk. The bale is disappearing fast. We probably need about 100 to get us through the winter, and we have 80. Hopefully the winter will not be a long one.
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