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Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year!


Since the very vocal show dogs arrived at the house in the front of our property, Chelsea the sheepdog has turned barking into an endurance sport. Sometimes she barks until she is hoarse, in response to whatever is being shouted to her in canine language from across the barnyard. I don’t always hear her. Tuning things out is a skill that I have developed over the years—possibly as the young mother of three small daughters, operating a daycare centre out of my house, or maybe it was when I worked in a large publishing house in Asia, where every cubicle seemed to host its own loud telephone conversation, online video or audio. I once worked with someone who insisted on reading the subject lines of his emails aloud every morning. (You know who you are). Anyway, my response to distracting sound is to mentally turn the volume down. And so I don’t often hear Chelsea’s barking, unless it changes in tone to something more frantic and tell-tale.
Yesterday she was sounding the alarm so I peeked out the window and sure enough, the door to the hay storage was open and I could see several fluffy butts in the doorway, helping themselves to the banquet. I could also hear the clip-clop of Belgian hooves on the wood floor. I quickly pulled on boots and barn jacket to investigate.
Some of the older, more experienced sheep turned tail and ran out of the barn as soon as they heard the patio door slide open on the house. They knew the gig was up. Others responded to my yelling as I clumped across the muddy barnyard by tripping over each other to get out of the hay store. Chelsea wagged her tail and smiled at me as I passed. “Good girl. You’re a good watchdog, Chelsea.” I gave her a quick pat on the head—nothing too lingering or friendly—she snaps on a whim.
As I reached the open door, Donkey spotted me. He had the lid to the grain bin open and was helping himself to mouthfuls of molasses-laced sweetfeed. I cornered him and instead of going around the nearest round bale, he leapt straight up into the air and cleared it. “That was impressive, Donk.” (And the Farmer said he was getting old.)
Just then Misty stuck her head out of the lambing room to see what the commotion was about.
“How the heck did you get in there?” I asked her, and she demonstrated, ducking and squeeeezing herself back through the open door. Then the two ringleaders kicked up their heels and nibbled at passing sheep on their way back out to pasture.
I don’t know how some farmers do it, feeding their horses once a day. If we don’t keep a steady supply of fresh hay available, our animals get into all sorts of trouble.
By the look of some of these fat sheep, the Farmer says we’ll be having lambs any day now. That never gets old. There’s nothing like waking up New Year’s Day and going out to the barn to discover a newborn lying in the hay. It’s nice and mild this year too so they should be okay. By the time the bitter cold arrives in February, they will be old enough to eat grain and hay and will have enough fat on them to keep them warm. The next batch of lambs won’t be born until April.
Mocha, Betty, Julie and Ginger will be having their babies soon too. We got a salt lick with selenium in it so we shouldn’t have the same problem we had last year, when the calves were born without a sucking reflex. It’s always a bit scary, watching something so huge being born, but we’ve been lucky so far and haven’t had any complications. Fingers and toes crossed. Knock on wood.
The last of the spring lambs have been sent to market. They were huge this year. Those Suffolk rams make big babies. Speaking of Philip, he has been released to the general population again, to fend for himself against Rambo. As the ewes have all been bred by now, the men shouldn’t be feeling too competitive. Rambo can be a territorial old grandpa, but he’s pretty reasonable. I think Philip will be safe.
Happy New Year to all our loyal readers. May the coming Year of the Dragon be a good one for you.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

All I Want For Christmas...is You.


“Santa baby...slip a sable under the tree...for me. Been an awfully good girl, Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight.”


Last year I ordered some chickens and piglets to be sent to my Ugandan foster child’s family for Christmas. I found out later that the regularly sponsored families are already off the ‘needy’ list, so they aren’t eligible for livestock gifts. Besides, my family already has a cow. So their village got my chickens and piglets, and they were dispersed to the neediest families in the area. And that’s ok with me—I don’t mind that my foster child’s family didn’t get the animals. I feel bad that they didn’t get anything from me at Christmas, but I sent a few extra things for Valentine’s Day as soon as I found out.
The point is, I sent the gifts with the hope that they would go to someone who needed and appreciated them, and I believe that is exactly what happened.
That really is the best we can hope for at Christmas—that it be less about what we bought and more about kindnesses exchanged.
When my girls were little, I remember playing one VHS movie after another, from about Halloween onward, so that we wouldn’t be subjected to a barrage of Christmas toy commercials. It worked for a little while, until they started school. Then they would come home with a list for Santa, the product of recess-time collaboration.
I got away fairly easy though, I think. My girls never demanded name-brand items they knew I couldn’t afford, and they didn’t get into expensive technologies until they could help pay the bill themselves. I really think they like to plan, shop and give as much as they like to receive. And I think they have all learned how good it feels to take a name off an angel tree and buy a gift for someone less fortunate, or to put a handful of loonies into the Salvation Army kettle.
Now that they are older, Christmas is about getting caught up on things they need, padding their bank accounts and equipping them with gift certificates for Boxing Week sales. The gift giving has become very practical. In a way, the holiday is more about the gatherings than the gifts now.
We celebrate togetherness, with family and friends, and give thanks for the year as it comes to an end. Whether your 2011 was annus horribilis or annus mirabilis, it’s time to bid it adieu. 
Next year is our year of weddings. My daughter and my sister will both be brides in 2012. It promises to be a whirlwind of excitement as we pass through planning stages and celebrations.
Another daughter is heading off to university in the fall. Mapping out plans for her future, sending her hopes and dreams out into the universe to see what comes back.
The Farmer and I will raise another batch of cattle, another wave of lambs, and perhaps a few kittens too. The seasons will come and go; we will work hard for our money, and eat well every weekend at our porch table, set for 16 to 20.
I sit at my desk and look out the window upon a beautiful sight. Our Belgian horse, Misty, is crossing the snow-white field on a diagonal. Her mane is blowing in the wind. She stops for a moment, realizing she has left her best pal Donkey behind. He is still snacking at the hay feeder. She raises her head and whinnies at him. He obliges her and follows the path she has made, out to the snowy pasture. I recognize that this is a sight I am blessed to witness every day. I have all that I need, right here.
Merry Christmas, dear readers. Thank you to everyone who sent me a card or email this season. I wish you the very best of life in the coming year.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2 weeks to a cleaner, leaner you!


I’ve been battling a bit of happy-marriage weight gain these past few years, and a big year is coming up, with two family weddings. Besides that, I would rather lose the weight and fit into the clothes in my closet than go out and splurge for a whole new wardrobe in a bigger size.

I used to go to the gym or jog a few kilometers a day when I wanted to drop some excess weight. But a funny thing happened. My early-40s body does not wish to do punishing workouts anymore. It prefers yoga. So I bought a variety of yoga videos and a floor mat, lit some incense and candles and started working out. Within days I could see more definition in my muscles. But I still didn’t fit into my clothes.

I was procrastinating on Facebook one day when a friend in Ireland invited me to join her “14 days to a cleaner, leaner, you” group. I was intrigued. Having tried other ‘detox’ plans before, however (and failed miserably), I wasn’t interested in ingesting any more toxic herbs or supplements. After reviewing the shopping list and menu plan, I was pretty excited. It was all about eliminating sugar and starch and focusing on dark green vegetables and lean, organic meats. I could do that! The moral support and accountability factor of the online group was also very motivating.

I’ll admit I was worried the first couple of days when I seemed to be “high” on hunger and ready for bed by 6pm. But as soon as I took a closer look at the portions I was eating and realized they were out of balance, things started to level out and I felt much better. For example, this menu plan (I won’t call it a diet because it is so much more than that) advises that you eat the equivalent of 100gms of organic oatmeal, 2 whole eggs and 100gms of low fat cottage cheese, all for breakfast. Separately, that’s too much food for me. But if I followed the directions, blended everything together with a dash of cinnamon and fried it in a drop of olive oil like pancakes, I had a breakfast that would last in my belly for a good 5 hours. I didn’t get the usual blood sugar boost-and-crash either. Lunch and dinner called for a lean protein (chicken, turkey, or fish) with dark green leafy or cruciferous (don’t you just love that word? Means cauliflower or cabbage;) veggies. I ate a handful of unsalted nuts or seeds for a snack.

The only thing I really missed was my evening glass of wine. I realize, however, that my vino was a big reason for my weight gain, so I was happy to see it go for a couple of weeks: too much sugar.

I lost a pound a day for the first 6 days. My cravings for sweets, fruit and wine decreased to the point where my willpower overcame them. As I rounded the corner into the second week, something else started happening. My brain got sharper. As I worked on my writing assignments, words came to me more easily. I also found I didn’t forget things as often as I did before (when I would open the fridge and forget what I was looking for). That increased mental alertness can be attributed, I believe, to the detox from chemicals and artificial additives in my food.

I saw a program on TV where actress Jenny McCarthy explained how she reversed her son’s autism diagnosis, simply by eliminating chemicals from his food and environment. I’m telling you, folks, this is powerful stuff. This menu plan is also very similar to the cancer-fighting plan that most oncologists promote. Add some flax seed and cod liver oil to build the immune system (over-the-counter cold remedies are also full of chemicals) and you’ll feel fantastic.

When I hit the 10 pounds lost point, I celebrated with a small glass of the most delicious organic red wine known to man (Bonterra – a Cab Sav from California). To be honest, it was a bit rich for my new palate. That slowed me down, and I savoured every drop over about 2 hours.

By the time this article is in print, I should be down about 15 pounds. I plan to keep going on this plan, in moderation, until I feel like myself again. Of course, if these results continue, I won’t feel anything like the old me. I’ll have more energy and stamina than ever before. What a great way to head into 2012!

Thursday, December 1, 2011