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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Misty in training for the International Plowing Match 2015



We sold our Belgian horse Misty last spring but we have been keeping up to date on all her activities. Her new owner, Roy Sherrer of Shermount Farms near Spencerville has trained her to pull. This is a true testament to the man’s ability as a horse trainer – and our lack of it.
When we got Misty and her sister Ashley back in February of 2009, they were pretty much ‘green’ – and so were their new owners. They were accustomed to being led out of their barn every morning and back into the barn every evening by a rope attached to their halters. We tried this. It only worked if the horse actually felt like moving.
I don’t know how many times I was late for work, and pulling with all my strength on the end of Misty’s lead, trying to make the big horse bend to my will. I would just hang there like a soap on a rope, until she finally decided to stroll out of the stable and into the barnyard, where she spent her day.
Part of the problem is that Ashley was the leader, Misty the follower. When we lost Ashley to some mysterious fever or allergy in 2010, her sister was left to figure things out on her own. Mostly she decided Donkey was her new leader. Chaos reigned.
Donkey would help break the horse and sheep out of the barnyard so they could go eat apples on the front lawn and wander down the road to freak out the neighbours.
I got him to follow me back to the barnyard with apples or sweetfeed in my hand, and the rest of the herd followed. Including Misty.
And so this is how things were on the farm, for the next five years. When Roy bought our big horse from us, we had high hopes that he would be able to train her to do actual horsey things. Follow instructions. Pull a wagon, even. We expected it would take a while, but we had faith that wonderful things were in her future.
Sure enough, within the first few weeks we received photos and a video of Misty pulling a wagon. I could not believe that was my stubborn, skittish horse, pulling with all her might, next to another beautiful blonde Belgian. I got choked up with motherly pride.
Roy said he put the harness and yoke on Misty, and she started a bit. She has never even had a saddle on her before. Well, maybe once. Her previous owner hitched her up to a wagon for a photo opportunity once. But never again.
Hitched for the first time, Misty likely was confused and a bit scared. But as soon as she realized she was not alone in her situation – another (more confident and experienced) horse was right beside her - I imagine she was comforted, and then probably a little excited. The conversation probably went a little like this.
“Hi. I’m Goldie. Who are you?”
“I’m Misty. What’s goin’ on?”
“We’re hitched. Have you never been hitched before? Oh great…”
“Oh…hitched. Ok. I think I’ve seen this before. We pull, right?”
“Yes, we pull. Just follow my lead and when you feel me pull, you pull as hard as you can. You look strong. You’ll be fine.”
Roy was surprised to hear Misty had never pulled before, because she was a natural. She stumbled a bit at first, unaccustomed to timing her steps to another horse. But, a born follower, she quickly caught on and began to pull her own weight, and then some.
He taught her to pull the stone boat – a heavy float laden with cement blocks. When she was fully trained, he sold her to someone in Quebec.
I’m trying not to think too much about that part, because it stresses me a bit to think she is no longer going to be close enough for me to visit. Not that I visited her in the past – I thought it would upset me too much.
We will see her again, however, if only one more time. I am very proud to announce that Misty and her teammate will be pulling at The 2015 International Plowing Match in Finch this September 22-26. I’ll be the one in the floppy hat in the front row, cheering her on. Likely with a few proud tears in my eyes.



Watch for “The Accidental Farmwife – Volume 1” coming to a bookstore near you in 2016. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The cycle of life keeps on turning

Dad and Annie, 2007


The August long weekend will forever remind me of the day we found out my Dad was really, really sick. He had apparently been eating Advil like TicTacs all summer but finally gave in to the pain in his back August 1st and let us take him to the hospital. Of course, few doctors were available. The one that examined him told him he likely had a tumour on his pancreas. Then he left for the weekend.
Dad said, “well, that’s it, then,” with a note of finality. He had just seen a friend die of cancer and that experience, combined with his extensive knowledge as a science teacher, had him diagnosing himself within minutes. Pancreatic cancer. He said he wasn’t interested in chemo, and fell asleep under the cloud of painkillers.
The rest of us stood around his hospital gurney, in shock.
The next few months are a bit of a blur. We were trying to get used to our strong, infallible father being ill, recovering from surgery, and undergoing cancer treatment, which he eventually agreed to. The Farmer and I were planning a wedding at the same time. Two weeks before the date we visited Dad in hospital and said, “We will videotape the whole thing for you.” He replied, “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m walking my daughter down the aisle.” Well, he did. He had to go home and take a short nap after our photo session and dinner, but he returned to dance with me, for half a song. My new husband took over when it was clear my father needed to sit down.
All of these memories come rushing back, this time of year. Joy mixed with pain. We had Dad for just four months after his terminal diagnosis. The end came quickly, but we had time to say everything we needed to say. He held on for two hours as we stood around his hospital bed and shared memories, our arms around him. Blessings and loss.
How wonderful it is to turn and see my daughter now, swelling with pregnancy, pride and excitement. She keeps saying “it won’t be long now.” She is just seventeen weeks. I hate to tell her she has another twenty-three to go…
She really, really wants to know the sex of this child. Anastasia is used to getting what she wants. I think it will be absolutely hilarious if this unborn son or daughter of hers refuses to reveal its gender before birth. Ha! She has an ultrasound scheduled for next week, followed immediately by a “Gender Reveal” party. This is the new thing. You arm your guests with sticks and have them circle a huge piñata that is hanging from a tree in the yard. Obviously you need to adapt this plan if it is in winter. Everyone bashes away at the piñata until it rips open and the candies pour out. If the treats are blue and green, it’s a wee lad in her belly. If they are red and purple (Annie hates pink), it’s a lass. I don’t think she has a preference. She is just so, so ready to be a mama. At 23 she has been married three years already, a young wife. But she has also looked after children and worked in a nursery school for years. She is experienced, prepared, and ready.
Pregnancy has created a calm over Anastasia. Ever anxious and energetic, now she favours naps and takes her time. She seems to have grown up over these past few months.
Now when I think of the August long weekend I will think of Anastasia, in her billowing sundress, staring at the sunset. She is daydreaming of things to come. What will her life be like next year at this time? She will have a little crawler by then.
Anastasia and her grandpa were very close. She spent more time with him than any of his grandchildren. They respected and loved each other, without words. They just knew. And they loved spending time together.
I like to think that my father is somehow involved in this. He is watching over or looking down, or his lingering energy and presence is somehow forming the way Annie will be raising this child.
It just seems right. It’s the cycle of life.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Farmers escape



As you read this, we are gone. Our daughter and her husband are holding down the farm, so to speak. I truly love the 200 acres we have here along the Kemptville Creek, with its uncontested sunsets, lovable farm animals and comforts of home. But I just wanted to get away for a week, to a lake. I could live on a campsite for a week or even longer but the Farmer…not so much. So I went on Kijiji and rented a cottage.
We are hosting family and friends, a few at a time, in a big two-storey cedar cottage near Portland on the Big Rideau. The scent of warm cedar surrounds you as you walk up onto the porch. Just the words “Big Rideau” make me think of my dad and all the boating we did there. His handwriting is still on the charts that mark safe passage through the waterways. He has marked good spots to swim and stop for lunch – he wasn’t really into fishing. The Farmer will have to find the fishing holes on his own. I am going to be spending my time reading a few good books, taking long walks and swimming / floating in the lake.
It’s not easy to leave a farm for a week, especially when you have dependent farm animals. At the moment, the cows pretty much take care of themselves, as long as the water is running. They have access to four pasture fields and I think the hay is plentiful. Our ten calves spend their days huddled together for their afternoon nap in a kindergarten circle, guarded by one assigned cow. Or they spend their energy playing King of the Castle on the manure hill. Someone has to walk over to the barn once a day, however, just to ensure that water fountain is still operational. If it isn’t, they need barrels filled with the garden hose, twice a day. If you step into the barnyard with the bull, however, you must carry a big stick. I left that in the care and feeding instructions.
The cats can last a few days in the house before they need their food and water refilled but the outdoor barn cats need to be fed every day. If we leave too much food outside, we might attract unwanted company, like a skunk. Or a raccoon. Or a BEAR.
Cody, our 16-year-old, geriatric Gordon Setter, needs to be fed at least once a day, and checked carefully to ensure he has not spilled all his water and tangled his chain in his long fur. I mean, honestly. He’s hopeless.
Chelsea, the suspicious, yappy sheepdog, needs to be fed by a man. And it should be a man she knows quite well. She is not fond of women, children or strangers. Anastasia has discovered this fact the hard way, about seven years ago. She was still in highschool at the time. Always the first one out of bed and therefore the first one ready to go in the morning, Annie had a little extra time on her hands so she offered to feed the sheepdog.
Off she went to the barn, cup of kibble in her hand. As she squatted down to dump the kibble into Chelsea’s bowl, she turned and looked the little dog in the eye. Then, in her high-pitched, teenaged girl voice, she said, “there you go Chelsea! Eat it all up!”
Chelsea, being accustomed only to the Farmer, had never heard anything quite like it. She was also confused as to why Anastasia was lingering between her and the food bowl. The Farmer usually delivers the food, pats the dog on the head and walks away. I guess she suddenly felt threatened, and trapped, so she snapped. She flew at Anastasia, teeth bared, and if it wasn’t for the huge pouf of hair extensions that Annie had attached to her head in a ponytail, there would have been an injury, for sure. She never offered to feed that “crazy-ass sheepdog” again.
Now, fast forward 7 years and our little Annie is pregnant with her first child. She won’t be allowed to lift the chick feed bags on her own, even though she is more than able, so Andrew will be doing most of the work. It’s just as well, because knowing Annie she will encounter the one chicken who takes offence to her greeting or mannerisms and decides to peck her in the leg.