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Monday, June 26, 2017

The gathering place

The Accidental Farmwife
Our farm is a gathering place
By Diana Fisher
The farm is a retreat for city people. It’s a place to try out your new rubber boots, go for a hike in the forest and get back to nature by feeding a cow an apple. At our farm on any given Sunday you can fill your belly with home cooked food and nourish your soul with good conversation and the love of family and friends.

When we first started hosting family dinners on Sunday we made it sort of a command performance for our girls. It was a “be there or be square” kind of a thing. They had to have a really good reason not to attend. As they got older and had work commitments we occasionally had to excuse one or another of them but at they also started to bring boyfriends home around the same time. Our gathering grew in number. Our musical daughter brought starving musicians home to dinner. Well, they likely weren’t starving but they did appreciate a good home cooked meal. And to be honest, most of them were pretty thin. And vegetarian. And you know what they say – “don’t feed the musicians” – we joked that they kept coming back for the free food but we were the real winners in that deal. Many Sunday sunsets were accompanied by acoustic guitar singalongs on the back porch, with multiple harmonies.

I remember thinking we were really lucky that our family wanted to spend each Sunday with us. The Farmer is a creative, experimental cook and other guests bring special contributions to the meal. No one leaves hungry. But I think it is far more than the food and good company that motivates family members young and old to make the trek out to the O’Neill Road at the end of each week and the start of the next. I think it’s the farm.

If we lived in a small bungalow on a street in town, there wouldn’t be the same draw. The farm has an appeal all of its own. People don’t just come to see us and to eat our food. They come to see the farm. They come to smell the honeysuckle on the fresh, sweet air. They come to hear the geese honking their way up the creek at dusk. They come to watch the cattle return to the barnyard, single file on a crooked diagonal path across the pasture, mooing in unison.

I do believe we get a bigger crowd when they know the baby will be here. But like everything else on the farm, she brings you down to earth, demands your undivided attention and helps you to appreciate the simple things in life.

The Farmer and I were married on the farm ten summers ago, and we host a big farm party every year, in addition to our weekly dinners that average 18 guests and our Easter and Thanksgiving gatherings that top out around 43. We have accumulated the trappings of hospitality that make these events easier. He built a three-season room that accommodates a sixteen-seater picnic table made by his uncle Bob. We have been gifted serving trays and utensils, extra place settings, dishes, glasses and mugs as well as chafing dishes (I didn’t even know that was a warming plate before I met this man). We have the extra folding tables and chairs, eight table cloths, 24 cloth napkins and cutlery for 45.
But still I don’t think it’s the fact that we are set up for this sort of thing that makes people gravitate to the farm for their special occasions. This weekend we celebrated the lives of two very special women on the farm. My uncle came from Florida and his late wife’s family came from Calgary, Quebec and Toronto to celebrate her life in a memorial service. He wanted to have it on the farm because he knew it would be comfortable, casual and meaningful. He knew this because he had attended a memorial service for his brother on our farm two years ago.

We also celebrated my mother-in-law’s birthday on the farm this weekend. We had about ten people more than we expected but we were able to accommodate them with a bit of shifting and adjusting. Lorna’s short term memory is deteriorating and the crowds confuse her but she seemed to understand what was going on and appreciated the festivities. She even had a piece of cake, which she is allowing herself to do a lot more often these days.

She understands that life is too short to pass up cake on a special occasion. Or to miss another gathering at the farm. 

A full house on the farm

My daughter Anastasia needed a place to stay between houses. We agreed that she should move in to the farm for a week. That was great news, because it meant I would get to see my granddaughter quite a bit. Unfortunately it also meant I would be seeing and hearing more of Annie’s German Pointer, Skor.

Skor is a beautiful dog. He is a sweet, energetic and fun-loving three year old. But he has a bad case of nerves. He is constantly jumping up on things including people, the furniture, parked cars and the door to the house. Within a few hours of being at the farm, Skor had scratched the front door beyond repair, busted a doorway through the wooden lattice work under the porch and formed a path through the three-foot-tall flowers in the front bed. Annie said she would repair whatever Skor wrecked. It’s a good thing she is only staying a week because I don’t think she could afford any more damage.

Our pup Fergus loves having Skor and his considerably better behaved brother Rupert the Yellow Lab on the farm. Rupert puts up with Fergus bobbing up and down under his chin, nipping at his jowls and his ears. The bigger dog even teases the pup and engages him in play. Fergus is in heaven.
One day Annie needed someone to watch the baby. Of course I volunteered. Leti and I were having a great day together, splashing in the pool and playing with her Barbie and pony collection. Then I noticed Fergus was missing. He had wriggled under the snow fence that I had strapped to the bottom of the barnyard fence. He was standing on the rock pile on the cattle side of the fence, challenging a groundhog he had discovered within. I called him to come back but he ignored me. I picked up my 18-month-old granddaughter and started toward him. He’s a smart dog, and he knows he isn’t supposed to be in the barnyard, where he could be harmed by a bull or over-protective cow. I approached him carefully. The trick is to catch up to him before he notices and starts running in the opposite direction. That’s when I saw the coyote.

Not much bigger than Fergus, the young coyote was bounding along the fencerow toward my little dog. He appeared to want to play, but my instincts told me to get Fergus out of there. I picked up the pace, Leti bouncing and giggling along on my hip. I waved my free arm at the coyote and made as much noise as possible, hooting and hollering. Leti helped. That seemed to scare him, because he turned tail and ran back in the direction from which he had come. Then I bent down and scooped up my gangly and awkward Golden Retriever pup. A dog on one hip and a toddler on the other, I turned and headed back to the house. It must have been quite a picture. Fergus was all wiggly and squirmy in my arms. He wanted to be released so he could go back to investigating groundhog hill. Leti kept trying to reach around and stick her fingers in Fergus’ mouth. I tried to keep them separate while walking as fast as physically possible, back out of the barnyard and across the lawn to the house.
It’s possible that the coyote thought Fergus was one of his kind and just wanted to play, but I wasn’t taking any chances. For the next two days my back ached from the effort of carrying nearly fifty pounds of human and fur baby while running across a rocky pasture.

The Farmer was less than enthusiastic when he learned we would have houseguests – some of them with four legs. We kept the dogs in the basement or out on the porch when the Farmer was around – no use in poking the bear.

On their second night with us, the baby wasn’t feeling well. Fever kept her up most of the night and so no one got more than a couple hours sleep. In the morning, Skor tested our bedroom door and found it to be unlocked. He bounded up onto the bed and licked the Farmer right across the face. That day my husband packed up his fishing equipment and took off to the lake with a few of his closest two-legged friends. The only full house he wants to see in the next week is in a card game.

The magical power of Dad

Fathers, do not underestimate your power. You have the ability to influence a young life without saying a word. Your child will be watching your every move – studying your facial expressions and second guessing everything you say, searching for hidden meaning. You are the number one man in your child’s life at the beginning and although someone may someday take your place, those formative years are extremely important.

Your son will shape his own identity in large part by studying yours. He will try on your expressions, your habits and mannerisms to see which ones fit and which do not. Some things he will consciously try to mimic and other things will just happen organically, as a magical product of genetics. He may walk like you, but will he share your weaknesses as well as your strengths?  Your relationship will heavily influence whether your son matures into a man of character or whether he struggles with personal failings all his life. There will of course be myriad other factors shaping your son’s future, but they don’t diminish the power of your influence.

You can’t determine every aspect of your child’s future by your own behavior. But it is extremely important to watch not only what you model in front of your child, but also what comes out of your mouth.

The relationship between a father and daughter is a particularly special and powerful one. The way you relate to her will help her to define her feeling of self-worth. Now if that isn’t a heavy load to bear, I don’t know what is. I remember carefully examining everything my father said to me in terms of my looks, my dress, my intelligence and my talent. He helped me to grow into a confident, self-assured young woman, but he also provided a very realistic perspective on where my challenges lie. A high school science teacher for over thirty years, he told me, “you are smart in ways that will get you nowhere in the world.” That was when I won top marks for English. I took it as a compliment but I got the message. He just didn’t put the same value on writing ability as he did on math or science.
He also treated my sister differently than he treated me. I’ll never forget looking out the window and seeing him teaching her something about the car. They were huddled together out there, under the open hood. When I asked him later why he didn’t show me too, he said something like, “well Cathy likes to learn how to do things on her own.” That one left me puzzled for a while.

Dad didn’t say it often, but I knew he loved me. I knew this because he looked forward to the time we spent together after school and seemed disappointed when my part-time job wouldn’t allow me to do that anymore. He joked about my boyfriends but I always knew he cared. He teased me regularly about my hairstyles and wardrobe choices but in reality he was saying “I see you.” That is all that really mattered. My mother, sister and I were never left wishing he told us he loved us. He did that every day, by making us laugh, and giving us his time and attention. My mom said Dad told her “I love you” on their wedding day and “If it changes,” he said, “I’ll let you know.” He was a man who chose his words carefully.

A Dad not only has the power to change the way his daughter sees herself – he can also shape her choice in a future male partner. It is only natural that we will choose someone who seems familiar. Someone who reminds us of Dad. We do this without even knowing it and often don’t realize it until something happens that makes the similarity obvious. What kind of man will your daughter be choosing for herself, even subconsciously? Are you teaching her that men are strong but sensitive, kind and generous? Or will she be drawn to someone who reminds her of you but isn’t necessarily the best choice in a life partner?

On this Father’s Day, as the daughter of a man who made me feel treasured, loved and cherished (without words), I ask you to carefully consider the influence you are having on your child’s life. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

We have entered the Golden age on the farm

(photo of Fergus by Paulina Hrebacka)
The Farmer and I have entered a new era. After ten years of marriage, at the ages of 61 and 49, we have welcomed a new baby into our lives. He is a Golden Retriever and we have decided, after much debate, to name him Fergus.
The Farmer wanted to name him Red. He is a red type rather than the English blond type of Golden, but I argued that “Red” is simply a colour and not a name. I wanted to name him Finn, but perhaps that is more fitting of an Irish setter. Goldens come from Scotland. We were watching Outlander on Netflix one night when the name came to me. He will be known as Fergus the Red. Fergie for short.
We have received a great deal of advice on how to train this puppy. Some say you should crate the dog beside your bed so you can get up in the night to put him outside. This will speed up house training. However, I was reminded that if you allow the pup to sleep in your room as a pup, he will think it is his room going forward. I don’t want to be sharing my room with a huge dog that is dreaming loudly about chasing rabbits and snoring in his sleep. When I mentioned this to my husband he said, “Well, you could always go sleep in the other room!”
Fergus was tucked into his pet carrier on the first night. This was settled into the larger crate which will from now on be his safe place for naps and bed time and anytime he wants to get away from us, our visitors and our house cats. (Although we haven’t seen much of said house cats since Fergus arrived.)
I left the door to the carrier open so that Fergus could use the puppy pads in the larger crate if need be. And there was a need, the first night. The second night, I awoke a couple times in the night and brought him outside to relieve himself in the long grass that I have designated as his toilet area. His crate pad stayed dry.
The first full day at home, Fergus roamed around and explored every corner in the house. He discovered that although he can wedge himself under or between many different pieces of furniture, he cannot always extricate himself. He is very quiet, and doesn’t know his name yet so I spent a few minutes looking for him before finally discovering him stuck uncomfortably in a tight space under the spare bed. I decided to block the exits so he has to stay in the room with me.
I also used up about half a bottle of enzyme spray to eradicate pup accident odours. We are starting to learn each other’s language so hopefully in the next week or so we will go through a day without an indoor mess. It’s hard to know when he is planning a pee when he spends the majority of each day with his nose to the ground, sniffing. Always sniffing.
The other thing Fergus loves to do is chew. He has a variety of chew toys in different strengths so that he can exercise his needle-sharp teeth. Unfortunately he likes toes and fingers the best. I have the marks to prove it. But for the most part our tiny Golden Retriever wants to please us. It is obvious that he is looking for instruction, so we just have to figure out how to tell him what we expect, and to reinforce it.
This is all new to me so, of course, I am reading. I’m learning how to train our pup so that he can soon go off on road trips with the Farmer / Real Estate Agent. It wasn’t our intention to buy a puppy. We have both always owned rescue dogs from shelters. But despite contacting all area shelters and registering with Golden Rescue, we were unable to find a retriever that way, so we had to place an order for one of a spring litter.
Fergus is the Farmer’s “retirement dog”, although that man may never really retire. He has always wanted a Golden, so I suppose he deserves one. It’s plenty of work, training and cleaning up after this little creature but I realize he will only be little for so long. Thank goodness he sleeps a lot, because I am exhausted.


I guess this means we should listen to the cats

Our house was not completely flooded. We really have nothing to complain about, in comparison to the hundreds of people in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec who have lost everything in the rain and floods these past few weeks. But we did get some water in the basement.  It wouldn’t have had the chance to cause any damage, if we had only listened to the cats.
Sheila the housecat doesn’t really like people. She pretends to be friendly if she hears cellophane or senses that you may be eating cheese, but she doesn’t really want to be petted. She barely tolerates me. If Sheila’s food bowl is empty and I am busy making something in the kitchen, she winds herself around my legs and gives me a quick bite on the calf. She doesn’t have what you would call a nice disposition.
Still, Sheila has her good qualities. She played surrogate mom to all those kittens I nabbed from the barn and brought into the house to wean and adopt out. When their new families came to pick them up, she followed them to the door one by one and when they left she sat at my feet and complained.
Today, whenever we are sitting watching TV in the evenings she pulls one of her kitten-sized toys out of the basement and sings to it, loudly. This is quite regular behaviour for her, and it goes on for about five minutes. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention when it went on for more like half an hour one night last week. But I was watching the season finale of Outlander and didn’t want to be interrupted.
When I finally got up to see what the heck Sheila was hollering about, I found her sitting at the top of the basement stairs with about six toys around her. They appeared to be wet. I flicked the light on and peered down the stairs. Sure enough, the floor was covered in water. Ugh.
A quick investigation by the Farmer confirmed that the hose used to drain condensation from our furnace was blocking the sensor ball on the sump pump, so it wasn’t able to switch on when the water level got too high. Water had seeped out of the workshop area of the basement to soak the carpet in the next room. The parquet floor in the spare bedroom will likely have to be ripped out and replaced also.
I spent the next few days sopping up wet cat litter and carrying soggy boxes of baby clothes upstairs to be dried and repacked. I will be investing in some waterproof boxes for storage in the future. Maybe some that can float.
The cats’ litter and food had to be moved upstairs to the bathroom for a few days while the water dried up. That gave them free run of the house during the night, which they truly loved. I could hear them ripping up and down the stairs after each other when I was supposed to be asleep.
You would think we had learned our lesson, but, no. A few days later, it happened again. Sheila tried to tell me. I was sitting on the couch reading a book and she attempted, unsuccessfully, to launch herself up into my lap. She almost never does this, and hasn’t tried in years. I laughed when she misjudged the distance to the couch and fell over. Sheila walked away, dejected. She was back a few minutes later with a wet cat toy. That got my attention. The sump had failed again.
I suspect we will be checking that mechanism more often on rainy days, and perhaps investing in a battery-operated backup system. The Farmer is cutting the carpet up into manageable pieces that can be lifted up the basement stairs and out onto the back deck for disposal. It is a mess, and our basement smells a bit like a wet sock, but it’s nothing like what the owners of truly flooded homes are dealing with.
Last year the drought had us using up our hay months ahead of schedule, because nothing was growing in the pasture. This year we are starting the cattle on pasture early, because of the rain. You never know what you are going to get, but from now on I’m paying attention to the animals. They seem to know what’s up.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Here's to you, Mom

Being a mom is one of the best jobs on Earth. It’s very rewarding. It’s also completely thankless sometimes, if that makes any sense. Mom doesn’t usually get a thank you when she wakes up in the middle of the night to change diapers and provide food for her new babe. She will likely get more complaints and protests than gratitude when she makes healthy snacks and lunches for her child. And she probably won’t get many thanks when she drags that kid out of bed for school, church or hockey practice early in the morning, even though they know it is for their own good. But she will keep on doing all of those things, because she is a mom.
It often isn’t until we are moms ourselves, or we lose our moms, that we realize how much they did for us. Probably the best gift you can give your mom (I’m speaking from my own perspective as the mom of 3, step-mom of 2 and grandma of 1) is your time and attention. She doesn’t need you to buy into the commercialism of the event and spend a lot of money on a gift – but if you want to, that’s perfectly fine. What Mom really wants, I’m guessing, is to hear your voice on the phone, see you on Skype or Facetime, or spend time with you on Mother’s Day. We don’t all have those perfect movie script mother-child relationships, so if you can’t imagine sitting across from your Mom for an entire lunch date, why don’t you ask what she wants to do. Maybe it’s going to a movie together, and sharing a laugh. Or go through old photo albums together, tidying up her storage room at the same time. Don’t forget the wine. Your Mom might want to go somewhere with you, or she might just want you to tell her all about what you have been up to lately. Detail by detail. You can sacrifice the time. Think of all she has done for you.
If you don’t have a mom figure in your life, there might be another woman you can honour on Mother’s Day. Maybe a favourite teacher or coach, who was your confidante during difficult times while you were growing up. Or maybe there is a mom in your life who is missing her own children and would love to spend some time with you on Mother’s Day. If you’ve lost your Mom, maybe you can honour her memory by pulling her old recipe box out of storage and making some of her favourite dishes.
Looking for a last-minute gift idea for the mom who has everything? Here are some of my favourites. 1. Book a photo session together. I did this one year and it was quite an experience. The photo shoot itself was moving, because you don’t usually spend that much time hanging on to this person you call Mom. Spending an hour in each other’s embrace, laughing and goofing off for the camera is a memory you will treasure forever. With the photos to match.
2. Buy tickets for an upcoming concert and plan to go together. Make sure it’s music that Mom likes. If she isn’t into loud noises, consider a play or a comedy show. It will give you another experience to share and look forward to.
3. Plan a day trip together. Go for a drive, do some window shopping and include some destinations from your past, with at least one stop for food. Stir up some memories and take the time to chat about the good old days.
4.  Book a spa day together, if you’re into that sort of thing. This can be a mani-pedi and hair experience at a salon, or a massage and soak at the hot springs. The idea is to have some laughs and spend time together with no cell phone distractions.
5. Make a photo book. If you don’t have a lot of time to spend with Mom on Mother’s Day but you want her to know how much you appreciate her, scan or take photos of old photos, and download recent ones onto a USB stick or your phone. Then head to a photo kiosk and print a hard-covered photo book. You can even add text if you want to. It’s a thoughtful gift and doesn’t have to cost much.
Happy Mother’s Day. Enjoy every moment.

The evolution of a hobby farm

The face of a farm is ever-changing. When I first moved onto the farm, the pasture was dotted with fluffy white sheep as far as the eye could see. The Farmer started with a dozen or so sheep in 1998 when he built the farmhouse to accompany his newly purchased 200 acres and barn. Every year he sold the male lambs after weaning and let the females stay to keep the ram busy and build up the herd. Before long, he had a herd of 200 sheep. The farm was quite well suited to sheep farming, but it didn’t start out that way.
A long while ago, The Fisher Farm was a mink farm. Then it was a piggery for years. The feeders and pens were built low to the ground to accommodate the pigs, so the Farmer didn’t have to renovate much to host his sheep. Cattle are another story. We added two Hereford cows to our menagerie in 2008, and slowly started building that herd so we could move out of sheep farming. Sheep are hard on your back. You are in a constant bent-over state, trimming their hooves, shearing them, administering their monthly shots and pulling them out of whatever mess they have managed to entangle themselves in. I also found sheep farming extremely hard on my heart. With lambing season happening at the tail end of winter, a freezing cold barn often meant a high lamb mortality rate. Sheep are also adept at contracting all varieties of disease, named in the most obvious of ways: Stiff Leg Disease; Hard Bag; Foot Rot; Sore Mouth; Bent Leg; Frothy Bloat; and even Fuzzy Lamb Syndrome. Sheep farming was never a very good money maker for us. We did it because we enjoyed it, and as the Farmer says, it kept him busy.
Cattle farming was, for the most part, a much simpler venture. The cows often give birth without any human intervention or help. We have had at least one problem calf each year that requires bottle feeding or other assistance at the start. But other than the first week or so where we have to keep Mom and Babe inside the pen (which used to house sheep and is constantly getting destroyed by cows), cattle farming has been pretty easy.
The cattle test our fences for us every year. If there is a weak section of fence, they will find it. Then we get a call from a neighbour about cows in the road, or in their backyard. That’s how the Farmer knows it is time to reinforce the electric wiring.
Cattle farming has been fairly profitable for us over the past few years, but last year’s drought was a real lesson in what can happen when your meadows don’t replenish themselves. We had to dip into our winter hay storage to feed our herd during the summer. This was expensive. When we factored in how much we were getting for each calf sent to market, we realized they weren’t exactly paying their room and board. It may be time for another step in the evolution of the Fisher Farm.
“I think I’m slowing down a bit,” said the Farmer as we sipped our drinks during the first afternoon patio-sit of the season. “I hate to think of not being the Farmer anymore though…” and by that I knew he was referring to his farming-as-a-hobby to keep him from getting bored in his semi-retirement. How a real estate agent who is building a log cabin and maintaining his own property has time to get bored is beyond me. But I know farming is important to him as it keeps him healthy. With animals depending on you making a trip to the barn each morning and night, you are getting out of the house in all kinds of weather. I really think this is why he is never sick – because he spends so much time out of doors. Then there is the shoveling of their manure and pitching their hay. You save money on a gym membership.
We can rent out the rest of our pasture fields for cash crops, but it would be nice to find something else to occupy the barns, and keep the Farmer busy. I’m thinking about all that woodworking equipment he has in the shed. I know several people who would really appreciate some handmade wood furniture, including yours truly.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Afternoons with Lorna

Wally is into his 90’s now, and as he puts it, some of his parts are in need of repair. He had surgery recently, and had to spend a couple weeks in the hospital. That left Lorna at home, without her mate. When Wally isn’t around, Lorna gets quite confused. She has about a twenty-minute window before she starts questioning where he has gone and when he will return. We made a reservation for her at the Perley Hospital Residence, right around the corner from her house. Lorna was not pleased with the idea and said she wouldn’t go. We called Wally at the hospital and after she argued with him for a few minutes she hung up the phone. “He told me to behave myself,” she reported, and reluctantly packed her bag.
On the move-in date, Lorna’s daughter sat down in the Residence office to record every pill, eye drop and medication that Lorna takes, including dosages and times to administer. I went with Lorna to the games room, to meet her new housemates. Most of the guests at the Residence had some sort of memory loss or confusion. Some of them were recovering from surgery and others were there to give temporary respite to their caregivers. The Residence consisted of one large circular hallway with rooms along the outside and kitchen, social room and offices in the middle. If a guest found themselves lost, they only needed to continue around the circle to find their room.
“Lorna,” she read aloud the sign on her bedroom door. “That’s me.”
The Residence was extremely accommodating. But Lorna was not comfortable there. Several times a day she asked where Wally was and when he would be coming. Every morning she woke and packed her bag, ready to go home. She fretted over baking she needed to do. When we told her he had to stay in hospital for two weeks she said that was ridiculous and demanded the telephone. Each day we got Wally on the phone for Lorna, and each day she told him, “You get your a** home right now!” She lasted three days there, and we had to bring her back home. Her other daughter came from Edmonton to stay with her until Wally was out of the hospital.
Now when Wally has to go to a doctor’s appointment, needs to go shopping or just feels the need to go for a drive, I sit with Lorna. First we check to make sure she has taken her pills. Then I ask if she has eaten. I have to look for clues or ask Wally, because Lorna cannot remember. She has her books, but she can’t concentrate on them. She does part of a crossword, then asks where Wally has gone. Her short term memory is gone, but her long term memories are vibrant. I distract her with questions about the past. She tells me about when her five children were in school, and she had to have lunch ready for them. She says she never watched television during the day, and she isn’t about to start now. I pull out my laptop and start working on a writing assignment. Lorna picks up a notepad and questions the notes she has written there.
“Whose phone number is this? And who is this cheque for?” I explain that the number is the home care service and the cheque is for the cleaning lady. I will repeat that information three more times over the afternoon.
Lorna is unsettled without Wally. I don’t know what she is like when he is home. He has removed the fuses from the stove so that she won’t be able to burn their dinner. He has put her baking ingredients in the basement, where she seldom goes. Lorna used to bake for every Sunday dinner. She baked cakes for our wedding. She doesn’t bake anymore.
Some things are hard wired. Lorna takes meat out of the freezer every day, to defrost for dinner. She makes tea, and wonders aloud if Wally is hungry. As long as he is there, she is not at a loss for what to do.
Lorna knows she is having issues with her memory. She needs to be reminded who the new baby belongs to each Sunday. Her fridge is covered with photos of her loved ones. Pieces of Lorna’s memory are slowly disappearing, but the deepest memories are the ones she holds in her heart.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The cat came back, to toy with my emotions.

“The cat came back, the very next day…the cat came back – we thought he was a goner but the cat came back, he just wouldn’t stay away…” – Harry Miller, 1893.
Monday was not a good day. It started off ok, when the temperature rose to 23 degrees in the sunshine. But when I stepped out onto the back porch, the Farmer met me with a hard look on his face.
“Go back in the house, please.”
“Huh?” that was rude, I thought. Then… “Is there a dead cat in the pool?!” I guessed it. It has only happened a couple of times in the ten years I have been at the farm, because most of our cats are far too smart to go near the pool. We lost a kitten once, and a stray who was obviously unfamiliar with the landscape. I needed to know who the victim was this time, and I dreaded the answer.
“I need to see him,” I said, fearing the worst. Junior, one of our two barn cats who over-winters in the house, had only started his springtime excursions the day before. Could he be the cat who fell in the pool? The Farmer didn’t want to show me. I grabbed the feed bag he was holding and peeked inside. The wet body was mostly grey. I started to cry despite myself, and stomped off toward the house. It certainly looked like Junior the grey tabby to me.
“I don’t think he fell in,” said the Farmer. He was on top of the ice. It’s like he was in a fight with another cat and just died there.”
I slammed the door behind me and vowed to buy a pool cover so we would never lose another cat. I blamed myself for announcing the weather forecast to Junior and shoving him and his siblings outside. The other cats were acting strangely, sitting at the patio door and staring out at the pool. Perhaps they had witnessed the entire unfortunate event. I cried intermittently throughout the day, whenever I thought of my cheerful, rambunctious cat who trusted me for his care and safety. I felt sick and couldn’t eat.
Tuesday was a little better. I had a number of work-related distractions and needed to focus on writing assignments so I successfully put Junior out of my mind for most of the day.
Wednesday morning I went outside to check on our lame calf. I found her lying in the woodpile, out of the wind. Her foot is healing well, and I like that she lets me put hands on her. That always makes it easier if you have to catch them to treat them or to take milk for babies in the future.
On my way back into the house, I heard a “mrrttt” and saw a grey blur shoot through my legs. Junior! The missing cat had returned from the dead. I followed him into the basement, where he allowed me to pet him as he filled his face with food. He seemed rather frantic, as if he had been through quite an experience. For the rest of the morning he was quite vocal, either purring with voiced breathing as he groomed himself in front of the wood stove, or sitting at my feet as I worked in the kitchen and at my desk, a barrage of kitty questions directed at me.
Junior spent a good part of Wednesday morning racing up and down the stairs after Sheila and Sammy. He appeared quite happy to be home. He rolled on his back and ripped at the carpet on the stairs, forcing me to lock him in the basement until he calmed down. Junior is back. Might I add this is also the cat who was adopted as a kitten and summarily returned for his inability to adapt to his new human. It's not the first time he has made a triumphant return to the farm.
I feel very bad about the cat who died in or around my pool, and will take steps to ensure no one falls into it and drowns ever again. I still have no idea which cat ran out of his nine lives. I don’t think it was the white and black stray tomcat who likes to engage Sammy in fights that leave holes in his leg. The cat I saw was grey. Perhaps it was another stray. This time of year the males are off wandering to see who they can fight for territory. They are looking for females to impregnate and leaving a trail of wounded warriors in their wake.
I suspect Junior knows, and is trying to tell me.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Owls, owls everywhere

What’s with all the owl sightings lately? First they started popping up in my Facebook feed. Someone snapped a pic of a Great Horned Owl on a tree in their backyard. Someone else shared a photo of a beautiful Barred Owl they spotted in the park. And then of course there was that Snowy Owl who got a close-up on a Montreal traffic camera last year. My social media feed is full of the feathered fellows.

Local media have done programs about the baiting of certain wild birds by photographers – so they could get the great shot. Is this why we are seeing so many owls? Because someone in our area has been trying to lure them? And what is the problem with that, anyway? Granted, it isn’t a very happy scenario for the tiny rodent being used as bait, but does it harm the owl?

There is a lot of money in wildlife photography if it is done well. Anything caught on film that we don’t typically see every day is a wonder to behold. The baiting of birds for this purpose can cause quite a bit of tension between photographers and birders, however. The former are trying to make a buck and a name for themselves, while the latter are trying to witness the bird in its natural habitat and behavior. Many birders are also concerned that the luring of birds with fake calls or bait will cause the animal to become too familiar and trusting of humans, who may lead them to harm, intentionally or not.

The Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club and other birding organizations have stopped posting owl sightings on their websites.  The baiting of birds is not illegal, but the concern is that the animal will in some way be harassed by the photographers. They might try to contain the bird or irritate it into opening its eyes for the shot.  Birding sites are developing and posting a Code of Conduct or ethics in an attempt to protect the birds from being bothered.

And then there is the belief that you should not interfere with wildlife or attempt to alter its behavior. The saying “a fed bear is a dead bear” is brought to mind. Owls can be quite trusting of humans and when they have found a suitable habitat, they often stay in the area. Once their location is discovered, they are at the mercy of the humans. In some cases when baited by a photographer the owls are being kept awake and prompted to hunt during the day, which is not their habit.

Some wildlife enthusiasts, on the other hand, argue that we feed other wild birds: why not owls? With live rodents as their main food source, they have been known to starve to death over a long winter. If we can help them to survive the cold, why shouldn’t we feed them? I’m not likely to go into a pet store and buy live mice for this purpose but if I knew an owl was hanging around my barn, fighting cats for mice and going hungry, I might be persuaded. The Farmer would think I was crazy, of course, putting live mice in a barn where we keep cats to control the rodent population.

I had my own owl sighting this winter. I was driving down Prince of Wales Drive, just north of Bankfield. The owl was on my left, perched atop a telephone pole. It appeared to be staring across the road at the billboard on the other side, which featured a photo of an owl, wings spread! I don’t know if owls can recognize a photo of another owl or not but if I hadn’t been in such a rush I would have pulled over and captured that spectacle on camera. I look for the bird every time I pass that spot now.
Fred Schueler of Bishop’s Mills sent me a photo of a Whet Owl that actually flew into his back porch when he left the door open a couple weeks ago. The bird might have just been seeking shelter, but it certainly knew which house to enter. Schueler is a renowned naturalist. If the owl stays around long enough, it might even get to be the subject of a painting by Fred’s partner, wildlife artist Aleta Karstad.

Whet Owl photo: Fred Schueler, Bishop's Mills

Thursday, March 30, 2017

So I suffered a bout of PFSD

This was a hard week for the Farmer and me. We had a calf born to one of our original cows, Ginger the Difficult. Over the years, Ginger has become considerably easier to approach and deal with, even letting me feed her apples from my hand. She has come a long way since she arrived here in 2008. Unfortunately, when she has a new calf, all bets are off. If you try to approach the calf, you will get a strong head butt to your side that has the potential to break ribs. If you need to get some colostrum from her to feed a weak calf, you might as well look elsewhere. Hopefully you have some from another cow in the freezer. Because you aren’t getting within a foot of Ginger’s udder. Her foot. In your face.

And so, when for the third year in a row Ginger had a calf with no urge to suckle and very little will to thrive, we had to say goodbye. As we awaited Dennis the drover, I tried to feed the calf one last time. I wanted him to at least have a belly full of warm milk because I didn’t know what the next few days would hold for him. When Dennis saw me struggling to feed the calf a bottle of milk replacer, he decided he wouldn’t take it to market after all. “I’m going to drop it off at Neil’s,” he announced. “Maybe he can do something with it.” I wiped the tears and snot off my face (might have been mine; could have been the calf’s) and breathed a big sigh of relief and hope.

Ginger went to market and the calf went to a farm around the corner from us, where I am told the farmer has had a great deal of luck nursing weak calves back to health. I called Neil a day later and got a report on the calf. He had given the calf electrolytes and let it rest covered in hay in the warm sun before intubating and filling its stomach with milk replacer. He agreed that it was having trouble suckling but he said it was getting the hang of it. He said he had a few other mama cows that might even adopt it.

Well that made me feel better. I like to think we do everything we can for our animals to provide a comfortable and safe existence. I hate to see any of them not doing well. During the first week of that calf’s life, I fed it during the day and lay awake worrying about it at night. Each morning I realized I was nervous that another weak calf would be born and we would have to go through the whole process again. Carry it to the barn, give it a shot, test the mother’s udder to make sure the milk flows, try to get the calf to stand and suckle. Feed it by bottle if necessary. If you can get it to take a bottle. It’s so much easier when you just go out to the barn and find a new mother standing there with her calf that is already dried off and suckling.

So when the Farmer came in this morning from his rounds and announced a new calf was born and he needed my help, I had a sinking feeling. I dragged my heels and said I was going out and didn’t want my hair to smell like barn. “What do you need my help for? I don’t think I can handle another calf like the last one. I get too emotional. Maybe we are getting too old for this farming business. Let’s stick to chickens. Maybe you should take up building furniture as a hobby instead…”
“Oh just forget it then, I can do it myself…”he said, refilling his coffee mug before stepping back into his boots. Ugh. I hate it when he is disappointed.

We went to the barn and he climbed into the pen with the calf and the new mother. I held the shepherd’s crook in front of her leg so that she would hit it before she hit my husband’s head if she decided to kick. The milk flowed from the udder. The calf stood. He latched on to his mother and found the milk. All is well. I breathed a sigh of relief, and apologized for all that I had said while suffering from Post Farming Stress Disorder. 


Friday, March 24, 2017

Ginger the original difficult cow

I’ve been doing this ten years now and I still freak out a little when I see blood on freshly fallen snow. When I did the cattle count the other morning, Ginger was missing. I found her in the barn, tucked into a sunny corner. She had just given birth. The calf was still wet. 

Now, Ginger is one of our original two cows. She and Betty were the pair that taught us all our lessons. A decade later, she is only slightly less ornery than she was when she hopped off the truck and strutted into the barnyard.

Ginger is very difficult to deal with but I had to get her and her calf into the pen so that they could bond. The past two years, Ginger has had trouble with her calves. I don’t know if she is getting old or if it’s just her meanness coming out. Two years ago I gave up on her feeding the calf, let her out of the pen and kept the calf in the barn to feed him every day. When he was old enough to eat hay and grass on the meadow we let him out to join the herd. Ginger seemed to recognize him, and looked after him all day, but he never nursed. He stayed about half as big as the other calves, but he survived to market time.

Last year once again Ginger’s calf didn’t seem to understand how to nurse. He wouldn’t take the bottle, either. But after some coaxing and coddling, by some miracle one night, he latched on to mama and didn’t let go until his belly was full. Once he had that figured out it was off to the races.
Now I feel like we are in exactly the same spot again, trying to get a calf to do what is supposed to come naturally. We’ve given him extra selenium and vitamins. We’ve fed him colostrums and we just forced him to swallow a few ounces of milk replacer. Ginger grunted at him and tried to reach me with her big head as I stood in the aisle, straddling her calf. I had a rope around his neck and one leg, to hold him steady and backed him into a corner so he couldn’t escape. I put the bottle in his mouth and he just lolled his tongue around it without sucking. He clamped down with his teeth once in a while and I was squeezing the nipple of the bottle so he did get some milk. I heard him swallow a few times. If we are going to keep him alive, this is going to be quite a battle.

When this happened to lambs from time to time we would intubate them to fill their stomachs. I hate doing that – it looks so darned uncomfortable. Even after you’ve gone to that extreme, you have to hope they are going to get a burst of appetite and snap out of their slump, because you can’t keep sticking a tube down their throats. Mom does all she can to lead the calf to her udder, and we’ve got them in a small pen so they are constantly together. Now we just have to sit back and let nature take its course. Probably one of my least favourite references to farming.

The other calf that arrived last Sunday seems to have a bit of a gimpy leg. She’s kind of cute, dancing around her mother in the pen. Her belly is clearly fat and full of milk. We have never witnessed her feeding but she obviously does. She and her mom seem quite interested in Ginger’s predicament. They seemed to be listening carefully when the Farmer was speaking to her.

We have had quite a few female calves born this year. We have five left to come. With our pasture able to sustain about a dozen cattle, it may be time to say goodbye to some of the older ones who are no longer able to produce healthy calves. It’s a reality of farming: not a very nice one, but there it is.
Despite her nasty countenance and the way she keeps trying to kick my husband, however, I like Ginger. She is warming up to me, too. She eats apples out of my hand and lets me touch her nose. I still have hope her calf will start to suckle, and this chapter will have a happy ending.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The 'cat' came back

Some readers of this column will recall we hosted two boys from Suzhou, China at the farm a few years ago. When applying to be international students, both young men requested rooms on a farm. They wanted a taste of Canadian farm living. 

The problem with having two boys visiting from the same country is that they are more apt to revert to their mother tongue when conversing with each other. This makes learning English a whole lot more difficult. John and Jerry had friends at school who would help them with their conversational English, but it was just too easy and too tempting to switch back to Mandarin when they got home. Their progress was very slow during the year they stayed with us.

Farm life, as well, turned out to be not such a good fit. Perhaps the boys thought they could play with the animals, tractor and ATV, but maybe we had farm hands to do the dirty work? Wrong. I don’t even have help cleaning this huge house. That first season, the Farmer took the boys out to the stable and gave them a lesson in mucking out the horse stall. The first time they did it, the boys declared it was a fine form of exercise. The second time, they said they needed a shower right away, followed by a nap. The third time, in late spring, they said they had never smelled anything so awful in all their lives. I told them they were lucky we didn’t have chickens at the time.

After a few months of settling in, the boys declared they couldn’t even fill the wood bin. It was too much work. (It takes me about ten minutes to carry wood in from the back porch, by the way.) They spent their time in their rooms using the Internet, or in the kitchen, eating everything in sight. I worried they wouldn’t earn the required credits to pass their year.

The next fall, John did not return to Canada. His father decided to put him to work to pay off the money he ‘wasted’ sitting in his room on our farm, learning nothing. Jerry, on the other hand, had spent the summer being tutored in English by a college graduate. He was ready for year two of his international experience, and this time it showed. He lived with a family in town (having realized the farming life was not for him) and worked hard on his studies. At the end of the year I was able to watch him graduate with his friends. He was pretty proud of himself. He enrolled in college and was accepted, although he would once again have to work on his English over the summer. I hoped he hadn’t bitten off more than he could chew.

Imagine my surprise when, the other day, a brand new silver BMW pulled carefully into the yard. I thought it strange that the driver pulled up to the barn instead of the house. Then the door opened and Jerry stepped out. He had hoped to catch the Farmer at home. He wanted to show my husband his new car. He had also brought someone he wanted us to meet.

Richie is graduating from Algonquin this year, a practical nurse. She comes from the same part of China as Jerry. He met her in his first year of International Marketing. He has one year left to go.

I watched as the six-foot Chinese man led the young woman around the farm. He showed her the cows and pointed up at his old bedroom window, telling her it had a great view of the sunset. He asked about the dogs, the donkey, the horse and the sheep. I told him we had moved into the retirement phase of farming, with just a dozen cattle. Then I handed him a copy of my book for his memories, and told him I was very proud of him. He said he would read it, to practice his English (which, by the way, was absolutely perfect). Then he promised to return one day soon, when the Farmer was home.

Just as they were leaving, one of the barn cats emerged from her hiding spot under the couch and darted past Jerry. He leapt a foot in the air. So not everything has changed about the big guy from China. He’s still terrified of cats.

To Grandma Mabel on her 94th birthday

What do you get a 94-year-old woman who already has everything she needs and wants? I wracked my brain trying to imagine what might surprise her as a mark of celebration of her years on the earth.
Grandma has lived in the same home as long as I have been around, and much longer. It is devoid of clutter. She doesn’t have knick knacks; she has valuable figurines. Dogs, birds, horses, three Siamese cats sitting on the floor where real cats might rest. Ladies in poufy ballroom gowns and gentlemen characters that bear the Royal Doulton crest. I would have to take out a loan to get her another one to add to her collection. I could get her another book – but like her son (my father) she would have that gift devoured in a few days. I imagined what I would like to receive as a gift if I were her age.
Lately I’ve been making photo books as gifts for my loved ones. I thought I would make one for Grandma, with photographic contributions from all of her family. Well, that turned out to be quite a feat. First of all, getting all my cousins to respond to my request for photos took a bit of time. Then, when the images started to filter in through email, many of them were not suitable for what I had in mind. I wanted pictures of them alone or with Grandma, but in a way that you could actually see their happy, smiling faces. I got some interesting submissions, let me tell ya. In the end, I only had room for a few photos from each part of the family, because I decided to do something a little different.
One night I went to my mother’s house and we tore into her treasure trove of old photographs. Which reminds me – my mother needs a new method of photo storage. Some nice big collector’s boxes would be good, because she has hundreds of old pictures stuffed into plastic bags and albums would be too expensive. We sat on the couch, holding up one photo at a time and she told me the story behind it or I produced a memory. It’s amazing how many of our memories are tied to photographs. It makes you wonder whether you would remember that house, that car or even that person if you didn’t have a photograph of them to help you.
Some of the oldest photographs were in frames, and we didn’t want to disturb them so I turned the flash off on my phone and snapped a picture. It’s amazing the quality of photographs a smart phone can take these days. After about an hour I had over two dozen photographs dating back to when my grandmother from South Porcupine, Ontario married a man working in the Timmins mine when she was just 17. There is a picture of Grandma and Grandpa – Mabel and Garnet – standing outside our first house in Kemptville in 1966. A beautiful red sports car (my dad’s) is gleaming in the driveway behind them.
There are photos of the cottage they used to own, where we spent many summers. Some of those pictures have taken on a sepia tone but you can still make out the sense of frivolity and play in the subjects. Through the ‘80s there are pictures of trips through Arizona and Hawaii. Grandpa was gone by then but Grandma travelled with her two sons and their wives. She also loved to go on cruises with her best friend, Addie.
Travelling up through the ‘90s and 2000’s we have photos of grandchildren and great grandchildren galore. These are divided up into mini-collages on each page because of their number. Mabel and Garnet did well in their cultivation of the Leeson family tree.
My USB stick of submitted photos and smart phone in hand, I headed to the Walmart photo booth to lay out a photo book. It took me approximately four hours to edit the photos and lay them out on the pages because the app kept disconnecting me and starting over. Talk about an exercise in frustration! I was exhausted and ready for a glass of wine at the end of it – and the end result is not perfect but I think Grandma will like it.

Welcome to your 95th year on the Earth, Grandma. Here’s to making more memories. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Communicating without words

My fifteen-month-old granddaughter doesn’t say much, but she communicates quite effectively. She has just discovered that everything has a name, so she spends much of her waking hours walking around, pointing at various items and emitting that little sing-song noise that sounds like, “huh?” That’s our cue to supply the name for the item. Pointing, “huh?” Answer: “horse.” Switching to another item. “Huh?” Answer: “TV.” And so on. This can go on for hours if you let it.
She must be spending a fair amount of time with Daddy in the stable because she is currently obsessed with horses. She points them out in books, paintings and photographs and carries a toy horse in her tiny fist, prancing it across tabletops and sofas. When a horse gallops into the scene of a Western that Grandpa is watching on TV, baby drops what she is doing and shuffles as quickly as she can into the living room to see where that noise is coming from. Then she stands there with a dazed look on her face, staring at the TV. Everything is sorting itself out in her tiny brain.
Despite not having the use of words in her toolbox, baby is very good at making her feelings known. Mama has taught her a few bits of sign language. As soon as you put her in her high chair she starts tapping her little fingers together, in the “more” sign. This continues throughout the meal, to show she is enjoying her food and still hungry. She’s also pretty good at expressing when she doesn’t like something. When I wear my glasses she looks at me and then turns her head away quickly, as in a snub of disapproval. She prefers faces without accoutrements.
This tiny person has discovered that almost every wish can be conveyed by pointing and humming or grunting. We are looking forward to hearing her actual thoughts – the occasional discernible word comes out once in a while but so far she is just practicing sounds. It’s actually pretty entertaining. Her mother made it to age two and a half before she started using words so we may be waiting a while yet.
The farm animals are also pretty good at communicating without words. When their feeders are empty, they just come and stand at the fence closest to the house. After a while, Betty will start mooing and others will join in. Eventually we will hear the cow concert and the Farmer will go out to start the tractor. They are going through a five-foot bale of hay a day now, as ten of them are pregnant and hungry.
The housecats communicate that their bowl is empty by attempting to trip me as I move around the kitchen. It has backfired on them once or twice, as I have trod on tails. But usually when they sit at my feet and meow loudly, I catch their drift and head down to the basement to refill the feeder. If no amount of meowing and maneuvering can get my attention, Sheila is not above giving me a quick bite on my calf. I have marks to prove it.
I visited my grandmother today. She turns 102 next week. Although she doesn’t hear much of what I say, we have long, in-depth conversations together. If Grandma can’t decipher what I am saying by reading my lips, she rarely admits it. Instead she giggles and changes the subject to one of her own choosing. Our favourite thing to do on visits is to review recent photographs and video of family that I have on my phone. She will comment on baby’s walking skills, and tell a story about one of her sons at that age. Apparently he left a banana peel on the floor and, just like in the cartoons, she slipped on it. And went into labour with her next son. This is how we communicate. We aren’t really responding to each other, but we are talking.
It’s difficult to catch up with Grandma on the phone, because she doesn’t like to turn the volume up on the speaker and she doesn’t always have her hearing aids in. The only way to communicate with her is to show up at her door, hold her hand, and give her a smile. All she really wants is someone to talk to. A response isn’t really required. Today I was her niece, then her daughter-in-law, and finally her granddaughter. I don’t think she has forgotten who I am. She just occasionally misplaces her words.


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.