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Monday, September 10, 2018

What's in your spousal account?

This has been a season of marriage. I’ve been to bridal showers and a bachelorette and we’ve hosted a wedding. More than once at these gatherings I was presented with a small square of colourful paper and asked to write my Advice for a Happy Marriage on it. In 300 words or less. That is a tall order.
The Farmer and I just marked 11 years together. This marriage is easy. I know we are lucky – but we are also experienced. The luck part is that we don’t have too many conflicting views about how to run this thing. We agree that we each need our time to ourselves, to pursue our own interests, and we should be supporting each other in those pursuits. We agreed on that from the beginning. The Farmer warned me, I guess, from that first date, that hunting and fishing and watching war documentaries are just some of his favourite things. Hunting season at our house is like playoff season to the sports fan. And the war documentaries? They are just a constant. The television is always broadcasting some grainy black-and-white footage of soldiers or airmen in combat.
 I actually have a theory about that.
I think it’s quite possible that the Farmer is drawn to war documentaries as a form of past-life regression. That’s the only way I can explain his fascination with fighter pilots and infantry. I know his father trained on a fighter jet but the war ended before his training was complete – so I don’t think he is the inspiration behind this particular obsession. I think the Farmer was a fighter pilot in WWII. He likely came to a dramatic end, and he is back here now feeling some kind of spiritual connection to what he sees in those documentaries. Like a cellular memory.
The Farmer knows that, although he also loves a good crime documentary, I can’t handle the gory bits. Courtroom photos of body parts and blood give me bad dreams and night terrors. The same goes for the nasty things that are displayed on TV as part of life and death in the animal kingdom. I don’t need to see a lion taking down a gazelle, thank you very much. My husband knows to change the channel when I walk into the room. And part of a successful marriage is the give and take of the television remote.
So back to the marriage advice. When asked, I usually write down my favourite bid of advice, which was given to me by a grand old church lady when I was a young wife (the first time), in 1987. She said, “My piece of advice to you is not ‘never go to bed angry’ but rather ‘if you must fight, fight naked.’” It’s funny how I can’t remember much from that time but those words have stuck with me!
My second favourite piece of advice was given to me by the Farmer himself. I think he included it in his wedding vows, which he wrote with equal measure of humour and sincerity. He said, “I promise to never speak an unkind word.” That is profound. And it might be difficult for some people but, as I said earlier, I am lucky. The Farmer is pretty easygoing and easy to live with. Of course, he didn’t say “never mutter an unkind word under your breath, so quietly that the other person can’t hear you.” That may have been done once or twice. I’m only human.
And my final piece of advice is to think of marriage like a bank account. You will make deposits into your account whenever you do something thoughtful, caring and loving for your spouse. Those deposits will sit there in your spousal account, waiting for that inevitable day when you totally screw up. We all make mistakes and unintentionally hurt, annoy or frustrate our partners. That is when it comes in handy to have a healthy balance in your spousal account. It will be difficult for your sweetheart to be mad at you for long if you are usually a great partner who carries their own weight, shows consideration, appreciation and interest, and puts their spouse before themselves.
Of course, it’s totally within the rulebook to remind your partner of the balance in your account. In fact, you might have to, depending on how badly you messed up.

Here’s to the next generation of newlyweds. Good luck to you all. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Would you like your Thanksgiving turkey to go?

The turkeys delicately pick at their feed. They strut around the barn calmly and wander outside for fresh air on occasion. They are quite nervous, however. If there are strange noises or new arrivals in the barnyard, they are more likely to stay inside.
But there is always one in every bunch, or rafter, of turkeys. One rogue turkey goes wandering every chance he gets. The Farmer keeps finding one bird out of the penned area, wandering the barn. If the door is left open, he is often found poking about outside.
I asked my husband how he knows it’s the same bird every time. They all look the same to me.
“Oh, it’s him,” he says. “I know his face.”
We took a week off the farm earlier this month to enjoy a cottage on a lake. The Farmer had to come home every couple of days for real estate business, and to fill the feeders in the chicken and turkey coops. Every day he counted beaks. All was good until the last day of our trip. One bird was missing.  
Travelin’ Tom had busted out of the coop once again. He was sighted high-tailing it through the soybean field, leaving a tuft feathers behind where he had squeezed through the barbed wire fence. The Farmer attempted to follow this trail, but he couldn’t find Tom. My husband, intrepid hunter of wild turkeys in springtime, sat out at night with a flashlight in an attempt to blind and nab his own bird. But the turkey wasn’t coming out of hiding.
One Saturday night, on our way out to a friend’s house for a barbecue, we saw Tom. He was just standing in the bushes at the side of the driveway, watching us go. I think I even saw him wave.
“Saw the turkey,” I said to my husband, under my breath. I hoped my already hard-of-hearing husband didn’t hear me, because we were late for the party and I didn’t want his turkey-hunting obsession to ruin our evening.
“Huh?” He slammed on the brakes. Just then a bloom of white feathers burst out of the undergrowth and took off down the tractor lane toward the barn.
“Oh. Looks like he’s headed home anyway.”
But Tom wasn’t quite ready to return. Perhaps our domestic bird had encountered a gang of wild turkeys who had taken him under their wing, so to speak. A band of feathered friends who taught him how to forage for mushrooms, bugs and berries in the forest. They probably showed him the creek that runs alongside our property, with its fascinating collection of crickets, frogs and fish. I don’t think he could fly up to roost with his wild friends in the trees but I imagine he gave it a good old college try. His adventurous spirit kept him out of doors for several days and warm nights. When it started to get cooler in the evenings, however, Tom wandered back home. He was spotted in the front yard after Sunday dinner.
“Ooh. There’s the turkey!” I notified my husband. The bird was standing in the corner of my flowerbed, munching on a hosta. Most Sundays we have at least two if not three dogs in attendance, and this week the dogs got to the bird before we did. The turkey mustered every ounce of strength he had to launch himself up into the air and over the stone fence into the bush. My daughter Annie, who had been brought up to date on the situation, called her trained hunting dog to action.
Rupert the aged yellow lab with the bad hip put on his game face. He bounded like a deer into the bush and after a bit of rustling and a spray of feathers, he emerged with the massive turkey in his jaws. Annie gently collected the bird and praised her dog, who had been careful not to harm the turkey. The bird, for his part, had gone peacefully into the arrest, playing dead. This is a good thing because he could have done quite a bit of harm to both dog and humans with his talons.
Annie carried the bird back to the barn and made sure the door was barred shut. Quite an amount of gobbling and squawking ensued, as Tom regaled his friends with his tales of excitement and intrigue.
I’m going to save Tom for someone special this Thanksgiving. He will be a meal that comes along with its own story to tell over dinner.

But...that's not my cat

Our well-used, well-worn farmhouse was in the best shape it’s been in the past decade when we hosted our daughter’s wedding in June. We had new hardwood floors and fresh paint and the porch had been rebuilt after our October fire.
That was the fire that redeemed the trio of lazy cats who live in our basement. Well, one of them, anyway. The other 2 are just riding Sammy’s tail and reaping the benefits of his celebrated heroism.
Sammy is the one who led the charge up the stairs and down the hall to our bedroom that fateful night. Sammy is the one who woke me and alerted me to the fact that OUR FRONT PORCH WAS ON FIRE. The cats saved the house – and us! – that night. The firefighters said 5 more minutes and the flames would have reached the roof, burning the house from the top down, possibly without even activating the fire alarms. Nice thought.
So anyhoo, the Farmer’s rhetorical “tell me again why we have 3 fat, lazy cats in the house?!” was answered that night and I suspect he won’t be asking it again for a while. But this latest development in Life With Cats does not bode well for our felines.
The other day I was in the kitchen, having successfully (I thought) locked Sammy and his buddies outside, when I felt something brush my leg. “How did you get back in?!”
Someone decided to create their own cat door in our sliding screen patio door.
Our cats prefer to stay in the house and when a beautiful day with birds chirping and a breeze blowing lures them out onto the back deck, they like to reserve the right to return indoors at a moment’s notice. Thus the creation of a cat door in the bottom of my screen. I pointed it out to the Farmer, who shrugged and mumbled something about further destruction of his abode by animals of a feline persuasion. He’s much more of a dog person.
I guess that means repairing the door is not on the top of his priority list. Neither is painting the front door that the dog scratched up, actually. The Farmer’s mind is on Bass Lake these days, where he is building a cottage. It’s kind of like the shoemaker’s kids having no shoes and the hairstylist’s kids having terrible hair. I can’t get that man focused on the Honey Do list at home.
So Sammy lets himself out onto the porch through his handy escape hatch. He hides in the vines and cluck-clucks at the birds on the feeder. When he is bored with that, he slinks back inside through the broken screen. The screen is lifted and curled back about a foot and the rough edge is covered in cat hair. It’s quite a mess. I threatened to take the door off and bring it into Home Hardware to have the screen replaced. The Farmer said “Don’t be ridiculous; I can repair that myself.”
The other night we were watching TV when we heard cats howling at each other. I assumed the stray tom was back in the area and went out the front door to save my cat from harm. But there was no one out there. The howling continued, so I went back in through the house to check out the back porch. On my way past the den, I realized the howling was inside the house. And a cat tail was sticking out of the dog’s crate.
I pulled the sleep-curtain that covers Fergus’ crate aside and saw that Sammy (owner of the protruding tail) had cornered a white and brown cat in the kennel. We don’t own a white and brown cat.
“Hey honey,” I called to the Farmer. “Come see this. This is not my cat.”
I explained to my husband that the intruder must have entered through the cat door, like everyone else. He picked up the extremely friendly kitten and gently placed him outside, shooing him in the general direction of the house next door, where he actually lives. But a visit from the neighbour’s pet does not seem to be enough to encourage him to repair the broken screen door.
What will it take? Waking up to find a raccoon snacking on cookies at the end of our bed? Encountering a skunk in the hallway during a midnight bathroom break?
I may have to stage an incident to prove my point. In the meantime I am going to google how to remove a screen door.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Flashback to the Summer of '79

Dad and Mom took my sister and me to the Maritimes in 1976. It is a long trip by car, so we planned to leave at 4am to make the most of the day on the road.

I remember waking as soon as I felt Dad’s footfall in my room but I clenched my eyes shut and let him collect me in my blankets, which had been carefully chosen, along with my new cotton pyjamas, for the ride. Already tucked in the pockets of the station wagon were crayons, colouring and puzzle books and a bag of candy for each of us that we had selected from the bins at the B&H grocery the day before. I couldn’t read on the trip because I get carsick, but I had made sure that six of the newest Nancy Drew mysteries were packed in my Barbie suitcase for the holiday.

The sun was just coming up over the treetops of George Street as we snuggled into our carbed and drove away. Dad had planned to arrive at Silver Lake truckstop just as they opened, a little before 6am.

“Best breakfast you’ll ever eat,” he proclaimed. And so it was, but mostly because it was in a restaurant instead of our own kitchen, and we didn’t have to do dishes.

From that trip I remember:
-         -  Collecting shells between the rocks at Peggy’s Cove
-          - Eating lobster for the first time in Shediac, New Brunswick
-          - The beach where my sister stepped on a dead jellyfish and got stung anyway. Dad said she should pee on it to relieve the sting. Today we just take Benadryl.
-         -  A long-haired woman in a leotard doing yoga in the campsite next to ours. She ate yogurt and drove a VW beetle. Mom said she was braless.

At one point on our journey, we rounded a curve and the camper-trailer came right off the back of our station wagon and careened into the ditch. I noticed right away but didn’t say anything at first because I knew it would upset my father. I learned some new swear words on that trip, but not from music. Dad outlawed the radio because they kept playing ‘dirty songs’ like Cheap Trick’s I Want You to Want Me. Instead we listened to the Funny Funkies and Goofy Greats on 8-track cassette. We heard them so many times, we learned the lyrics to every single song. “Ahab the Arab, sheik of the burning sand…Wella wella wella bird bird bird, bird is the word!...Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes and a bone in her nose, ho ho!”

After that first trip, camping became a big part of every summer for my family. We would rent a campsite at Bon Echo Provincial Park for the first two weeks of July every year. Every year we reunited with other families who did the same – kids from the Toronto area – mostly boys. Standing on the edge of puberty, barely filling out our bikinis, this was a big deal for my sister and me.

We spent our days staked out on the beach, my ‘ghetto blaster’ playing The Police’s Synchronicity, or we swam across the lake to the cliff, where we climbed up onto a ledge, ate blueberries and dove into the deep, black water to keep cool. Mom knew we would be out all day so she never bothered with lunch but as soon as we returned, ravenous, to the campsite, we snacked on Ritz crackers topped with thin coins of Polish sausage, cheddar cheese and dill pickles. A camper’s charcuterie, if you will.
That held us off while she got dinner on the bbq. We had to have our meal eaten and dishes done by 6pm, when the camp ball game began. My sister and I were not exactly athletic (well maybe she was but I certainly wasn’t). It was all a big social activity.

After ball we headed back to the beach to cool off. With the sun going down the water was smooth as glass. Dad would drive the boat over from the lagoon and back it up to the beach, just outside the swimming ropes. One after another he taught our friends to waterski. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what a generous act that was – an expense of time and gas money. He was always a teacher, even on summer holidays.

Now my husband and I rent a cottage for a week each summer, just so I can get back to a lake. As the sun sets I settle in on the screened porch with my book, my beer and my camper’s charcuterie. I close my eyes and listen. A loon is calling. And somewhere, a kid is sitting in the water, balancing huge skis on his feet. A motor revs. “Hit it!”

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Raising the next generation of farmers

I didn’t grow up on a farm. I never imagined myself a farmer…until I fell in love with one. Of our five daughters, only one showed a real interest in the farm. From the age of 15 she was here with us, birthing lambs, taming cows and training a donkey. At least once a week the Farmer had to go out and holler at Annie to put some shoes on. She would be out there barefoot in the barnyard in a bikini top and jean shorts, a baby duck under one arm and a lamb in the other.

Before long we could count on Annie to look after the farm in our absence. She saw things in a very practical way – she didn’t get upset over losses and she celebrated every little achievement, whether it was a healthy calf or a crop of tomatoes.

Annie grew up to have a little farm girl of her own. Leti is fascinated with the rooster next door, the tractor in the shed and the barn cats in the basement. Like me, she can do without the chickens. They peck. The other night Leti was here and the first thing she wanted to do after dinner was head to the barn.

“Well ok, but it’s going to be mucky,” I warned. It had rained quite a bit and the ground was very muddy.

“It’s ok Grandma,” she replied. “I like mucky.”

We got sidetracked on the way to the chickens. The farm equipment was parked in the barn, side by side.

“That’s a tractor,” Leti announced. “And that’s a four-wheeler.”

She studied the third item.

“You cut grass with it,” I hinted.

“Lawn mower!” she exclaimed, climbing aboard the ride-on mower.

She fiddled with the key but didn’t turn it. She jiggled the gear shift and patted the seat, looking behind her as if she was going to reverse out of the barn.

“Let’s do this!” she cried. I laughed.

“Your dad must say that.”

Leti’s dad has her feeding goats and pitching hay. She even went up to her other grandma while she was on her horse and demanded to be pulled up into the saddle. Later we looked at the pictures and I asked her about it.

“That’s Princess,” she said. “I was in the saddle.”

“I see that!” I said. “Were you scared?”

“No. Grandma was there. The horse was hot.” And she changed the subject, going off to look for her golf clubs.

If you are raised on a farm, you are accustomed to early mornings. There are lives in the barn, depending on your waking.

If you are raised on a farm, you live by the weather. Rain or lack of it, sun or lack of it affects everything from your crops to the hay you feed your livestock.

If you are raised on a farm, you know the pleasure and satisfaction of a hard day’s work. You don’t need a gym membership – you just need to get out there and hoe the garden, pitch the hay and muck out the stalls. After working up a sweat, you will appreciate the results of your efforts.

If you are raised on a farm, you know what it means to depend on your neighbours. You rely on them to tell you if they notice something strange – like a brush fire or a flood. You need to keep your relationship in good standing, because your cows might end up on their front lawn some misty morning.

If you are raised on a farm, you have a different outlook on life. You know where your food comes from. You have witnessed births, growth, harvest, and death. Life is less mysterious and startling when you live on a farm. It has a matter-of-fact quality to it, so it does.

A man who works the land has an honesty and integrity about him that is born out of life on the farm. A woman on the farm is in touch with nature and life and the power the earth holds.

We are not guaranteed Leti will be a farmer when she grows up. Maybe she will travel the world and settle in an exotic locale overseas. Maybe she will be drawn to the lights and noise of the city.

But I do know this. When Leti thinks of the comfort and safety of home, she will think of a farm.

Do what you love. Love what you do.

When I was travelling in Germany in the late ‘80s, I noticed an interesting cultural thing that people do there. When you ask someone what they ‘do’, they respond with the thing that they love doing – which isn’t necessarily their job. For example, a bus driver might answer that he plays the guitar. A financial analyst might say that he skis. Or paints. Or makes birdhouses.

It’s possible there was something lost in translation but I found it quite endearing, listening to people describe what they did in life. It’s what they want others to know about them – what they love to do. I guess the trick is to find a way to make a living doing what you love. Most of us are lucky to make enough at a job so that it funds what we love outside of work.

The Kemptville Live Music Festival was a 1980’s high school reunion of sorts – the soundtrack of our adolescent years was blasting from the stage and it seemed as though most of my graduating class had shown up to witness it live and in colour.

At least Facebook is good for something. It helps you to put a name to the faces you no longer recognize, thirty years since the last time you saw them. We drifted around the festival and reconnected and asked each other what we were doing for work, and in life. One girl told me she finally has her ‘big girl’ job – working in a seniors’ home as a recreation coordinator. She said she never imagined she would enjoy working in that environment, but she does. I told her I believe we need more people who love working with seniors to actually be in those roles. Seniors’ homes can always use more quality staff.

For my 50th birthday, my doctor scheduled a list of tests. Happy Birthday to me. Because of blood sugar issues and heart palpitations, I needed bloodwork and an ECG. I was also due for a mammogram and I received a note in the mail saying that if I didn’t pass preliminary testing, I would also be treated to a colonoscopy. I’m at the age where body parts, internal organs and systems start to malfunction and misbehave. My doctor wanted to check me out head to toe. First on the list was a pelvic ultrasound.

I have started a new job downtown Ottawa and I was in the middle of training, so it wasn’t very convenient for me to be taking time off for medical appointments. I tried to get two tests booked for the same day but it just wasn’t possible.

I showed up early for my ultrasound appointment and sat down gingerly in the waiting room (I’m not sure what ginger has to do with it – basically I was sitting uncomfortably). I expected to be waiting for the better part of an hour, as per usual. To my surprise, however, someone popped out to see me within minutes.

The women working in the diagnostic imaging department at Kemptville District Hospital were beyond helpful. They must remember what it feels like to be sitting uncomfortably waiting for these procedures, so they schedule appointments accordingly and do whatever they can to speed things along.

As I sat there marvelling that the nurse featured on the wall poster was actually the same person speaking to me, I saw a note waving in front of my face. The nurse was pointing to my requisition form.

“I see your doctor also wants you to get a mammogram,” she pointed out.

“Yeah, I’m getting a complete list of tests, now that I’m 50…”

“Well why don’t we see if we can get at least two of these done today?” she smiled.
Well I wasn’t expecting that. What a great idea.

When I was in the ultrasound room, the technician worked quickly and efficiently, so I could be released from my misery as soon as possible. The mammogram technician was equally awesome, and funny – which seems to make things easier when you are in such a compromising position. Less than an hour later I was back in my car headed to work.

It’s so nice to see people who really love their jobs – particularly when they are working with the public. Linda, Kayla and Jackie are very good in their respective roles at the hospital, and they make sure things go as smoothly as they can while you are in their care.


A toady would a wooing go uh huh

A couple of years ago, I had a most horrific experience involving a toad. But first I must say I have always loved toads. I remember collecting handfuls of the tiniest little creatures I have ever seen – each one smaller than a dime – on the south-facing sunny wall of my grandfather’s cottage when I was a child. Many times in my youth I encountered toads in the garden and picked them up to examine their lumps, bumps and kind, smiling eyes.

I didn’t like frogs near as much. They are slimy, they jump out from under your hand a millisecond before you were about to catch them, and their eyes are more cunning than kind.

In Chinese culture, toads are good luck. Many times you will see a large figure of a toad squatting beside the cash register in a Chinese restaurant. It often has a coin in its mouth, signifying wealth and business prosperity.

The magical author Alice Hoffman uses toads in her stories quite often to show that something bad is going to happen. They are warty little harbingers of doom. Well it wasn’t quite doomsday for my toad, but it came close.

I was digging in the cool shade garden by the stone fence when it happened. I stuck my pitchfork into the earth and pulled it out. I heard a strange noise like a tiny, almost imperceptible squeal. I was aghast to see a massive toad on the end of one of the tines. It had skewered him through the fleshy overhang of his belly.

“Oh no no no no….” I muttered to the toad as I gently removed him from the end of the pitchfork. The whole time I was doing this delicate surgery, I was running my old first aid training through my head – the part where you don’t pull the arrow out of the victim it has been shot through. You simply tie a tea towel around the wounded body part – arrow still inside – and rush them to the hospital.
I imagined myself rushing the toad to the animal hospital or sanctuary, wrapped in cotton on the end of my gardening implement. But by then he had already limped away into the dark, cool earth beneath the biggest of my hostas – the one that is called Elephant Ears.

I said a little prayer for the toad and apologized aloud for wounding him. For the rest of the summer, every time I weeded that flowerbed, I looked for my toad but he was nowhere to be found.

The next summer, I was digging in the flowerbed by the stone fence, planting daffodil bulbs. My hand hit something familiar in the cool, dark earth beneath the hosta. I pulled out the warty clump and turned it over. It was my toad. The one I had wounded. He was alive, and looking none the worse for wear, save a large lump on his side where he had once been impaled.

I turned him to look at his face. If he had ever had kind eyes, there was no kindness for me now. This toad had more of a Jabba the Hutt look of apathy and disdain. I put him back in the bushes, happy at least to know he had survived.

The other day I was watering flowers and I moved all of my potted plants into one location to make the job easier. The sun had been beating down on us for a few days without a drop of rain. After a couple of hours under a light mist from the sprinkler, I moved my lilac and fuchsia impatiens back into the shade along the stone fence. That’s when I saw him.

There, in the middle of a pot of double impatiens lay a small toad. I would say he was likely a teenaged toad, as he was bigger than the tiniest I’ve seen and smaller than the biggest. The funny thing about this toad was that he was lying on his back in the middle of the potted plant. At first I thought he was dead, then I saw him wriggle his legs, as if he were trying to right himself. I don’t know if he had fallen off the fence into the plant or what, but it did not appear that he had planned the excursion. I picked the toad up and turned him around to face me. He had the sweetest little face.
Yes I know what you are thinking. The heat is getting to her head. But really, I was so happy to see another toad in the garden. To me it’s a sign that we have cultivated a healthy, vibrant and welcoming place for creatures of all kinds. Even the warty ones.


That heat was brutal. We aren’t complaining, however. We do not want that particular observation registered as a complaint. If that were to happen, we would be no doubt setting ourselves up for one heck of a winter. We aren’t complaining. We are only doing commentary.

But I repeat: that heat was brutal. I was on a shuttle bus from Ottawa to Kemptville that had faulty air conditioning and windows that didn’t open. It was 54 degrees inside when the driver started it up. The temperature had dropped to 41 by the time they got to my new office downtown. I think it was 34 by the time we reached Kemptville. During the bus ride I developed a headache that lasted for the next two days.

After that stifling ride I went home and jumped in the pool. It felt like bath water. I checked the thermometer: 89 degrees. Well, that’s ridiculous. That isn’t even refreshing. I thought about our baby chickens and turkeys in the barn. The Farmer had turned their heat lamps off a few days ago because, well, no one needs heat lamps in 30 degrees. But I worried they weren’t getting enough relief from the heat, so I pulled on my barn shoes, wrapped a towel around me and trudged over to the barn.

There were no chickens. No turkeys either. No birds whatsoever. There was, however, a new bird-shaped hole in the back of the barn. The flock of tiny birds had worked together to peck a hole in the burlap that covered the gaps in the barn board. They had escaped to fresh air. I was happy for them. I was worried, however, that they did not have access to their food. I sent for the Farmer.

While I was busy cleaning the house and getting dinner ready, my husband ran around the barnyard after the chickens. He corralled them all back into the barn where they would be save from skunks, raccoons, fishers and any other predator. Then he hauled an old fan out of the attic and plugged it in, to give the birds a bit of a breeze. The last time I saw them, they were taking turns doing their impression of Beyonce in front of the fan.

Fergus the Golden Retriever is not a fan of the heat. He went missing the other day and did not respond to my call. I happened upon him in the powder room, which is actually the coldest room in the house. The air conditioning is directly vented there. He lay down with his furry face on the cool tiles and fell asleep. I pulled the door so it was almost closed and the cats couldn’t get in to bother him.

I feel sorry for Ferg in his big fur coat but I read that I shouldn’t try to trim it away. Apparently Golden Retrievers have some sort of undercoat that keeps them insulated. If you give them a buzz cut or a fashionable lion or poodle style, it will only make things worse for them. So I bathe him often, give him a good brushing once in a while, and throw him some shade.

I am happy to see we have bumble bees around the farm again. It’s been a few years since I noticed them. I’m told they need help in the heat too, so I leave spoonfuls of sugar and water on the porch where they can easily access them.

The birds seem to be doing ok. They swoop down and drink out of our pool. There’s a mile of Kemptville Creek nearby as well, so hopefully they are keeping hydrated without pool chemicals. I feed black oiled sunflower seeds year round, and while the type of bird changes from season to season, the feeder is always a busy place.

The other day the Farmer stopped on his way out the door and said, “What’s that you planted at the back door?”

I stepped outside to see where he was pointing. A group of plants with large leaves stood in a line under the back porch. Right in the line of fire from the bird feeder.

“Oh! Those are sunflowers. The birds planted them,” I commented.
“Well aren’t they sustainable farmers,” he replied. “Soon they won’t need us at all.”
When the sunflowers grow and produce seeds, the birds can eat right from the plants.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Until we meet again

We have said goodbye to our ninth and tenth International students. Mina has returned to Norway, and although Tega will not be returning to Nigeria, she has left our home to live with cousins in Ottawa for the summer. Tega will be living with another family in town when she returns in the fall for a few more Grade 12 credits to set her up for university in Canada. Mina has one more year of school in Norway – they do 13 years there, like we used to do in Canada.

Over the past six years we have hosted students for periods of one to ten months from the following places: China, Columbia, the Basque region of Spain, Brazil, and now Norway and Nigeria. Our first international student was John from the seaside city of Suzhou in China. He chose our home because he liked the idea of living on a farm. I think it is safe to say the novelty began to wear off after the first time he mucked out a horse stall. And it was definitely gone by the time he had to help use the snowblower on our long driveway.

John’s best friend from home was also in the area: Jerry was being hosted in Carleton Place. Jerry was really homesick, so the agency decided to let him move in with John at our house. It very soon became obvious that it wasn’t the greatest way for the boys to improve their fledgling English skills. They just spoke Chinese all the time at home. They did their year and went home for the summer. John didn’t make it back for year two. His poor study habits and introverted social nature made it impossible for him to have a successful international experience here in Canada. Apparently his father cancelled his return visit so that he could work in the family construction business and ‘pay back’ what had been spent on his year in Canada.

Jerry, on the other hand, took his summer back home to study English with a tutor. He returned to Canada confident and determined to succeed. He didn’t win any academic awards upon graduation from Grade 12, but he did win an award for his attitude and hard work. He was accepted to Algonquin College for Business, and returned a year later to the farm to show off his shiny new BMW and girlfriend.

The many local families who host International students (we have about 600 in the Upper Canada District School Board – UCDSB - alone) know it can be a challenge to get the kids out of their rooms, socialized, and living their Canadian experience. Teenagers prefer to be left alone in their rooms for the most part. Add to that the language barrier and social challenge of living in a new culture and you have quite a job on your hands. Sometimes it takes the full year to get the kids comfortable in their new environment – right before it is time to go home.

The students on the one-month ‘cultural exchange’ were a lot of fun because they didn’t have the same pressure on them as the school year kids. The short-stay students were just here to observe and experience. Every weekend they had activities planned with others from their group. They were basically on leave from school at home and never really had to study here. They had great attitudes, they didn’t really get homesick, and they were up for anything.

If you are considering hosting an international student in your home, I would suggest you do your research first. Introducing a new culture to your family can be an enlightening and educational experience, particularly for your own school-aged children. Check out Canada Homestay Network and MLI – Muskoka Language Institute. Those are two of the agencies that have placed students locally, both in the public (UCDSB) and the Catholic (CDSBEO) system.

If you take the time to make sure you are matched up with a student who fits well into your lifestyle (whether you are on a farm, into sports and family camping, etc.), you will gain a temporary new family member and if you are lucky, a lifelong friend.

The Farmer prefers to take his vacations in the dead of winter on a beach in the sunny south but after getting to know Mina and her culture I might be able to convince him to visit Norway someday. I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights.


What's your story?

Hi there. I’m an Aries. Therefore, it’s safe to say I’ve been through a number of dramatic changes in my life – all self-imposed. You see, I’m what they call impulsive. I act on impulse. It’s in my nature to pursue my ideas before I have thought them through.

It’s how I ran off and got married, at 19, after six weeks of dating the boxing instructor at the gym where I was teaching aerobics.

My impulsive nature is what led me to move to Taipei, Taiwan in 2003.
Both of these decisions led me down paths that dramatically changed my life. But I have no regrets. Good things came out of rash decisions. I have been lucky.

Everyone has a story. If you’re like me, you write them down. I have been compulsively writing my life story every week since I was about 12 years old. In 2003 I started writing a column about some of the crazy things I experienced while living in a different culture in Taiwan. Those stories were printed twice a month in The Kemptville Weekender.

People started following my stories, and writing me letters with questions. They wanted to know about the food, the language, the cultural differences, and the living arrangements. Rather than responding to their emails, I answered by writing a column. My experience in Taiwan seemed to boil down to three main elements: the traffic was nuts, the food was mysterious, and the culture was a bit stifling.

In Taipei City at rush hour, two lanes of traffic can become four, before your eyes. Scooters are forced up on sidewalks and you have to look both ways before stepping out of a shop – never mind crossing the street.

Taiwanese food is very Americanized but the traditional Chinese fare can be a bit scary. You never can be sure what you are eating. My trick was to ask what part of the body this dish would improve. For example, if they say the food will give you better eyesight, chances are you are eating something with the eyeballs intact. If they say the dish will give you a clear complexion, you are likely eating pig skin or chicken skin. It’s a pretty easy way to find out what is on your plate when it isn’t immediately identifiable.

Taipei hosts 4 million people in an area the size of Ottawa. This makes for some very cozy living conditions. People give up their sense of personal space – or maybe they never had it in the first place. They look in your shopping cart to see what you bought. They stand right up next to you on the bus or train – I mean you can feel their bodies pressing up against you. I guess it’s just a fact of life in an overcrowded space. But it is something I never got used to.

I never felt unsafe in Taiwan, - perhaps because I was a gwei-lo, or “white ghost”. It’s bad luck to mess with one of us, so I was left alone. It’s a great experience, to live in another culture. I think everyone should do it, at least for a few months. Learn about what makes other people tick, and you will learn about yourself at the same time.

Back in Canada, I became reacquainted with an old family friend – a professor and colleague of my mother’s at Kemptville College. We spent a year entertaining, carpooling and coordinating our five teenaged daughters and barely had time to get to know each other. Finally, after a year, he proposed. A few months later, I became The Accidental Farmwife – once again documenting my daily life in a weekly column.

My columns have been published online and in two books and I have followers all over the world. I get emails from people who are fascinated by my experience, and people who are going through a similar experience.

My life is not that extraordinary. We all have grand stories to tell. The trick is to tell it well. Record the moments using all your senses: sight, sound, smell, hearing and taste. Lead the reader through your experience. It will be therapeutic for you, and it will connect you to a community of likeminded individuals by a common keyword or phrase.

You don’t have to write a column or publish a book of your life story. Just start a blog. I would read it. I find personal experiences to be fascinating. We are all on different paths, according to the decisions we have made, impulsive or not.

Plans for a do-nothin' summer

Summer arrives this week. This year, I’m planning to make the most of it. I find if you don’t plan ahead for this sort of thing, you blink and just like that, summer is over.

Each summer we pack our weekends with a number of events that take us away from home. We go camping, we rent a cottage, we visit friends and we travel to take part in festivals and celebrations. Even if it’s just for a few hours and not overnight, it takes us away from a day on the farm. This year is going to be different.

I’m not at the Farmer’s Market this year. I gave up my market space so that a farmer who is working hard to produce local food can reach his customers on Sunday afternoons. I used to schlep my tent, tables and boxes of books out to the car every Sunday and spend approximately five hours of my weekend in the hot sun. While sales were good, I really wanted to be at home. Reading a book. Weeding my garden. Sitting on the porch with my husband.

I’m also not working weekends this summer. Last year my job was busiest on weekends – working at the liquor store – so although I saw most of my friends and knew where the parties were each week – I didn’t have the energy to go anywhere.  This year I’m sleeping in on Saturdays. Making a big breakfast on Sundays and enjoying my coffee on the porch. I’m parking the car on Friday and not moving it til Monday morning unless I absolutely have to.

Things will come up. They always do. And we have certain things we are looking forward to – like the Kemptville Live Music Festival – which will take up the majority of one weekend in July. But for the most part, if you’re looking for me, I’ll be home. With my dog. He’s tired of being shoved in his crate while I hop in the car and zoom from one event to the next. He wants me to stay home too. It’s no fun playing fetch by yourself.

This plan will take a little organization and creativity, I know. And I might have to turn down the occasional invitation if it’s going to mean I have zero downtime on any given weekend. We are going to stay local when possible, even when we are ‘going out’.

I even found a way to get my International students to Parliament Hill on Canada Day without having to take them myself: my daughter is going via Uber and they can come along. That’s great news to me because I don’t do well in crowds and the last time I was on the Hill on July 1st a flying beer bottle hit me in the back of the head.

The Farmer has his summer project – he’s building a house on Bass Lake near Lombardy. That means I will have someplace to go if I really want to get away from home for a day – but it also means he will be happily occupied doing his favourite thing so I don’t have to worry about entertaining him. I can do my own favourite things. One of them might be sitting on his newly built dock, my toes in the water, while I sip a cold beer and read a book.

We do have one week-long getaway planned that I am really excited about. We will be renting the same cottage we rented a few years ago, on the Big Rideau. I do love me a cottage getaway. It’s a heckuva lot of work, because you have to pack up everything you might possibly need for every kind of weather, activity, menu plan and surprise guest. Then you have to clean the place top to bottom when you arrive, because mice nest in the weirdest places (like the stove – which you won’t discover until you are heating it up to cook Sunday dinner…). Then you enjoy yourself for a few days, floating around the lake on an air mattress, roasting marshmallows and singing around the campfire at night, sleeping in each morning. And before you know it, the week is over and you have to do everything in reverse in order to go home.

Summer in Canada. It’s arrives this week, and aren’t we happy to see it. My goodness you are a beautiful season, Summer. Let’s just hope you are in a good mood until the end of September. We have plans – to do nothing.

The world is a small place when you are an Internet scammer

I have a pretty public online profile. I’m easily searchable and complete strangers can discover quite a few details about my daily life just by reading my blog posts. I’m an open book, so to speak. This is what makes me such an ideal vehicle for an Internet scam.

Having been in the media for over a decade, I’m pretty good at spotting a scam when it arrives via email or telephone call. That’s why I’ve never been a victim myself. However, last week I was notified that my name and photo had been used in a scam to defraud someone of quite a bit of money. This revelation kind of makes me sick to my stomach.

It’s called a romance scam, and it comes in a number of different forms. Sometimes the fraudster will actually meet their target in person and invest several months in a fake relationship, pretending to fall in love with their victim before taking them for a hefty chunk of change. In this case, the scammer just used my identity to fool someone into giving up the dough. Here’s how it works:

The scammer looks for an ideal personality online – someone who has provided a number of specific details about their family, their lifestyle, their likes and dislikes. Then, adopting the name and photo of that person, they contact someone who appears to be lonely and looking for love. Often the profiles of these victims reveal that they are not exactly fluent in the language of social media. The have limited activity online and they most likely aren’t familiar enough with fake posts to know when they are being scammed.

The scammer has nothing to lose – and could walk away with quite a bit of money, if everything goes in his favour. I say ‘his’ because the stereotypical Internet scammer is a young man from Nigeria. There, the community of people who do this kind of thing for a living has actually grown to sub-culture status. They are known as the 419’ers – or The Yahoo Boys – because 419 is the code for fraud in their country, and their vehicle of choice was originally email. Now they are taking their trade to social media, such as Facebook.

I could have been chosen because I have a Nigerian student living with me. Perhaps a friend of a friend of one of her friends found me on her list of connections. Or maybe it’s just an unhappy coincidence that I was chosen. In any case, it was unlucky for a certain man named Michael from Riverside, California.

Michael reached out to me via Messenger last month to let me know that he had been scammed. Someone contacted him, using my name and photo. They started an online relationship. At some point, after their emotional ‘affair’ became quite intimate and a certain amount of trust had been developed, the scammer went in for the kill – and asked for money. Perhaps he (posing as me) said his mother needed an operation – or he needed money to travel to see his dying father. Pulling on the heartstrings, he manipulated the emotions of his victim until he got what he asked for. Michael immediately wired a rather large sum of money to the scammer, thinking he was helping a woman he had developed feelings for. The scammer took the cash and then likely closed both his bank account and social media account, and disappeared.

Upset that he relationship had ended so abruptly, Michael began an online search and found me. In his message, he revealed exactly what had happened to him. Then, showing that he was still quite upset and confused, he wrote, “by the way, I am not getting in contact with you for the purpose of getting any monies back or to continue any ‘romance’  that I perceived we might have had…”
I felt really awful to hear that my name and image were used to cheat someone out of money. I know from covering these scams in the media that there is really no recourse for the victim. The scammer typically uses a computer at an Internet café – or on a burner phone that cannot be traced. I told Michael that he should report the incident to his local anti-fraud centre, and I told him I would do the same.

He may not get his money back but if the investigation leads to an IP address in another country – like Nigeria – maybe he will at least get some closure on the situation, and stop looking for the ‘woman’ who stole his money.

The stars aligned for a perfect June wedding

Two years ago, a little photo popped up on my Facebook feed. It was a close-up of my daughter and her boyfriend and they were holding up a little heart that declared the date “5.12.2018.”

My heart leaped into my throat and I immediately thought, “BABY.” I don’t put a whole lot of thought into my immediate reactions. Of course they weren’t announcing a pending delivery. The date was two years off. She isn’t an elephant. And although my daughter has occasionally announced something to me via social media – like that new tattoo – I would like to think that the announcement of a coming grandchild would be done more privately. In fact they were announcing their coming wedding day.

The date was significant because he likes the number 5 and she likes the number 12. But when Mother’s Day weekend rolled around, chilly and wet, they decided to move the date forward by a bit – to the long weekend in May. That got changed again in order to match schedules with the photographer. Paulina wanted Elenora Luberto to take her photos because she is a friend of the family and has taken our photos – both personal and professional, for years.

The couple decided to choose a date two years away because Paulina needed to finish school and get a job. They had been living together for years so there wasn’t any rush. The bride-to-be opened up a Pinterest account and got started choosing wedding décor in her spare time. And thus the royal wedding planning began.

Little did I know, by May 2018 I would be ready to hunt down the people who inspired her on Pinterest. The ideas she found looked simple enough: a swing made of grape vines (we have tons of those hanging from the trees on our farm), charcuterie boards with live edges (the Farmer offered to make some) and a photo backdrop covered in peeling vintage wallpaper with an overstuffed chair in front. They turned out to be much more difficult to create than I could have imagined. It’s very difficult to pull grapevines out of trees in the spring. Those fresh new vines are hanging on for dear life. And do you know how difficult it is to find wallpaper these days?

Paulina bought a wedding dress at the very first sale we went to in the spring of 2016 – but one month before the wedding we were hunting for accessories and she found the dress of her absolute dreams at Bridals By Almor in Winchester. That’s the thing about wedding dresses. You don’t know what you want till you try it on and discover how it transforms you into a svelte goddess – a hippie bride – or a woodland fairy princess. We all agreed it was the perfect dress for Paulina – but it was four sizes two big and there was no time to order a custom made one. This dress had to be completely rebuilt.

In the last few days leading up to the wedding, it was all hands on deck. We had to wait until the day of the wedding to actually set things up because it rained like crazy the day before. But we made it, with just a few minutes to spare. I think everyone was a bit shocked that we managed to keep the bride and groom (who are rarely on time) on schedule. And just like at Christmas when Paulina keeps shopping until the stores close Christmas Eve – she seemed to keep adding ideas to her wedding plan right up until the final moments. I was so happy when the day finally arrived, so we could stop planning.

This event was so meaningful – from the seedling trees that were given as guest gifts to the locations themselves (his family farm for the ceremony and tree planting: our farm for the reception). At the end of the day the Farmer and I looked around and realized that every single person involved in the wedding – from the caterer to the musicians to the guy who put up the tent – were connected to the bride and groom in some way. There were no strangers at this event. It was on our farm. And yes, it took a great deal of planning and effort on the part of many but as one of the groomsmen said a few times, now we have the memories. We can look around our property for years to come and remember this moment. I’d have to say it was worth every moment – but no, we don’t want to do it again anytime soon. Next time we’re hiring people to do all the things. And no, the farm is not for rent as a wedding venue. Not yet, anyway.

It's time to launch my 2018 campaign...for a goat

When we had sheep, horses and cattle keeping the thistles, grasses and weeds down on the pasture were not a problem. But now that we have no grazers amongst us, our property just beyond the house yard is looking rather wild and unkempt. In my opinion, what we need is a goat. I may start a campaign.

My campaign will not go unresisted. The Farmer has a vendetta against goats, with good reason. When he was working in Manitoba for the government he drove a rental car to various client farms. One hot day, he left the windows down on his Kia to circulate the air. While he was inside speaking with the property owner, a tribe of unruly goats took advantage of the situation and climbed into his vehicle. They didn’t just scratch the exterior of the car doors with their sharp little hooves on the way in the window. They ate everything they could find on the inside.

When my husband (who was not my husband at this time) returned to his car, he was amazed (among other emotions) to discover that his briefcase had been chewed apart, and the contents had been reduced to crumbs. Worst of all, the upholstery on the seats of the government-issued vehicle had been ripped apart with tiny goat teeth and the stuffing eaten or thrown about the car. One goat was still inside, gnawing on the coffee cup holder which no doubt had added flavour from daily use.
The Farmer opened the door, grabbed the goat by the horns and removed it from the vehicle. Then he sat down on his hollowed-out car seat, slammed the door and drove away, vowing to never deal with goats again. This is what I am up against.

The Farmer’s case against goats was compounded one day when we visited friends who used to own them. Jennifer told us of when they had guests over for a barbecue, and one man parked a shiny classic sports car in the drive. Don’t worry; the windows were up….but the curious goats could not resist the temptation to confront the other goats they saw reflected in the gleaming exterior of the car. While the owner was enjoying a beer and burger on the back porch, they quietly and repeatedly dented in the doors and side panels of the circa 1968 Mustang. I think the man switched to whiskey after he saw the damage.

But seriously. Goats would be perfect! They are much like sheep in their temperament, only they are far more intelligent. They are quite mischievous and get bored if you don’t provide items for them to play with, climb on, chew and head-butt. So you build them ramps and plateaus and hiding spots and leaping platforms. You give them chew-balls and tug ropes. You let them be goats. Then you sit back and enjoy the show.

Our property beyond our half-acre of yard is basically glacial moraine. It has huge rocks embedded in and protruding from the earth, as deposited there centuries ago by a sliding glacier, apparently. This makes it nearly impossible to cut the grass, even with a bush whacker. Those rocks would destroy any equipment. Goats, however, would be thrilled. Fresh grass, meadow flowers and thistles, and rocks to climb on! Heaven. And a happy goat makes delicious milk, I’m sure. I wonder if I could figure out how to milk one. Perhaps there is a YouTube tutorial on that…

I have launched successful campaigns in the past. The trick is to let the Farmer believe getting a goat is his idea. We need two, because one would be lonely. Also two would stand a better chance against a roaming coyote, and they could keep each other warm in the winter.

This farm is pretty quiet without livestock. Our guests will be bored while poolside this summer if they don’t have anything to watch and comment on. Fergus the Golden Retriever can’t be a one-man show; that is exhausting. And the turkeys, while entertaining, won’t be here for long!

This is my proposal. I think it’s fairly convincing. Goats are entertaining, they provide milk (who knows – maybe I can even learn how to make goat’s milk soap!) and they keep the weeds down so we don’t have to.

Wish me luck in my campaign. I’m goin’ in.

Your Thanksgiving turkey is growing in our barn

I was running our Golden Retriever, Fergus, in the back field the other day when I noticed that the sweet, fresh honeysuckle smell had returned. I love to fill my lungs with that scent. I thought of Paulina’s wedding we would be hosting in less than a month, and hoped the fragrance would linger at least until June. Then I had a disturbing thought. What if a nearby farmer decided to spread manure that weekend? To those of us who live on farms it can be a slightly annoying, off-putting odour. To some of the gentrified city folk who will be attending our celebration, however, it could be extremely offensive.

I can’t control the actions of neighbouring farmers. I can barely control my own Farmer! A few weeks ago we discussed where to put the incoming chicks and poults. My husband had ordered several dozen of each, as we do about every second year. I told him he couldn’t put them in the barn closest to the house, because the bride and her party plan to take that building over for a wedding bar. We are going to move all of the horse tack and workshop tools to one side, cover the walls and ceiling with diaphanous white wedding tulle, and set up rough-hewn boards of charcuterie for guests to snack on while they order a drink. That is no place for a brood of smelly, ankle-biting chicks.
“No problem,” he said. “I decided I’m going to cancel the order.”

So a few more weeks went by, and turkey poult day arrived. The Farmer got a call that his order was ready for pickup. He had to sheepishly admit that he had forgotten to cancel it. He set up a heat lamp and a coop for the turkeys, up on the table in the shed. The same table where we plan to serve drinks in less than a month. I stood and watched, silently. Then I picked up a peeping bird and made eye contact. I had forgotten how much I enjoy having tiny creatures on the farm to care for and love. Ok. The little twerps can stay. But we are going to have to move them to the bigger barn, as soon as we are sure they are all going to make it.

The first few days of a bird’s life outside the incubator can be quite precarious. The slightest draft and they huddle together for warmth. Not all of them survive that smothering situation. The first night, the temperature dropped to just above zero. I woke at about 2am and pulled another blanket up over me. I thought about the turkeys, and hoped their heat lamp was enough. I could see the red gleam through the barn window.

The next morning, all birds were present and accounted for. Now we just have to ensure they are in a place that is secure from marauding racoons, skunks and weasels. It’s quite a responsibility. So they have to be close enough to the house to keep the predators away, and far enough away that we cannot smell that distinctive chicken poop smell at the wedding. This will be a challenge.

We have a fenced area next to the barn that was once a kennel for a sheepdog. I suggested putting the chickens in there and building them a coop for shelter. The raccoons can’t get in, there is a door on it and we can stretch chicken wire over the top like a roof. Raccoons can climb. The Farmer said, “if the raccoons want to get in, the raccoons will get in. Remember our camping trip?” He raised one eyebrow at me.

Of course I remember the camping trip. I had left my bag of trail mix in the ‘front room’ of our tent, where we had been playing cards after dinner. That room had no floor so the raccoons easily lifted the walls up with their little hands and crawled in for a bedtime snack. When the Farmer unzipped the tent to see what that horrible crunching and gurgling sound was, he came face to face with Ricky Raccoon. That was alarming. Raccoons are quite resourceful. I don’t know how to keep my turkeys and chicks safe from them.

The spare room in the basement is beginning to look rather appealing. I kept 37 kittens in there once. I’m sure it could hold a few dozen birds. At least until after the wedding. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Farmwife wore....Prada?

Approximately 85% of the items in my closet are from secondhand stores. We have three of these shops in Kemptville: The Salvation Army Thrift Store, To Be Continued Consignment, and The Score. One of my favourite things to do when I have time between appointments is to browse the new weekly arrivals. You never know what you will find.

Many times you will find clothes in these shops that haven’t even been worn. The Score, in particular, carries clothing that I saw just last week on the tables at Costco in Barrhaven. This week they are hanging just as you walk in the front door, with the tags and size stickers still on them. For about half the original price.

One hot summer day last year I was flipping through the items in the “new” section of the store when I came across a brightly coloured patchwork cotton skirt with the face of a Japanese woman and a dragon in bright emerald green and silver on the front. It reminded me of a crazy patchwork skirt I once owned from Asia. I looked at the price tag. The original $129.00 had been covered over with an orange sticker reading $21.99. A deal in any country for a never-worn designer skirt by the Spanish brand Desigual.

The stores have all done their seasonal turnover now, and they are giving great deals on cool weather items that they need to clear out. I decided to have a quick look the other day, and I found quite a few things in my size. As I was cashing out, I looked up on the wall where the handbags are displayed. (By the way – if you buy a handbag in a thrift store and it is a bit grimy inside, take one of those germ-killing wet wipes and give it a good swipe. Don’t forget the inner corners and pockets. You can also leave it out on the porch overnight with the wet wipe still inside. This will disinfect your bag and leave it smelling fresh as new).

I saw a cute little leather purse. It was two-toned in shades of brown, a classic vintage style. It looked like something from the 60’s. I’m not much of a purse person - I lug most of my things around in a huge tote bag that stays in my car. But when I stepped closer and read the label, I received a bit of a shock. Prada. Price tag? $14.99. I grabbed the purse off the hook and placed it discreetly in front of the cashier.

“Did you see this?!” I asked her in a hushed voice.

“Yeah! You never know what you will find…” she smiled and calmly rang up my purchases.

I grabbed my bag and hustled out of the store.

At home, I Googled “small leather Prada bag”. I scrolled through the photos but couldn’t find an image of the one I was holding. The average price of a Prada bag appeared to be $2,000. About the price of a week in Mexico…or a small secondhand car. I was pretty sure my bag was a fake. After all – I had lived in Taiwan for three years. I own a pair of knockoff Puma sneakers that could easily pass for originals but they cost me ten bucks on the night market. I’ve seen the back alley pop up shops and the dingy warehouses full of “Coach” and “Louis Vuitton” purses. The chances of the purse I bought for fifteen dollars being a real designer bag were pretty slim.

But then…what if someone was doing their spring cleaning and accidentally threw the purse in the donation bin? I decided to put the bag in the closet instead of posting the image on social media like I normally do when I find something awesome. I was afraid that post would prompt an immediate response: “Hey! Where did you get that?! That’s my $2,000 Prada bag that I lost last year!!”

Finally, I turned to YouTube and searched “Prada bags: real vs. fake.” I watched three videos that all confirmed, my bag is not real. It’s a really nice-looking copy. I might give it to Mom for Mother’s Day – after all, I inherited my appreciation of great thrift store finds from her. You probably won’t catch me out in public with it, though. I don’t want people to think I spent $2,000 on a tiny handbag that doesn’t even hold a book and water bottle!


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Hooray Hooray it's the first of May!

“Hooray! Hooray! It’s the first of May! Outdoor *bleeeeeeep* begins today!”

Every year, without fail, my father would holler this anthem at the top of his lungs. Where the saying came from, I have no idea. I am not proficient in searches of the Internet for things of this nature. And I’m afraid what will pop up on my screen if I put those words in the search bar. Some also refer to the 8th of May as opposed to the first. In our part of the world, the 8th might buy you a bit more warmth for your frolicking en plein air. In any case, it is a tradition in many families to holler this silly proclamation each year, in celebration of finer weather for all outdoor activities.

The first Saturday of May, on the other hand, is recognized in many countries as International Naked Gardening Day. Apparently it began in Seattle, of all places, about 13 years ago, by a group of nudists. It’s meant to be a celebration of the human body and a day to get in touch with nature. I’m imagining this is likely more popular in warmer climes, where fewer bugs exist. As soon as our snow disappears, the blackflies arrive on the scene. They persist throughout the month of May, so unless you don’t mind getting covered in extremely itchy little bites, I suggest you slip back into your pants and shirt.

When I was young my parents had a friend who liked to garden in the nude. She had a sign at the end of her driveway asking incoming visitors to honk before approaching. It was a long driveway, thankfully, giving her time to pull her clothes back on before her guests arrived. I just hope she wore a good SPF in her sunscreen because she was a redhead and I imagine she burned easily.

I don’t see the appeal to naked gardening or doing other things in the nude out of doors. I’m not much of a risk-taker, and I don’t like getting eaten by bugs. I’m pretty careful about wearing protection from the sun, and I get enough cuts and scrapes while squatting in the garden while fully dressed. I can just imagine the injuries if I was buck naked.

I must admit, however, I did try it, once. We have a completely private back yard so I felt it was safe to be impulsive and spontaneous. I took all my clothes off one summer day and lay them out on the back porch before stepping out to weed the garden in my birthday suit. The experience was not exactly freeing, however. It pretty much had the opposite effect. I was feeling quite exposed and sheepish, and looked up, searching the sky for any sign of the Google Earth satellite. I remembered how surprised I was to discover that you could see those images in great detail, right down to a coffee cup left on a patio table. I was contemplating my exposure when I heard the unmistakeable crunch of car tires on the driveway. I had about two minutes to run back to the porch and pull my clothes on before my sister-in-law poked her head around the corner of the house to greet me.

“Hi! Whatcha….hey. What’s going on?”

I was just pulling my shirt over my head. I decided to come clean. She might as well know.

“It’s World Naked Gardening Day. WNGD…”

“What? What are you talking about?”

I explained, and she laughed, and reminded me of the Google Earth Satellite. That got me wondering. If Google captured images of a private nature, would they allow them to be broadcast over their mapping network? I began to worry about all of those young lovers, gallivanting in the great outdoors, naked as the day they were born. Imagine someone is searching the area on Google Earth, looking for prime farming or hunting land, and they are confronted with the image of a naked couple in an open field. That just doesn’t seem right. It’s meant to be a private experience, after all.

My advice to anyone wanting to celebrate the beginning of May with one or more naked outdoor activities is this: remember to slather on the sunscreen before exposing your private parts to the midday sun. And if you decide to foil the Google Earth cameras by heading into a forested area for tree cover, don’t forget your bug spray.


Monday, April 9, 2018

Standing on the hill, staring down the other side

It’s normal to experience some symptoms of vernalagnia or spring fever at this time of year. The longer daylight hours, warmth of the sun and fresh scent of new growth in the air just make you want to get up and do something. Some people cut their hair, redecorate a room or buy a new car. Others quit their jobs, move to another city or leave their relationship. Spring Fever can get quite dramatic.

I must confess, I have done most of these things, and yes, their happening coincided with the arrival of spring. I do feel a sudden burst of positive energy when the snow melts away and flowers begin to appear. It could also have something to do with the fact that life is short, I’m not gettin’ any younger, and my birthday is in spring. This year I am turning 50.

Someone asked me how it feels to hit the half century mark. Well, it feels like any other birthday, really. I find myself taking a few minutes to meditate on my life: my blessings, my failings, my leave-behinds. Fifty years is a long time. It used to be “old.” I remember seeing a photo when I was in my teens of a homely woman in horn-rimmed glasses and a stiff-looking dress and being told she was forty. That image stuck in my head for a long time. I remember someone else saying that after a certain age, most women just “let themselves go.” I wondered what that meant. Did men also let themselves go? And what happened when they did?

Honestly, for the first time in my life, I have got to say I feel truly comfortable in my own skin. I feel good. I like this older version of myself. She is more interesting.  I do my best to treat my body kindly, to stretch my limbs into action each morning and into rest at night, but my sneaker-clad feet no longer pound the pavement in an attempt to whittle myself down a size.

I slather on the sunscreen and moisturizer, drink tons of water and try to limit fried foods and sugar…but life is too short to always be on a diet. And I have a few friends who were extremely vigilant with their diet and exercise, and they got cancer anyway. So I’m going to enjoy a glass of wine, a fresh piece of bread and an exquisite slice of cheese once in a while.

The one thing that really seems to have changed now that I am 50 is my professional outlook. I used to dream of becoming an acquisitions editor at a big-city publishing house, or project manager at a top-notch marcom firm. But I no longer have the desire to work long hours, even if it means a big paycheque.

In some ways, I guess I missed the boat on that one. Like a woman in her 40’s who suddenly realizes she has missed the window where she can have children, I guess I have missed my opportunity to have a big career. And you know what? That’s fine. I got married the first time when I was 19. I guess I always had my focus trained on something other than my education and professional life. Then it was being a young wife and mother. Now it’s heading into retirement with my partner and best friend.

I missed Easter dinner on the weekend. I lay in bed with the stomach flu, listening to thirty family members and friends laughing and singing and telling stories over turkey, ham and all the trimmings. One by one my daughters and friends popped in to check on me. As I lay there, listening, I imagined them carrying on this weekly tradition without me some day. Not to be morbid – but you never know what life will bring.

I am standing on the hill. On the downslope, I get to take my husband to Europe, so he can see where his beloved Spaghetti Bolognese and Valpolicella comes from. I can get more involved in my community, helping to make change happen. I can write another book.

There will be dozens more Sunday dinners to host, family weddings to attend and grandchildren to love.. Life is not what I imagined it would be at 50 – but in so many ways it is far better than I ever dreamed. I’m an Accidental Farmwife, outstanding in her field.