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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.

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email: dianafisher1@gmail.com



We aren't in Europe, therefore Fergus got fixed


I had no idea that whether or not to fix your dog would be such a controversial subject. I just assumed that when the Ferg turned 6 months old, it would be Off With His Parts. I wasn’t looking forward to having my beloved pup go under the knife, of course, but I just assumed part of being a responsible pet owner was to get my dog fixed. Apparently it is not that simple.

Most breeders and vets recommend you wait to neuter male Golden Retrievers, until they are at least a year old. Some say doing the surgery earlier will stunt the dog’s growth. Others warn of other medical issues, like joint disorders or even cancer. One controversial study says that neutering your Golden at all will triple its chance of getting cancer.

But what about the difficulties associated with dogs that don’t have the surgery? Testosterone mood swings seem to overtake my otherwise fairly well-trained, beautifully-mannered dog at the most inopportune moments. Like when we’re at the dog park, just sniffing out the perimeter. Along comes a cute female of some tiny breed. Her associate is a large, lean, exotic looking beast with bronze fur and gold-coloured eyes. He postures around the female, eyeing Fergus. Fergus catches the look, backs off a bit, then…wait. What’s that scent? The female must be approaching her heat. As he does when he doesn’t understand or is frightened by something, Ferg reacts by snarling. He snapped at the little female, who had done absolutely nothing to deserve such a rude outburst.

I had never seen Fergus act so badly before. I lunged toward his collar and he did a little Houdini move and wriggled right out of it. I was left holding the leash while my dog took off after the little female. Just then, a man emerged from the woods where the dogs had been. As the dogs rushed past him, he bent over and scooped Fergus up into his arms.

“Your dog fixed yet?” he asked.
“Nope,” I responded.
“You’re going to have this problem until he is,” he responded.

Embarrassed and confused, I thanked him for catching my dog, and marched Ferg out of the dog park like an admonished teen. It was our shortest visit to the dog park, ever. About ten minutes from start to finish.

We had put off the neutering surgery because of advice we had received from a friend and a breeder (not ours), who knew of the lymphatic cancer study. The vet and our breeder said we could put the surgery off until the dog started to display poor behaviour. (Does ripping heads off your stuffed toys and molesting your dog bed count as poor behaviour, I wondered?) Someone suggested we wait until age 1 to get Fergus fixed, but not to leave it until after age 2, as that presented a whole new bunch of problems. Someone even pointed out that if we lived in Europe, we probably wouldn’t be getting our dog neutered at all. It just isn’t the custom there, apparently. My head was spinning from all the advice and I didn’t know what to do.

Then I decided, since the Ferg was temporarily under self-imposed ban from the dog park, we could at least go and visit Cousin Rupert at my daughter Annie’s house. I loaded Fergus into the car and off we went, happy as could be.

When we arrived at my daughter’s house, Fergus made a beeline for Rupert. He displayed some extremely rude behaviour around the older dog, and then proceeded to urinate on the floor. All right. That’s enough, I thought.

I went home and booked Fergus’ neutering appointment for the week after he turned one. He is now lying at my feet, in a slightly medicated snooze. He is wearing a onesie that snaps open for bathroom breaks and keeps him away from his stitches the rest of the time. He is eating and sleeping and doing all the things he is supposed to be doing while recovering from surgery.

I’m hoping being neutered will make Ferg a little more docile, a little easier to train, a little less likely to chase the neighbour’s chickens or to run down the road when his radar collar battery dies out. And soon, very soon, we will be back at his beloved dog park, romping through the woods with his other four-legged friends.

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The future of Kemptville Campus is bright



One of my earliest memories at Kemptville College was climbing up into the branches of a thick maple tree that stood between my mother’s building and the cafeteria. I climbed up with one hand because in my other hand I held a small, hard-covered Nancy Drew novel. I was working my way through all 99 in the series.

A few minutes after my arrival, class let out for the day. From my perch in the tree, I could see a long stream of college kids filtering down the sidewalk and into the dining room. The leaves sheltered me from their view. Occasionally I would catch some of their conversation. I remember the boys in their boots and corduroy jackets, the girls with their long hair and ponchos and wide-legged Howick 4-star jeans. Maybe I imagined I might marry one of those long-legged cowboys one day. I would, actually, but it would take me to nearly age 40 and it would be a professor; not a student.

In those days, students showed their prize cattle on the sawdust-covered floor of the Purvis building. Over the years the building has had many different purposes, including a library and event venue. The floor is now covered and more than one young couple has taken advantage of the natural light flooding through the high windows to exchange vows there. My sister got married on the college campus.

Cathy and I knew the administration building well, with its echoing halls and massive staircases. Our mother was the executive assistant to half a dozen different college directors during her nearly forty-year career. We would walk to the college after school to wait for her to finish transcribing her notes of mysterious shorthand onto her state-of-the-art electric typewriter. She dressed neatly, a scarf tied at her neck, her trademark Beaujolais lipstick on her lips. While directors came and went, Mom was the constant in the main office. She knew where everything was.

We went to the College Royal, staff barbecues and parties, and we trekked to the new Agroforestry Station when it was built, to eat pancakes with college maple syrup and taffy on the snow. My sister and I did not attend the college as students, because neither of us had particularly agricultural aspirations. Still, it was a very familiar place to us. It was an important part of Kemptville, and its biggest employer.

In the late ‘90s, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food passed the college over to the University of Guelph. The college brand changed a bit, and the university took over marketing and recruiting students. For a variety of reasons enrolment began to dwindle over the next two decades. In 2014, the University made a business decision. It would not be accepting new students for the coming term. It was closing Kemptville College, just a few years before its 100th birthday.

The Eastern Ontario agricultural community rallied support as the Municipality of North Grenville fought to keep its college open. The provincial government assigned someone to conduct research into the school, its assets and potential for the future. A task force was developed and a public town hall was held to hear from members of the community. I attended as a media representative, and I was live on social media throughout the session. I posted quotes and photos of speakers so that interested parties across Eastern Ontario who were unable to attend the meeting could still follow along with the discussion. Overnight I gained 300 new followers on Twitter, most of them farmers.

Over the next year and a half, the Municipality entered into discussions with a number of different educational and agricultural entities, in an attempt to strike up a business partnership with the college.
No knight in shining armour appeared to save the school, but lease agreements were made with two different French schools. The tenants are making themselves comfortable for the long term, investing in the facilities.

And now the Municipality has acquired “a significant portion” of Kemptville Campus. Four years after the announcement that the college would close, the doors remain open. A new election year is upon us. Residents of North Grenville wait to hear what the new Kemptville Campus will look like.
The Municipality is planning to establish a non-profit organization, much like the one that began the Ferguson Forestry Centre. This body will work to bring tenants into a new educational, 
environmental and low-carbon community hub on campus. Those leaseholders will pay the bills to keep the college buildings maintained and operational.

That is the plan for the future. Hopefully it will grow organically to include connections with innovative partners in sustainable farming, energy-saving greenhouses, local food and more. It’s a bit of a question mark for many, but I for one am excited about the possibilities.

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www.theaccidentalfarmwife.blogspot.com



In which the Farmwife takes one for the team



I knew we had a problem when I came home and saw a stuffed toy in the driveway. It was the same stuffed hippo/unicorn I had returned to the neighbours the day before. Fergus loved it because it had floppy bits that would rattle when he shook it. But the appearance of the toy on our property meant that Fergus had been to theirs. Over his boundary and through his zap zone. His wireless containment system was no longer working.

I went into the house and Mina confirmed my suspicions.

“The neighbour brought him home. She wasn’t happy.”

I put Fergus on a leash and handed the end of the leash to the Farmer. Then I marched over to the neighbour’s house, where I apologized for my dog-son the chicken terrorist.
“Oh, it’s ok,” the neighbour said.

“No it’s not ok!” I replied. The poor hens were standing at the top of the ramp in the doorway of their chicken coop, too afraid to emerge. I learned that Fergus had been over to the neighbours’ house about half a dozen times in the last week, while we had been away in Mexico. More than once he had been caught with one of the big, decorative birds in his mouth. No doubt he loved the way they squawked when he chased them. I doubted he wanted to hurt them. For Fergus it was all about the chase. But now we had a coop full of hens with PTFD – Post Traumatic Ferg Disorder – and they were having trouble laying eggs because their nerves were shot. Something had to be done.

We replaced the batteries and Fergus’ collar beeped, but no longer zapped. What good is a beep without a zap? The system is meant to beep when Fergus goes across his pre-set boundary, and then it is meant to deliver a sound zapping – just like when you get static electricity from the carpet. This “static correction” is meant to teach the dog how far he can wander on his property. It’s meant to keep him home and out of trouble. Usually, it works.

I went to the local pet store to replace the collar, which I thought had worn out. I discovered a new collar cost nearly $300 – the same as a whole new unit. I decided to check out the website and call the company before spending all that dough. Sure enough, they said my problem was more likely that the system required a reset. It was still beeping, after all. It wasn’t completely dead.

The base transistor of the wireless system can’t be anywhere near metal. If it is, it might short circuit. Even a power surge or electrical storm can cause this to happen. I moved the transistor base and, with the help of the lovely call centre gentleman from Atlanta with the southern accent who kept calling me “ma’am”, I reset the connection.

The next step was to test the zapping mechanism.

“When your kids were little, you tried the medicine before you fed it to your children, right?” the call-centre Southerner reasoned.

“Yes, but I didn’t get zapped,” I complained.

“It’s just a little prickling,” he promised.

So I took a deep breath, pulled on my big-girl boots, grabbed the shock collar and walked out into the yard.

They actually have a drinking game in Taiwan that involves everyone at the table inserting one finger into this little disk. Someone pushes a button and the circuit on the disk goes around and around like a roulette wheel. Finally it stops, and the person whose finger is inserted in that particular portal gets zapped. I’ve never seen a woman play that game. I guess that kind of ‘fun’ is more appealing to men. Which makes me wonder, why didn’t I ask the Farmer to test the shock collar? Fergus the Golden Retriever is my husband’s semi-retirement dog, after all.

I passed the parked cars in the driveway. I crossed over the boundary of the yard, and the collar in my hand started to beep. I pressed the metal prongs against the palm of my hand, gritted my teeth and prepared to be zapped. Nothing happened. I took a few more steps down the laneway and suddenly I felt a prickling, like when you touch the cat after it has been rolling on the couch.

That’s it? Well, I suppose it would have more of a deterrent effect if the prongs were up against my neck, as they are on the dog. And I wasn’t about to try the collar on. It isn’t my size or colour.

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email: dianafisher1@gmail.com