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Sunday, June 16, 2019

A memorable Father's Day on the farm

When I think about Father’s Day on the farm of course I remember all of the fabulous Sunday dinners, grilled to perfection by the man himself, the Farmer. Friends and family gather along our 16-foot picnic table on the porch he built. He is the centre of our home and he pulls the family together every weekend over a warm meal cooked with love. So of course we like to make a big deal out of celebrating him. He is usually feted with some good books (second hand is fine; he isn’t picky – and they come with recommendations), red wine, Timmies cards and the occasional cigar, which he enjoys in intervals, while riding his lawn tractor.
My last Father’s Day with my own Dad was in 2007. At the time we didn’t even know he was sick. It wasn’t until August of that year that he decided his back pain was actually worth a trip to the hospital. It turned out to be pancreatic cancer, and an aortic aneurysm. In September we learned he was terminal. This is when I married the Farmer, and our weekly Sunday dinners began soon afterward. That winter, my family circled around my father, spending as much time with him as possible. Although it sucks to lose a parent so early in life (he was just 66), we were blessed with the knowledge that the end was coming soon – so that we focused on the important conversations and left no love unsaid.
Elsewhere on the farm, we have animal fathers – but just a few. One year we brought a new ram to join our flock. He was a bit different from the rest of our pure-white Dorset and Rideau family. As the Farmer backed the truck into the barnyard, he gathered an audience of curious 4-legged onlookers. He opened the back window, pulled down the hatch and out popped a floppy-eared Blackface ram. You could almost hear the communal gasp of surprise. The females actually took off in a wave of white fluff and the other ram stamped his hoof in challenge. They weren’t sure of what to think about this animal who appeared to be like them, but wearing some sort of face mask.
The new ram signalled his unwillingness to fight by lowering his eyes and trotting off after the females. After a few minutes of chasing the girls in circles and trying in vain to make new friends, our poor little Philip (I wanted to name him Floppy but the Farmer said that might give him a complex) retreated to a shady corner of the barnyard and lay down to sleep away his stress.
This routine continued for several days. Then finally, one day I looked out the window and there was Philip, lying in the shade of a huge boulder, with two females on either side of him (but Gracie was his favourite). He looked quite pleased with himself. And later that season when the Farmer tied a colourful piece of chalk around Phil’s neck, the funny-looking floppy-eared ram happily marked a number of females as his mates.
The following spring, we watched to see what kind of lambs the ewes would have. The first few, sired by Rambo, King of the barnyard, had the usual bleach-white fleece and curls. Then, one morning, a little black-faced lamb appeared. The rest of the ewes and a few older lambs approached carefully to check him out. But perhaps the most interesting reaction was that of his father, Phillip.
The black-faced ram was just meandering out of the barnyard to see what all the bleating was about when he spotted the lamb. The first little lamb he had seen in this new place, who looked exactly like him. His gait changed then, to more of a strut, as he went over to sniff and poke and check this lamb over from floppy black ears to wiggly black tail.
From then on, Phillip seemed to have a bit higher stature on the farm. He had done his job, sired a few lambs, and made his mark on the flock. It was Father’s Day on the farm for Phillip.
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Sunday, May 12, 2019

A wife of noble character, who can find?

A wife of noble character, who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Proverbs 31:10

My mother-in-law passed away last month. She had suffered with Dementia. When we heard, we hopped in the car for a drive into the city to see my father-in-law, Wally. He was sitting on the couch at his daughter’s house, and he was exhausted. I went and sat beside him.
“I’m sorry you lost your girl, Wally,” I said, patting him on the knee.
“Well, we knew she was sick two years ago,” he explained. “The Dementia got worse, day by day. And I lost her, day by day.”
At first, it was kind of cute, the way Lorna would forget things: her purse, her bowling schedule, how many glasses of Cuvee Speciale she had had…and then it began to take us by surprise. Soon she was forgetting recipes she had practiced for over fifty years. Each Sunday she asked, “whose baby is that?” or “Which of my sons are you married to?”
Lorna wasn’t sure what was happening, but she learned to cope. She would just smile and nod and pretend that she knew who was addressing her. But if you were a relatively new acquaintance, from the past five years or so, your name would escape her. The disease took hold and the decline came quickly these past few months.
Lorna met Wally in the early 1950’s. He was sitting on her mother’s living room couch one day when she came home from school. Her brother Bill had brought him home. Lorna took one look at the handsome man with the big grin and flashing eyes, walked into the kitchen and told her sister Dot: “See that man in the living room? That’s the man I’m going to marry.”
Wally and Lorna were married for nearly 7 decades. They raised 5 children together. Wally worked in metals at the National Research Council and while Lorna worked at a bank for a time, her domain was the kitchen. The aroma of her baking attracted neighbourhood kids to the kitchen door, where they were allowed “two cookies each” from the jar she kept there. Each day at lunch her children ran the few blocks home, where Lorna had covered the dining room table with open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on her fresh baked bread.  Every Thursday she made dinner for the extended family. Her recipes were handed down through the generations, to her children and grandchildren.
When it was time to sit down with the pastor and put a celebration of life together for Lorna, Wally had some strong ideas. His wife was not overly religious, he said, but she did like to attend church regularly. We got out the Bible and started choosing psalms and prayers of remembrance. Suddenly it hit me: “Lorna was a Proverbs 31 wife,” I said, explaining the verse about the Wife of Noble Character, who was known for her strong work ethic, integrity, charity, strength and love of family. We decided to include that verse in the service readings.
Wally surprised his sons by producing a long list of music he wanted played at Lorna’s celebration, including the original Deep Purple: “when the deep purple falls, over sleepy garden walls…” I thought that was perfect, because Lorna loved the colour purple. Her favourite song Stardust also mentions the colour purple in the first line. We made sure there was a touch of purple among the simple garden flowers at her ceremony, and those of us who didn’t wear purple clothes pinned on a purple ribbon or butterfly in her memory.
Wally led the readings with a memorable tribute to his beloved “Lorn.” He barely looked at his notes but rather he scanned our faces as he spoke about his love for his wife. His kids got up and took their turns then, adding a few laughs here and there, as Lorna would want.
Finally it was time for the pastor to read Proverbs 31. It was the perfect summary of Lorna’s life. And when she got to verse 22, the pastor looked up and smiled, “she was clothed in fine linen…and purple.”
Maybe Lorna had a hand in planning her own celebration of life. It was a simple, honest and straightforward service – much like Lorna herself. And as I looked around the room at four generations of Fishers and Patersons, I wondered if Lorna had pictured something like this family legacy on that day, decades earlier, when she first spotted Wally sitting on her mother’s couch.
Just look at what you have made, Lorna. Well done, thy good and faithful servant, indeed.
In memory of Lorna June Paterson Fisher.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Farmers are the Kings and Queens of upcycling

I hate to spend money. My husband might spit out his coffee reading that line (if he read my column, which he doesn’t), because he has seen my Visa bill. So let me clarify: I hate spending too much money for something. I do enjoy a good retail therapy session – but it has to be filled with amazing deals, great finds and super sale prices or I will have buyer’s remorse, and likely return what I bought.
My parents raised us to be thrifty, and I have worked hard for my money since I was a young girl. I know the value of a dollar, as they say. I was also a single mom going without luxuries in order to pay the utility bill and put food on the table. That is when I discovered thrift shops, second-hand stores, and consignment. We have all of these stores in Kemptville, and my closet is full of the treasures I have found on their racks, at a fraction of the original price. I am happy to know that I am reducing the amount of clothing going to a landfill, by buying second hand. And you find things that were made to last – wool suits, leather jackets, silky blouses and designer dresses – for the price you would pay for a trendy new top from a big box store (which might actually fall apart after 3 washes – the top; not the store).
When I married the Farmer and moved in, I used to laugh at all of the examples of things that had been put to good use for a second time: a rusted out farm implement became an art installation in the garden; broken deep freezers were turned into feed storage bins; and an old bedframe, complete with springs, was attached to the side of the house so the vines could grow on it. But my Farmer learned how to upcycle from his uncle, when he spent summers on the family dairy farm near Winchester. That uncle was raised in the 30’s, during the time when nothing was wasted or thrown away if it had an ounce of use left in it.
Yes, you can go to the farm store and buy nifty, new-fangled items with which to store and serve your animal feed – or you can make your own from things you have around the house. Old ice cream containers make great scoops for corn and sweet feed. Those rubber nipples for feeding lambs fit right over the end of a soda bottle. An old kiddie pool makes a great pen for baby chicks, and the upturned lid to a garbage can makes a great field dish for sweet feed when you are trying to attract a cow.
I’m even learning to save and recycle seasonal décor: the decorative pine cones, ribbon, foam sponge and pot from my Christmas garden arrangements have been put away until next December, when I will walk around the property collecting the red dogwood, emerald pine and white birch branches to create my own display. Those two pieces were worth $50 last year.
We need porch shades to reduce the sun in the back of the house in the summer. It gets really hot at dinner time and the setting rays blind whomever decides to sit in the spot that is directly in their path. I found a page of exterior shades on Amazon, and showed the Farmer. They ranged in price from $17 to $267.
“I just took the old porch apart at the cottage site,” he announced. “I’ll bring the blinds home from there.” Well, that’s a good idea too. The cottage itself, when it is finished, will be a hotbed of recycled items. I doubt there will be anything new in there at all. From appliances and rugs to furniture and décor, it will all be coming from our basement – the family catch-all for unwanted things.
My Word of 2019 is “Less.” It stands for a lot of different things: less eating and drinking, less worrying, less spending. The next time I go to spend money on a non-consumable something I think I need, I’m going to put my single mom hat back on and think like the Farmer: “Do I really need it? Can I find something else I already have to serve this purpose?”
I found an old leaky cooler today and upcycled it into a recycling bin for our empties. I’m starting to get the hang of this.

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How to paint a farmhouse kitchen

I woke up on Good Friday and had the sudden impulse to paint the kitchen. We had two full days to get it done before Easter Sunday, when better than 30 people would be filling the house for lunch. I didn’t see the problem. The Farmer groaned, rolled over and went back to sleep. I went downstairs and started taking things off the kitchen walls.
My husband, a child of the 60’s, loves old knickknacks and especially things that remind him of his youth. I think the collection of pastel-coloured plates we have on the wall above our china cabinet once belonged to June Cleaver. I carefully removed them, along with my collection of brightly coloured and patterned olive oil, cookie and cigar tins. I’m not crazy about having an array of dusty old duck decoys on display in our dining area but I do live with a hunter. I also got the screwdriver out and took down the wooden sign that says “Welcome to the Farmhouse Kitchen – meals served with love – always open.”
Next I had to take some spray cleaner to the top of the cupboards, where grease collects. The Farmer, God love him, cooks a bit like the Swedish Chef - with enthusiasm, and the occasional fling of sauce, flour and spices. It’s messy work. I found spaghetti on the ceiling and dried peas behind the fridge. He doesn’t even like peas. I have no idea how they got there.
Soon I realized why the Farmer had groaned about the prospect of painting the kitchen. When he finally gave in and joined me in my project we took down two lights, a ceiling fan, curtain rods, a smoke detector and a pot rack. Once the ceiling and walls were bare, I started taping the edge of every wall, door and cabinet. Then I went to the basement to get the bag of old dropsheets that used to belong to my father, the family painter. I remember being enlisted to help paint my own bedroom in the house we built on Johnston Road. It was 1980 and Patsy Gallant was singing “From New York to L.A.” on the radio. If I look carefully, I can still find the rose-beige paint on the striped pink sheets.
The last thing to be painted over was the growth chart that had been etched into the wall between the kitchen and living room. One after one, each child and foster child that had lived here had stood against the wall and endured the measuring of height with a pencil tick over their tousled heads. The Farmer was silent as he read each name, height and date before erasing them with a few brushstrokes.
Painting is an opportunity to rearrange and redecorate. But when the final coat dried, just in time to set up for Easter dinner, we put everything back exactly as it was. For another twenty years, God willing.
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Cultural observations from the other side of the pond

I was supposed to stop and get something for dinner on the way home from work. But as I walked through the doors of our local grocery store, I got distracted by the harbingers of spring: tiny Easter table centrepieces of purple pansies, yellow tulips, pink roses and Styrofoam eggs in brown paper baskets. Suddenly, I was back in Europe, walking along the port in Marseilles, sniffing baskets of fresh lavender. Ten minutes later, my list ignored, I was at the cash with a basketful of flowers, a baguette, some olive tapenade, pâté and goat cheese. We were having tapas for dinner. I might be back home but mentally, I am still cruising the Mediterranean.
I finally got the Farmer to Europe. I have said before, I’m pretty sure he was a WWII fighter pilot in his former life, because he is obsessed with war movies. His entire adult life he has watched these films – the grainy black and white footage found on YouTube is his favourite. So against my better judgment (due to my propensity for motion sickness on an air mattress in a swimming pool) I stuck him on a cruise ship with 4,500 other souls and we toured the Tyrrenhian Sea, enjoying day trips in Palermo, Malta, Barcelona, Marseilles and Genoa. We got a whole weekend in Rome. He thought he had seen all there was to see of ancient Europe, in movies and books. But there is something special about standing at the entrance to the Roman Colosseum, smack in the middle of a bustling metropolis, surrounded by locals, tourists and the ghosts of gladiators.
My husband toured history. I toured for the culture. When I go to another country, I want to eat the way the locals eat and I want to live the way they live. We took the hop-on, hop-off bus tours and visited all of the required sites but when we got hungry we wandered off the beaten path. We followed dimly lit, cobblestone streets too narrow for motorized vehicles, and stumbled upon local cafeterias (the Roman version of a family diner) that served fresh, homemade and well-priced local fare.
The Italian way of eating is antipasto (first plate), pasta (second plate), meat and veg (third plate) and dessert (fourth plate). They don’t snack. They eat well balanced meals three times a day and after lunch they nap for a couple of hours. This is how they are able to put dinner off until at least 8pm, and go dancing at midnight. It was against everything I had learned about healthy eating habits but I did my best to do as the Romans do, when in Rome. It’s a good thing we walked an average four hours a day on our city tours or I might have had a bit more baggage to bring home if you know what I mean.
I spent my 51st birthday in Palermo. I believe you can never have too many pairs of boots and so I was on the hunt for something in Italian leather. There were plenty of shoe stores but when I made the universal sign for boot (a karate chop to the top of the calf under the knee), the salesladies just laughed and shook their heads and mumbled that it was the wrong season for boots: “saisonee malee” or something like that.
As we gave up and headed back to the port I spotted a store window full of boots. And next to the door, a huge poster that said 50% off (because it wasn’t the season for boots!). Alas, when we tried the door, it was locked. A quick consultation with two Italian ladies who had joined me to admire the window display confirmed that most stores were closed from 1 to 3pm. I was out of luck.
Suddenly a man appeared at my elbow. “Are you just looking or will you buy?” he asked, bleary eyed.
“Oh, I want to buy,” I assured him.
About twenty minutes later I had not one but two new pairs of Italian leather boots and Andrea, my new Sicilian friend, had a healthy sale heading into his siesta.
I really wanted to go back to the shoe store ladies and show them my loot, pulling a Pretty Woman: “Do you work on commission? Big mistake. Huge.” In reality the Farmer saved money on my gift because even two pairs of boots in Palermo were priced lower than one pair of Italian leather boots back home.
The pizza and pasta were undercooked, the coffee was too strong and the people were a little rude but I’ve got to admit, Italy, you’ve got style. I think I will adopt your post-lunch siestas and your food-centred celebrations. Barcelona, Malta and Marseilles, we barely met but I appreciate your attitude, love your colour and plan to return someday soon.

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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Happy Easter to you and yours - whatever that means to you

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They say you don’t remember much before the age of 4, so I’m assuming our granddaughter’s first two Easter celebrations were a bit of a blur. She’s well aware that something is up this year, however. Even a pre-schooler can’t ignore the constant barrage of bunnies, chicks and pastel coloured eggs in every store she enters.
Leti’s mom used to help me run my home daycare when she was a little girl, and she was a preschool teacher herself for a time as an adult, so she is well versed in arts and crafts for fledgling artists. I will soon have new artwork for my fridge: bunnies created by tracing a pudgy little hand, baskets of coloured eggs that are primarily pink (her favourite colour), spring flowers, and butterflies. When my fridge is covered, I move the creations to our secondary fridge. It’s hard to put them away but I tuck them into my photo box when I need to make room for more.
We are not a regular churchgoing family. Our holiday customs seem to always centre on food. When it comes to Easter traditions on the Fisher Farm, it pretty much comes down to chocolate fondant eggs. For as long as I can remember, those huge (size of a goose egg) solid candies have been part of our springtime celebrations. My mother was part of the local sorority, Beta Sigma Phi. The “Laura Secord’ style fondant eggs were their creation. I think every kid whose mom was in that group is now addicted to those eggs.
When I became a mom, I made a huge mistake. I bought the vanilla, the sugar and the canned milk and I started making the eggs myself. Now my kids (who are 25 and up, raised on these eggs…) look for these decadent treats each Easter.
I have shared the recipe in the past. Basically it’s a solid ball of sweetened condensed milk and icing sugar and butter, rolled up and dipped in melted chocolate. Just Google solid fondant Easter eggs and Bob’s your uncle. And don’t forget to brush your teeth afterwards. Last year we had our lovely Norwegian international student offer to make the eggs. She loved to cook and wanted to take part in our traditions. She was possibly unprepared for the messy situation of sticky, icing sugared fingers.
We had fun teaching Leti and her cousin Walt how to hunt for eggs. The first year, the 18-month-olds wandered around the yard like two tiny drunk men, smacking into each other, trying to figure out what I was saying. “Go get the eggs! Look! There’s one!” Walt was way ahead of Leti on this, and when he opened the plastic egg to find jelly beans inside, he would offer her a candy, then change his mind and swipe it out of her reach. It was very entertaining for the adults to watch. Leti, unoffended, would sit on the steps then and swing her feet, giving Walt the side-eye of suspicion.
Last year, the 2.5 year olds suddenly knew how to play the game. They collected the eggs, but Leti, twitterpated, was more interested in following Walt around the yard. We got some wonderful photos from both of those Easter egg hunts. Someday when they are teenagers we will show them pictures of stolen kisses and shared giggles on the porch.
Easter at the Fisher Farm is all about family. We host about 40 guests for a lunch at 2pm on Easter Sunday. The young families show up first, so the kids can do the egg hunt. Then our 5 children and their mates, our siblings and parents and aunts and uncles show up for the feast. We may not be a huge churchgoing family but we know we have a very unique situation here. 
For lunch, we serve a turkey we raised ourselves. It lived free range in the barnyard, a short but happy life. We go to Albert’s for the ham, because what is Easter without it? Guests bring side dishes and Grandma always shows up with some local maple syrup. Easter is nice and late this year, so hopefully we will be able to enjoy a walk in the back 40 after lunch. Because that is our church. The trees are the steeple. The stone fences are the pews. God is all around us. We are blessed and we know it.

Give the dog a bone - and stand back!

For the first year of his life, Fergus was quite thin. He was born the runt of the litter – that is part of the reason why we chose him from among his fatter, fluffier siblings. But no matter how much food we gave him, Fergus just didn’t gain the weight he was supposed to in the first year. He just wasn’t food oriented – and he preferred running for the ball over napping and all other activities. He was the product of his own self-induced bootcamp: a lean, mean barking machine. Except for the mean part.
We were used to our skinny Minnie Golden Retriever. He wasn’t emaciated or anything – just very slim. But when I posted photos of Fergus on social media, I would occasionally receive negative comments. “Your dog is so thin!” “Oh! Poor Fergus! You really should feed him more!” Honestly.
I took Fergus to the vet and they confirmed that, while our pup was on the diminutive side for his breed, he was also perfectly healthy. He was not underweight, but hovering nearby (within a pound of that rating). We were already feeding him the puppy food that supports fast growth, and agreed to keep him on it until he was 18 months old. We continued to feed him on demand, whenever he wanted to eat, because he never over-ate.
Occasionally we laced the food with something slightly fattening and delicious. We poured cooled bacon fat on the kibble. Laced it with the fat off a pot of fresh chicken broth, or coated it in a thin layer of peanut butter. I continued to throw Fergus’ beloved ball for him, but when he slowed down, I offered food and water. Then he ate.
Slowly, over the next year, Fergus gained weight. His hollowed out hip area became sturdy and solid. Now he is a very handsome, muscular young dog. But you know, he will probably always be on the lean side. And that’s ok.
I don’t know why some people felt the need to tell me my dog was skinny, in social media posts. It isn’t as if I was unaware. I do appreciate their concern, but I’m pretty sure the same people wouldn’t have the nerve to accuse me of not feeding my dog enough if they met me at the dog park. The anonymity of social media can make people bold.
Now, I do have a problem with Fergus for which I might consider taking some advice. For a dog who is rather unconcerned when I fill his bowl with kibble, preferring to eat at his leisure, nibbling a few bites at a time and only after he has had exercise, Fergus is a whole other animal when you give him a fresh beef bone.
A friend of mine has a Golden Doodle and noted the same food aggression in his fluffy little dog. This creature that resembles a teddy bear most of the team becomes a growling, snarling beast when you go near him and his bone. It’s funny at first…and then a little scary!
My daughters have raised dogs, and their advice is to train them as puppies to accept having their food taken away and given back again. Well, we did that with Fergus. He appears completely uninterested if I take his bowl of kibble away. If I take his bowl of leftovers (people food) away he might look a bit disappointed, but he certainly doesn’t growl at me. But all that changes when the dog gets a bone.
Online advice from the ASPCA says that it is completely natural for dogs to exhibit “resource guarding” behaviour. Apparently some dogs will even guard stolen socks, or food that they can see on the kitchen counter. Thank goodness Ferg isn’t that bad. He just wants his bone, and he wants to be left alone while he enjoys it.
The most common advice I am seeing online is to let the dog alone while he enjoys his bone. Of course, we have control over when he receives a treat like this, and we know to give him his space. But being unaware of the strange workings of the canine mind, I am worried about what might happen if Fergus exhibits this resource guarding behaviour when we have children visiting the house.
If you have advice on how to handle this, I would love to hear it. You can email me at
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Here's how we become a tourist destination

I love to travel. I also love my home. I find it fascinating, when traveling, to realize that in most cases, the places I want to see and the things I want to do are all connected to the local culture. I want to eat what the locals eat, hang out where they do, and enjoy a glimpse of their daily lives. Maybe we should try to do the same in North Grenville. We could become the prime tourism destination for people visiting the Nation’s Capital who really want to see small town Canada.
When my husband the Farmer was the Professor, he took part in a tour of a community in Nova Scotia that had embraced tourism. It seemed like everyone in the community was opening their home and business to visitors in some way. There were bed and breakfast spots that offered great trails for hiking and photography. Some catered to those who wanted to learn how to cook the local cuisine. Others were located on farms, where guests were invited to take part in the daily routine of care for the animals and harvesting vegetables for dinner.
It’s like when you go to Europe and you take a tour of cheese factories, vineyards, cafes, and scenic areas. You want to see and experience the best that the region has to offer. We can do that. We have plenty to offer.
If you operate a local business, be it a hobby farm, an Adirondack chair factory or a maple sugar bush, I would encourage you to explore ways in which you can offer tours, workshops and hands-on experiences for tourists. Then get connected with local travel agents, tourism websites, blogs and accommodations.
As for making our area more hospitable to tourists, there are a few obvious things that we need to consider. We need a large, affordable hotel. I understand that once again, a feasibility study is being conducted to prove that we have the traffic to support this kind of business. It’s not like in bygone eras where every village had a hotel. Now you have to have sustainable traffic flow of something like 50,000 people a year in order to make it cost effective and profitable.
Of course, turning the dorm rooms of the former Kemptville College into a hotel seems like an obvious conclusion. I don’t know what the plans are yet for that building but it seems silly that we can’t take advantage of those existing accommodations – especially during Kemptville Live Music Festival weekend, sports tournaments and other local events. Something tells me that if we were in Europe, our still-useful buildings would already be repurposed. Europeans are very good at recycling real property.
Once we have room for people to sleep, we need them to park somewhere. If the school board manages to find a buyer for our old high school on Prescott Street and it is deemed unfeasible to turn it into condos or a retirement home or something, they might consider a paid parking lot. Goodness knows we need parking downtown. I realize those bump outs were meant to slow down through traffic but they ate up some of our parking spaces. Not ideal.
Finally, I would like to see what the plans are for the Bridge Street bridge. There was a time when we could drive small boats right under it. Now the creekbed needs to be dredged to make room for the engines. But if we are looking at rebuilding the bridge anyway, wouldn’t it make sense to look at other options as well? We once had big steamships coming into the centre of Kemptville on a regular basis. Has the south branch of the Rideau changed so much? Imagine if we could lure boaters in off the Rideau to the centre of Old Town for lunch, or to stay overnight like they do in Merrickville and Manotick.
I think we need to entertain the thoughts of someone who can see the big picture. Dredge the creek, rebuild the bridge in a way that allows boat traffic, expand the existing dock. Businesses will spring up again in downtown Kemptville. We will need a public bathroom facility and an electrical source at the water’s edge. There is plenty of room at Curry Park.
Am I the only one crazy enough to imagine this potential? We could attract daytrippers to our town. We have plenty to offer.


Forgetful Farmwife

I washed the dog last Saturday. I removed his wireless fence collar and proceeded to bathe the pooch in the bathroom tub. An hour later, the dog was all fluffy and clean and ready to roll. But his collar was missing.
I searched the laundry, the towel closet, the space behind the washing machine. The Farmer and I went room to room, looking for the lost collar. It’s kind of essential that we find this thing. It keeps the Ferg on the property when we aren’t around to supervise him. We need it.
Honestly, this wireless fence system has got to be one of the best inventions ever for the dog owner. You don’t have to mark out a perimeter and bury a stupid wire on your property. You just dial up the boundary on the base unit, say, 50 metres from your house, and then walk the property line with your dog, holding the collar. The collar will start to beep when you reach the set boundary. The dog will hear it, and you say, “no, no, No. Go HOME.” That’s what we did with Fergus, back when he was about six months old.
I recommend you do the next step with a glove on. You have to breach the perimeter at least once, to test the level of ‘static correction.’ In other words, you’re gonna get a shock. It won’t be a big one, but it’s rather startling. You can reset the level of static based on the level of energy in your dog. If he’s a docile dog, he probably needs a much lower level than a hyperactive one.
Once you have everything set and you have explained to your dog how it works, you put the collar on him and watch what happens. The minute he heads for the perimeter, you start telling him “No. Come Home.” If he doesn’t listen, and continues to go through the boundary, it will beep. He will stop and look at you, and you can call him home. Reward him for doing the right thing and following your direction. Have some dried liver treats or something in your pocket for this purpose.
You are going to have to let him go through the invisible barrier at least once, however. Ideally, he will get bold or forgetful and go through when you are watching, so you can explain to him what the heck just happened. When he gets the shock he will likely overreact, yipping and yelping and running in circles. Call him home, comfort him, and let him go again. He will likely figure out pretty quickly that the moment he hears the beep, it’s time to rein it in. Listen to Momma and just don’t go there.
This collar has allowed us to leave our young Golden Retriever outside for a few hours unattended, in warmer months. Now that our neighbour’s dog is getting to the roaming age, he is enticing Fergus over the fence for the occasional rumble. It’s all about testosterone-filled teenaged boys posturing for territory and no one gets hurt, but I don’t want Fergus thinking he can just hop the fence and go terrorize Rocky on his own property, anytime he wants. Also, it will soon be warm enough for the neighbour’s chickens to be outside the coop, roaming the yard. Fergus cannot resist the urge to chase chickens. They make such entertaining noises and their feathers fly everywhere when he tackles them. We have to find that collar.

The invisible fence is also portable. We can take the base unit with us and reset it for the cottage or a friend or relative’s house when we are visiting, so that our dog is safe. All we have to do is walk the new boundary with him. As soon as he hears the beep, he remembers.
I wish I could remember where I put that darned collar. I’m going to have to buy a new one if I can’t find it, and they are worth a couple hundred bucks with a new set of batteries. But at least that would be a surefire way to find the old collar. Buy a new one. Happens every time.

Spring enters on tiny lamb feet

Spring is set to arrive after 6pm on Wednesday, March 20th. I don’t know about you but I am ready. I don’t know why but this winter seemed longer than usual. Maybe it’s the simple fact that we did not escape to the sunny south this year. That does a nice job of breaking up winter.
I know spring is in the air because the birdsong has changed. I hear those birds that are only around in spring. And I haven’t seen them myself yet but I have heard reports of geese sightings over Bishops Mills. That is always a welcome sight at the end of a long, cold season of snow and ice.
In years past, we were up to our rubber boots in lambs by the middle of March. I have to admit, I’m a bit nostalgic looking at other farmers’ posts on social media of their newborn fluffies. We gave up raising sheep because it was more work than it was worth, but I do miss the lambs. They were fun. Especially the ones I bottle fed.
We kept the lambs in the barn with their moms for about 8 weeks. After that, we opened the door and let ‘em go. The ewes would be the first to escape to freedom, forgetting for a moment that they were mothers at all. They kicked up their hooves and pranced into the meadow where they fell on the new grass and munched all the green sweetness.
Their babies would be right behind them, in a mass of squealing and bawling fleece. Abandoned. Terrified. Out in the sunshine and wide open space for the first time in their short lives. Hearing their bleats, the mothers would come to their senses. Turn around and bounce back over to the calls that belonged to them. Reunited with their babies.
Often the ewes would feed their young and then tuck them into the bushes, out of the hot sun and blackflies, for a nap. Then they would wander off to eat their fill. When the babies woke up, the squealing would start all over again. We could hear this drama from the house and we always knew when someone was separated from their wee one.
Occasionally a ewe would cry to tell us that her lamb had gotten himself stuck in the hay feeder. One day we went out and saw a ewe standing there beside the huge round bale, bawling her face off. I couldn’t see what the problem was. All around her, sheep were munching away, chewing their hay. The lambs were huddled in a kindergarten setting over by the rock pile, with one ewe watching over them. Then I saw it. A tiny hoof poked out of the hay that was under the massive feeder. The ewe had shoved her lamb under there for safety, but she almost lost him. As the animals fed and dropped hay around the feeder, it covered the lamb completely. He had wriggled so far beneath the feeder that I could barely reach him to yank him out.
Sheep usually react just like I do when they are truly terrified by something: they are completely silent. When they spot a coyote watching them from his perch behind the stone fence they turn and run quietly up to the barn, en masse. All you can hear is a gentle stampede of tiny hooves.
Luckily the arrival of Donkey put an end to most of our sheep kills. We only lost one or two after he showed up on the scene – usually on the days when we had a farm party and he decided he would rather be at the fence, socializing with humans, than watching over his flock.
Spring is an exciting time when you live on a farm. It’s a season of promise and planning, determination and design. We prep our gardens and flowerbeds for the summer growing season ahead, and watch as the tractors roll in to sow seeds in the fields.
Fergus the retriever is pretty happy about spring. He’s muddy as a pig today because it is mild and wet out there. He’s not much for the summer sun but he can’t handle extreme cold either. Spring and fall are his favourite seasons – and they are ours too. I’m looking forward to pulling on some rubber boots and taking him on our first patrol of the property for the season. The lambs may be gone but the coyotes are still there.


Saturday, March 9, 2019

Sheila spends her 9 lives wisely

It is said that cats have 9 lives. That refers to the cat’s characteristically reckless behaviour, stemming from its innate curiosity and thrill-seeking instincts. These tendencies for adventure tend to get cats into one mess after another, but they usually, somehow miraculously, escape. At least that’s the way the story goes. They spend one life after another, until one day their fate catches up with them. That may be the typical pattern of a stray or feral cat. But what of the pampered domestic cat? How long does it take them to spend their 9 lives?
Sheila, our rather grouchy barncat-turned-housecat, is 9 years old. She is a rather diminutive little beast, with a tiny head and paws on a rather plump body. Sheila has always hated being picked up. I found her in the bottom of a barrel in the barn one day in the spring of 2010, where she had obviously fallen while her mother was attempting to transport her kittens from one spot to another. Even then, when I scooped her up into my arms, rescuing her from the depths of darkness, she squawked at me, ungratefully.
Every day I went out to the barn to check on the kittens. Tiny little Sheila, the smallest kitten of them all, would march right up to me and growl accusingly. The kittens had runny eyes, so I had to give them eye drops. Most of them were pretty docile but I think I still have the scars around my wrists where Sheila tried to skin me alive.
When she was old enough to leave her mother, Sheila decided she would use her sharp little claws to pull herself up the steps to the back porch. The next time the patio door slid open, in she went. And she has been our self-proclaimed housecat ever since. She isn’t very friendly, but if you sit really still she will come and sit on the chair or couch beside you. Occasionally she will even venture onto a lap but that doesn’t last for long. The human lap is not to her liking. She prefers the comfort of an overstuffed chair or pillow.
Sheila has always had a bit of a fussy stomach – if you give her too many treats you will see them again. I took her to the vet to get her stomach examined, thinking that might be why she hates being picked up – because her belly hurts. After a thorough examination, the vet confirmed that Sheila is perfectly healthy and does not suffer any particular intestinal disorder. She just tends to overindulge in cat treats, and she is just a grumpy cat.
We have come to know and love Sheila and her negative attitude. It’s just who she is. Which is why I am a bit concerned by her recent behaviour. Often I will be standing at the kitchen counter, preparing something to eat, and the sound and smell attracts the cat. Sheila will then sidle up to me and squawk. If I don’t immediately give her a bite of whatever I am preparing, she will give my calf a little nip and then pounce away to hide. Lately, however, Sheila has been acting in a way that is most unusual and out of character for the grouchiest of cats. Sheila has been coming around, looking for cuddles.
I picked her up and gave her a quick examination. Sure enough, she had a bit of a leaky ear. She was trying to get my attention so that I would help her. I gave her a few doses of antibiotic ear drops and fixed her right up. The next week, she had a runny eye. Maybe she had a cold virus. Again, eye drops seemed to help.
Then the weirdest thing happened. I was sitting on the couch and Sheila jumped up onto my lap. Instead of turning away from me, she put her head on my chest, as if she wanted to be petted. It suddenly occurred to me that our grouchy little cat is entering her senior years. Maybe her personality is undergoing a bit of a softening as a result.

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A dog dictionary has 300 words

The Farmer read somewhere that a dog can remember and understand up to 300 words. Our trainer told us it is best to group them in no more than two or three words at a time, for better understanding. For example, I can point and say “out” and Fergus immediately backs his caboose up and out of the kitchen or whatever forbidden area he has ventured into. The Farmer insists on using full sentences: “Fergus Fisher. Would you please get out of my kitchen…” and wonders why the dog just sits there drooling.
Since he was a pup I have taught the Ferg to sit and wait until I am finished filling his food bowl, before he can eat. I hold up one finger and say: “Waaaaaaait…..” and then I point at the food and say, “Ok.” I use the same command when I get him to lie down and wait for a treat. He is very good at following this direction. So much so that when I took him for our first leashed walk in ages (normally he just runs off leash in the yard), I tried the “wait…ok” command to get him to slow down and stop pulling me and it worked. Which is a good thing because he is so strong now he can pull me along the ice and off my feet in one yank of the lead.
Fergus knows all the basic words to do with eating, playing and….bathing, which he has actually come to enjoy. It took us a few months to figure out that he is nervous getting in and out of the tub because it is slippery. He also doesn’t like the water running while he is in the tub. He isn’t much for the shower nozzle either. Like a toddler, he prefers to have his shampoo rinsed with the bucket-over-the-head method. Followed immediately by a dog treat. If you use this process, he doesn’t run and hide when he hears the word, “bath.” He actually tried to get in the tub himself the other day.
Fergus also seems to know the names of his favourite humans. You only have to say “Paulina” once and he’s up off his bed, nose pressed to the window or asking to be let outside so he can sit and wait in the driveway for her car. He can hear her car coming from a good 2k down the road, the noise of the tires crunching over the icy gravel much clearer to his ears than to ours. She is the one who gets down on the floor with him and lets him play-fight and wrestle with her until he is exhausted. He thinks she is awesome.
Perhaps Fergus’ most wonderful word in the dog dictionary is “ball.” This is the only toy he has been unable to destroy. Every other chew toy or stuffie has been de-squeaked, decapitated and de-fluffed within ten minutes of presentation. Much as I would like my four-legged child to have toys to play with, I’m tired of throwing money away. The “chuck-it” hard rubber ball is the only thing worth my dollars.
So we have a closet full of hard rubber chuck-it balls in orange, blue and glow-in-the-dark (but lose in the snow) white. I have a plastic throwing arm that I use to pitch the ball much farther than I could with my own weak, uncoordinated limbs. This is how I exercise my dog when I don’t have time to go for a walk and the weather is inhospitable for a hike in the back 40. Ferg knows the meaning of “go get it!”
I work from home one day a week, and Fergus makes sure that I give my eyes a break from the screen every hour to throw the ball for him. As a result, he has also learned, “no, Fergus. Mama is WORKING.” Not his favourite word. To Fergus, it means go away and find something to play with on your own because I am too busy to play with you. Unfortunately if he feels slighted by this brushing off, he often goes and takes his frustration out on the nearest potted plant, lawn chair or snow shovel, depending on the season.
Approaching two years of age, Fergus likely has a few dozen words left before we fill up his dictionary. We shall choose wisely, and perhaps throw a few funny ones in there, for our own entertainment.



Saturday, February 23, 2019

Just a girl from South Porcupine, Ontario.

Mabel was born in 1923. In the year of her birth, a number of newsworthy events took place. Insulin was introduced, changing the world for diabetics. The first issue of Time Magazine was published in March, and Warner Brothers’ film studio opened. Yankee Stadium hosted its first ball game later that spring, and someone in Sweden got the first home refrigerator. The Civil War ended in Ireland, where Mabel’s family history originates. In a foreshadowing of things to come, Adolf Hitler led the Nazi party in a failed coup attempt in Germany.
On the home front, folks were crowding movie theatres to watch “The Ten Commandments” with Theodore Roberts and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with Lon Chaney. Women were wearing drop-waist dresses with straight lines and they rarely left the house without a tilted hat on their heads. For a night on the town, men wore something called a Broadway hat with a three-piece suit under a moleskin coat.
The first portable radio was released in 1923 but in South Porcupine, Ontario, where Mabel was born, her parents likely first heard the musical magic of jazz great Louis Armstrong on the family Victrola. The community was home to a gold mine, and most families in the area were very familiar with the mining way of life. It was hard work, in a climate that was hard living. People from this northern town are known to have character, and a sense of humour.
At the age of 18, Mabel met a young railway worker by the name of Garnet. They were a handsome couple, and far more mature than the teens of today. They got married and moved to Ottawa, where they settled down to raise two sons.
An administrator with a skill for numbers, Mabel worked her way up the corporate ladder in finance. Her strong will and belief in herself enabled her to thrive in a male-dominated environment that was not exactly supportive of women. A natural leader and problem solver, she thought carefully before speaking with confidence. The men who might otherwise try to take credit for her work had no choice but to get the heck out of Mabel’s way. At the peak of her career, she was head of Finance for the Federal Court of Canada.
Mabel is my grandmother. I always thought of her as slightly intimidating, the matriarch of the Leeson family. You certainly didn’t want to let her down. But as the years went on, I realized what my Dad said was true: “do not underestimate your Grandmother.”
Full disclosure: I had no idea what he meant by this, at first. But as I went through a number of dramatic and difficult stages in my own life, I always found Grandma to be that constant, reassuring presence that I could turn to. And believe it or not, she never passed judgement. She was never shocked or disappointed, much to my surprise.
When I was having trouble in my first marriage, Grandma showed up at the door to remind me that we Leesons don’t just give up when times get tough. But a few months later when I had to admit all the counselling in the world couldn’t solve my prolems and I called it quits, she simply said, “Meh. I’m surprised you stayed as long as you did. You certainly tried.”
It also amazes me that Grandma knows exactly what is going on in the world. She has always been a traveller, so she has been exposed to other cultures and races her whole life. She has a very practical and fair world view, unlike many of her generation. And I think it helps that she does not get her updates on world events from Fox News. Mabel sees the world through the eyes of her 7 grandchildren, and 15 grandchildren. She is up to date on the popular culture of today, but she can also easily tell us about the way things were because, unlike many people at the age of 96, she has not lost her ability to bring forth her memories.
I’m looking forward to spending an afternoon with Grandma someday soon. We will have a lunch of peameal bacon and tomatoes on toast with mustard, potato chips and gingerale. We will get out the box of photos and I will listen to the stories that each one brings forward from Mabel’s memory bank. I have my favourites. Maybe this time she will tell me some of hers.
Happy Birthday, Mabel. May your 97th year be happy, healthy and full of beautiful surprises.

Mabel with Paulina at her wedding - photo by Elenora Luberto

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valentine, be mine...

“…And I will make thee beds of roses and a thousand fragrant posies.” ~ from The Passionate Shepherd to his Love. Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593).
My Shepherd is just as romantic, in his own way. He buys me flowers on our anniversary, although I prefer the wildflowers he picks for me when he’s out patrolling the property on his ATV. He writes me poetry, but his compositions are closer to a dirty limerick than a soulful sonnet. My Shepherd knows what I like and what I don’t like, and he takes both categories into consideration when trying to show me that he cares.
I don’t like paying way too much money to sit in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, crowded with too many other people who have been likewise pressured into practicing this silly tradition. I don’t like being rushed through a meal, no matter how delicious, so that the next sitting of couples can have our table. My Shepherd knows this, so we normally take off to the sunny south during the week of February 14th. We usually celebrate Valentine’s Day, coincidentally, with a glass of wine on a beach somewhere. But not this year.
This year we are home for Valentine’s Day, so we are doing something a little different. This year we are taking note of this romantic occasion by ordering food from our favourite caterer and enjoying it at home, with our own selection of music and candles, followed by a sappy movie of my choosing. But we don’t really feel pressured to do the whole commercialized Valentine’s Day thing. I don’t want him spending money on gifts and flowers. Lucky for me, he is my Valentine all year long.
Take a lesson from my Shepherd. Here’s how you show your sweetheart that you care, when you live on a farm:
-          Take your boots off outside - and your clothes too, if they are smelling of manure or carry half the soil of the garden on them.
-          You might have to hose yourself off before coming in the house too, or jump in the pool. You work in the barn; you don’t want to live in one.
-          Fend for yourself at times. You don’t have to do all your own cooking but everyone appreciates someone who can make their own meals instead of marching into the house and announcing that they are starving to death, therefore making it the other person’s problem.
-          Entertain yourself! There’s nothing more exhausting than being made to feel responsible for another person’s quality of life. Get yourself a healthy hobby.
-          When your mate is going to be late, start dinner without being asked. They’re late. Chances are they will also be hungry.
-          Start the laundry, pick up the (grand)kids’ toys, run the vacuum and do the dishes once in a while. Every person in the household has their own set of responsibilities but if you turn the tables occasionally and do more than your usual share, you will get noticed.
-          Listen to your partner. We don’t need you to fix all our problems, but we do need you to hear them. You would be surprised how much money we save on therapy – and alcohol – if you learn to practice active listening.
-          Surprise your mate. It doesn’t have to be a cruise or a new car – unless she needs one. It could be tickets to a rock concert, or a day at the spa. Think of what she really likes and do it. For no reason except that you want to see her smile.
-          Did she wake you up early again with her crashing around in the dark, trying to get ready for work? Pull a robe and some boots on and go out to start her car for her. Brush the snow off it while you’re out there. You’re up anyway.
-          Try something new, just because your partner wants to do it. This doesn’t have to be bungee jumping or skydiving. It might be ballroom dancing though. Love means moving outside your comfort zone for the other person.
-          Make concessions, break your own rules, look the other way when others are breaking them, and pick your battles wisely. Put up with her annoying friends and family members (not that she has any!) and go along to that event that would not be your first choice, just because she asked you. These are all ways to show your partner that you love them.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours – all year long.
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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Surviving Snowmageddon on the farm

I’ve just finished shovelling a foot of snow off the front step, and I pitched Ferg’s beloved ball for him a few times to give him some exercise. The dog will spend the rest of the afternoon curled up on a sheepskin rug in front of the wood stove, while I putter around the house, preparing for Sunday dinner. It’s Snowmaggedon on the farm.
We may not get too many guests venturing out to our remote farm today, even if the snowplows have cleared the road, because it’s just too cold. The weather man says this is the coldest snowstorm we have had in 100 years, at an average -23 degrees. Normally we get that kind of cold on a sunny winter day – not a snowy one.
It is nice to finally see the snow this winter. It forms a barrier of insulation around the house, blocking the wind and sealing drafts. It has the same effect on a barn. You pray for lots of snow when you have animals giving birth in winter, for this reason. There’s nothing worse than a bitter, biting wind blasting across the pasture and through the cracks in the barn walls, freezing the baby animals inside.
The trick to a creating a warm barn is to pack the animals in closely together. They warm up the place with their body heat. Cows don’t mind the cold, and they give off plenty of heat so if you can host your goats or sheep in pens surrounded by cows, you’ve got it made. It will be warm as a sauna in there.
One day several winters past I went to check on my baby lambs and the blanket that we hang outside that room in the barn had frozen to the wall. I hurried to pull it loose, worried that my newborns had frozen to death in their sleep. But as I opened the door to the lambing room, a wall of damp heat hit me in the face. It felt like a steam room in there.
In every pen, a fat ewe lay comfortably chewing her cud, her babies tucked in beside her. That was a very snowy winter. The snow had formed a solid blanket around the barn, and we had a really good lambing season with a low mortality rate.
One of the worst lambing seasons we had began during a winter of very little snow and very low temperatures. When it did snow, it blew right through the cracks in the barn walls, forming small drifts in the lambing pens. We hung blankets on windows and doors and stapled feed bags to the walls but without the barrier of snow outside to insulate the barn, we just couldn’t keep it warm enough.
That year I was constantly bundling wet newborn baby lambs up in towels and running them to the house, tucked inside my barn coat. There I carried them down to the basement, where the Farmer had set up a playpen with a heat lamp over it. I rubbed their little bodies dry and thawed out their frozen feet before carrying them back to the barn to meet their exhausted and overwhelmed mothers.
We had to put heat lamps in the pens, to keep the lambs alive. We turned them off at night, though, because the Farmer was afraid that one of the ewes might pull the hot lamp down into the hay, setting it alight. Hopefully someone has invented a cool-touch heat lamp since our lambing days – or a better way to keep animals warm in a drafty barn.
Ideally if you are raising animals in a Canadian winter, you will erect a coverall barn or Quonset that you can heat if necessary. Big Sky Ranch, our local animal sanctuary, used donations to build a closed barn for their rescue animals. This winter, however, they have to turn on the heat to keep their 100 shelter animals alive. It will be a costly season, so if you can spare a few dollars, send it their way. Or if you just want to look around the house or barn and see what items you can spare for donation, head to their webpage for their wish list.
On our own farm, we got smart and locked up the ram until December so the babies wouldn’t be born until April. He wasn’t pleased but we had a lot more healthy lambs born in springtime.


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