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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Welcome to 2009 - The Year of the Ox!

The Chinese New Year that corresponds with our year 2009 (this gets complicated; bear with me) begins sometime in February. This is the Year of the Ox, according to Chinese astrology.
The Chinese zodiac is based on this story: 12 animals were in a race across the river to meet the Jade Emperor. The cat and the rat were terrible swimmers, but smart and wily enough to know they could jump on the back of the ox in order to cross safely. Halfway across, the rat decided he had better push the cat off. That is why the cat hates both the water and rats to this day. Upon reaching the far shore, the rat jumped off the ox’s head and claimed first place in the race. The ox came in second. The strong tiger was third.
The rabbit had jumped from stone to stone to cross the river, coming in fourth. The dragon came in fifth, the snake came in sixth (by riding on the horse’s hoof) and the horse came in seventh. The ram, monkey and rooster combined their efforts to take eighth, ninth and tenth place. The dog came in eleventh, because he was busy playing in the water. The pig came in last, as he had stopped to eat and nap.
This is just one condensed version of many.
Every twelve years, the cycle repeats itself. Each of the Chinese zodiac animals is associated with various personality traits and characteristics that are said to be passed on to those born under their sign. People born under the sign of the Ox are said to be dependable, strong and determined. Oxen are tolerant individuals who believe in hard work without shortcuts. They have a hard time respecting lazy individuals. The Ox is very trusting, with an open mind. He prefers to do his own research before he makes a serious decision, and he favours a few lifelong friendships to many casual acquaintances.
The Ox seeks comfort at home, watching television or reading. He prefers the great outdoors when he is feeling energetic, spending time doing yardwork and gardening.
The Ox is strong and healthy, but this can lead to a tendency to overwork. Must remember to incorporate fun and relaxation into the daily schedule.
The methodical Ox excels in a specialized role that is routine. Oxen possess a keen eye for detail and an admirable work ethic. They work best on their own. People born under the sign of the Ox make good political leaders, surgeons, military generals and…hairdressers! Napoleon Bonaparte, Walt Disney, Clark Gable, Richard Nixon, Rosa Parks, Princess Diana, Richard Burton and Vincent Van Gogh were all famous Oxen.
Change makes the Ox uncomfortable, so he will look long and hard for the right partner before settling down. He isn’t very sociable, doesn’t like large crowds and never wastes time with flirting.
If you were born in 1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985 or 1997, you were born under the sign of the Ox. Your birthday has to fall between February of the listed year and February of the following year, however, to correspond with the Chinese calendar.
And then we get into the Yin and Yang characteristics and the 5 elements: Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, Metal. Those factors will all temper the personality of the Ox.
2009 is to be the year of the Yin/Yang Earth Ox, meaning balance, nourishment, stability and harvest. Perhaps this current time of recession will force many of us to focus on the things that are the most important to us: the relationships that ground us and make us who we are.
According to Chinese astrology, the Farmer is a Fire Monkey and I am an Earth Monkey. Although we are direct opposites to each other in many ways (Earth and Fire), we do have many of the same characteristics that draw us together. We both love to laugh, and we are both extremely optimistic. Thankfully, my mate displays the mathematical and scientific traits that are listed under the sign of the Monkey: I seem to have been shortchanged there somehow.
To find out more about your own Chinese astrological sign, visit
And a Happy Year of the Ox to one and all!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Memories

This column is written for those who are spending Christmas with their memories.
Of course, we all spend Christmas with our memories to some extent. But those of us who are still in the throes of celebrating the holidays with young children have too much on the go to sit and think about time passing.
Christmas is for children. So when they are young, our focus is to: 1. Get the Christmas list from the child; 2. Attempt to streamline Christmas list to a more reasonable size; 3. Locate and purchase all items remaining on the list; 4. Find successful hiding spots for purchased items; 5. Find uninterrupted time to wrap said gifts (usually with kids banging on the door, wondering what you are doing in there, or late at night, after they have gone to sleep); 6. Learn how to recreate all of the Christmas traditions of your childhood for your own young, including Christmas decorating, legends, activities and baking; 7. Find time to carry out all aforementioned Christmas traditions; 8. Take part in school Christmas pageants, staff parties, neighbourhood and family gatherings; and 9. Record all events on camera in case you are too frazzled to “live in the moment” and truly enjoy the festivities.
If that is an accurate description of your Christmas, congratulations! Your life is full. You will appreciate this busy phase after it has passed; trust me.
But what about those people who are alone at Christmas?
Time marches on. Children grow up and move out, relationships end and partners leave, family members age and pass on. Christmas can be a pretty depressing time for those who have no family members to celebrate with.
This is my first Christmas without my father. His absence will be felt, to be sure. Dad loved Christmas. He insisted on shopping alone for the perfect gift for my sister and me (I say “gift” singular because he often bought us the same thing while we were growing up). His gifts were always very original, but the one I remember most clearly was the walkie-talkie. I thought that was the coolest gift ever.
Last year Dad got Mom, Cathy and me tickets to see “Mamma Mia” at the NAC. I was raised on ABBA. Another perfect gift.
We continue to mention Dad at every family gathering – and at every opportunity – so that he will live on in our memories. But we are lucky because we have each other. We are a close-knit family; we live near each other and we do things together every week.
If you are alone over the holidays, I urge you to get out and surround yourself with positive people. Get together with old friends and neighbours, or take part in an open community event. Christmas is no time to be alone. Force yourself to get out.
Whenever there is a big event in your life, and your family dynamics or circle of friends changes, it’s time to think of forming some new traditions. Keep moving forward, while still paying homage to Christmas past. I’m no expert, but my life has been through so many dramatic changes, I have learned this is the only way to go.
As this column goes to print, I will be up to my eyeballs in sheep. We are expecting a new crop of lambs to arrive sometime between Christmas and New Year’s, so I have to get ready.
First, I will take a broom to the lovely artistic display of cobwebs in the lambing area. Then I will make sure there is enough hay in each of the lambing pens in our Maaaaaaa-ternity ward. Next, I will help the Farmer to test all of the water hoses. Finally, I will strap a couple of water buckets into each pen and then we will be ready. Let the games begin.
I was thinking it might be helpful to have a baby monitor set up in the barn, as most of the births start in the wee hours of the morning. However, I don’t even know if sheep make noise to signal the onset of a birth. It’s like a tree falling in the woods and making a sound. Do they make noise when we aren’t there? If there is no new food arriving on the scene, I’m not sure the sheep have much to talk about. I don’t imagine a birth would get them too excited.
Of course, the drama of difficult births always makes one want to do everything possible to make things run smoothly in the future. Now I understand why some farmers choose to have a spare bed in the barn. Usually you can tell if a ewe is going to go into labour in the next few hours. There are signs.
If I see these signs this time, I will make a note to go out to the barn every few hours throughout the night. The Farmer and I take turns doing the night checks.
I wish we had a video surveillance camera trained on the sheep with a monitor in our room. That would make my sleep easier.
Every year we have something new to celebrate, and something or someone else to remember from the past.
Good luck with your merry-making; may you form some wonderful memories to last your whole life long.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Trip to the Big Smoke

I was pretty much finished my shopping by December 7th this year, but the Farmer needed some assistance with his list. I agreed to go into Bayshore with him, on a weeknight, when hopefully the crowds would be diminutive. And then Paulina threw a wrench in my plans.
Our fifteen-year-old pointed out that she has been to Bayshore so many times, she knows the entire inventory of each store as if it were in her own closet. I told her that they might have received new stock for Christmas, but she wasn’t buying it – no pun intended. She needed to do some shopping, apparently, for the school semi-formal Christmas dance. And she wanted to do that shopping at the Rideau Centre (I know it’s technically called just “Rideau Centre” without the “the” but that bugs me so I’m not calling it that).
Surprisingly, I was able to talk the Farmer into the adventure. We loaded ourselves, Paulina, Anastasia (who wasn’t about to miss a trip to the Big Smoke) and one of their male friends who would probably prefer to remain anonymous (hey – his mother isn’t a columnist – why should he suffer?) into the big Ford F150 with the cap on the back. Yes, the Cavalier is better on gas but fuel is relatively cheap these days, the 4x4 is better on the roads and besides, the Farmer doesn’t fit very comfortably into my modest vehicle.
The ride in only took 35 minutes. I was impressed – and grateful, as the giggling and shotgun laughter coming from the back seat was almost as difficult to bear as the rap on the radio. The last stretch from Nicholas to Rideau was painful, however, as the two-day-old bus strike had things backed up for blocks.
Finally we arrived at the parking garage. And took notice of a big red sign hanging overhead that clarified a clearance of just 6 feet. The Farmer looked at me. Suddenly I wished we were in my little green car. There were no parking spots available on the street, so it was the garage or go home. The Farmer opened his door and stepped out to see if we would fit. I did the same on my side. Four inches of ice topped the roof of our cap. We decided to go for it, and grimaced at the scraping noise as we slowly squeezed our way into the garage. I giggled at the look on the face of the parking attendant. All we needed was a dozen sheep in the back to complete the image of Farmer-and-clan on city tour.
Once inside the garage, we noted the low-hanging pipes on the ceiling. So this is why you must be shorter than 6 feet. The Farmer did a dandy job of navigating his way between the low spots, and parked us in the middle of the garage. There were only about six other cars in the lot. It was a slow night, to say the least.
Once inside, the kids went their way and we went ours. I was shopping for boots, and found a store with several styles to try on. The salesgirl was very helpful, but I worried that her abundant cleavage would burst forth at any moment, potentially injuring someone. I snuck a look at the Farmer, to see if he had noticed the busty brunette. He had. At least he wasn’t as obvious as my father used to be. On the off-chance that we managed to get Dad into a mall, he would shop quickly and then spend the rest of the time sitting on a bench, people-watching. We would find him in the same spot three hours later, with his mouth hanging open, obviously staring at oddly-dressed passersby.
I found plenty of boots I liked, but none under $200 were available in my size. The salesgirl in the fishnet stockings told me that my size 9 feet weren’t particularly big; they were just the most popular size. I looked at her petite little size 6 feet skeptically.
We met the kids at the pre-designated spot at the pre-designated hour. I was almost surprised to see them there. At what point did they suddenly become able to wander through a mall without my guidance? I’m pretty sure just last year they were still disappearing on me in large crowds.
From her shopping bag, Paulina produced the four-inch stiletto heels and just-past-the-bum babydoll dress that she had purchased to wear to the semi-formal. Suddenly I was the one with my mouth hanging open. Just last summer, this kid refused to be seen in public wearing shorts or a swimsuit. And now she planned to place her mile-long legs on display in a dress that only Beyonce would wear.
“The salesman was very convincing,” she smiled, a bit sheepishly. I thought to myself that her male companion might also have uttered some encouraging words.
The Farmer was a bit disappointed that he wasn’t able to find the perfect gift for each of our 5 girls on this shopping trip (I advised him against buying 5 ear-flap fur hats in various colours), but we did manage to strike Mom’s name off our list with a great gift, so the trip was not all for naught.
On the way out of the garage, the Farmer had a fair amount of trouble lowering his window to pay the parking attendant. Apparently someone had been trying to jimmy the door open while we were in the mall. How rude.
Thus ended our trip to the Big Smoke. We may not have busty women in low-cut tops and fishnet stockings on the farm, but the scenery is pretty nice, all the same.

The Accidental Farmwife would like to thank all of her readers for being so loyal over the past year. May your home be peaceful and warm, and your family safe on the roads throughout the holiday season.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sheep Rescue and Donkey Whispering

A routine trip to the barnyard turned into an exciting episode recently. I was in the barn, watering the cows, when I heard a chorus of bleating. I hurried outside to see what the fuss was about.
The sheep had returned from the pasture and were gathered around the hay feeder. When I came out of the barn, they turned and looked at me. One by one the lambs came over and nudged me nose-to-nose, in our usual greeting. Then they rushed back to the feeder, with a little skip. I was heading back to the house when I saw something that made me stop in my tracks.
One of our lambs was stuck under the hay feeder.
The Farmer had warned me to watch for this. The lambs are small enough to burrow under the feeder and eat the hay that is poking out the bottom. But when snow or hay piles up around them, the often can’t get back out. This little lamb was so firmly wedged beneath the iron belly of the feeder, I doubted I could get her out on my own.
First I cleared the hay, snow and muck away from her face so she could breathe. Then I dug out around her. She had been stuck there for a while, obviously, trying to dig her way out. Her legs were lost beneath her, so I couldn’t get hold of one. I grabbed handfuls of wool and tugged. Nothing. I sat down beside her and weighed the options.
I could wait for the Farmer to return, so that he could nudge the feeder off her with the tractor. But he might not be back for several hours. I didn’t know if she would last that long – and I had no idea how long she had been wedged under there.
As I tugged helplessly on her wool, the lamb tried to help by paddling her feet in the snow and the mud. But she was obviously very tired, shivered a little and gave up. I felt really terrible for the stupid little thing.
Finally, I decided to give the feeder a big shove to see if I could lift it. With half a round bale of hay on it, I didn’t think I could but I surprised myself. I guess I had just the right amount of momentum and up it went. The lamb just lay there, not recognizing her freedom. I gave her a little shove with my boot and she jumped up, limping a little but otherwise unharmed. I felt like one of those women you read about who suddenly develop superhuman adrenalin-charged strength in order to lift cars and other heavy objects off their young.
The next morning, our Donkey escaped again. We had locked all the sheep in the barn in order to sort them for sale in the morning (I know – I don’t want to think about it!). Donkey was locked on the outside of the barn, and he wasn’t very happy with the situation.
Quite a wind whipped up overnight, and the backdoor of the shed door blew open, giving Donkey a pass-through to freedom. The next morning, when his escape was discovered, I set out to find the beast. I was pretty sure I knew where he was.
Stuffing apples in the pockets of my barn coat and donning my fleece-lined rubber boots, I trudged down the driveway whistling and calling the runaway. He wasn’t at either of our three closest neighbours’. Just what I suspected. I went back to the house for my car keys. Just then, the phone rang. It was our neighbour down the road, with the horses. Donkey had gone to visit.
Now, at times like these, I almost feel sorry for Donkey. I’m sure he would rather be with horses than sheep.
When I arrived at the farm, there was Donkey, in the horse paddock with his new friends. Except they didn’t seem to be sharing their hay with him, and he had a few scratches – no doubt earned while breaking through the bushes and into their pen. He looked surprised to see me. I walked up to him and grabbed the end of his lead and tugged. He was a concrete wall. Immovable. I showed him the apple and he took a bite.
Step by step, and with plenty of stops along the way for sniffing and looking around, Donkey followed me out of the paddock. Following the apple.
I looked at my little green Cavalier and wished it was a truck with a trailer hitch. I really had no plan at all. I just got in the car, and wrapped Donkey’s lead around my hand. I gave him the other half of the apple, looked him in the eye, and dared him to defy me.
“Come on Donk. We’re goin’ home.”
And that’s just what we did, very slowly, with lots of stops along the way for sniffing and looking around. I am the Donkey Whisperer.