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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Introducing Ashley & Misty, our 2 Belgian blondes!

The Farmer and I had been talking about horses for some time. I wanted a horse that I could ride through the trails and forests of our 200-acre farm. He wanted a heavy horse, as they are reputed to be the “gentle giants” of the species.
And then came the fateful email. A friend of mine, knowing that my dream was to add a horse or two to the menagerie at the Fisher Farm, just happened to mention that the man down the road was ready to give up his beloved Belgian mares.
Imagine my surprise when the Farmer said, “Call him”. I thought my husband had been bluffing about his equine enthusiasm.
The horseman, Ron Cooke, sounded a little uncertain as I asked him one dumb question after another, revealing my ignorance of all things equestrian. Then he mentioned that the horses were purebred.
Oh well, I thought. It was worth the call, but they are no doubt too dear for our budget.
“Purebred?” the Farmer’s ears perked up. “Belgian heavy horses? Tell him we’ll be right over.”
As we neared the Cooke residence, I could see the two blonde beauties in the distance.
“Look! There they are!” I squealed, nearly worrying the poor Farmer right off the road.
We met Ron at the barn, and he called the horses over for us. They seemed a little shy, and I wondered if maybe they weren’t used to having many visitors.
As they picked their way over the ice toward us, I began to assess the full impact of their size. Wowza. These are some big girls. At seventeen and a half hands, they tower over the Farmer (who is 6 ft 2 himself).
The first thing I noticed about the horses, as they gently nudged Ron’s hands and pockets with their noses, looking for treats, was their calm. They didn’t appear to be nervous at all. Ashley, the older one (almost 9) allowed me to pet and stroke her hide as much as I wanted to. Misty, the 7-year-old, decided she would reserve judgment for another day, hiding behind her larger sister.
I don’t have much experience with horses, and the Farmer always says he has been “on three and off two”. But I am looking forward to learning everything that we need to know to make this new relationship as mutually beneficial as possible.
My sister and I grew up on Johnston Road outside Kemptville, just down from the Williams’ farm. Occasionally Deb and Karen would invite us to go trail riding with them, but we certainly were not experts on horseback.
It was a good childhood memory (free of injury), however, so when I had children of my own I took them to the Williams’ farm again, now a full-fledged riding school, for summer day camp riding lessons.
The girls loved the introduction to the world of horses, and I was happy that they had something to do that involved them being out-of-doors and active.
Over the years, I would occasionally be invited to ride with friends, but I never took them up on it. I probably haven’t been on a horse in about 25 years. Hopefully, it’s like riding a bicycle, and you never forget the technique.
Of course, these new horses of ours may not be very easy to ride. First of all, they’ve never been ridden. They are “green broke”, meaning that they have been trained to pull wagons and sleighs, etc., but they haven’t had to work very hard in their reasonably bucolic existence thus far.
I don’t want to change that, either. I just want to ride them.
The other factor that might be a deterrent to riding is the sheer size of these babies. I imagine it will be something like straddling a couch. It’s a good thing the Farmer and I are tall people, with long legs.
Someone I met on the weekend (a jealous person, I figure) had the nerve to say to me, “you can’t ride a heavy horse, silly. They are just work horses.”
So I looked them up on the Internet. And I spoke to other heavy horse owners. And I would like to correct that naysayer. You can, in fact, ride a heavy horse. You just have to convince the horse.
After Ashley and Misty have settled in on the Fisher Farm, the Farmer and I will have to see about finding a horse whisperer. If anyone out there has experience breaking heavy horses, send me an email, will you?
Another experience that the two girls from Belgium have never had is foaling. Neither one of them has ever given birth. I can just imagine how cute one of their foals would be, with its gangly legs and huge feet. That is something we will probably look into in the near future, before the girls get too long in the tooth, so to speak.
Belgian horses have a life expectancy of 20 to 25 years, I’m told. So we have a good 15 years or so to get to know each other. I’m really looking forward to it.
Of course, there is just one other small issue where I’m concerned: I have a stubborn, irritating allergy to horses. I will have to leave my barn clothes in the basement and wear gloves when riding or I’ll end up puffy-eyed, coughing and sneezing.
If you’re looking for me, I’m at the drugstore, stocking up on Claritin Extra.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Farmwife to hit the stage March 1st in Literary Follies

When I was in school, I loved to be on stage. The first starring role that I remember was as the Teacher in “School Days” in Grade 6. I still remember most of the words to the chorus of the song that Mr. Birtch taught me to sing, about homework excuses. The acting bug got me good, and nearly every year after that, straight through junior high and high school, I was in the annual theatre production.
I also entered every talent show, beauty pageant and variety night that North Grenville District High School produced. One loyal friend of our family says she saw me sing “The Rose” by Bette Midler a total of twelve times in public. I apologize.
Somewhere around 1985, when I was in Grade 11, our drama club put on “The Farm Show”. This was a collection of vignettes about farm life in Goderich, Ontario. In this production, I played two roles. In one, I was an overworked mother (is there any other kind?). I delivered the monologue standing inside an old wringer washing machine. In the other role, I was a grandmother talking about her legacy as she flipped through an old photo album. Never in my wildest dreams, at the age of 17, did I imagine I might one day be a real farmwife.
Well. In a weird twist of life imitating art, I have been asked once again to step on stage at Leslie Hall. Some twenty-four years later. This time, I will be doing my own version of a farm show, as The Accidental Farmwife.
This column seems to be getting quite a following, I was just telling Donkey the other day. It seems to appeal to the cityfolk, as reading about the farming life can be a romantic escape from the urban everyday. And for those who grew up on a farm or were “newbie” farmwives themselves years ago, it brings back strong memories. I am told that this column is read to residents of a seniors’ home in Chesterville, by their request. Someone even told me they prefer it to Mary Cook! Such blasphemy. I am no substitute: there’s room for both of us.
If you are a fan of this column, or if you are simply a fan of reading and writing in general, I urge you to attend the Seventh Annual Literary Follies, on Sunday, March 1st, 2009, Leslie Hall on Clothier Street in Kemptville at 1:30 pm. This event is a fundraiser hosted by Friends of the Library.
My personal relationship with the library goes way back. The entry beside my name in my kindergarten yearbook was “someday I want to be a mommy, and a librarian”. Growing up on George Street, the library was an easy stop off on my way home from school. Mrs. Groskopf, the community librarian, knew me well. Mrs. Folkard, the Kemptville Public School librarian, was also well aware of my love affair with the written word. She was quite familiar with my propensity for reading while in the bathtub, sitting in a tree or walking down the street. All of these habits can lead to disaster for both book and reader, and I had my share. I’ll never forget the day I tried to sneak my copy of “The Story Girl” – a tome some 500 pages long, back onto the shelf after having inadvertently dropped it in the bubble bath. The pages had swelled so that the book was forced permanently open. I think I paid for my sin by working a few hours cataloguing books after school. This exercise only reinforced my obsession with literature.
As an elementary school student waiting for my father to finish work at the high school, I would hang out in the library. I read my way through the entire Nancy Drew section. Teachers suggested I might be gifted and recommended IQ testing, as I was reading at a level much higher than my age group – but I was just reading whatever I could get my hands on. No gift here.
As a stay-at-home Mom in Barrhaven years later, the library became my refuge. Going to the library gave me a reason to get the kids dressed and out of the house in the middle of winter. The books, toys, puzzles and Story Hour gave the kids something to do, while I happily escaped into my latest novel or magazine in the lounge area. The blast of fresh air we received while walking to the library was at times the only fresh air we got all day. I think we went at least three times a week.
While I was in Asia, I ordered books online through Amazon and sent them home by the boxful for my girls to read. I buy books every year as gifts; I don’t think you can ever waste money on a book.
Just the other day I commented to a friend that newcomers to Kemptville must think we are a very cultured, fit community, with two gyms, an art gallery, three bookstores and a library all on our main street!
Soon we will have a brand new library building to host our new moms and tots, students, retirees, researchers and recreational readers. That’s something to get excited about. Friends of the Library are doing some active fundraising for this event, and they are handing over a cheque for $4,000 to the library building campaign this week.
I look forward to meeting some of the readers of this column, at the Literary Follies on March 1. This literary / musical extravaganza features performances from local authors, speakers, singers, and actors. And who knows? There may even be a special guest or two.


Embarrassing moments, and the natural order of things.

In order to achieve and maintain proper balance in a marriage, each partner should have at least one “bbq moment”. If you don’t have one of those, a “self-cleaning oven moment” will do. Allow me to explain.
In 2006 when I was a single mom finding my way in Canada again, I moved into a new townhome. This quaint domicile came complete with a lovely self-cleaning oven. I was absolutely certain that I had read once that you could kill two birds with one stone, if you will, by placing your dirty trays and pans inside the oven before flicking the switch to “clean”. As it turned out, I nearly killed more than a few birds, not with a stone but with toxic fumes and smoke.
I had decided to clean the oven before work on a weekday morning. Why? I have no idea. I suppose I thought I was multi-tasking or something. I just loaded the oven with every pan and cookie tray that I could find that had remnants of past burns and bakes, and flicked the switch to “CLEAN” before heading to the shower.
The bathroom fan and my singing are both fairly loud, but I could still hear the smoke alarm ringing in the background a few moments later. Next, I could hear my daughters’ voices as they emerged from their respective rooms, coughing, sputtering and cursing the noxious, putrid fumes.
“Hey! Who set the house on fire?!” my eldest demanded.
“Oh don’t exaggerate…” I muttered, as I grabbed a robe and tore down the stairs to the kitchen to inspect the damage. “Just get back in your rooms, close the doors and open the windows.”
“No way. I’m going outside. I can’t breathe in here,” Anastasia said. And then, hopefully, “Do you think the firefighters will be coming?”
Black smoke and flames were billowing out of the oven vents. The house was quickly filling with smoke, and I could barely see my way to the fire extinguisher. I tugged on the oven door, but I couldn’t get it open to extinguish the fire, as the self-locking mechanism was in place. Finally I realized that I needed to shut the oven off and to wait for the temperature to go down before the door would open.
In the meantime, we all went out on the front porch, followed by plumes of smoke and the wailing of the smoke alarm, much to the enjoyment of the fifteen youngsters gathered on the corner of my lawn, waiting for the school bus.
I then came to the realization that perhaps it would have been wise to ensure the pans were relatively free of grease before locking them inside the 700-degree self-cleaning oven.
I spent the next week cleaning soot and ash off of every flat surface in the house. This is a story that my husband loves to hear, so it gets told around the dinner table often. But then, just to balance the scales, I must tell a story about him.
In our early dating days, my husband (great cook that he is) invited me to the farm for a bbq. When I arrived, he was on the porch, standing next to his brand new grill. But as I climbed out of the car, I noted a look of surprise on his face before he suddenly darted into the house. That was strange, I thought.
A few minutes later, I was poured a glass of wine and invited to sit on the porch while he cooked our meal. I thought that he was acting kind of weird, but decided to chalk it up to nerves.
Then I noticed that the bbq rotisserie with our meat on it was turning quite awkwardly. I stood up for a closer inspection. My parents had a similar bbq and I could tell by looking at it that something was wrong. Finally, my date confessed.
It seems he had experienced a few problems with the assembly of his new toy, as he couldn’t get the rotisserie to fit. Eventually he decided to CUT A HOLE in the side of the bbq with a saw, to force the fit. He was ducking into the house to hide the saw just as I arrived, he said.
I smiled, and pointed out that the labeling on the rotisserie mechanism was upside down. As a result, he had installed it incorrectly. I demonstrated that if he just turned it over…it would fit. He thanked me for pointing that out.
I love that story. It makes me feel powerful. Is that so wrong?
We all have bbq moments. They are what makes us human. And as long as we have an equal number of these embarrassing incidents that go down in family history, our partnerships remain in perfect balance.
Which reminds me – now that my husband also has a “Krazy Glue on moustache mishap” story, I need to come up with something silly that I’ve done recently, or everything will be seriously out of whack at the Fisher Farm.
Have a good week, and play safe, everyone.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Eau de Ewe

Monday morning, 6:30 am. The alarm goes off. Darn. I had planned to get up earlier this morning. I have four teenaged girls to compete with for the bathroom. I missed my turn. I throw on a bathrobe and head downstairs, in search of coffee for the Farmer and green tea for me. Suddenly I hear the bathroom door open. I take the stairs two at a time and claim the shower.
It wasn’t until I emerged from the bathroom that I realized I probably should have gone to the barn first. Now I had to make sure I didn’t get dirty while feeding the sheep. That shouldn’t be too difficult, right?
Normally I dress in my office clothes and protect them with a layer of snow pants and barn jacket. But a quick trip out to the porch verified that such a wardrobe choice would have me sweating in no time. I opted for my jeans and hooded sweatshirt instead, realizing too late that they were probably dirty enough to reverse any of the freshening effects of my shower.
Out in the barn, I lifted my leg up over the gate and hauled myself into the pen. I had to squat down to balance one of the wee lambs on my lap while I coaxed her to take a sip from the bottle of warm milk. Her mother promptly backed up into us, her wooly and muddy behind brushing my cheek. Yech.
I topped up a few more of the lambs, and crawled back out of the pen. Milk had dribbled up my arm as the lambs nursed, soaking my sleeve. Next, I gathered up the plastic buckets and started dishing out the corn. The sound of the kernels hitting the pails got the ewes awfully excited, and they started a rowdy chorus so that I wouldn’t forget any of them.
The ewe in the back pen put her front hooves up on the gate and attempted to launch herself into the aisle to get the corn. Bossy wasn’t willing to wait. Worried that she might trample one of her lambs, I decided to serve her first. As soon as I lowered the bucket down to her head, however, she reared up and bucked it out of my hands, spraying corn across the room. Aaargh. I decided she could wait until the more pleasant and placid customers had been served.
When the corn had been all nibbled up, I had to retrieve the buckets, lest a lamb get himself stuck in one of them. Sometimes I have to use a shepherd’s crook to gather up the buckets, and other times I have to actually climb back into the pen. This morning the crook was nowhere to be found, and Bossy’s bucket was just out of my reach. I balanced myself on top of the pen gate and teetered there, reaching as far as I could toward the bucket. I swear Bossy was looking me in the eye as she gently hoofed it out of my reach. I lost my balance and fell headfirst into the pen, where the stout ewe and two of her lambs promptly stepped on my hands, pushing them into the manure. I had taken my gloves off for added manual dexterity. Bad decision.
As I forked hay and lifted it over my head, I could feel some of the dust settling into my freshly-washed hair. Lovely. It was too warm for my hood, which normally protects my coiffure. Despite my efforts to comb it out, I would go to work looking as though I had been doing drywall.
On the way out of the barn, Donkey hip-checked me so that he might inspect the bucket of water I was carrying to the sheepdog, thus filling one of my rubber boots. Meeting the Farmer on his way out to feed in the other side of the barn, I handed him the pitchfork and planted a kiss on his cheek. I’m pretty sure he sniffed in my direction as I passed him. The man has the nose of a hound dog.
Back in the house, I stole a quick glance at the clock. I had 5 minutes to get ready if I was going to get the girls to school on time. I stumbled upstairs to scrub my hands and change into an outfit that might meet the dress code for my office.
The Farmer and I ran into the Mayor and his wife at one of our favourite lunch spots, Caicco’s Italian bistro. Mrs. Mayor said, “I didn’t recognize you without a lamb in your arms.”
It’s a good thing I wasn’t standing too close. I might not have been holding a lamb but I’m pretty sure I smelled like one.