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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A wedding with a Muslim touch

We rushed through our farm chores Saturday so we could get ready for the wedding of a friend’s daughter. The event took place in the garden of their sprawling Kemptville property. The bride, dressed in a simple strapless white-and-ivory banded gown (from J.Crew online) was marrying a Muslim man in a simple dark suit, in a non-denominational ceremony with very simple vows. The bridal party consisted of the groom, best man, bride and man of honour, for a change.  The officiator begins by prompting the groom to propose marriage to his beloved. Then the bride answers, “I wed myself to you, promise to love and honor and be faithful to you and to support our children, and grandchildren, for the rest of my life.” The groom repeats that he will do the same. Ten minutes and it was all done. Which is a good thing because just then the overcast sky cleared and a blistering sun began beating down on all of us. Then it was time for the party. While the bridal group took wedding photos among the lilies and hostas in the garden, we were treated to lavender-infused gin-and-lemonade cocktails. Some of us found our way around the back of the house to the washroom-on-wheels, which was a treat in itself. You climb up a set of stairs to enter a lovely air-conditioned bathroom equipped with fresh, fragrant flowers, hair spray, breath mints, hand cream and anything else you might need to freshen yourself up a bit. I stayed in there as long as politely possible. When I reluctantly opened the door to re-enter the oppressive heat, a small group of my friends was standing there looking at me, perturbed. Those washrooms saw a lot of action that night, as the heat continued until well after dark.
Dinner was created and served by Epicurea, an Ottawa caterer, in a tent decorated in crisp white linens and perfumed lilies and roses. Interestingly, the bride and groom were seated at their own tiny table for two at the front of the tent. I impressed myself by eating blue cheese for the first time, but some of the farmer types at my table didn’t touch their antipasto plate at all. After a wonderful chicken dinner, each key person in the celebration delivered a short, sweet speech. The theme of less-is-more was refreshing and authentic. Dancing followed dessert, and the bride and groom danced their traditional first dance as husband and wife. After that, the father of the bride danced with his daughter. Sniff. Then the couple disappeared for a few minutes, to change out of their formal wedding clothes. As the music continued, I felt it was time to let the hair down, kick the shoes off and dance to a few Middle Eastern-fusion tunes with friends. One hand in the air screws in the lightbulb, other hand down low pats the dog, slowly turn in a circle and rise up on one toe, like a funky whirling dervish. That’s how I learned to dance in Asia. Soon I had everyone doing it.
 Then with a unique cultural twist, a troupe of belly dancers, one with a lit candlebra on her headdress, led the newly married couple back into the tent. We were treated to a series of traditional ethnic dance numbers, much to our collective delight. It was an honour to be invited to such a special event. I love weddings. And after all that whirling, I burned enough calories that I didn’t have to go for my 5-k walk the next morning.

Penelope's last litter

Penelope's Life-Changing Day

While the life of the average house cat may be long and leisurely, the life of a barn cat can be short and difficult. One way to improve the health and prolong the life of a female barn cat is to have her spayed so she doesn’t have to have any more kittens. Wednesday was Penelope’s lucky day.
Penelope was born three years ago (I think, from my photo album research), during my first summer as a Farmwife. She looks like a calico, but instead of orange, black and white markings, she has grey, peach and white colouring, making her what is known as a Dilute Calico.
This cat is probably the least feral of all of our barn cats. Since she was born, she has always been fonder of the humans than of the other cats. While most barn cats rub and nuzzle against each other, Penelope saves her lovin’ for the people. If I put my hand down to pet her, she arches her back and does a little hop up to reach me. This dance is repeated over and over, until one of us gets tired (usually me; not the cat).
Penelope also prefers to be fed separately from the other cats. She seems to be very worried about sharing a platter of feed with the others, and they usually respond to her nervous approach with a clawed swat to her nose. Penelope hops up onto the closest piece of barn furniture and I feed her there. I figured Penelope would be easy enough to catch, in comparison to our other mamas.
Tuesday evening, I lured Penelope into a cat carrier with Temptations cat treats. She didn’t even blink as I gently pushed her tail inside and latched the door. When she ran out of treats, however, it was another story. She rocked and rolled that carrier until it popped open at the plastic hinges. She pushed the lid to the side, crawled out and came and sat by my feet, looking up at me and demanding more cat treats.
I sighed. Clearly I needed a stronger cage. I crawled up into the stable loft and found the dog carrier that was double the size and strength of the cat carrier. It was held together with bolts instead of plastic hinges. But could I get her into a cage again?
It took a bit of coaxing but eventually Penelope was successfully lured into the cage. They don’t call them Temptation cat treats for nothing.
I drove the cat to the cat shelter in North Gower, where Penelope was scheduled to stay the night. Her cat treats would be the last food she would have until after her surgery the next day.
Early Wednesday morning, Penelope was delivered to the Riverside South Animal Hospital. There she entered into the Trap-Neuter-Return program for feral cats.
Surgery was scheduled for the morning, and I received a call when she woke up from her sedative, at about 3 in the afternoon. The patient was ready for pickup.
As a feral cat, Penelope was given a slow-release antibiotic and pain killer to facilitate recovery. She spent the first 24 hours in the house. I went down to the basement before bed and couldn’t find her amongst the stored furniture. I got a flashlight and finally I spotted her eyes flashing at me from inside the dollhouse. When she emerged from the basement the next day to wander the house, howling at every window and door, I knew she was ready to return outside.
Many thanks to Paul Lafleur of Village Kitten Rescue in North Gower ( and Dr. Dennett of the Riverside South Animal Hospital for everything. That’s one less mama cat I have to worry about. Now, who’s next?

Summer golf and giving hearts

Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven with repose;
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays.
                                    ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

We have had three absolutely perfect summer days in a row. 27 degrees under a cloudless sky, with a cool breeze blowing. Country folk just have to open all their windows and let it blow on through. No need for air conditioning. These are good days if you are on holiday, and even better if you need to do some work outside.
Many farmers are getting the last of their hay in now. No one minds working a long day outside in this weather. As I pull weeds and flick potato bugs in my garden, I notice that the breeze keeps the bugs at bay while the sun warms my shoulders.
The horse spends most of her summer days in the cool of the barn. If I go into the barn to do something she will often follow me out, thinking I might let her into the stable. Of course she prefers it there, because there aren’t many flies and hay and water are also available for the lazy girl. But I don’t look forward to mucking out stalls in this heat so I try to keep her outside for the most part.
Misty will be inside less than a minute before she starts complaining that Donkey is not with her. She will whinny loudly at him until he appears outside the stable door, pushing it with his nose to get in. If I’m weeding the garden, he ignores her, choosing instead to stand at the fence where I throw the fresh green weeds.
The Farmer spends his days mending fences and farming equipment, taking advantage of the more temperate weather to get some of the heavier work done.
The Carol Durie Memorial Golf Tournament was a huge success last Friday. Carol’s former students, both from school and the equestrian field came to celebrate her memory by raising money for a good cause. At the end of the day, $60,000 had been raised for the Mammography Unit at the Kemptville District Hospital. Harry Pratt came through on his vow to have his hair dyed pink if he raised $2,000 in pledges. Following the day of golf, he celebrated by having his head shaved.
The other bald heads in the group were the organizers of the event: Pat Poirier, Dean Tataryn, Mark Hyndman, Pete Johnston and Carol’s son, Todd Durie. They were more than happy to have their heads shaved, as they have been sporting mullets for the past few weeks, in memory of their favourite teacher of the 1980s.
The speeches were very moving; at times there were more teary eyes than dry ones in the room. The biggest applause went to Carol’s grandson, who raised $500 with a lemonade stand.
Harry Pratt spoke about the men who first banded together to raise money to build Kemptville District Hospital, in the late 1950s. Norm Goldberg (father of Bob Perry) worked alongside Jackson Flay to raise a quarter million dollars in ten days! The grandchildren of these KDH founders, Jim Perry and Jackie (Flay) Dillabaugh, were on hand to celebrate Carol Durie’s memory and to raise money for a worthy cause on Friday.
The event was titled “The 1st Annual” Carol Durie Memorial Golf Tournament but organizers have not yet decided whether they will hold the event next year. It’s kind of like having a baby. You put so much work into it; people shouldn’t ask you about the next one for at least 6 months.
In any case, the day is one that will be remembered by all in attendance for quite some time. Here’s to you, Carol. Your memory lives on in the hearts and minds of your students, family and friends.

Monday, July 4, 2011

How to tame a feral kitten

I have too many kittens in my barn. I need to adopt some of them out and get the rest spayed or neutered. Here’s the problem. They’re wilder than Tarzan’s ape. Lucky for me,
you can learn how to do almost anything on the Internet. I googled “how to tame a feral kitten” and found some good advice.
My kittens look tame enough. They sit there all doe-eyed, fluffy and innocent looking, until you get close enough to touch. Then they either dart off to freedom or, if backed into a corner, they become a hissing, spitting ball of fur, claws and razor-sharp teeth. I have learned that if you wear rubberized gardening gloves, a long-sleeved shirt and a modicum of bravery however, you can sneak up on the little fur balls while they are eating or sleeping and quickly stuff them into a waiting cat carrier.
I feel a bit like the scary old man on the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, who drove around with a cage full of children that he had kidnapped. I go into the barn and come out with a cage full of mewing kittens. The adult cats just stare at me. I wonder if they are thinking, “Oh thank goodness, I don’t have to feed them anymore,” or if they are really worried about where I am taking their babies. In any case, they don’t seem to have much of a reaction.
According to the advisory page that I found on the Internet, I am to enclose the kittens in a small room. I normally use the small powder room as a cat holding pen when I’m treating them for illnesses. But this is going to be a slightly longer term operation and I can’t afford to give up my guest bathroom. The last kid who moved out better not be planning to move back in any time soon, because I just gave up her basement bedroom to my kitty cats.
Once inside the room, you open the door to the cat carrier but don’t attempt to pull the kittens out. They will come out when they are good and ready. I put them in there a couple of hours ago and two are still in the carrier. I turned the carrier so they can see the other kittens going to the water and food. Hopefully that will entice them to venture out.
Although I removed all but one covered futon from the room, I gave the kittens plenty of places to hide. None of these places are out of my reach, however, so I can catch them if need be. Two of the kittens still have the eye infections that many barn kitties get. I need to be able to catch and treat them. It will be much easier now that they are in a room and cannot get away from me.
Apparently I am not to attempt to touch the wildest of the feral kitties for the first couple of days. I can go into their room, sit amongst them and cuddle the more tame kittens. I can put a small towel over one of the timid kittens, pull it into my lap and pet it until it gets used to me, but I cannot go chasing the kittens that are hiding. If I have to catch one for any reason, I must bring my arm around behind them because they perceive an approaching hand as a threat. Also, I must not make too much eye contact. Kittens prefer it if you avert your eyes. That is less threatening to them.
They have a kitty litter station, a bubbling self-watering bowl and a continuous supply of kitty food. I have scattered “toys” (anything that scoots or rolls across the floor when batted with a paw) over the floor and padded the various boxes, carriers and futon with soft, worn towels. It’s kitty heaven down there. I hope they appreciate it. The goal is to get them all tame, so I can adopt them out to good homes. And yes, the Farmer is wondering why his Farmwife has suddenly turned into the Crazy Cat Lady of O’Neill Road.


They've only just begun

“ many roads to choose. We’ll start out walkin’ and learn to run...and yes, we’ve just begun...” The Carpenters

The countdown is on. In just a few nights, my daughter graduates from high school. I have been feeling rather weepy and discombobulated about the whole thing. My daughter knows this. And so what does she do about it? She takes advantage of my moment of weakness and, for the first time in her teenaged years, asks us to do something for her. She asks us to host the After-Grad Party at the farm. Oi-vay.
How do we say no? That’s right. We don’t. We are somewhat honoured to have been asked. We say yes. But not right away. First, we called friends who had hosted after-grad in previous years. We got advice on how to orchestrate the whole event so that a good time is had by all, and everyone gets home safely. Mostly it’s about collecting car keys, parking cars where they cannot be easily retrieved (i.e. in the grazing pasture of a biting donkey and a charging ram) and setting up tents. Lots of tents.
I have enlisted the help of a few of the other parents of graduates, in case I need drivers to transport partiers to their homes. For most of the evening, I imagine we will be sitting on the screened-in porch, not exactly eavesdropping on the festivities but definitely keeping an ear out for trouble. But I don’t think we really have much to worry about. We have a smart bunch of kids graduating this year. Actually, this generation seems to be much better at planning ahead and thinking things through than, for example, their parents were at the same age.
I will be getting the Farmer to reinforce the gates to the barnyard so that no revelers end up on the manure side of the fence in the dark. I don’t want anyone getting stepped on by a horse – or attempting to ride her.
Paulina has asked some friends to come over to help set up on Wednesday morning. By the time this column is in print, the dance floor will be built, the tent over the dance floor will be erected, the porta-pottie will be in place and the firewood will be neatly stacked next to the bonfire pit. Tiki torches will be installed around the yard and strings of lights will be hung from the trees to keep party guests from wandering into the stinging nettle in the dark.
The graduating class of 2011 has compiled lists of music requests, and Paulina has spent the better part of a week downloading songs. I suggested we set up a karaoke machine. I don’t think she heard me. The kids (can I still call them that?) have their own ideas about how to celebrate the end of their high school careers.
In order to recognize certain students’ unique contributions to high school life, awards will be presented. I imagine they will bear the titles: Best Dressed; Drama Queen; Teacher’s Pet; Class Clown, etc. But I could be wrong. They have their own special memories, their own achievements to celebrate, their own shared experiences to commemorate at their 2011 After-Grad Oscars. This is their night. We are just the ones honoured to be hosting for them, giving them a safe place to celebrate friendships, the end of one phase of their lives and the beginning of the next.
I just hope Paulina gets home from Wonderland in time to help me set up those tiki torches or the Farmer is going to be grumpy.

Happiness is a new nest

If you want to make a bunch of chickens happy, spread new hay on the floor of their chicken coop. Don’t just run in there and dump a load of hay in front of them, however, or some of them will have heart attacks and keel over. Speak in an even tone as you slowly enter the room, pitchfork of hay in hand. Then softly and gently spread the hay around the floor, taking care to cover the particularly wet spots around the water feeder. Chickens hate getting wet. But they can ruin a layer of hay in about a day with their manure so you will likely have to come back again tomorrow with another load.
The chickens’ propensity for heart attacks is just one reason why I prefer turkeys. Chickens also peck your feet and hands when you are trying to fill up their feeders. Turkeys just stand beside you as you fiddle with the strings on the feed bag and struggle to lift and pour the 40kg of feed into the metal column feeder. If you take an especially long time getting the bag open, the turkeys gather around your boots, looking up at you and warbling helpful advice.
I want to meet the person who invented the feedbag string system and I want to kick them in the shins. On thirty-degree days I am often found in a damp, smelly chicken coop, fussing with the strings that are supposed to easily release with a tug on the knot on the opposite side and opposite end of the feed bag label. The bags are double-stitched all the way down the seam so you can’t just take an exacto knife or pair of scissors to it. Anyway, it can be trying.
The turkeys also appreciate a clean, dry bed of hay, but they don’t go through it as quickly because they drink and eat at about one-tenth the speed of the chickens. They hardly eat or drink at all, actually, in comparison to the feathered beasts in the next pen. The only real complaint I have about the turkeys is that they like to sneak into the new chick pens to snuggle down under the heat lamp. I come in in the mornings to find the new chicks struggling to crawl out from under the bigger turkeys. So I took the turkeys out of the new chick pen and stretched chicken wire (aptly named) over the top of the pen. The next day I found the turkeys had been sitting on the wire, looking down and pooping on the little chicks below. So the Farmer moved the new chicks to their own pen in the lambing area. Now they are having a blast, running around and hiding in the corners of their vast space.
The Farmer used to keep his birds outside. He built them shelter from the elements and provided water in a long, low trough. I think the birds would enjoy being outside. My cats don’t seem to be intrigued by them at all and the sheep certainly wouldn’t bother them. The horse and donkey might be interested in the noise the birds make but if we fence off the area they should be safe.
The Farmer says he has to clip the wings of the birds so that they don’t try to fly away. And then we have to make sure they have everything they need, and that the area has been bird-proofed. When I first visited the farm in 2006, the birds loved to sit on the cedar rail fence. This was fine until the birds got to such a weight (turkeys in particular) that they would fall off the fence and break their necks. So we have to watch for hazards like that. But, as always, I think that a free-range animal is much happier and healthier than one that is kept in a room in the barn. And a Farmwife is much happier and healthier if she can get the darned feedbag open, which is now much easier since the Farmer pointed out that you open them from the zipline on the bottom.