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Friday, December 28, 2012

In which the world does not end.

Daughter #3 decided to host an End of the World party on December 20th. She did all her own appetizer shopping, and informed her friends that the dress code would be semi-formal. She asked permission to take over the whole house, rather than being restricted to the basement and back room as usual. We requested that the beer pong tables at least be restricted to the basement, and that candles be kept to a minimum. She reassured us that there would be no smoking anywhere in the house, that keys would be collected and guests that drank would be strongly encouraged to sleep over. All 25 of them.

For days she planned this party, arranging a potluck menu and creating an apocalyptic song list soundtrack.

She spent the day decorating and preparing the house for the party, i.e. hiding all of the knick knacks and family photos that she doesn't like, creating mood lighting and rearranging furniture. We got a little worried when we saw the good china coming out, and asked her to switch to stoneware instead. She frowned for a moment and then conceded to sensibility. But she insisted they weren't using plastic cutlery. This was to be a fancy party after all. I had to smile when I saw her arranging the buffet exactly the way we do for Sunday dinner. Kind of made me proud.

The Farmer and I were invited to Daughter #1's home in Barrhaven for dinner, so we reluctantly left Paulina and her friend Meghan mixing a fruit concoction in the punch bowl and looking up recipes. As I closed the door behind me, I'm pretty sure I heard something about a 'flaming B-52'. Shiver.

About four hours later we returned and every light in the house was on. You could hear the music down the drive, which was lined with vehicles. I expected to see mayhem in the kitchen but to my surprise there was a stack of freshly washed dishes on the counter and a bunch of kids sitting around the island, debating the validity of the doomsday clock.

I went downstairs to inflate the mattress in the spare room and make up the extra beds. By eleven I was tucked in bed with my new earplugs, and the last thing I remember before falling asleep was feeling the house shake as two dozen kids jumped and sang along to Kesha's "We're Gonna Die Young."

A couple of hours later I woke again to hear someone brushing their teeth in the bathroom. Part of me wanted to get up to make sure the girls were sleeping upstairs and the boys were downstairs, as requested, but then I thought nah, they're nineteen and besides, they are just going to laugh at me.

When I woke up the next morning, feeling well rested, the house was silent but some bright lights were still on. I investigated and found a young man sitting straight up in bed, still in his jeans, looking white as the sheets. He announced that he had been sick all night, after only two drinks. I stopped myself before asking if the drinks had been straight alcohol. He suspected food poisoning, not from anything at the party but something he had consumed earlier. I felt his forehead and sure enough, raging fever. I gave him gingerale, soda crackers, a fan, a dim light, a towel, a fresh bucket and some Gravol. Half an hour later I washed out the bucket again and before I left I gave him some Ibuprofen. I diagnosed the flu.

Paulina checked in on her patient, her eyes wide from lack of sleep. It amazes me how she always wants to host these shindigs, knowing the amount of work that goes into the cleanup, usually with a hangover and no sleep. But she is the hostess with the mostest. I suggested the cleanup involve copious amounts of Clorox bleach spray on doorknobs, light switches and handles. But I told her to get some sleep first.

I left for work just after 6:11 am, when the world had been scheduled to come crashing to a halt. It didn't - although it appeared as though a tornado had ripped through the house. There were teenagers sleeping on every flat surface.

I said a quick prayer over them as I passed, that they have a good year ahead of them, and that the flu wouldn't ruin their Christmas.

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And so this is Christmas...

So this is Christmas…and what have you done? Another year over…a new one just begun. ~ John Lennon

It’s a sunny, crisp morning in December. I have just returned from the barnyard, where I fed a bucket of over-ripe, fragrant apples to the cows, donkey and horse. Mocha is nursing a poor snout after a meeting with a porcupine that didn’t go the way she expected. We have had two calves born in the past few weeks and the sheep that got caught by the ram late summer will be in waiting next. We may have a lamb born over the holidays.

As I return to the house and slide open the patio door, I’m welcomed by the smells of a recently stoked wood fire, crisp bacon and strong coffee. I had pancakes made with oatmeal, cottage cheese and egg. Sounds horrible and it is but it balances my blood sugar. And I top them with unsweetened preserves and plain yogurt to make them more palatable. My weekend ritual complete, it’s time to write a column. The last one before Christmas.

I hope we get at least a dusting of snow on the ground for Christmas morning. The holiday is going to be hard this year for a lot of people, as the economy has forced many of us into celebrations of austerity. The Farmer and I also decided to put a little more effort into choosing special gifts for each daughter, instead of just handing over a whack of cash this year. We saved quite a bit of money this way and I really enjoyed the shopping for a change, because I had wish lists to go from. Just like when they were young, when receiving My Little Pony or Tickle Me Elmo was their wish come true. Except now it’s luggage, cell phones, and gift certificates for clothing.

Christmas will be very difficult for several Connecticut families torn apart by the recent school shooting. Maybe that horrific act will remind the rest of us to put resentments and hurt feelings aside over the holidays, and just enjoy each other’s company.

I did my second shift of jingling the bells for the Salvation Army on Friday afternoon. Normally I only do one two-hour shift but this year they were short on volunteers and needed more help. As we got closer to Christmas I noticed less people were stopping to put cash in the kettle – but the ones who did were putting in larger amounts. It’s not a time to pass judgment; no need to apologize if you aren’t giving at the kettle. There are many other ways to show people you care during the holiday season.

We are constantly being reminded that not everyone celebrates Christmas. And even for those who do recognize the Christian holiday, Christmas isn’t always a happy occasion. Maybe it conjures up bad memories, or just sheds a light on the fact that you can’t afford to celebrate the way other families do.

This is supposed to be a joyful season; not a stressful one. I know as I stood jingling the bells for the Sally Ann, I got so many smiles from people that the ones I gave in return had my face aching like it was my wedding day all over again. But I did see quite a few people with pained expressions, maybe because by Friday afternoon they had just about had enough of work for one week, or maybe there was a more serious reason for their stress. One man in particular caught my eye as he dragged his young son into the store, through the produce section and half an hour later, into the photo shop. The man wasn’t smiling, and his son looked upset. They left just as I was getting up the nerve to say something.

On my way home I stopped in at the home of the Avon lady in Oxford Mills to pick up an order. My nerves were still a little jangled by the site of the mean man with his child. Heather cheered me up, though. Her cute little log cabin home was lit by the glow of the wood stove, and her huge smile. She gave me a box of homemade Christmas cookies along with my order. This is what life in a small town is supposed to be like at Christmas.

Happy Holidays everyone.

Strange Animal Behaviour

I think there is some truth to the idea that the bigger an animal is, the more nervous and cowardly it is. Look at the elephant and the mouse. Misty, our big Belgian horse, is a case in point.

The Farmer was planning to practice his coyote aim so he got some old metal barrel lids and propped them up in the pasture. The horse and donkey came out of the barn, stopped as they always did to survey their kingdom and…what the heck is that?! As soon as they spotted the barrel lids they got nervous. Those weren’t there when they went into the barn last night. What could they be?

The Farmer and I heard the snorting and hoof beats from the house. Donkey and Misty were alternating between running in circles and stopping short to stare in the direction of the threatening barrel lids. They both snorted as if to dare the lids to make a move.

“Your Donkey is an idiot,” said the Farmer.

“Well your horse is a big chicken,” I responded. I spent the next few minutes talking to the animals, telling them the lids wouldn’t hurt them. They decided it would be safer to go back into the barn for a while. Give the lids a chance to retreat.

A few hours later I looked out the kitchen window to see Donkey tentatively sniffing the lid and jumping when his nose made contact with the cold metal. Misty watched in fear from the hedgerow. My brave, beautiful beasts.

The barn kittens come into the house every morning and go straight down to the basement to eat and drink. Then they come upstairs and wind around my legs while I’m trying to do yoga. This is a learned behavior, called ‘be as annoying as possible and she will give you a cat treat before kicking you back outside’. I don’t want the cats chasing each other all over the house, crashing into things, and the only way you can get them back outside is to lure them by shaking the bag of Temptations cat treats. So we go through this routine every morning.

At least the kittens are braver than the horse. I’m pretty sure there are claw marks in the hardwood where Junior kitten dug in to stop himself when he was tearing through the living room and suddenly came upon the lit Christmas tree. But it only took him about ten seconds for curiosity to overcome fear. He sniffed the tree, stuck his paw in the water pail, batted two of the ornaments onto the floor and now he is asleep underneath it. Wilderness in the house. The best of both worlds.

Ginger had her calf a couple of weeks ago. Since then I have been going out to visit, trying to get safely between mama and calf so I can lay hands on the young one and get her used to my smell. It’s much easier to care for a cow if you start when they are young. Ginger will have nothing of it. She has eyes in the back of her head. Every time I take a step in the direction of her young one, she reels around and tosses her head threateningly at me. I saw how she tried to crush the Farmer against the wall last year so I’m taking her threat seriously. But I’m not giving up either. Maybe in a few weeks I can introduce the little one to sweet feed.

Mocha, my tame cow, had her calf yesterday. She allows me to pet and scratch her little one, while she calmly stands beside us and eats. She even let me feel her udder, which I think is a little hard. We will have to watch to ensure the little one is suckling. I’m heading out to the barn later with some apples for the new mother. They are her favourite food.

Cody has been trying to tell me something lately. At 14 years of age, it could be any number of things. He gets glucosamine for his aching joints but I think it’s stomach related. For some reason he thinks this ailment means he should lie on the couch. He has never attempted this before. I keep putting him back on the floor on his fleece and when I turn around, there he is again, on the couch.

I really do wish the animals could talk and understand, some days. It would make life much easier.

20 things to tell your daughter

Despite its ability to distract you from real life, meddle with your affairs and waste your time, Facebook is a great way to share and spread ideas. This week someone shared a motivational poster entitled “20 Things a Mother Should Tell Her Son”. I liked it, but I have daughters. So I decided to write my own version. I know it should be written from the perspective of a wise man, but I figured the daughter’s perspective is equally valuable.

I had a good Dad. He taught me a lot about what a young woman should be. He also told me when I had lost too much weight, when I had gained a little, and when I was wearing too much makeup or shoes that appeared to be hand-me-downs from a street walker. One of the things I remember him saying that made me laugh was when he saw an older woman wearing far too much makeup, with dyed burgundy hair and a flouncy, feathery coat. He said, “For Heaven’s sake. Promise me you will grow old gracefully. Some women seem to be fighting it, every step of the way.”

So here you go Daddies, new and old.

“20 Things a Father Should Tell His Daughter.”

1-Explore your creativity. Never pass up the opportunity to sing, dance, write or play a musical instrument. Draw and paint. Cut, glue and shape. You will never know where your gifts lie if you do not try.

2-Be honest with your feelings. If a boy is wasting his time with you let him down gently, but do let him down. He will get over it. But toying with his affections just because it builds your ego is just cruel.

3-Never turn someone down when he asks you to dance. You have no idea how long he struggled with mustering up the courage to ask you. And after all, it’s only a dance. See #2 to avoid leading him on.

4-Learn to take care of yourself. Get a job as soon as you can and save money so you will never be totally dependent on someone else.

5-Help out around the house, learn to cook and clean, but also learn to change your own oil, fill up your tires and maybe even change a flat.

6-Be a lady. Don’t use foul language unless you really, really hurt yourself. Pass gas discreetly and blow your nose in private.

7-Be kind at all times, in big and little ways. Don’t expect anything in return.

8-Get an education. Become an expert in your field of interest. Find something you love to do.

9-When in a relationship, never speak unkindly, with blame or accusation. Jealousy is a waste of energy. Just don’t go there.

10-Take pride in your appearance, but strive to be low-maintenance. True beauty is created through health and happiness; not makeup and designer clothing.

11-Be confident, but never be afraid to admit when you are wrong.

12-Never underestimate your power to emasculate. Take the high road in an argument.

13-Remember that ‘forgiveness’ is for the giver. Because no matter how much negative energy you spend on resenting someone for the wrongs they have done to you, they won’t feel it but you will. Let it go.

14-Always close the door when going to the bathroom. And never allow someone in there with you. Some things should never be shared.

15-When your mate disappoints you, tell him (or her!). And always let them in on your expectations.

16-Write love notes. Every chance you get. They don’t have to be long but they let your lover know you were thinking of them.

17-Be proud of your family, your community, your place of work and your country.

18-Brush and floss your teeth and see your dentist regularly. Your smile will always be your biggest asset.

19-Remember there is someone out there just for you and you will find each other when you least expect it. No one is perfect but that doesn’t mean you should ever settle for someone who doesn’t cherish you.

20-Last but not least, remember you were put on this Earth for a reason. Now go out there and find it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

C'mon Myrtle; let's go get us a byrtle.

First of all, there is no such thing as a byrtle. But that's what the Farmer calls the big lump growing on the side of a tree. We used to call them pregnant trees when I was growing up. Anyhoo, the Farmer found this lumpy tree when he was on walkabout - or rideabout - one day. He decided he would cut the 'byrtle' off the tree and make something out of it. The tree was already dead, so no worries there. He said he saw a horned owl fly out of a tree in the same neck of the woods, so I decided to go with him. I like owls.

I also had my own agenda for this particular ATV ride. I was searching our 200 acres for a pine tree so that I could cut boughs for my urns on the porch. Pine with its long needles just looks so much more elegant than spruce. It's so Martha Stewart. The Farmer swore we had only one pine tree on the property: the one that stood in the middle of the pasture. The one that the horse and donkey had eaten all the lower branches off of. I couldn't believe it, and told him we had to search the other 199 acres.

Being on the ATV behind the Farmer reminds me of when we were first dating. Oldest trick in the book: take a girl on a ride so she has to wrap her arms around you and hold on tight. He took me on a ride through the forest at dusk once. Stopped the bike in the middle of the forest and hopped off, saying he had to go check something out. He was gone one minute, then two...I couldn't see him in the shadows anymore. Suddenly my mind started racing. What if something had happened to him? What if something was going to happen to me? My heart pounded in my chest. It was pitch dark. And then he appeared in the headlight, grinning. And I have never again agreed to an ATV ride at dusk.

I was thinking the horse probably would have been a much smoother ride over the ploughed field, but maybe I'm wrong. It's possible that sitting on the big Belgian's back as she travelled over the ruts would have been every bit as wobbly as it was on the ATV. I felt like I was riding an elephant, and worried I was doing permanent damage to my spine.

We travelled over two fields and through a forest and another meadow. "End of the road," the Farmer announced, turning off the bike. We climbed off and picked our way through a dense bush. He pointed out ancient rusty pails lined up beside a crooked rail fence. "That's where the old farmer used to sit," he decided.

The last time he was in the area, the Farmer tied white ribbons around the tree branches to mark his path. And it's a good thing, or we might still be wandering out there. Every section of the woods looks the same. Just call me Gretel.

So eventually we found his 'byrtle', but no owls were in sight. My husband sawed the thin tree trunk above and below the lump, which was about six times wider than the tree itself. Then he realized he had to carry the thing. We had totally forgotten to bring a rope so that we could carry the thing between us. He had to set it down every few yards, but we got it back to the bike. And now he says he's going to make me something out of it. A table top, or bowl, or shelf.

At dinner that night, my father-in-law also used the nonexistent word 'byrtle'. At least I know where the Farmer got it from. I told him it wasn't in any dictionary, under any spelling. Then my son-in-law piped up. "That's because it's a burl." B-u-r-l. Well of course it is. The quiet one at the end of the table is wise beyond his years, I tell you.

But the Farmer was right about one thing. There is only one pine tree on our property. I watched as he drove back to the tree, stood on the seat of his ATV and reached up to cut me some Martha Stewart branches. They're lovely.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gracie in the Kemptville Christmas Parade

Gracie's turn in the spotlight

For November 22, 2012.
What a gorgeous weekend we just had. Saturday was just a blur, because I had several events to attend in succession, but I do remember it was a lovely, sunny and unseasonably warm day. A perfect day for a parade.
I planned it out in my head but I didn’t really ‘practice’ putting Gracie in fake antlers and blinking red nose, corralling her and putting her into the back of the truck for the big event. I’m lucky it went pretty much just like I imagined.
On Saturday morning at 10am, I walked briskly down the pasture with a bucket of crushed corn in my hand. I called Gracie a few times, trying not to draw attention to the candy I was carrying. Then I tripped on a rock, falling on my knees and spraying corn everywhere. When the majority of the sheep saw that rainbow of golden corn arcing through the sky, they swarmed me. The crush of sweaty sheep bodies was pretty oppressive but I managed to get out from under the huddle. And there was Gracie, standing off to the side, looking at me with, well, sheep eyes.
I held a small handful of corn under her nose so she could eat it. “C’mon Gracie. We’re going to be in the parade.” She (and about 99 others) followed me up to the barnyard. The biggest sheep kept bookending me, trying to block and tackle me the whole way up the path.
The Farmer and his friend came out of the house just then, and helped me to lift Gracie into the back of the truck, where she discovered, to her delight, three delicious bales of horse-quality hay. Many thanks to our neighbour Richard Lavigne for his donation.
“Call me if it all goes horribly wrong,” the Farmer smiled as I drove away. I’m sure he was picturing Gracie getting away from me and running down Prescott Street, stopping only to eat flowers and Christmas decorations.
At the parade loading site, Gracie munched hay and greeted passers-by while we decorated our ‘float’. We would be riding in the back of the Kinlar truck. Note to self: next year put Gracie on a real float, so when she ducks her head to eat more hay, she can still be seen by the crowd. Many just got a view of a fluffy butt.
Thank goodness I remembered to bring a poop scoop and bucket. I have never seen a sheep make such a mess of the back of a truck. She must have had a bad case of the nerves.  I walked beside the truck with my radio co-hosts Drew and Mark for most of the parade, handing out candy. I haven’t been in a parade since my Girl Guide years. It’s a little overwhelming, and if you tried to catch my eye and I walked right past you, I apologize. I was distributing candy canes and apparently I can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Next year I will simply sit on the float with Gracie and smile and wave. The parade became much more enjoyable for both of us when I ran out of candy and did that. Gracie was calmer with me by her side; she stopped bawling and lifted her head to survey the crowd.
Many times I heard “Look! A real sheep!”  I think the fake antlers were a nice touch. Gracie always wanted to be a reindeer. She wasn’t very fond of the red blinking nose, however. Kept trying to eat it.
As soon as we reached the end of the parade route, turned the truck around and upgraded to a regular speed, Gracie put her head in my lap and tried to scratch her antlers off. “Ok you can take them off now,” I told her, patting her head and giving her just a tiny bit more corn.
Back at the ranch, I opened the tailgate and tugged at Gracie’s wool until she was standing on the edge. I lifted her and she half-hopped out onto the ground. With a little “baa” she ran through the gate to meet Philip the ram, who had just been released from the barn to do his fall breeding.
All in all I think it was a pretty exciting day for Gracie. Probably not at all what she imagined when she woke up that morning.

Let the deer hunt begin!

Hunting season is pretty big in this household. The Farmer spends a few weeks preparing deer stands and practicing his aim on ducks and geese, which are in season from September. Occasionally he gets a coyote too, which are always in season—the little lamb-stealers — (insert profanity here).
I’m not crazy about duck and goose but the Farmer makes a mean demi-glace of fruit and spices when he serves wild game. He has his hunting party over for an opening-day feast, at the beginning of duck season and again at the beginning of the deer hunt. Sometimes I think this hunting thing is more about cigars, wine and food than the actual sport of hunting. Oh well. It keeps them happy.
I think it’s important for a couple to have separate interests, so they don’t drive each other crazy. Of course you need to share experiences together but it’s also good to have your own hobbies with your own circle of friends. Hunting is that for the Farmer. It was part of his upbringing and he made it clear when we married that it was his deal-breaker. It’s just part of his lifestyle, and he doesn’t have to go away to a hunt camp to do it.
We have 200 acres of land along a mile of Kemptville Creek. A lot of critters live here. We haven’t seen deer in years, maybe because of the coyotes. But this year we rented some of our land and corn was planted. Now the deer should return. The Farmer was out in his new castle in the corn the other night and saw a buck and three does. He was pretty excited about that.
Not everyone hunts, or even appreciates the value of hunting, so it’s important to be sensitive to others. We will occasionally find discarded beer cases or the carcasses of animals in garbage bags along our road during hunting season. It’s those hunters who give the sport a bad name for the others. You’re supposed to remain unseen and leave no trace behind.
The Farmer brought in a big doe a few years ago. I was told to stay out of the shed where he cleans them – he’s pretty considerate of my nerves. But one morning I was just heading off to work when I heard his ATV return.  I was shocked to see he had a huge deer strapped to the front of his four-wheeler.
I put my hand on her side. Her smooth hide was the exact gray shade of tree bark. I am always amazed that something so big and beautiful maintains such a secretive coexistence with us on our 200 acres. It’s like capturing a unicorn.
The Farmer watched me as I examined the deer. We both had tears in our eyes. It is always a humbling moment, I think, for a hunter. I’m no hunter but I understand the awe, and the mixed emotions. She was so beautiful.
I said a little thank-you to the doe, and stepped away from the ATV. Feeling brave, I offered to help my husband to lift the doe off the machine. When he untied the rope that restrained her, however, one of her long limbs slipped and an elegant high-heeled hoof tapped me. I jumped and screamed. And was consequently banished to the farmhouse. I guess I’ll leave the dirty work to the Farmer.
Last weekend the hunters honed their skills with partridge. Anastasia brought her hunting dog for the first time and he emerged from the brush with a bird in his mouth. It was a proud moment for Rupert, the huntin’ dog.  The hunters sighted their guns and prepared all their equipment for the deer hunt. The weather looks good: cool and damp. That will get the deer moving. There’s nothing sadder than a deer hunter on a warm November day. They like the cold.
My hunter will get up long before dawn (about the same time I get up for my morning show, actually) and pull on about eight layers of clothing before heading down to sit in a tree, his thermos of coffee in hand. He will watch the sun rise and possibly get a deer. And even if he doesn’t, he will be happy. Because for him, the ritual of being outdoors among the wildlife this time of year is enough.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

For a reason, a season or a lifetime.

I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, although sometimes that reason is very hard to find. I also think people come in and out of your life for a reason. Sometimes they are there to help you through a hard time, or to help you see things from a different perspective. And sometimes they leave your life rather abruptly, and you never see them again. Maybe that's because your lives take different paths, or because you just don't have anything in common anymore.

I like it when those people come back into your life again, even for a fleeting moment, so you can see how things have changed between you, and possibly have what they call 'closure'. Like closing the book on that chapter of your life.

When I was a young mom of twenty-one, I met some women who taught me a lot about motherhood and married life. But they had to drag me out of the house to do it. I didn't suffer from post-partum depression, but I spent those first few days at home with my new baby feeling quite bewildered and overwhelmed. I think I was in shock. I had a brand new life looking at me calmly with old-soul eyes, rarely crying, always trusting that I would know how to care for her.

One day there was a knock at the door. I answered it to see a pretty young mom standing there, holding the hand of one child, another on her hip. "Well? Does that kid have two heads or are you going to bring her out so we can see her?"

Ann was (and probably still is) a loud, colourful, beautiful personality that drew people to her. She pulled me into her circle and introduced me to my first friends as a new mom. One of those women was Mia. I think she had five children when I moved out of that townhome development and lost track of her. Now she has seven kids and three grandchildren. Facebook, as much as I curse it somedays, brought us back together.

Yesterday I got to sit and chat with Mia for three hours. We spilled secrets, confided hopes and fears and dreams, shared proud parenting moments and pored over photo albums. We had really good Italian coffee, then Pinot Grigio, arugula salad with pecans, then more Italian coffee. Finally it was time to say goodbye. I hope it won't be another twenty years before we see each other again.

I often wonder about Ann. She was an important person in my life when I needed cool young mom role-models. We don't live far apart, she ended up just about half an hour from where I live now. Our paths have crossed briefly over the past twenty years, once by accident, once by planned visit, once over the phone. I would like to see her again.

The past twenty years have encompassed three different lives for me: young stay-at-home mom, expat foreigner overseas, and now farmwife. Sometimes I can't keep track. I have lost chunks of memory and confused details of one life with another.

Intangible memories can be summoned up alongside tangible things: smells, sounds, sights. The season of fall reminds me of these things from my three different lives: wrapping a baby head to toe and stuffing her in a Snugli strapped to my chest so we can venture out, warm bottle and cup of coffee in hand, to stand at the park and visit with the other moms and children, running from the subway station to the bus stop in a blustery autumn storm in Taipei, the stench of fermented tofu and the perfume of wild orchids following me from the street market, the scent of the outdoors on my husband's cold cheek when he kisses me after coming in from a sunrise hunt in his deer stand.

As I walk the dog and breathe in the smell of the fall leaves, even earlier memories move to the forefront - memories that most of us have, of raking and then jumping into leaf piles, biting into a crisp McIntosh apple, the smell of a pumpkin when you reach in and pull out a handful of wet seeds.

While things turn brown all around us, take a moment to stop, smell and listen to the Earth as it prepares for winter. It's an amazing thing, and they don't have an app for it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Concern for the cows

I don't get the chance to get up-close and personal with our cows very often. They sleep in the barnyard most nights but at the crack of dawn they fill up with water for the long walk down the pasture. Their days are spent grazing the back meadow, away from pesky sheep, donkeys and horses.

They can see (and possibly smell) the corn crop but they can't reach it. The nearby forest offers a bit of shade and the sun beats down on the middle of the field, perfect for the midday nap. Our cows don't lie close together. Each one has his or her own piece of pasture for personal space. The other day I drove past a farm on Patterson Corners Road that was recently sold. The new owners brought in horses right away, and now they have some cows. I had to take a second look at the first cow, which appeared to be double-wide until I saw two heads, it was two calves lying very, very closely together. Cattle are herd animals and they don't like to be alone, particularly when they have been moved to a strange new environment. My cattle must be feeling fairly secure, then.

At high noon on a hot day, the cattle will usually meander back up the long, winding path they have made through the fields back to the barn. They rarely stray from this path, when the unanimous decision has been made to return to the barn. They head straight for the water trough in the corner, drink their fill and then head back out to pasture. I think of the effort it takes for them to lift and move their huge Mack-truck bodies, especially when they are pregnant. However, if you stand out in the barnyard shaking a noisy bucket of corn and call as loud as you can, you might see a feat of athleticism not often witnessed on the farm.

When inspired (by promise of a treat), those cows can kick up their heels and run like huge dogs. If Betty is particularly excited (because she thinks someone might get to the treat before she does), she adds a threatening hip-twist and kick to the side. This is supposed to remind everyone that she is the leader of the pack, the Queen of the herd and the first to be offered any special snack. It may work on the rest of the cattle but to the rest of us it just looks ridiculous.

When the calves were born in January, we had one that couldn't figure out how to nurse. His mother would give us a worried look every time we entered the barn to feed another bottle to the calf. Normally when this happens you get in the pen and bring the calf under the mother, grab a teat and squirt some in his mouth until he takes a hint and latches on. That trick was impossible with this duo, however, because the mama cow wanted to kill the Farmer the minute he set foot into the pen.

So we raised that calf on formula. Two 2-litre bottles in the morning and another two at night. He survived and thrived on eight litres of fake milk a day. That truly amazed me.

Now when you look out at the pasture you can definitely see that this calf is the smallest of the bunch, but he has plenty of fat on him. And according to the Farmer, he has lots of energy too. Yesterday the cows were calmly grazing when they heard the tractor entering their barnyard. With purpose in their steps, they started back toward the front field. As soon as she spotted the bale of hay on the tractor - the first of the season - Betty broke out into a run. She led the pack for a moment, and then was overtaken by the little one. He is light on his feet, and very fast. He probably had no idea why everyone was running, but he wasn't about to be left behind. Now that he has experienced the whiskey smell and taste of silage for the first time, however, you can be sure he won't forget it.

Because she didn't have a calf on her all season, Ginger is the fattest of the bunch. She is likely going to birth first this time, because she went back into heat earlier than the others too. Hopefully we can get her in the Farmer's new cow chute soon, because we need to cut that collar off her before it turns into a choker necklace.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Walking for a cause close to home.

The first year I did the Terry Fox Run, I didn't know my dad was sick. The next year, he had just found out he was terminal. And as I rounded the bend on the last stretch, I could see him standing near the finish line, waiting for me. By the next Terry Fox Run, Dad was gone.

I tend to daydream, and fall behind on these walks. So I'm usually on my own after the pack leaves me behind. That last year I did the Terry Fox Run, I was left alone with my thoughts, walking through the streets I grew up on. With my Dad. I cried the whole way.

The big fundraising walk to end women's cancers was cancelled in Ottawa this year. So Kemptville planned their own. And even better, the money stays here, in our hospital. I liked the idea of raising money so that women in North Grenville can get their mammograms here, with state-of-the-art equipment, in a comfortable environment. We all have to get these tests done when we reach a certain age. We might as well make the best of it. Kemptville District Hospital has gone one step further: when you come here to get your mammogram done, you will be wrapped in a plush, fluffy robe. It sounds more like a spa than a hospital. I love it.

I was ready to pledge support to the walkers but I had no intention of walking myself - not after that last teary episode. And then Tracy contacted me. I have known Tracy Gourdine-Campagna for as long as I can remember, because our parents used to double-date when they were young and they remained good friends as they raised families. I remember visits to her family farm in Richmond, where they had horses. After high school I lost track of Tracy. But I know that at the age of 19 she lost her Dad, to cancer. He was sick just three months. We have that in common now. Four years ago I lost my Dad to cancer, after just four months of illness. Tracy's mother and sister are also undergoing treatment for cancer now. Tracy told me she would walk with me in the Kemptville fundraiser, and so we signed up for the 10k.
My dog trains me almost daily on our 4k walk so I was pretty sure I could handle the 10k. On Saturday I showed up at the hospital start line and there was Tracy, decked out head-to-toe in pink. Note to self for next year: collect crazy pink stuff to wear. I never quite understood why people would want to form teams, train for weeks and then walk 30 clicks in one punishing day. I get it now. It's all about moral support, the sisterhood, girl power. Save the Boobies! Yes, you are quite welcome to do your fundraising and write a check to the hospital at any time. But doing the walk as part of the group is quite an experience.

Tracy and I did our stretches with the other fifty walkers, motivating dance music pulsating behind us, and we burst out of the starting gate with the others as the screaming horn was sounded. As we rounded the bend on the first stretch through the college grounds and headed into the forest, deep in conversation, we fell behind. Thank goodness for road signs and helpful guides at every major turn. We walked up to the North end of town, grabbed some water at the halfway point and continued through the Ferguson Forest Centre. The sun shone down on us and it was a beautiful day for a walk, and a talk.

As we crossed the finish line back at the hospital, the host from In Stride events announced our names over the speakers and everyone cheered. Well that was fun. The Manotick Village Butcher treated us to burgers, sausages and pulled pork sandwiches. Prizes were awarded for top fundraisers, and the girls wearing the most pink. Masseurs had their tables out to offer massages to the walkers. Everyone took photos, compared notes and said goodbye til next year.

Tracy and I stretched out our tired legs and then headed to the pub for a beer. The only complaint I have about the whole afternoon is that it just wasn't long enough. Next year we are doing the 30k.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

For these things we give thanks.

Thanksgiving. It is no longer the largest gathering at the Fisher farm: our August party wins that title. But it is traditionally the time when the most family members gather together under one roof, to celebrate our good health, good fortune and blessings. It also marks the beginning of another season - my favourite - and so it reminds us of the passage of time.

Everything went off without a hitch this year: the Farmer was up before dawn to prep the 29-lb. bird that grew in our own barnyard. I got up a bit later and started setting the buffet table. We have learned to simplify the routine. In previous years we moved living room furniture out into the hall and onto the porch and set up long dining tables. Simplicity is best. It allows for freedom of movement, and now I feel as though I had a chance to speak with each and every guest.

All five daughters showed up, but I forgot to get a group photo. I will have to remember to do this next time they are all together in the same place, because it doesn't happen as often as it used to. And there is another thing we forgot to do. Because we had a buffet and sat scattered all over the house, we weren't eating together at long tables and we didn't say our Thanksgiving grace. I think I'll say mine now.

I am truly thankful for my health. I have a friend who is going through treatment for breast cancer and she is on my mind every day. I woke up Sunday morning and as I reached to put something in the freezer, my back spasmed. I was in pain most of the day. But I know it's temporary. I am grateful that all of our family members are in good health.

I am thankful that we have very little stress in our lives. We don't commute more than a few minutes to work, we have simple lifestyles centred around the farm, local restaurants and good friends. I rarely even go to town on the weekend. My truck sits unused from Friday to Monday. The Farmer and I are not fans of making plans. We like to take things as they come, leaving our schedules open for possibilities. And we never try to pack too much into one weekend. Life is too short. Weekends should be slow.

I am thankful for good friends, new and old. Sometimes they join our family for Sunday dinner, and sometimes we join them for an impromptu gathering, like we did Saturday at a friend's hunt camp. The camp was back behind a cornfield and a soybean field. I didn't realize we needed to travel a short distance by ATV along the highway, otherwise we would have brought all the necessary identification, etc. After a nice turkey dinner, we climbed aboard the 4-wheeler and headed back up the muddy lane to the farm.

As we pulled up onto the highway for the short sprint across the bridge, a police car pulled us over.

We got our lecture and were left to sweat a little while the officer wrote his report but, in the end, he believed us when we said we originally had no intention of driving near any roadway. We thought we were simply going through a cornfield behind the house. And he said he could hardly hand us a ticket after seeing that ridiculous basket strapped to the front of our ATV, like we were just coming from Grandma's house or something. I am thankful for police officers with a sense of humour. And thank you to our hosts' son, who pointed out the trail along the cornfield, which would eliminate the need to go anywhere near the road. Yeah, that information would have been helpful at the beginning of our visit.

As we head into fall and wake up Thanksgiving Monday with a generous layer of frost on the ground, I am thankful for so many things. We have more than enough, so we share with others. And we are blessed to have others with which to share.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Thanksgiving decor

Enter fall with a float and a fair

On Friday, all the leaves on the farm were still green, pretty much. On Saturday it was a beautiful day and the Farmer decided to take his canoe out to the creek to water-test it.  I watched as he drove the ATV out over the pasture, down the tractor lane and into the cornfield, his handmade cedar-strip canoe bouncing along behind him on the trailer. The soft, refracted light of autumn was shining on the trees, and the leaves seemed to be changing colour before my eyes. I was supposed to be spending the morning writing, but who could resist? Fall is my favourite season. I grabbed my camera, pulled on my rubber boots and headed for the creek.
I followed the winding path that the animals had made down the side of the pasture, followed the tree-lined tractor lane under a canopy of branches and stopped to take some photos of the cows. Mocha came over for her close-up. The calves stopped eating and turned to stare at me. I hauled myself over the gate into the cornfield. The Farmer only had about a half-hour lead on me but he was already out of sight around the bend in the creek. There was no sign which way he had gone, north or south.
I went back to the water’s edge and found a turtle. He posed nicely for a photograph, blinking at the sun. When I bent to return him to his mucky home, I lost my footing and put one boot deep into the quicksand mud. I sat down on the edge of a big old tractor tire to empty my boot just as the Farmer rounded the bend. He has a knack for showing up just as I’m doing something stupid.
I took a few shots of my husband proudly paddling his canoe in the sunshine. It really is a beautiful boat. I managed to climb in without tipping us over and we paddled up the creek.  Passing through a murky spot, we scattered a school of mud pout. As the water cleared again we came across a few mounds of branches and noticed a huge beaver sunning himself. He submitted to a photo session before sliding silently into the water. The lack of rain hadn’t completely dried up the creek but it was very shallow. I acted as lookout as we navigated our way through boulders and the bedrock bridge that the deer use for crossing. It really was the perfect day for a paddle. But after about twenty minutes, my crushed legs were pins and needles. We turned around and headed for home.
Saturday evening we were invited to the Metcalfe Fair by our friends Lynda Parke and Stan Carruthers. Stan is something of a legend in the horsing community in this area. He was featured in the book “Horse of a Lifetime” and he just received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee award for his work with 4-H and the Clydesdale Association. We were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the work that goes into preparing the animals for competition, the cows and horses standing stock still for a bath and grooming.
As I sat in the lounge for the potential buyers of the 4-H animals, I watched the kids working the crowd.  We met the little girl who became famous last year for bursting into tears as she showed her prize lamb, realizing that it was being sent to slaughter. The woman who bought her lamb last year was so touched she gave the animal back to the little girl to take home. I wanted to buy her little black ewe lamb this year, and was prepared to pay $4 a pound for it, which was pretty much the minimum (but the most we high-rollers can afford). The 100-pound lamb was sold to the same woman again this year, for $12 a pound.
It was impressive to see the kids working so comfortably and confidently with their animals. In some cases, young women were leading 1200-pound steers into the ring for auction. It was somewhat emotional to watch, seeing how they cared for these animals that would be sold for meat. But alas, that is the farming life. At the end of the evening I realized I hadn’t seen a single young person with a cell phone. They had more important things on their mind.
As I looked out my window Sunday morning, I saw orange leaves covering the ground under our first naked tree. Hello fall. I love you.