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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Five years of farmwifery!

Five years of farmwifery and counting!

Five years ago this week, I was frantically running around buying flowers, renting decorations, ordering a tent and porta-pottie…and I lost about five pounds in as many days. When I went for my final fitting, the seamstress at the bridal shop grumbled through the pins in her mouth: “you lost more weight. Get me the box.” The box was full of fake boobs in various cup sizes. The seamstress picked me out a pair and promptly stitched them into my dress. I stepped back into the gown and she zipped me up. There. No one had to know I had stressed myself right out of my boobs. The Farmer didn’t seem to notice.

On August 25th, 2007, I became Mrs. Fisher. It wasn’t until I woke up the morning after the wedding—to the sound of sheep and a braying donkey—that I realized I had also become a farmer’s wife.

We spent the first day of our marriage cleaning up the joyous mess from our farm wedding. We had friends to help us so the work went quickly, but it was exhausting anyway. Then I realized I had to move out of my townhome too – before the end of the month. Anastasia just kicked it into gear and said, “come on, I’m getting my stuff. Let’s move.” That little powerball was all we needed: she lifted furniture, packed boxes, and mopped floors. She wanted to settle into the farm too.

We didn’t have a honeymoon right after our wedding. I just wanted to put down roots at the farm, because I didn’t live there before we got married.

Just before our wedding, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. On September 11, he announced to us that it was terminal. In Dad’s usual irreverent fashion, it wasn’t a somber occasion; he delivered the news like the punchline of a joke, complete with a little song and dance. We spent the next few months forming a bond of our new blended family. On Sundays we had everyone over for dinner. It was a nice, informal way for each member of the family to connect with Dad. We had him for just one more Christmas. Four more months. He passed away in January, 2008. Every Sunday we follow his wishes and host a family dinner. That’s what he would have wanted. And without it, we wouldn’t see each other very much at all. Life is so busy.

Over the past five years I have changed jobs five times. I worked for a real estate developer, a newspaper, a marketing firm, a real estate developer, myself, and now the radio station. The common thread is writing. Whether it’s marketing material, stories about farm life or the local news, I love to write.

In the time since our wedding, four of five daughters have graduated from highschool and one has even been a bride herself. We are so proud of the good people they are becoming, and just hope that they make choices that keep them safe and bring them happiness.

Five years is a short time, when you’re our age. But a lot happens in a short time.

It’s been a good five years, Farmer Fisher. Thank you for giving me a second chance to go on a first date with you (the first time he asked, I wasn’t ready). My future changed that day, as did yours. I hope you are just as happy as I am with the life we have made together.

Life is expensive, and man, do we have debt. Maybe someday I will get this column into syndication, or someone will discover my blog and decide it would make a good movie. Then I will pay off our debts, buy you that bass boat you always wanted, and we can take a holiday. But that’s about all I would do. Because there isn’t much I would change about this life I have with you. Happy Anniversary, honey. I love you.

In which Little Man gets fitted for a headcone.

About a month ago, we had a visitor at the farm. He liked the warm welcome he received so much, he decided to stay. He now lives under my back porch, where the resident Tom is not bold enough to venture. Little Man, as I call him, is a strapping orange tabby with sad eyes.

We were practicing making wedding bouquets soon after the cat arrived back in July when my friend declared, “That cat has been run over. His tail is flat.” I took a closer look and, sure enough, the cat’s tail was decidedly flat with an awkward bend in it. It never seemed to relax or hang down. It was always straight up behind him, like the number 7.

The Farmer says he is Tiger, the cat that stole his heart a few autumns ago. Tiger was so named because he would hang by his claws from the head of a goose that the Farmer was plucking. Even though he was only a few weeks old and would fit in a coffee mug, Tiger was ferocious, and therefore hilarious and endearing. I told my husband that the new arrival could not be Tiger, because Tiger’s coat was white and grey. In fact, I’m quite positive this cat either wandered in from another farm or was dropped off on our lonely road by an irresponsible owner who no longer wanted to care for him, because the large orange tabby is quite tame.

He greets me when I slide the patio door open in the morning. A continuous string of vowels streams out of his mouth, which appears to be toothless except for two huge incisors. I tell him he will get a treat if he lets me put medicine on his ear, which has been raw since he arrived. He sniffs the tube of Polysporin (with 3 antibiotics and a painkiller) in my hand and submits to the treatment. Occasionally I also spray his ear with an iodine mixture because we once used that to treat a cow that had darted between a hay bale and a tractor spike, and it was quite effective in the healing process.

Little Man is quite well behaved when in my sight but I’m sure he goes off and rubs his ear in the dirt as soon as I’m not looking, because it isn’t healing as quickly as it should be.

Soon after he arrived, he let me wash him with waterless pet shampoo. It got rid of most of the greasy dirt that he probably acquired while hiding under a barn tractor. Now he smells much better. The other night, I decided to attempt a flea collar. Again he submitted without a fight. Then I got an idea. If he will agree to the flea collar, perhaps he will allow me to fit him with a recovery cone. That should allow his ear to heal, because he won’t be able to reach it with a paw.

I got most of our adult females fixed last year, so our cat population is pretty much under control. I don’t have dozens of kittens with eye infections like I did the first year. Instead I have three strapping young babes in my basement, being tamed on Temptations cat treats so they can be adopted out. Or something. Perhaps they will never leave the basement.

Our cats don’t normally fight – they have words with each other, but no one gets hurt because they are all talk. This ailing Little Man is a new situation for us. We don’t have a budget for taking stray cats to the vet so I’m hoping he has an extra-strong constitution.

And I’m hoping he will find another place to sleep, safe from Tom, because he won’t fit under the porch for a few days with that cone on his head. Maybe I should leave the door open on the playhouse. Don’t tell the Farmer.

Postscript: within 5 minutes of being fitted with a cone, Little Man (who has now been renamed “Wilmer” by one of our daughters) emerged from the garden with said cone hanging from a shoelace around his neck. So much for that idea.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Taking Care of Business (I'm a Lucky Girl)

We were at a luncheon party and they served a buffet. The Farmer was already comfortably seated in a recliner so I offered to bring him a plate.

"He can get it himself," his mother said. Several people made similar comments, and some started to tease that he had me well trained.

"Don't worry," I said, "he takes good care of me too."

We take good care of each other, but most of the time it's him doing the heavy labour, not me. I began to tick off a list of things the Farmer has done lately, for which I am truly grateful.

He bought and installed a new dishwasher for me. This is self-explanatory. We have dinner for 15 to 20 people every Sunday. He does the cooking, I do the cleaning. A dishwasher is most appreciated.

Anytime my "needs oil change soon" indicator starts flashing in my Explorer, he does the service for me. He also checks my tire pressure and washes my car whenever he washes his own.

He washes and waxes the hardwood floor. I clean the house every weekend. The Farmer waits until I'm away for the day, and does a deep old-fashioned strip, clean and shine of the hardwood floor, a few times a year. There's nothing like a gleaming hardwood floor, and I have tried following the same steps but cannot get it clean like he does.

On his recent vacation from work, the Farmer rebuilt the back deck. Then he painted it, along with the trim on the house. Then he decided to repaint the doors on the house, including the interior door to the porch. That one he painted bright cherry red. My favourite colour. He also bought me roses and daisies in the same red, because we had just watched a daughter get married and he thought I deserved a bouquet too.

I asked for a screened-in porch one year. Instead the Farmer (who loves to build things) built me a 3-season room. We fill it with family and friends every weekend. I hung dried grapevines and mini lights in the rafters and decorated the walls with mementos and photographs. It is the best room in the house.

I'm not the only one who benefits from the Farmer's urge to build, revamp and repair things. The turkeys recently had their outdoor pen reinforced. Now they can wander in and out of the barn on a whim, fully protected from the other animals. I love the sound they make when they're content. They sound like a bunch of happy little old ladies muttering to themselves.

Basically whenever something needs doing around the farm, the Farmer gets it done, unless he absolutely cannot do it himself. Then he hires someone. But this is very rare. In any case, he makes sure it gets done. I tidy up and clean the house, keep the laundry done, make the beds, and I cook simple meals for the two of us during the week.

But when the Farmer does things, you notice. Sometimes I feel guilty because he is out doing something hot and sweaty and I'm just sitting here in front of the fan, writing about it...

I used to help my husband with the sheep when he gives them their monthly shots, but he has decided it's easier for him to keep track when he does it himself. He was a bachelor farmer for seven years before I arrived, and some of his work is just better done alone. I help during lambing and calving season, but other than that I'm just a spectator.

The Farmer works hard. So on Friday evenings, we go out for a date night. We sit in a pub, drink draft beer and talk about our week. He has simple tastes.

He loves war movies, documentaries and hunting and fishing shows. When I watch TV, it's usually a dancing or singing reality show. He watches them with me, most of the time. He loves red wine and a cigar. And building things. At the moment, he is building a cedar strip canoe in the stable. The horse and donkey watch him over the gate as he cuts long, thin strips of wood on his table saw, steams them in a long, hollow cylinder and bends them around the canoe frame. I bring him food if he forgets to come in and eat.

Each morning I bring him coffee before I leave for work. We take care of each other. It's a good life.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mr. & Mrs. Wiggins Catch a 1000-lb Tuna!

I was calling it a shotgun wedding because Andrew gave his bride Anastasia a gun as a wedding gift. But I have since been informed that said gun was a rifle; not a shotgun. She is already looking forward to deer hunting season.

The day after the wedding, the new couple parked their dogs at Grandma’s house (amid a few tears) and headed off on their honeymoon. A few hours later I got a text from New Brunswick. The bride was getting pretty excited; she had never seen the ocean before. I was just thrilled to get a text; I’m a bit of a worrywart and was concerned their little Cavalier wouldn’t make it the whole way to the Maritimes. Or they wouldn’t make it, due to a lack of air conditioning. That first night, they slept in a Best Western, where they were treated to free drinks due to their newlywed status.

Next stop, P.E.I. I think they ate their weight in seafood. Half of their photos are of plates heaped with lobster, mussels and the like. They slept in a 14 by 14 foot tent on the beach in Panmure Island, P.E.I.

It rained over 50 mm on their trip; more than we’ve had in Eastern Ontario in months, I think. But they had a fabulous time and on the one or two sunny days, they managed to get sunstroke and burnt their faces.

The seal-watching tour only turned up one seal who did a quick swim-by. But Anastasia and Andrew were content to be on the ocean, by the ocean, and collecting sand dollars, starfish and shells from the ocean.

On the fourth day of their trip, they had booked a tuna fishing charter. I warned them to take Gravol, the night before and the morning of the trip. I didn’t want the bride falling into the ocean, seasick. North Lake Charters took them out and three hours later I got this text message: “Mom. We just caught a 1000-lb tuna.” I thought for sure her thumb had slipped and added a zero to the weight. But no, they caught a 1000-lb tuna. If the tuna had been caught in season (it wasn’t), it would have been worth approximately $10,000, the captain informed them. Typically, the value is divided between the boat and the fishermen. It could have paid for their whole wedding! But alas, it was a catch-and-release situation. They got photos, and a video on YouTube. And some great memories.

After wrestling a giant tuna fish for several hours in turn, the young couple were tired, sore and ready for home. They cruised back through New Brunswick, took some photos of the Hopewell Rocks and drove straight through, arriving at 4 in the morning. The dogs, Rupert and Berretta, were extremely happy to see them.

We were treated to a lobster dinner the night of their return, and the appetizer at Sunday dinner this week was fresh mussels. I showed Anastasia an old video on YouTube of Mrs. Wiggins and Mr. Tudball, played by Carol Burnett and Tim Conway. She is “Mrs. A-Wiggins” now.

The Farmer was in fine form, telling the newlyweds to ‘let him know’ when grandchildren are coming. “I can fit four on the ATV but if you plan to have more, I’ll buy a trailer,” he joked.

The next thing on the agenda is a house or a car, whichever comes first. If Anastasia’s Cavalier dies, that will be it. But they will soon outgrow that little house they are renting, so I’m hoping that the carpenter and his lady find a new place to call home sometime soon.

This marriage is off to a good start. They aren’t your typical couple, with no TV and very little access to computers or other technology, but they have their own way of doing things and they are very happy. I told them that fish are ‘auspicious’ or lucky, in Asia. Many homes and most big businesses have ponds full of giant goldfish for this very reason. If there is any truth to that, Andrew and Anastasia have just been visited by 1000 pounds of good luck.

And you can bet Andrew, who has never been much of a fisherman, is now researching when giant bluefin tuna are in season in P.E.I., so they can plan their next trip.

Quit yer complainin' about the heat, will ya?

I don’t mind the heat. When I lived in Taiwan, I became accustomed to packing another complete outfit to change into once I got to my air conditioned office, because I would be soaked with sweat after a forty-five minute walk in 40+ degree heat and humidity that made it feel over 50. I had my hair straightened every six months so I wouldn’t have to deal with frizz every morning. The bus schedules were erratic and unreliable at best. Sometimes you would be waiting at a bus stop and you would see the bus coming but it couldn’t effectively merge across the four lanes of traffic (on a two-lane street), so it just didn’t bother. You’d be standing there under the bus stop sign, hopelessly and helplessly waving your bus pass…one day a man came up to me just then and asked, “hey lady. How do I say this word in Engrish?” He held up three fingers. “Three,” I said, annoyed. “As in, three buses have passed me so far.” He watched my mouth closely and mimicked my speech as I pronounced it over and over again for him. Impromptu English lessons were a regular occurrence in public transit settings.

In Taiwan, the weather office regularly broadcast air quality warnings, much like we do in Canada for frostbite. Instead of “skin will freeze in 5 minutes”, we got “exposure to the air for more than 5 minutes will cause severe breathing problems”. If I went more than 5 minutes between air conditioned taxi, bus, subway or building, I knew I would be up half the night coughing. We called it “the Taipei crud.” The sky over the city of Taipei in summer was orange. I remember driving into the city of Paris one morning and thinking that the smog hanging over that city was impressive. Paris has nothing on Taipei as far as smog is concerned.

So, I got used to the heat. Some people say your blood actually thins when you live in a tropical climate. All I know is, when I came home to Canada each August, I was absolutely freezing. I wore hoodies and sweatpants while everyone else was in summer gear.

It is hot in Canada this summer, yes indeed. I do spend most of my time in an air conditioned house or studio. I prefer the a/c off, but I have allergies to pollen so it does help to keep me from sneezing. But when I have to be outside for any length of time, I must admit, I don’t mind the heat. Sweating is good for ya.

The lack of rainfall is a bit of a problem. Our pasture fields are bitten so low by the livestock, they look like felt. The horse keeps trying to push her way into the stable, because she seems to think it will be cooler in there. Walking into the barn, I immediately prove her wrong. “Misty. It’s ten degrees cooler in here.” She just likes to be in her stable stall, away from the flies and the fat, fluffy sheep who get under her feet and trip her up.

Grass has not grown back in this dry spell. My Rose of Sharon, hostas, phlox and coneflowers are suffering a bit right now. I water them every second night after the heat of the sun. When you drive down our road, the marshy low area is so dry, the swamp gases almost knock you unconscious. The smell of a thousand skunks almost cause you to drive off the road.

Yes it’s dry. And hot. But just imagine – in a few months’ time, we will be complaining about the cold. As you sit sweltering in your apartment without air conditioning think of this: sooner than you know, snow will be softly falling outside your window. The cold will tighten the skin on your cheeks, make your eyes water and your teeth hurt.

We love to talk about weather in Canada. I have never met anyone who talks about weather more than a Canadian. It almost defines us as a culture, perhaps because our weather can be so extreme.

A few years ago, we were complaining about constant rain all summer. If you aren’t a farmer who has lost his crop, what are you complaining about? Enjoy. Who knows what we’ll get next year?