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Friday, September 28, 2012

Local foundry has signs for all seasons

Most of us mark the important moments of our lives with photographs, or possibly a ring. Some people feel the need to commemorate an occasion or new phase in life with a tattoo. My daughter Anastasia has several. She is a sentimental girl. When she got married last summer she marked the weighty significance of the event in more than one way. She got a ring, a tattoo, and something else: a sign.

If you have a place of business that you need to label, you need a sign. A cast aluminum sign would be ideal, because it is classic and timeless, durable and weather-resistant. If you want the quaint ‘village look’ for your business, then a bronze or aluminum sign would be perfect for you. Smaller community businesses choose these types of signs for their old-town design and appeal. When all of the businesses in one neighbourhood go for the same type of sign, the result is quite effective. You feel as though you have stepped back in time, because the signs are designed to match the architectural era of the buildings. In the concrete and glass jungle of the city, a cast metal sign stands out as dignified, noble and sincere—the perfect marker for a lawyer’s office or spa.

In The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, words are illegal because they are believed to corrupt the mind. The signs in that imaginary futuristic society have returned to the signs of centuries past, where symbols relayed the information of what business was carried out at each address. But I’m getting off track here. Anastasia doesn’t have a business; her sign is personal.

I have been thinking for some time about getting a sign for the farm. I would like “The Fisher Farm” on a deep red oval with a grey barn and some sheep on it. One of these days I’ll get around to taking the next step and getting a sign made. Or maybe I’ll just leave this column lying around and my daughters will take a hint and go together on one for me. I think a metal sign would be much better than a wooden or plastic one. I want something that is going to be around long after I’m gone.

I also want a stone bench to mark the spot where I’m buried someday, instead of a headstone. On one half of the bench will say “The Farmer” and the other will say “The Accidental Farmwife” and our love story will be written there. I like that visitors will have a place to sit when they come to call. Did I just get distracted again? That seems to happen a lot lately. Back to my sign story.

I got my parents a sign for their house one Christmas years ago. It says “The Leesons” (note the lack of apostrophe, people!) and features a blue jay on it, because the birds are always around the house. The nice thing about these signs is that they last forever but you can take them with you if you change addresses. I even know of people who have brought their family name signs with them to mark their camping spots. What a great idea.

No matter what kind of sign you are thinking of, Karl and Linda Feige at the Alloy Foundry in Merrickville can help you out. I went with Anastasia to see what she was planning, and learned a bit about the oldest foundry in Canada still in operation. The foundry was originally built in 1840 on a tiny island in the Rideau River at Merrickville. The grandson of the village founder, Henry Merrick, redeveloped the local foundry business after his retirement from politics. The original building is marked with a historic plaque (created at the foundry!) designating it as one of Ontario’s historic sites.

Karl and Linda have been operating the business for the last 20 years. They use traditional methods to create each unique hand-crafted piece of cast-metal art. I love the opportunity to buy local, support small business in our community and own a personalized piece of history. Each piece comes with a certificate of authenticity along with an explanation of the casting process and a history of the foundry.

Anastasia and Andrew’s sign is a dark green oval that says “Wiggins” and features their beloved Labrador hunting dogs, Rupert and Beretta. It signifies the beginning of a new family and a new life.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

See the farm through the eyes of a child.

When I was a teenager, I babysat for Janet and Roger Stark. They lived down and around the bend from us on Johnston Road. They had three children: Cheryl, Michael and Laura, all married now.

Cheryl is now a beautiful young wife with a child of her own, and she is pregnant with her second. Her husband, Corey, works on the oil rigs in Alberta. They just moved into the country and have started their own little ranch with two horses, dogs and a donkey. Cheryl used to work in the pet store in town and she has always loved animals – even rats, and snakes.

When Cheryl returns to Kemptville to visit her parents, I often get a visit too. Her parents don’t have any animals at their house, and she can only go a few days before she starts to suffer from withdrawal. And now it would seem that her almost-two-year-old daughter Cadence has the same problem. She wakes up in the morning at Grandma and Grandpa Stark’s house and goes straight to the window to look for her pet donkey.

So they headed to the Fisher farm on Sunday morning. Cody the wonder dog announced their arrival.

Cheryl, tall and slim despite her burgeoning baby belly, greeted me before pulling Cadence out of her car seat. She plopped the toddler down on the ground, sturdy on tiny sneakered feet. The little girl spotted the dog and took off on a bee-line. I assured them Cody was harmless. But he did look a little worried, as he doesn’t often get approached by someone three feet tall with blonde ponytails sticking straight out from her head like Pippi Longstocking.

Dog cuddled, it was on to bigger and better adventures. Cadence took off around the front of the house, her mom and I hot on the trail. We said hello to the Farmer in the shed and continued on through to the barnyard, where the little girl announced with glee: “poop!”

Yes. We have plenty of that. I had offered barn footwear but none of it would have fit her anyway. Her white sneakers are now thoroughly broken in.

As we approached the pasture, Cady spotted Donkey. “Mommy!” she shouted, and took off on a trot. Cheryl explained that the donkey they had at home was named Molly and Cady couldn’t pronounce the “l” so Mommy was the name it got.

Donkey/Mommy took a few tentative steps closer and Cheryl lifted Cady up to pet him. Misty came over to get petted too. Cady strained and wriggled against her mother’s grip, trying to launch herself onto Misty’s back. Misty has never had anything on her back, so we couldn’t allow the little girl to get on her. It was for her own safety. Try explaining that to a two-year-old. Time for distraction. I called my tame sheep Gracie over to meet my friends.

The ewe complied, and stood still for petting, patting and the occasional ear-pull. My sheep is such a good dog. “Cady, can you say sheep?” her mother asked.

“Peep!” announced the little girl. Then, off she ran, in the direction of the rest of the herd. Smooth as a collie, she herded them into a bunch and ran them across the pasture in a wave toward the fence. The entire herd streamed through the gate and up the path to the barn. We don’t let people with dogs bring them to the farm, because a dog might get loose and run the sheep through a barbwire fence. I hadn’t considered the affect a tiny, hollering Pippi Longstocking might have on my sheep. They were terrified. Just then, “Cow” announced Cadence, suddenly distracted. I had to look twice before I saw the animal she had spotted, through the trees in the next pasture field. “Ooo,” she mooed, and took off after the sheep again, her mother and I huffing and puffing to keep up.

Back at the house, we caught her just before she dipped her toe in the swimming pool. Cheryl scooped her up and announced it was time to go home for a nap.

“I’m sorry I can’t find the kittens. They must be out mousing,” I said.

“Cat,” said Cadence.

“No, honey. No cats today. We can’t find them,” Cheryl explained.

“Cat,” the little girl repeated, pointing. And then we saw them. Two of the kittens were dozing in the sun between the tall wildflowers in the front bed.

We didn’t give Cadence a farm tour; she gave one to us. Maybe she can come back at sunset and help the Farmer to spot coyotes. She’s got eyes like a hawk. And she can herd the sheep better than the collie.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Henry the runaway chucker.

The Farmer managed to keep his pheasants alive this year. Well, most of them, anyway. They are quite difficult to keep alive when you first get them, each baby bird the size of a toonie, because they like to burrow under the bedding that you lay in the coop. We recycle everything around here, so the bedding is dry hay that was scooped out of the bottoms of feeders. The hay is the same colour as the birds. It’s pretty easy to step on one or two in the course of filling their feeders each day.

The wee birdlings are also very sensitive to any kind of draft or damp. We hang blankets in the windows and make sure the door is shut and latched.

The last time the Farmer tried to grow pheasants, a skunk or a raccoon (not sure which one) came along and killed them all. It must have been some kind of Houdini, whoever it was, because the only point of entry to the coop besides the door is a tiny crack between the logs in the back corner.

This year the crack is covered with chicken wire. No one is getting in and no one is getting out, except through the door.

The pheasants and chuckers like to hide, so the Farmer put a big branch in their coop. Now all the leaves have dried and fallen off and it isn’t such a good hiding place any more. Time for a new branch.

When the Farmer slowly lifts the latch and goes into the coop (an old heritage log barn) to feed the birds, they all hide their heads in a “if I can’t see you, you can’t see me” ostrich maneuver—until the other day, when they decided to try something else.

The Farmer went into the coop with a pitchfork full of dry hay for new bedding. The birds all shuffled into the farthest corner and turned their heads to face the corner.

Except for Henry. Who is Henry, you ask? Well, according to my husband, Henry is the one who either drew the short straw or just had the most adventurous personality, because he was elected to make a bid for freedom on behalf of the group.

As the Farmer stepped into the coop and prepared to pull the door closed behind him, Henry the lone chucker flew straight up and at the man’s head. The Farmer ducked, as predicted by the mischievous, conniving birds, and Henry flew out the open door to freedom.

The Farmer took a quick glance at the other birds to confirm that they were innocently cowering in the corner. Then he gently put the forkful of hay down and stepped back outside. There was Henry, flying like a maniac in no particular direction, shocked and amazed by the brightness of the sun and expanse of open sky.

Seeing that he would not be catching the runaway chucker anytime soon, the Farmer went back to the business of covering the coop floor with hay, filling the feeders and checking the water supply. Then he went back to the house, and told me all about being attacked by his game birds.

“I do believe you have just written your own column,” I smiled. The Farmer doesn’t like to read this column because it is quite often about him.

After just one night on the outside of the coop, Henry must have been having second thoughts about freedom. When the Farmer went out to feed in the morning, there was Henry, wandering around the edges of the coop, conversing with his friends through the chicken-wire windows.

“Did you let him back in?” I asked.

“Oh no, no, no,” said the Farmer, shaking his head. “That’s probably phase 2 of their plan. I open the door to let Henry in and they all fly out at my head. I’m not that dumb.”

No, he’s not that dumb. But he sure is cute.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wrapping a cedar strip canoe in canvas

The Farmer Builds a Canoe

When the Farmer is on holiday, he often works harder than he does at work. Physically, anyway. And his favourite thing to do when on holiday? Build something.

My husband once told me that if he knew then what he knows now - that an engineer does more than just drive trains - he would have been one. He has built four houses, a barn, a deck, a sunroom, several dollhouses (one of them life-sized) and his new project is a cedar strip canoe.

Step one to this project was getting the old battlehorse table saw out of the basement. It's as wide as it is long, and very awkward to move because you can't get your arms around it in either direction. And it's heavy as a tank. The Farmer tipped it up and slid his dolly under it, then wrapped some lift cords around and under it to secure the thing. Next he called me to come help him lift it up the stairs. He pulled and I pushed, one step at a time, with every ounce of strength we had. It was slow going, but we made it up the stairs without tipping it over onto me. I kept picturing myself squashed at the foot of the stairs like the Wicked Witch of the West, with my feet and arms sticking out from under the contraption.

When we got to the top of the stairs, we realized we couldn't get it through the door. "How did you get it downstairs in the first place?!" I asked. The Farmer deduced he probably put the saw and other heavy items like the freezer in the basement before putting the door - and possibly the walls - on. He had to let go to run out to the shed for a screwdriver and hammer. "Don't move," he said, as he slowly released the full weight of the table saw onto me. I held my breath for a minute, then my muscles started to shake, and finally I started to giggle, just as he reappeared in the doorway, tools in hand. Finally we got the thing up and out of the patio door, down the porch stairs and out to the shed, where the canoe would be built.

I keep waiting for our Cree friends to show up. They would probably have some advice on the easiest way to go about building a canoe. We'll have to wait until goose hunting season and see if they appear, unannounced, on our doorstep as one or two of them do every year. The Farmer bought three books and studied them enough to get the gist of the operation - but he still occasionally comes across some interesting obstacles. For example, after building the skeleton frame for his canoe and then steaming and bending long, thin strips of cedar over that to form the body of the canoe, he suddenly wondered how he would get the finished canoe off the frame. "Doesn't one of your books tell you how to do that?" I asked. He shook his head, a little doubtfully. I'm not convinced he read them in their entirety. After all, how can one stick to "Canoe Craft 101" when "50 Shades of Grey" is waiting on your beside table?? I suggested he search through YouTube for a how-to video. He just stared at me. Oh yeah. The Farmer thinks computers are for work. Period. He never logs on at home.

On Sunday, the kids came over for dinner. Andrew and Anastasia wandered out to check on the progress of the canoe. Within about 5 minutes Andrew had figured out how to get the canoe off the frame without busting up the interior skeleton. Sometimes it just takes a second set of eyes.

Personally, I don't know why we need to preserve the skeleton. It isn't like the Farmer is going into the canoe-building business. Next, he set about his search for various unique brass do-hickeys and thingies for the canoe. He didn't have to look far. The Aylings Marina in Merrickville is a treasure trove of paraphernalia for antique boats. He even shopped local for the canvas outer covering of the canoe. Joe Sparling at Kemptville Fabrics had some hidden away in storage: it has a strong smell so his wife wouldn't let him keep it in the store.

The happy sound of sawing and hammering has been coming from the shed for weeks. The canoe is now wrapped in canvas and the Farmer is trying to figure out a way to shrink-wrap the fabric. This should be interesting.

Little Man Gets 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 five 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.