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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.