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Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas has exploded all over the house.

This past weekend all Christmas broke loose at the Fisher farm. I had an agenda when I woke up Sunday morning because I knew things were only going to get busier before the big day and if I didn’t get a move on the lights would never get up. It’s not like they can put themselves up.
So, I found the ladder and the long hooked pole that the Farmer had rigged up for this very purpose. I got the box of lights out of the basement, spent half an hour untangling them and stretching them out across the front lawn, then I fastened the end of the string of lights to the end of the hooked pole. Wielding my instrument like a super-long fly-fishing rod, I cast up toward the top of the huge pine tree. And promptly got the entire apparatus stuck there.
I got the pole back and the end of the lights are sort of up at the top of the tree. Almost at the top. Good enough. A man on a galloping horse would never notice, as my mom says.
I brought the pole to the barn and got a garden rake out instead. Armed with that, I repeatedly pushed the string of lights up onto the branches as I moved my ladder around the tree. Almost tipped over a few times, and I imagined the boys watching me from the house. I was stubborn, didn’t ask for help, and decided halfway through I didn’t need it anyway. I got the job done.
Back in the house, I decided I would let the men go find me a tree while I dragged boxes of decorations out of the attic crawl space. I found the balls and the stars, the angels and the ribbon that I wind through the branches. I tested the strings of white lights and hung the stockings all over the living room. Then I started getting the house ready for Sunday dinner and waited for the men. I had given them less than an hour to find me a tree before we had to start cooking dinner. I hoped they would be lucky.
I remember one Christmas a few years ago when I challenged the Farmer to find me a tree on the property. We drove the ATV out back over deep snow and I pointed at the top of a huge tree. He climbed up and sawed the top five feet off. When it fell down to the ground and rolled over I burst out laughing. The back of it was just a bunch of brown twigs. My poor husband was covered in sweat from his tree-climbing and sawing efforts. We just left the poor thing there in the snow and went to visit the Johnson Brothers instead. And that’s what we have done every year – gone to a tree farm to pick out a perfectly trimmed and cultivated Christmas tree, like the cityfolk.
Well, this year I decided I wanted to try again. And the Farmer is always up for a challenge. Within an hour I heard the ATV returning, a beautiful round tree on the trailer and our two Chinese students dangling their feet off the back of the ride.
It wasn’t until they unloaded their bounty that I was told it was actually two trees tied together. Leave it to the Farmer to come up with that little feat of engineering. Bringing it into the house was a bit of a challenge, and so was finding a space for it in the living room. I got the lights and ribbon, ornaments and candy canes on it before our guests arrived and even snapped a picture or two. John and Jerry pronounced it beautiful, and I have to agree. It’s the best tree we have ever had.
Our beautiful double-barreled Christmas tree tried to fall into the room once during Sunday dinner, reminding us to tighten the screws in the base as well as tying it to the curtain rods on both sides. Now it is secure. It should make it through the holidays, as long as I remember to lock the cats in the basement before I go to bed at night. ‘Cause if they get into it, the song will be “oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, your ornaments are history…”

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Give to The Salvation Army so they can give all year long.

It’s that time of year again. Most grocery stores and shopping malls are manned by a Salvation Army bell-ringer this month, collecting cash for people in need. If you do as Nickelback says and “donate every time you’re asked,” you will have given a sizeable amount by the time Christmas rolls around. Pace yourself!
I have volunteered my time as a Salvation Army bell-ringer for a number of years now. I do this for a few reasons. First, it reminds me of when I was growing up and really puts me in the Christmas spirit. Second, I love the smiles I get from people during my shift – even those who for whatever reason don’t put any coin in the kettle. How can you not feel good about getting a steady stream of smiles? Sometimes I see people I haven’t seen in years. Or meet someone I have only previously met in conversations online. And finally, I donate my time on the kettle shifts because I don’t have a lot of money to donate. I know the Salvation Army needs bell-ringers. Without them, they cannot do their Christmas fundraising.
If like me, you cannot afford to give a lot to the needy but would like to help your North Grenville neighbours who don’t have enough this Christmas, consider donating a few hours of your time. Call The Salvation Army office at 613-258-3583 and get yourself signed up. They will assign you a two-hour shift, at one of our local retail stations. You just need to look people in the eye, smile, and wish them a Merry Christmas and thank them if they choose to put something in the kettle. And if you have as much fun as I do, sign yourself up for another shift, and another. My first kettle shift at the LCBO this year brought in close to $600 in two hours. Think of that. Without a bell-ringer, the Salvation Army would not have that money to give back to the people in their community programs. They are short of volunteers and really need your help ringing the bells this year. You don’t have to commit to anything. Just do one two-hour shift and see how you like it. And I thank you, in advance. The money you will bring in during your shift goes directly back into the programs that help the needy in North Grenville, this Christmas and all year long. The Christmas Kettle campaign is the Salvation Army’s biggest fundraiser of the year. This Christmas, they hope to bring in over $50,000.
The Salvation Army in Kemptville has a new team this year. Calvin and Erin Wong have the training and resources to help people in need, and they certainly have the heart. What they need is for people to sign up. If you or someone you know is in need this Christmas, please contact them. Last year close to 130 Christmas baskets were distributed through The Salvation Army in North Grenville. This year, just 40 families have signed up to receive this program. Yes, you need to fill out some paperwork and have an interview regarding your situation in order to qualify for this program. But that is just due diligence and an important part of being good stewards of the donations that have been entrusted to them by the community. If you need help this Christmas, contact them. They want to help you. Maybe you don’t regularly need help but this month in particular is going to be extremely difficult. Give them a call. They are here to help.
STAR 975, your community radio station, is partnering with The Salvation Army on Friday, December 6th, to assist in this year’s Christmas campaign. Please consider calling in at 613-258-0467 and donating what you can to help. I would like to challenge those in our community who have been blessed, who have more than enough. Please call in and donate what you can for this worthy cause. To our local business people. If you have had a good year, please share it with those in need. And if you have been helped by The Salvation Army in your life, please call and share your story with us, or come to the station and let us put you on the air. This is important, and we need to do what we can. Because need knows no season. Thank you, and Merry Christmas.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Here's a challenge: SHOP LOCAL

With less than a month to go until Christmas, it’s time to think about shopping for gifts, if you haven’t done that already. Maybe you’ve had your list checked off and gifts wrapped in storage for weeks already. But if you still have gift-purchasing to do, I would like to issue a challenge to you: shop local.
Kemptville and area has more than enough of everything to provide significant and meaningful gifts for everyone on your list. Of course, if you have small children you may be slightly more challenged in checking off every item on the wish list as our supply of toys is limited to places like Walmart and Giant Tiger, but do give them a try – you never know what you will find. And by shopping local, you will be saving gas money, not to mention parking frustration.
Don’t even get me started on shopping in the States. I realize some of you live close enough to the border to see the lower prices beckoning you from across the waters but the truth is, if we continue to spend our money in the U.S. our shops - and communities - along the river will not thrive. I know someone who boarded a bus to shop in the States on Black Friday last year. She devoted a day to shopping, went without adequate sleep, battled lineups and crowd stress and when she returned to Canada she realized the luggage she had purchased could be found for less in Ottawa.
Most of our local retailers are offering significant savings this time of year. Have you taken the time to look? You might be surprised to discover you can buy local, hand-crafted leather goods, jewellery and even furniture for the same price you would pay in Ottawa or the States. Yes, the big chain stores are blasting their advertising at us from every direction. You turn on the TV or radio, log onto the Internet and blam! You know what’s on sale this week in Best Buy, Toys R Us, and more. But if you take those prices with you to a local store and compare, you might be surprised. In some cases our local retailers might be willing to match the flyer price of a bigger dealer. More likely, their price is a bit higher because they don’t purchase the same quantities as the bigger stores. But if you can buy the same camera in Kemptville for $20 more than one in Ottawa, give yourself a pat on the back. You saved yourself that $20 in gas, plus the frustration of negotiating traffic, searching for parking and dealing with crowds. And that, my friend, is priceless.
We are all about keeping it local these days. Why stop at Christmas? Start at one end of town and work your way down. Fill the stockings, stuff the gift bags and spend the money you would have spent commuting for shopping trips in town, taking yourself out to dinner at one of our fabulous local restaurants.
Find that great Christmas or New Year’s Eve party dress at one of our Old Town Kemptville consignment shops, or have a local designer whip one up for you (better get your order in now though; time’s a wastin’!). Get your hair and nails done locally and don’t forget the jewellery. Want to feel even better about your Christmas spending this year? Buy recycled furniture at one of our local auction houses for a truly unique and special gift.
Dreading the thought of driving through a blizzard to a party in Ottawa? Where you either have to go without festive cocktails because you have an hour drive home, or shell out a couple hundred dollars for a hotel room? If you still want to celebrate big without the drive, hire a local event planner and caterer to help you host a party to remember at your house. And if you’re on a budget, host a cozy potluck and invite friends to stay over. That’s what we are doing for New Year’s this year. I’ll send out the invitations as soon as I’m finished my Christmas shopping, in Kemptville.
Within our borders you can find exquisite handmade items, unique imported goods and more. This Saturday, November 30th is the perfect time to head to downtown Kemptville for Old Town Christmas. Get your shopping “passport” stamped at designated stores and you might win a diamond ring! And while you’re there, come join me at Rotary Park in front of the massive Christmas tree for a carol sing-a-long.

If more of us make the effort to shop local at Christmas and year-round, we will see less empty storefronts and more thriving businesses in our booming little town. Happy Shopping, everyone! 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Remembrance Day means a little more today.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, Remembrance Day was the day when you got dressed in your guide or scout uniform, bare knees freezing, and lined up with all of the nice old veterans for the town parade. We walked down from the Legion around Reuben Street and up Prescott to the cenotaph on the front lawn of the high school. It wasn’t a long walk but it felt like it to a kid. The ceremony itself wasn’t long either. Again, it feels longer when you have bare kneecaps. We sang some hymns, one of the school kids would read the Flanders Field poem, we’d sing some more, say a few prayers, have a moment of silence, lay some wreaths, march back to the Legion. That day was important because it was meant to remind us of the sacrifices made years and years ago, in far away, long ago wars. We studied their significance and went through the motions but we had very little personal reference to what we were supposedly remembering.
But somewhere along the way, it all changed. I remember the day I walked my little girls over to the cenotaph and saw a sea of uniforms. A bus had arrived from Petawawa and hundreds of soldiers had come to share the solemn ceremony with us. It was an awesome sight. I realized I recognized one of them. A boy I went to highschool with, Ken Kerouac was in the army and had come home for Remembrance Day. After the ceremony we went to the Legion and I said hello. Later he came back to our house for lunch. He told us about his life and it all seemed so surreal.
I had an uncle who fought in the Second World War and the story was that he was involved in the liberation of a village near Normandy. One November I took it upon myself to give him a call. I thought it would be a nice idea to call him personally and thank him for what he did, all those years ago. He answered the phone and after being reminded of who I was he said he wasn’t planning to march with the other veterans in his local parade. He didn’t like that sort of thing, he said. He didn’t like to be reminded. He planned to go deer hunting that day instead.
Over the next few years we had friends marry into the military, and realized it meant something different than it used to. There is far more risk involved. War is recent. War is now for some people.
Today we have young soldiers marching with the old on November 11th. And particularly since September 11, 2001, it has taken on a whole new meaning for most of us.
Friends of ours had a son in the military, and they lost him. Not to war, but to mental illness. I don’t know if he struggled with mental issues his whole life, or if it came about as a result of what he had seen and been through as an adult.
I have another friend who suffered at the hands of an abusive father his whole life; unfortunately he grew up to be just as abusive to his own wife. I see the old man in his military uniform and I just think it’s sad.
I’m not saying war ruins everyone who serves. I’m sure many manage to escape unscathed, untouched by the dark, negative forces that permeate every aspect of battle, and serving in war-torn areas. But for some, it causes irreparable damage. Cracks form inside. You can’t see them, but they are there. Their families know it. Sons, brothers, husbands come home changed. Their families are tasked with the responsibility then of bringing them back to reality, back to life.
If you still feel a little out of touch with Remembrance Day, take a moment to browse through the website tabs at Veterans’ Affairs Canada. We have Canadians dealing with war injuries, mental health issues, difficulty in transitioning from military to civilian life. Some of our homeless people are veterans of war who were unable to assimilate to civilian life upon returning from battle.  
No matter what your stance is on our involvement in military activity, we all need to take a moment on November 11th to consider the sacrifices being made, in the past, and today.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In which Cody slips his collar and runs like the wind.

He is what you might call a bad dog. An un-trainable dog. But I have that recessive gene that just makes this quality more endearing to me. Something about Cody and the way he completely ignores me, even has me checking his hearing, just makes me like him more. Cody is lucky that I appreciate this primal element of his personality. Because he has tested my patience to the limit in the seven years I have known him. Cody is closer to fourteen years old, by the way. If the rule of ‘dog years’ is upheld, that makes him about ninety-eight years old. Far too old to be pulling me on the end of his leash as we do our three-to-five kilometre walk in the afternoons. Far too old to be jumping over fences, off balconies and into idling cars the moment the door is opened. And yet he does. In his simple mind, he is still a pup. And so he pulls, and jumps, and races. Sometimes, in the extreme heat of the summer, he walks a little more slowly on the way home, allowing me to catch up. But then he has to stop at every ditch, pond and swamp puddle along the road to quench his thirst and cool his hide. To date I have not been pulled in with him, but it has been a struggle.
One day I was writing in my office, next door to the kitchen, when I heard a sharp “Bang.” I got up and walked into the kitchen. At first I didn’t see anything amiss. I took another step and peered around the corner into the living room. Cody was there where I had left him, apparently still sleeping on his rug on the floor. Then I noticed the cutting board, lying on the kitchen floor. The cutting board that, when I left the kitchen earlier, had a defrosting boneless rib roast sitting on it. I picked up the board. It appeared to have been licked clean. I looked around the kitchen island for the missing rib roast. I walked into the living room and gave the dozing dog a nudge with my foot. The folds of his blanket-rug held no roast. Behind the couch: no meat. Under the coffee table: only dust bunnies. Where was my roast? Just then Cody burped. The rest of the night he seemed to be quite uncomfortable from a digestive perspective, but we never saw any trace of what was meant to be our Sunday dinner. He’s kind of weirdly magical that way.
I didn’t think Cody would be able to walk the entire 5-k loop of our road with me but the cooler weather has invigorated him and he has learned to maintain an easier pace. He loves our walks. So much so, that he decided not to wait for me one night, and took off on his own. He just pulled on his stretched-out collar and suddenly he was free. Someone likely saw my bad dog trotting down the middle of County Road 20 and pulled over. When they opened their car door, I imagine he hopped right in.
I was pretty worried when we couldn’t find Cody, even after a survey of the neighbours and a slow walk followed by a drive around the block. I worried I would find him in a ditch somewhere, because he is not at all road-smart. But the next day I found him, at Big Sky Ranch. He had spent the night in an outdoor cage beside a lovely Boxer dog and a German Shepherd. He seemed quite anxious to go home and sleep off his adventures.
I paid the fee to get him back, and had the Farmer tighten his collar so he can’t escape so easily again. But I suspect if he really wants to go he will, for it’s in his nature.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Farmwife Goes to Auction: FAIL.

 The first auction the Farmer ever took me to was, as he described it, “the only culture in this town.” To be sure, the Finnerty auction on Friday nights was an evening of entertainment, for people from all walks of life.
That Friday back in 2006 we walked in and I first noticed a huge section of books. Boxes and boxes of books. I could hear Ken from his platform: “There’s only one thing that gives me the s**ts more than green apples, and that is books.” He begged us to take them off his hands. But I was distracted by another discovery. There, in the back corner, was a five foot print of a Klimt painting.
“Uh oh. Don’t tell me you like that,” my future husband said.
“I can hear it speaking to me,” I responded.
The twisting figures and vibrant colours seemed to jump off the canvas. The art looked so out of place in that old warehouse, surrounded by worn farmhouse furniture. It belonged with me.
My date said if he could, he would try to get it for me, but only if it went for less than $20.
I had to wait until the very end of the auction to get a chance at the painting. I watched as the antique dealers from Quebec who frequented the sale started to drift out of the building. Good, go, I thought. Finally I was left to compete with just a half dozen people, and none of them had taken a second look at the painting. One of the workers carried my painting up to the stage. I’ll never forget what the auctioneer said next.
“So, here’s a painting,” he said. “Look at the colours. A lot of work went into this.”
A lot of work went into this?? It’s a Klimt, for Pete’s sake! I smiled and hoped the other people in the room were equally unfamiliar with the art.
Ten minutes later it was mine. For as many dollars. The next trick was wrapping it carefully in a blanket so it wouldn’t get scuffed in the back of the Farmer’s truck. He delivered me and my painting to my townhouse, where I lived until we were married in 2007. After I became his wife, he threatened to hang my Klimt in the barn. He was never a fan.
The next auction I went to was at Leo’s Sale Barn in Greely. My new husband and I were in the market for a Black Angus or two. We toured the barns before the auction and picked out a couple of nice ones. When their number came up, we prepared ourselves to bid. The bidding started at our maximum, then skyrocketed over $1000. Yikes. We had to settle for a couple of less-than-glamorous Herefords. The Farmer was not thrilled with the outcome and to this day he takes out his disappointment on my girls, nicknaming them “Ugly Betty” and “Ugly Ginger”. I’ll admit they aren’t the prettiest bovines in the world but they do have personalities and I love them.
Last week I went to my second Ritchie Brothers farm equipment auction. I had been to one before with my husband, where we were just spectators. This time, I was sent with an agenda. How he imagines I can come home from a farm auction with a party tent when I can’t even make it back from the hardware store with the right air filter, I don’t know. I studied the item online before the auction. I agreed the 20’ x 40’ tent was exactly what we needed for our annual farm party. The Farmer couldn’t come with me, because he is also a professor and was due in class at the time the tent would be up for bids. I enlisted a friend to help me – someone who was very familiar with auctions – Jim Perry.
I had a number in my head, and made sure Jim knew it so he wouldn’t blow my budget. The Farmer figured the tent would be well worth $300 when that is the usual rental price for a weekend. Well, we might have misjudged it by a bit. Bidding started at $500, and rose to $1000 in a heartbeat. I grabbed my friend’s bidding arm and shoved it down to his side. “Ho-lee!” I said, backing away from the action. That tent sold for $2500.

The next time I hear about an auction, I think I’ll stay home. This old heart can’t handle the excitement. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Week of Firsts

I was passing by the bathroom the other night when the sound of whispering – in Chinese – caught my ear.
“Hey guys. That’s a bathroom, not a party room. Only one person allowed in there at a time.” And I continued on my way down the hall.
Five minutes later I passed by again and noticed they were still locked in the bathroom.
“Okay, John, come on out and leave Jerry alone in there, will ya?” These guys spend every waking moment in the same room, it seems, but enough is enough already.
“No! Jerry is cutting my hair!” John hollered through the closed door. I tried the doorknob, and it was unlocked.
“Jerry is not qualified to cut hair. Stop that right now,” I advised.
I had to stifle a giggle when John emerged from the bathroom, his bangs chopped on an angle over his eye and one side of his head trimmed to the scalp.
“Ok, tomorrow after school we are going to get your hair cut properly,” I declared, wondering if the poor guy owned a hat.
Twenty-four hours later we walked into First Choice. John spent the first few minutes examining hairstyling implements and letting his stylist know which ones she would be permitted to use on his head. Jerry flipped through a style book, exclaiming at the flippy, wavy haircuts. He has poker-straight hair. We all want what we cannot have.
I commend the stylists on their ability to follow the boys’ direction, because they managed to somehow communicate in their broken English exactly what they wanted – and it turned out really nice for both of them. After the finishing touches (John wanted no hair gel; Jerry wanted to blow-dry his own hair), John hears water running in the next room.
“What’s that?” he asked. I explained it was the shampoo room.
“I want that,” he announced, sauntering into the back room and settling himself at the sink. The stylist looked at me.
“Well, I guess now that you’ve styled his hair so nicely, he wants it washed,” I explained. And of course Jerry decided he needed his washed too. Those are two very patient women in that salon. I’m sure they will see us again. In about 6 weeks, or less.
With all of the Kung Fu going on in my house, I figured the boys needed an outlet for their energy. I suggested bringing them in to Douvris for some martial arts. I encouraged them to go for a run down the road. Finally they decided they needed to buy bicycles. We found a pair of mountain bikes at Canadian Tire, and despite the fact that John says his is broken (he is not yet comfortable with the braking system), they seem to be doing the trick. Every night after school the boys strap on their helmets and head out for a race down the dirt road. Sometimes they ride their bikes out the gate into the back pasture. They are mountain bikes, after all. They want the full experience. An hour later they return, huffin’ and puffin’ and sweaty. And much less likely to spend the evening kicking and whalloping each other.
The final ‘first’ of the week was the boys’ first Canadian house party. A group of new friends invited them over for movies and snacks. I decided I would drive them over myself, so I could gauge the safety of the situation and verify that no alcohol would be involved. I knew the parents, so figured things wouldn’t get too far out of hand. My mind did briefly entertain visions from an old movie, in which a Chinese exchange student is initiated to the all-American house party and ends up passed out on the front lawn the next morning. Thankfully, that did not happen to my boys. They returned home quietly as I slept and were still asleep when I left for work before the sunrise this morning.
At least I think they are in there. Perhaps I should go home and check.
Next item on the ‘firsts’ list: Hallowe’en costumes.


Walk 30k in mama's shoes

I just walked 30k in my mother’s shoes. Actually, it was more like 22k. My own shoes didn’t self-destruct until the 8k mark. I was part of Kemptville Walks for Mammography on Oct. 5 and things were going along swimmingly, I was swingin’ my arms and cruisin’ right along. The only part of me that hurt was my old lady hips. My feet felt great. Then suddenly a mouth appeared on my fave old Australian Reeboks and I almost fell over and broke my neck.
I stopped and my walking partner turned to see what was holdin’ me up. “I have a mouth,” I reported. “On my shoe.” I lifted my foot to show her the damage. My brain started racing, searching for a solution. Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my mother’s van approaching. “Mom!” I looked left and right and then hop-skipped across 44 to where she had pulled over. I thought maybe I could give her my truck keys and she could run back to the starting point and get my spare shoes for me. I realized she probably had better things to do with her Saturday but that’s just the kind of mom she is. The amazing kind.
“I was just on my way to the gym,” Mom said. “You can have my shoes!” She wears the same size as me, but the shoes were the rockin’ and rollin’ style of Skechers that made me feel like I was walking in ski boots. It only took me a few strides to get used to them and soon I was strolling in what might be the most comfortable pair of shoes I have ever worn.
And that is how I did the 30k. In my mama’s shoes. Thanks, Mom. I love you.
The route this year took us through a gorgeous kaleidoscope of coloured leaves in the Ferguson Forest Centre. I had forgotten those trails that we walked on elementary school field trips and summer day camp excursions. What a beautiful slice of nature we have bordering one of the fastest growing communities in Eastern Ontario. Back out in civilization, we got some honks and waves and I even picked up a donation from Steve Cater, who pulled over to cheer us on.
Why do we do these walks for cancer? Yes, it is a symbolic way to raise awareness about the struggle that each cancer patient is going through. It is also a personal challenge for many. But the thing I love about doing the Terry Fox Run or Kemptville Walks is that for those few minutes or hours, you are forced to be in the moment. You think about the people you have lost to cancer and the ones who are currently dealing with it in one form or another.
My favourite part of the walk this year was seeing an old friend, whom I haven’t spoken to much since high school (outside of Facebook). Leanne just got her breast cancer diagnosis a couple months ago. She started her therapy a couple weeks ago. Last week her family of boys shaved their heads in solidarity with her. Leanne was waiting at the side of the route with her sister and husband as we rounded the bend. I took note of her beanie hat and new hoodie, emblazoned with an embroidered pink ribbon and “My Journey to Wellness” slogan.  Well that just made it real. We had a good hug and I continued on my way. At every pit stop, Leanne was there in her van and her husband and sister were handing out water bottles. She smiled her beautiful smile and cracked her jokes and it was just gorgeous Leanne, without any hair. Thank you, Leanne, for sharing this event with us. I understand she did Run for the Cure in the rain on Sunday, as well.
I would like to give a shout out to my STAR 975fm morning show host, Drew Hosick. Drew has been doing a lot of walking this year, in his own personal fitness campaign. But I know the 30k was a challenge for him, and he was definitely feeling the pain at the halfway mark. As he approached the finish line, he felt dizzy and almost fell over at about 26k. Just then Leanne and her husband showed up, and they offered to walk the rest of the way with Drew to the finish line. It was a pretty emotional event for all of us who were watching, waiting and cheering them on. Congratulations to everyone who took part in the 10k and 30k, and many thanks to all who donated. Over $50,000 has been raised for Mammography at Kemptville District Hospital.

Giving Thanks for the Harvest

For Oct 3-13

Last year I think I put about two dozen grocery bags of garden tomatoes in the freezer for spaghetti sauce in winter. Every afternoon when I got home from work I gathered up enough tomatoes to fill a couple bags. This year I got two grocery bags and three batches of fresh salsa. Over the entire harvest. Not sure what happened. I must have planted a different type of tomato or something. The yield wasn’t anything like it was last year.
Our potatoes didn’t grow at all. They were complete duds. The Farmer even dug them up and replanted new ones and still, nothin’. It wasn’t a matter of potato bugs eating the plants, either. They just didn’t grow. How disappointing.
We did get a few huge Butternut squash (my favourite), some acorn squash and a huge crop of beets. The cucumbers weren’t bad either, although they were bigger in size than they were in number. The carrots were ok – tasty but short and fat. We only got a bushel of peas off that row and the line of pepper plants yielded about half a dozen fruit.
All in all, I’m pretty disappointed with our garden this year. And don’t even get me started on the string beans.
I mean, the package said pole beans. So I guess I was thinking about the lovely wax beans and butter beans that we grew last year, and gathered for weeks at harvest. Served steamed with hot butter and salt, they went with everything on the dinner table. Not so the pole beans. They are fun to grow, because the vine literally clings to the pole and the beans are very easy to find and pick. But then when you cook them, there’s this weird string thing running up the seam in the bean. What the heck? The first time we served them everyone at the Sunday dinner table was picking string out of their teeth. Niiiice.
And unlike the more favourable veggies, there was just no end to the pole beans! We would pick a huge tub of them and the next day there was another pile hanging on the vine. One week I steamed and cooled the beans, then hand-stripped them of their strings before covering them in cream of mushroom soup and turning them into a casserole. I did that once. It was delicious but far too labour-intensive. Eventually I gave up and just shoved a few bags of beans into bags and plopped them in the deep freeze. The Farmer is going to be absolutely thrilled to find those mid-winter, I’m sure.
The last few pole beans were pitched over the fence with their plants, for the sheep, horse and donkey. They were most appreciative. Although I’m sure they spent a few hours stressing over the strings in their teeth too.
I think next year I will go back to the Roma tomatoes for sauce, beets for Borscht, wax and butter beans, potatoes, carrots, onions and squash. Most of the veggies we plant are the ones that store or freeze really well but let’s face it – with an average 18 to 20 dinner guests every Sunday our veggies don’t last long.
The boys were pretty good at picking veggies; that is until they saw the toad. They won’t admit it but I think it really freaked them out. They haven’t offered to gather veggies again.
The one thing that I really enjoyed about the garden this year was the twelve-foot sunflowers that sprung from their own seed sowing. I forgot to plant them this year, and it’s a good thing I did because the garden would have been completely overwhelmed by them. It amazes me that they pretty much grew in a row, at the back of the garden, right where I planted them last year, even after The Farmer carefully drove his tractor in between the heritage peonies, added a layer of composted sheep manure and roto-tilled the soil before planting. The sunflowers sprang up and when I recognized their little plants I had to ask myself if I had planted them. I couldn’t recall.
Another growing season has come and gone and it’s time to carve pumpkins, bake apples, and decorate with frost-hardy Chrysanthemums until November.
Wishing all of you a very happy Thanksgiving and all the best in the coming season. Next year I’m planting the potatoes on the other side of the garden. Apparently they won’t grow in the same spot twice. Now you tell me.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

It's the United Nations of food at my house.

When we first signed up to take on a Chinese International student, the agent advised us to invest in a rice cooker. She said the sight of the familiar kitchen item would make our student feel at home in this strange land.  Well, I bought one. Still haven’t used it yet.
John and Martin are both not very fussy eaters. They will eat almost everything you put in front of them, but they do have some habits that seem a bit strange to us at first.
On one of the first days John was here, he said to me, cup in hand, licking his lips, “good milk.” I smiled, then later when I was in the fridge getting the milk I realized it hadn’t been opened yet. He had been drinking the coffee cream.
We went to the T&T Asian food store in Hunt Club one afternoon so that John could buy Chinese food to cook for us. He selected some pork legs, then we went to the fish section. Martin and his friend Mikal (also from Spain) watched horrified as John chose a live fish which was promptly thumped over the head with a mallet and placed in a plastic bag. Sudden exclamations in Spanish, complete with sound affects (BANG!) and gestures.
That night we watched as John cooked us a delicious meal that involved pork, fish and a white radish the size of your arm. He was a little disappointed in our glass-top stove, as he is used to cooking with gas. He was quite pleased to discover the old wok that I brought out of basement storage, however.
John loves to eat salad. I thought most Asians liked their vegetables cooked so I was pleasantly surprised to see that he will eat two large helpings of tossed green salad at every supper time. He also loves Catalina salad dressing. And salsa. And ketchup. Anything with a tomato base, it would seem.
One night we had traditional spaghetti bolognese (“Italy noodles”, as John calls it) for dinner. John got up to get something from the fridge and came back with the ketchup. He started to squeeze it over his plate of salad and spaghetti-with-meat-sauce as the Farmer and I promptly reacted with a “No!” John halted, his hand holding ketcup bottle in mid-air over his plate, and yelled, “OH!” It was hilarious.
“What?” he asked. I told him we really only use ketchup on hamburger s in this house. And meatloaf. And some people like it on their eggs.  He poked at the hamburger in the spaghetti sauce and looked at me, raising one eyebrow. Then he held up the Catalina dressing in his other hand. “I think this is the same thing,” he said, and proceeded to paint a wide swath of High Fructose Corn Syrup (ketchup) all over his dinner.
In our house, cookies are for breakfast. Both my Chinese and my Spanish student seem to agree on this point, and so I have been searching for the healthiest cookies available. Really, when you look at the sugar content in other breakfast foods, they are probably on the right track. So we have lightly sweetened almond and oatmeal cookies available for the boys, which they eat with milk. Sometimes Martin eats Rice Krispies and milk, but it has to be out of a china cup; not a bowl.
Sunday dinner is always a feast at our house, with close to 20 people in attendance. This is where Martin notified us last week that he had never eaten beef before. I think he probably meant he had never eaten roast beef before; I’m sure his family just prepares beef differently in Spain.
This morning it was Martin’s turn to cook for us. He had a recipe for crepes on his phone and he made them to perfection. The thin battered crepes were served with Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread and sliced bananas. I showed them how I eat them Eastern-European style with jam and sour cream. No one wanted the maple syrup except the Farmer. John got up from the table to get the salsa and we said nothing. Even when he spread it on his crepes, with a layer of Nutella on top.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cody the Storm Chaser

After calling for thunderstorms with much fanfare and very little follow-through all summer, it was bound to happen eventually. Last week we got hit with a storm like I don’t remember seeing ever before in this hemisphere of the world. Cody knew it was coming.
Like many dogs, our Gordon Setter is afraid of storms. The Farmer says the dog ‘developed’ this behaviour only after I arrived and showed concern but I think Cody probably was always afraid of storms and just wanted to appear tough. When a storm is simmering in the distance, he starts jumping up and down on the back porch where he can be seen from the kitchen window.
Then the high-pitched whining begins. Cody is an outdoor dog. He loves being in the house for a visit and a nap but he isn’t housebroken (at 14 years of age) and can’t control his urge to eat everything in sight so he can’t be left alone in the house. So when we go to work or leave the house for any reason, out he goes to his back porch and doghouse – whether a storm is coming or not.
A storm was coming the other day, but The Farmer and I had an event to attend for the hospital at the golf course. Ominous clouds rolled in out of nowhere and cracked open, pouring rain down onto the party tent. The light was flashing on my phone so I opened the email and there it was. Severe thunderstorms eminent with the possibility of a tornado for our area. Great. And here we were, under a party tent that was being held up by a huge electricity conducting steel pole. Suddenly an image of Cody cowering in his doghouse crossed my mind.
The winds whipped at our golf course tent and Lowell Green himself held the wall flaps together as the buffet table threatened to topple over. We got through our festivities as quickly as possible, and excused ourselves to return home.
Dogs are extremely sensitive creatures. They have been known to predict earthquakes and to save people from fires. They take the whole storm / natural disaster thing very seriously and they trust their instincts.
Cody probably waited a few minutes for us, watched for a sign that someone was coming from the house to rescue him, then he just took off. No chain can hold that dog if he really wants to go. And go he did, down O’Neill and around to McDonald and up to County Road 20, where a nice lady opened her front door and he just ran right in, thank you very much.
Finding no tag on him, she and her daughter made a sign and put it at the end of their driveway. Both the Farmer and I drove by said sign about an hour later and didn’t notice. Then she piled Cody and her daughter into the car and off they went, to the vet for a microchip reading. We didn’t even know he came with a microchip. But then, the Farmer had him scheduled for a neutering before he realized he also came without that particular set of equipment. I guess he didn’t spend a whole lot of time poring over those adoption papers.
So Cody got a ride in to town and back, which I am sure he thoroughly enjoyed. Before they even returned from town, the vet had tracked us down in her system and called us. We called the keeper of the dog and she kindly agreed to drop him off to us. Her daughter was more than a little disappointed that we had been found. She was already formulating plans to keep Cody as her very own. The Farmer and I exchanged a look over that comment.
At about midnight, six hours after Cody’s original panic, the storm really hit. The flashes of light ran one into the other, illuminating the sky for several moments at a time. I climbed out of bed, opened the back door and there he was, our storm chaser, drenched to the bone and looking quite distressed. I rubbed him down with a towel and ushered him up to our room, where he dozed the rest of the night in contentment at the side of our bed.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hockey in three languages

Pictured above: the boys from Spain and China meet the animals.

We gained another temporary son last week. Martin, who hails from a seaside community on the northern coast of Spain, is living with us for the month of September. Upon arrival, Martin, a slim handsome boy with brown hair, brown eyes and braces on his teeth put his hands lightly on my shoulders and kissed one of my cheeks, then the next. “Nice to meet you,” he said, in the sweetest Spanish accent.
It soon became apparent that Martin’s English was quite advanced. He was here not to study but to experience. Unlike our Chinese boy John who is from the big city, Martin is from a village of “5,000 people in summer, and only a few people in winter.” His father is a pediatrician and his mother an OB-GYN. He has no idea what he wants to do when he grows up. I told him he has time. He is 14 years old, in Grade 9.
The first week was a bit exhausting as school began the day after Martin arrived. Although his English is quite good, when thrown into an English world it is still stressful and tiring to communicate and understand at times.
While our Chinese son John is thoroughly plugged in with his new Canadian SIM card in his beloved i-Phone, so that he can talk on We-Chat (a Chinese version of Skype) at any hour of the day, Martin only uses his phone to play a couple of video games or listen to music. And he doesn’t go near the computer. He spends his time at home in Spain playing basketball, football (soccer) and riding his bicycle. We spent his first evening here looking at his family photos of trips they have taken all over Europe. But it was the photos of his seaside village near Bilboa that most intrigued me. I have my eye on one of those beach houses and would love to visit one day.
On the evening of the first day of school, we packed Martin and his good friend Michal and John with his best friend Jerry in the back of the Explorer and headed off to the Ottawa 67s game. They had never seen a live game of hockey before. Not exactly a frequent spectator myself, I had to call my sister for advice on wardrobe. She confirmed that although it was quite warm outside, we would need long pants and sweaters and maybe a blanket too. I grabbed one small lap blanket for each boy and although they looked at me strangely, they certainly appreciated it when they first walked into the rink and drew a breath of icy air.
“It doesn’t get this cold in Spain,” one of the boys said. I told him I thought it probably did, as they had a light dusting of snow in winter; about the same amount as Vancouver, and Qingdao, for that matter.
From the first few bars of the national anthem to the last slash at the puck in the first period, the boys barely took their eyes off the ice. It was kind of surreal hearing the same sort of exclamation in English, Spanish and Chinese every time someone slammed into the boards.
On the intermission, I turned around to notice John and Jerry had disappeared. Then I heard a bit of a ruckus in the hall going down to the changerooms. They had been stopped by a security guard at the door. I retrieved them and told them to tell me before they go wandering again but when paired with someone who speaks their language I sort of disappear into the mist.
I recognized Coach Brian “Killer” Kilrea and told him I remember going to the 67s games with my father. Dad’s favourite players were the scrappers, of course, and I reminded the retired coach of Lance Galbraith, one of the best. He also remembered the Farmer’s cousin Mark Paterson, who he said was one of the toughest guys on the team in the 80s.
After the game Coach Kilrea made a point of coming right over to our group to ask the boys how they liked their first hockey game. I thought that was pretty nice. It will definitely be an experience they take home with them and remember for years to come.
Now they all want to buy hockey jerseys to hang on their bedroom walls. I’m going to push the Senators brand.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Accidental Farmwife Becomes Surrogate Mom

I became a mom again this week. Well, surrogate, anyway. My new child is a 16-year-old boy from China. Jia-Yong Xin, pronounced John Shinn in English, will study in Grade 11 at North Grenville District High School in Kemptville, and he will live with me (and the Farmer) until next June. Maybe longer!
Canada Homestay International came to do a live interview at STAR 975fm in Kemptville earlier in August. They said they were having trouble finding homes for all 225 of the international students that will be placed throughout the Upper Canada District School Board this year. We just became empty nesters, the Farmer has hosted children before and I taught English as a Second Language for three years when I lived in Taiwan. We’re kind of the ideal candidates for this sort of thing. Besides, I’ve always wanted a son.
I conferred with my husband and it didn’t take long for us to come to the decision that yes, we would open our home to one and maybe two international students for the year, so that they would keep each other company. I contacted Canada Homestay and within the week, our paperwork was processed.
John slept off and on for the first couple of days after his arrival. I took him to the store and attempted to get him connected on his beloved iPhone (and failed miserably, I might add). That was an exhausting afternoon. He handled it gracefully, suggesting we wait until after his orientation meeting with the other (more experienced) homestay leaders. We’ll work it out. Have to get him a Canadian bank account and card as well.
Each morning this week the Farmer and I went to work and left our new son to explore the house on his own. Each night I asked what he had eaten – because I didn’t see any dirty dishes or obviously diminishing food. Those first few days he didn’t say much and I wondered how we would get through the first stage of his transition to Canadian life. I worried he would get frustrated and discouraged without being able to understand or be understood.
Then, something happened. Hallelujah. I came home from work one afternoon and suggested we go on a shopping trip – something I used to do with my ESL students in Taiwan as a language lesson. First stop, Canadian Tire. Within seconds of entering the store I learned the following things:
- when John said he loves cars, he meant fast sportscars; not antique or classic cars.
- John’s previous English teacher says the Montreal Canadians are better than the Ottawa Senators (I will be connecting with that gentleman on Facebook and setting him straight).
- My Chinese boy thinks fishing is boring. This may just break the Farmer’s heart.
- John has seen the military shooting demonstration in China. He would like to learn to shoot a gun also. Not sure if this is going to be possible but we will find out.
- John is not fond of water or swimming but he is looking forward to going kayaking.
- He owns a big backpack for climbing mountains in China but he doesn’t sleep in tents. He climbs back down the mountain and goes home to his own bed.
- Before today, John did not know the word “boots”. They were just water shoes. He is in for a surprise come winter.
- He has never played hockey, baseball or volleyball. He loves table tennis.
- In Qingdao (or Tsingtao, like the beer), John’s home city, the population is 5 million people and pets (for the few that have them) live outdoors all the time.
- Liquids are best consumed at body temperature; not too hot or too cold.
- Jackie Chan is probably his favourite actor.

And the main thing I learned today: a young man in a strange new environment comes out of his shell and talks a blue streak when he has had enough sleep, feels safe and is happy (because he has chatted online with his mother and has just found out that his best Chinese friend will also be hosted in Kemptville).
If you happen to meet my boy, make a good impression, will you? He’s planning to finish his high school here, then go to university and probably settle in Vancouver, where his family will immigrate to join him.
I am proud to share my culture, my country and my tiny little town with him.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

6 Years Ago This Week

Love is in the air this week

This is a memorable week for me, for a number of reasons. I have always loved the end of August. First of all, I love the weather. The days are still sunny and bright but the sun is refracted now, coming in at a gentler angle, and the nights are crisp and cool for sleeping. I love the four seasons, and my favourite of all is coming up soon: autumn.
The end of August is also a big deal because it means The First Day of School is around the corner. As a little girl, I was one of those little keeners who loved school. The end of August meant new clothes, a new lunch box or backpack, new shoes, and a haircut. Hopeless; I know. Now it means a return to boots and jeans, which is always a good thing.
The 21st of August is special to me because it marks the day Paulina Hrebacka came into the world. Twenty years ago this week, I had a baby girl. She is my third, but that doesn’t make her any less special. Paulina was a big surprise, because I was absolutely sure she was going to be a boy. I was dramatically ill with my first two pregnancies, right through to the sixth month. So when I was pregnant with Paulina and managed to get through to the end without a single day of nausea, I was absolutely positive she was a baby boy. I’m not a believer in ultrasound to reveal the gender of the baby – and neither was the English doctor who delivered all three of my children – so when the doctor announced it was another baby girl, I was amazed. It’s a good thing I hadn’t totally bought into the boy idea or she would have been wearing blue for a few months.
I have three wonderful daughters and they are all very different. If you happen to be at The Branch restaurant on Wednesday and you see my warmhearted, talented and beautiful little Leo, be sure to say Happy Birthday!
I also love the end of August because the 25th is the day I became The Farmer’s wife, 6 years ago. We didn’t live together before we were married; our five teenaged daughters kept us very busy running around and we didn’t have much time left over for us. After dating for about a year, he popped the question and, after taking a few days to get used to the idea, my middle daughter Anastasia took on the role of wedding planner. She decided if we were moving to a farm, we might as well have the wedding there. Over the next four months we booked a pastor, tent, catering, music and planned the ceremony and d├ęcor. I don’t know how I would have done it without her. We set up a little mini-village in the backyard of The Farmer’s house and hosted about one hundred and ten people, some of them for a few days. It was a lot of work but in the end, as my husband often reminded me to bring me back in focus, it’s just a great big party with a little bitty wedding in the middle. It was so much fun, in fact, we do it every year. This is the seventh year in a row that The Farmer will be hauling sheets of plywood out of storage to build us a dance floor so that we can party til the stars come out, and then some.
That first year, in 2007, I was thinking of starting a column. I woke up one morning to the sound of Donkey and his sheep and thought, wow. That certainly is a different sound compared to what I woke up to in Taipei or Hunt Club or even Barrhaven. This is a new life, and it actually sort of snuck up on me. I’m an Accidental Farmwife.
It has been one surprise after another. Some good; some sad. We’ve lost loved ones, watched little girls blossom into young women and say goodbye. We’ve held each other up through the rough times and celebrated the important moments with good food, family, friends and great fanfare. Life is simple, and I am happy. And I thank the little voice that whispered in The Farmer’s ear back in 2006, saying, “Go ahead. Ask her out.”
Changed my life, forever. Happy Anniversary, to my hero, my husband, my best friend. XO.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The emotional exhaustion of the farming life

I’ve been asked before, how I deal with sick lambs, lambs that die at birth, coyotes taking my lambs and other farm-centred heartbreak. The truth is I don’t deal with it very well. I try not to spend an inordinate amount of time with the farm animals because I will get attached to them. The animals that have been around for years tend to endear themselves to you: Sheila the barncat-turned-housecat; Cody the wonderdog; Mocha the apple-addicted cow, Big Betty the Hereford who runs like a dog, Ginger the Suspicious, Donkey and Misty (the Belgian horse who is afraid of everything). Every once in a while, though, there’s a little guy who works his way into your heart in just a matter of days.

My little bottle-fed lamb, Chicken Milkface, died this week. He was weaned off the bottle a few weeks ago and seemed to be doing quite well, following the rest of the herd down to the meadow to eat hay. I thought he was getting a little thinner but assumed it was because he was losing the bloat that he had from the milk replacer. In hindsight, it was more likely parasites. This time of year, the sheep nibble the grass down so short they end up eating some of the little creatures that do them harm.

I just don’t want to do this anymore. I understand we don’t really make money sheep farming; we pretty much break even. So getting rid of the sheep isn’t going to pinch us financially. We won’t even notice. The Farmer farms because it gives him something to do. He’s a do-er. I’m more of a write-er. I never get bored. I’m happy with nothing to do because it gives me time to read and write. If we didn’t have a sheep farm, I might even get my book finished. Imagine that.

The Farmer is open to the suggestion of getting rid of the sheep. He would simply shift his attention to the cows – who don’t really need much attention at all. On a typical weekend, he could keep himself busy repairing fences, fortifying the barn and pushing around piles of manure. I’m sure I would worry about the cows from time to time, but other than calving season, the only time they have ever really given me cause for concern was when I noticed Ginger and Betty’s collars were getting too tight and I couldn’t figure out how to get them off. Betty eventually let us cut hers off but it took us a few weeks of trying to corral Ginger and put her in a head gate before we could release her from her choker necklace.

We’ve been lucky raising beef cattle so far. Occasionally we have a calf born without the urge to suckle, and we have to inject selenium. It’s much easier to do this with a calf than a lamb, however. Less chance of crippling them with the needle in their skinny little legs. I have raised a calf on milk replacer, and he is still thriving, out there in the meadow with the rest of his gang. I like the cows, for the most part. We only have one mean one, and Ginger is more suspicious than hostile. She just needs her space. This is only a problem when you come between her and her calf.

The problem is, if we get rid of the sheep so that we can concentrate on the cattle, we really don’t need a donkey anymore. Cows aren’t bothered by coyotes, really. I don’t want to give up my donkey. Despite his biting, his sheep-dragging, and his mischief-making, I love him. And then we come to the horse again. If we increase our cattle herd, it makes more sense to feed silage all winter. It lasts longer and there is less waste. But I can’t let the horse in where the silage is being fed. It’s not good for her. She needs dry hay, and it has to be good quality for her finicky stomach. I know it doesn’t make good financial farm-sense to keep her. She has no real practical purpose, except to just be a horse. But I told The Farmer this week that we are keeping her. And he agreed. So there.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Frustration thy name is wireless.

We were sitting with friends on the back porch after Sunday dinner when we first saw it. Everyone had their gaze focused on the horizon, watching the sunset. Suddenly Tom says, “when did that show up?” He pointed out a tower that we had first noticed a few days earlier. Somewhere around County Road 18, a new tower has been erected. I can only assume it’s a telecommunications tower.
Of course I’m hoping it’s a wireless Internet tower. When I first set up my Internet at home, I made everything all cozy and convenient in my main floor office. But I couldn’t get a connection there. I wandered around the house with my laptop, turbo stick in place, and still couldn’t get a good signal. I sat in the kitchen, in the living room, in the TV room, even in my bedroom. The most I got was two out of five bars. Then I tried the signal in my daughter’s room. Bingo. Four bars. For the rest of that year of freelancing I had to do all my offline work during the day and save my online work for when my daughter was away at work. Frustration, thy name is wireless.
Yes, I called tech services at my wireless provider. I spent four wonderful hours (two hours twice) getting to know two different techie people. They were amazingly patient, determined and persistent. We went step-by-step through all of my problems with the Internet service at the farm. Finally, after trouble shooting, rebooting, restarting and restoring, we gave up. On both of these tech calls, my helper eventually had to concede, “I’m sorry, ma’am. There appears to be a block on the tower.” A block on the tower? Well take it off! What does that mean, exactly?
“The tower is overloaded.” Well, now we’re getting somewhere.
“You mean you sold too many people onto the service and now none of us are getting a good signal.”
“Basically, yes.”
“Well, what are you going to do about that?”
I was put on hold again while the technician searched for someone trained to provide the appropriate answer for such a question. After a few minutes he came back.
“If you try using your Internet late at night or early in the morning, you should be fine.”
Uh huh. “Maybe you should credit me some of the monthly fees I have been paying, because you can see I have had virtually no usage.”
“Your contract does not guarantee uninterrupted service, ma’am.”
“So will you be building a new tower soon, to accommodate all of your customers?”
“Probably. As soon as we have sold enough contracts to finance that development.”
Uh huh. I thanked the nice man and hung up on him. A week later I tried again and an equally tactful and diplomatic woman spent over ninety minutes going through technical issues with me before finally coming to the same exact conclusion. When she got to the “there seems to be a block on the tower” part, I just skipped to the end and explained the rest to her. Saved her the trouble of going and getting the appropriate response from her supervisor.
I am locked into that particular contract until the spring of 2014. I don’t use the Internet enough at home to justify the cost of the cancellation fee so that I can switch to a new provider. And so I suffer. But I plan to give myself the birthday gift of new Internet services come April.
The Farmer has considerably less patience than I do when it comes to technical issues. When he set up his real estate office at home, he banged his head on the desk for about a month before finally giving up and moving into the room that Paulina has recently vacated. It is still the only spot in the house where you can get a clear wireless signal. And that is only in the middle of the day, when all of the neighbours are not using it. Good luck getting on between 4pm and midnight, or anytime on the weekend.
We sipped our drinks and watched the sun go down, beside the new tower that was marring our perfect horizon. And as soon as dusk settled, the darn thing started blinking.
Great. Now it’s going to scare the horse.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Eating us out of house and home

We have a horse who likes to eat wood. She nibbles on her stall. She eats the rungs off the ladder going up to the loft. She ate the bark off all the trees down the tractor lane and she chewed on the shelves of a cabinet in the barn until it fell apart. Now she’s started working on the beams. If we don’t find a solution soon, she’ll bring the hayloft down.

Most horses like to chew. Sometimes it means they are deficient in some mineral. Other times it is because they are bored.

When I posted my problem on Facebook, I got lots of advice from both horsey and non-horsey people. The most common solutions involved wiping down the wood areas with some sort of lemony soap, Absorbine Jr., chili sauce or hemlock solution. Anything bitter or nasty tasting, I guess. The Farmer has already tried spraying the area with his own icky concoction, and it worked to some extent. But now the biting seems to be getting worse.

Now that all of our girls have moved out and we are realigning our budgets, thinking of retirement and trying to eliminate debt, we have to take a serious look at the farm. On the farm, everything has a purpose. The barn cats are here because they (theoretically) keep the barn free of rodents of any kind. The pheasants, turkeys and chickens will be sold for meat. The male lambs are sold for meat and the females are kept to build up the herd. Same for the cows: the males go and the females stay. We keep the rams and bull(s) to impregnate the females of the species. The sheepdog guards the barn area and helps to herd the sheep. The house dog guards the house. The donkey guards the sheep and wards off coyotes. Have I missed anyone? Oh yeah. The horse. She is pretty much a glorified pet. Which is why the Farmer says she is the first to go.

At first I thought, ok, we had her for a few years but neither one of us is very comfortable around horses, we don’t know how to train her and without being able to trail ride or get her to pull anything, she doesn’t really have a purpose here. Maybe we should let her go to someone who knows what they are doing with horses, and will appreciate her strength, intelligence and beauty.

Halfway through that first night I woke up and thought, I can’t do it. I can’t sell my horse. What if something happens to her? What if she misses Donkey? Yes, she could end up somewhere really great with a lot of other horses and she could be really happy. But what if she isn’t?

I asked the Farmer how much it costs to keep Misty. He said, not counting the clumps of hay she tosses on the ground for a bed, she eats about 10 round bales or about $500 worth of hay per year. That’s when she isn’t on pasture. And her hoof trims and any other miscellaneous items don’t cost much either. I told him I can’t give her up. We bought her and her sister a few years ago, from an elderly farmer who couldn’t look after them anymore. We promised them a forever home. We lost her sister, in a freak situation where she got a fever in a wet week in March, and died within 15 minutes of being given a shot of antibiotic by the vet. Ashley could have been allergic to the penicillin, or she could have died from chewing something toxic. In any case, it was a real blow to all of us. Misty looked for her sister for days. Weeks, even. Finally she turned around and spotted Donkey. And named him her inseparable confidante. Her right-hand man. Her hero and her best friend.

I can’t sell Misty and separate her from Donkey. And so, we will just have to find somewhere else to cut corners. Like maybe the sheep. It could be time to cut down the herd and start concentrating on the cattle, which are considerably easier to raise.

But then Chicken Milkface comes to the fence and bawls at me. And I think, oh, this is going to be hard. I don’t want to say goodbye to my lamb either.


Pheasant stealer on the loose.

We keep losing pheasants. Now, pheasants are fussy little critters to begin with. When you get them, they are each about the size of a loonie. You put them in a coop full of hay and they immediately burrow underneath the bedding, where they are in danger of getting stepped on. So you make them a smaller, contained unit and as they grow you expand its borders. You also have to make sure to keep their coop draft-free. Hang blankets in the windows for the first few weeks to cover the cracks, at least until warmer spring weather arrives. After a couple of seasons raising pheasants, we have figured out how to keep them alive. For the most part.

We have chicken wire in the corners of the log-barn chicken coop, to keep the feathered creatures in and the furry creatures out. But somewhere on our farm, there is a little Houdini pheasant-stealer. We have no idea how he is getting in – or getting the pheasants out. He must be shimmying down a wire from the ceiling and then shimmying back up again, pheasants in hand and mouth. He leaves no trace. The numbers just keep dwindling. We started with about 50 chicks when we started in early spring, I think. Now we are down to just 7.

On occasion, we catch thieves in the act of stealing turkeys and chickens from the bigger pen, which is wide open to the rest of the barn. The selected snacks are found in the aisle, sometimes with marks on them, as someone removed them none-too-gently from the safety of their pens. These birds, though saved from death because they are just too awkward to carry, have to be quarantined from the other birds until their wounds heal, or they might get attacked and killed by their own kind, in a weird survival-of-the-fittest practice.

I don’t have much to do with the birds on our farm. I find them smelly, and the chickens like to peck my ankles. I don’t mind the turkeys – they are polite and quite sociable. I am sorry to hear the pheasants are disappearing but I am even less likely to head into their coop to check on them now, for fear of encountering a murder scene or some scary biting weasel-like creature.

The Farmer has seen skunks and raccoons in the barn in the past, but they are usually pretty easy to spot. Whoever has been stealing our pheasants is much more elusive. At first, the blame was being directed at my colony of barn cats. They get a big scoop of food to share each day and they certainly aren’t starving, but their food of choice is always fresh rodents around the farm. After all, that’s why we have barn cats. So that I don’t ever have to see a rat and the Farmer doesn’t have to come across one of those long slithery things that rhymes with ‘cake’.

I told the Farmer that my cats are not interested in chasing and killing his penned birds. They prefer a good chase on an equal playing field. It’s all about the hunt for them. Besides, if they had killed his birds, it is far more likely that the tiny little bird offerings would end up on my back porch, right beside my shoes, as trophies or offerings. I could tell the Farmer was considering this theory and coming to agreement with me. So if it wasn’t the barn cats, who was it?

Then one day the pheasant-stealer, like all criminals in the end, made a fatal mistake. He left a tiny tuft of black fur on some of the chicken wire. A-ha! It’s probably a skunk, albeit a scentless one. Usually we can track the comings and goings of skunks on the farm by following their distinctive perfume wafting through the air. This one seems to have learned to mask his odour somehow, at least while he is in the pheasant-stealing act.

And so my cats are off the hook. As I watch them wandering past the back porch on their way to the mouse-filled meadow, I mentally catalog their colours. Dilute calico orange, grey and white; grey tabby; brown tabby; white with grey spots. Not a black one in the bunch.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Accidental Sales Rep's Wife...?

 The Farmer has obtained his real estate license. This is a great achievement, after months of study, but it is more than that. It’s a new phase of life.

In the past seven years since I have been partnered with The Farmer, we have already experienced many phases of life. Most of the job-related ones have been mine, because as a writer, I have been rather transient. I came home from 3 years in Asia, lived at my parents’ house for a few months until my father started dropping hints that it was time for me and my brood to find a nest of our own. So we moved into a townhouse. Then it was one job after another until I finally found my niche at the radio station.

The Farmer and I didn’t live together until we were married, about fifteen months after our first date. That day, life changed forever, for the better of course. It was a bit of a shock, though, waking up in the farmhouse and realizing I was married not only to a college professor but a sheep farmer. I was a Farmwife. Manure would be involved in my regular routine.

Then the kids had to ‘find their corners’. A couple moved out, a couple moved in, and one visited often. The Farmer and I learned not to get too attached to the elusive creatures known as our daughters. Even those living with us were rarely home and when they were, they were happily ensconced in their rooms, listening to strange music. Just this past weekend the last of the five moved out. This time she took furniture so it’s probably going to last. All that is left is a crumpled collage of rockstar and superhero posters on the wall, and a closet full of discarded clothing that is going to make some new owner very happy.

With the acquisition of this new title of Real Estate Agent, The Farmer has reclaimed one of the girls’ bedrooms. He painted over the pink walls with a colour like sun-kissed sand, hung a few pictures and a map of property zones. He’s a large man so it took him a while to find the right desk but now it looks like it was made for that room. The window blind is always up and he has a view of the pasture. I must admit there is pretty good feng shuei going on in there.

It took us a few days to get the kinks out of the Internet at home, because The Farmer has considerably less patience than I do for slow, stalling and freezing wireless services. He seems to have mastered his very first smart phone in record time, and we tease him because now he is the one who keeps picking up his phone and looking at it when he’s supposed to be paying attention to something else. Like our youngest daughter’s graduation services. Or the Canada Day fireworks.

Facebook is a whole new world for him too. He had a personal profile on there before but rarely used it. Now he needs it for business purposes, so I will be introducing him to some of my 1000+ friends to get him started.

With his college retirement just a few years away, now is the time for him to slowly transition into real estate. He has taught business for over twenty years, and built four houses himself. When I was taking my real estate courses (I made it to part three and then gave up!) he was very interested. With a mind for math and marketing, the lessons were right up his alley.

Not much will change for us on the home front, except the occasional dinner time might be interrupted by a sales call or appointment.  I might have to pitch in to cook Sunday dinner sometime too. He will have to let me into his kitchen if he has to go and host an open house somewhere.

At the end of the day, the farm is always there. Season after season it brings new challenges and routines that mark the passage of time. It’s a relief to come home from a stressful day at work to walk among the animals and do something simple like pitching hay.

And I am still The Accidental Farmwife, because The Accidental Real Estate Agent’s Wife just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Welcome to "The Do Drop Inn"

I think there is something about living on a farm that makes you want to share it with other people. We have about 18 to 20 dinner guests at our extended table every Sunday afternoon, and they aren’t all family. Many of them are ‘honorary’ family members and friends. We feel very blessed to have them share a meal at the end of the week with us.

Occasionally we will also have unexpected visitors. These are a nice surprise. We have had one of my Taipei friends stay with us for a couple days on his way through Ontario a few summers back, and the photos he took of the animals and the farm that weekend are a beautiful reminder of his stay. The images show us the farm through a visitor’s eyes. Sometimes we forget that a tired ewe has peace in her eyes, and a weathered piece of barn board can be beautiful. Showing visitors around the farm forces us to slow down and have another look.

We have also had visiting hunters on our farm. Some of them are invited by The Farmer, because the outdoor experience is always more enjoyable when shared with someone who appreciates nature as much as you do. I get a little nervous when I see the Farmer’s white-collar troupe of hunters heading out to the bush (the scientist, the professor, the veterinarian and naturalist), but as long as they are all facing in different directions I guess no one is in real danger. Eddie the Englishman is the most impressive sight, with his formal hunting tweeds and antique gun.

I once invited some Cree hunters to our neck of the Eastern Ontario woods, because there was a shortage of geese in theirs. Imagine my surprise when six of them took me up on my offer, and a cavalcade of pick-up trucks loaded with coolers and hunting equipment showed up in our yard one night. Those hunters brought their wives, children and a couple of elders with them for the trip. The women plucked the geese and prepared meals for the men while the elders gave advice and told stories. I spent the weekend making beds, doing laundry and dishes. I missed out on most of the stories because I wasn’t in the goose-plucking shed, but I just couldn’t stand the smell of fresh goose.

Since that first contingent of 15, we had regular Cree visitors for several hunting seasons. I guess the word got out around the Northern Quebec communities when that first group came back with a truckload – about eighty – Canada Geese. They shared the meat with their family and friends and made plans to return to the bountiful region of Eastern Ontario. But when strange men I had never met or heard of kept showing up late at night, hungry and needing a bed for the night, I eventually had to put my foot down and say, ‘the Fisher Farm Inn is closed’. Instead I gave them the address of the McIntosh Inn in Morrisburg, where they could hunt along the St. Lawrence River in happiness.

Recently we had musical guests at the radio station who ended up being stranded for a few hours without their ride, in between appointments. When I noticed their eyes were at half mast I offered them the floor of the studio loft for a nap. An hour later it was time for lunch and they were still tired so I called the Farmer. He let me bring the whole band home to the farm for the afternoon, so they could rest up for their show at The Branch. I’m sure my daughter thinks I’m quite strange, bringing musicians home and putting them down for naps in the spare room. When they woke up three hours later they took a dip in the pool and enjoyed the sight and sounds of the sheep coming in from the pasture at the end of the day. I was proud to be able to share my little slice of paradise with these wandering minstrels. I believe one of them said he is writing a song about it.

I’m lucky the Farmer likes entertaining guests at the farm too. He especially loves to feed them. I think we have the same opinion; that things are much more enjoyable when you share them with others. That includes the beautiful, peaceful existence of life on the farm.


Nosey the cat.

The Farmwife herds a cat.

I was sitting at The Branch Restaurant the other night after work, having a rather high-brow conversation about the etymology of certain well-used phrases in common English. Sayings that we use while having no idea what they mean or where they came from. For example, “rule of thumb.” I was most shocked to discover that this saying, which we use as a sort of measurement of logic, comes from the rule that it was ok for a man to beat his wife with a stick if said stick was smaller than the width of his thumb.

When I taught English to business professionals in Asia, they wanted explanations for the slang that they saw in emails from their Western associates overseas. I had to look them up before explaining them, of course. We know how to use these sayings (in most cases), but we don’t always know what they mean. I had to explain a cash cow and putting the cart before the horse, as many of my ESL students were quite concerned that they didn’t own farm animals of any type, yet their business respondents kept referring to them.

George (at The Branch, the other night) explained that “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” refers to the practice of checking a horse’s teeth when you buy it. If the horse is a gift, don’t check the teeth. Much like assessing the value of a gift in front of the giver, that’s just rude. It’s a gift. Just take it, with gratitude.

George also explained the saying “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.” It has a rather bold connotation (especially when voiced by someone like my Dad) but what it really refers to is the ‘brass monkey’ that held the cannon balls on a war ship. When it was really cold, the balls would fall off the structure.

Today the Farmer and I discovered the true meaning of “it’s more difficult than herding cats”. Farm cats – the feral type – are so wild you never really know how they are going to react in any given situation. Sometimes I think even they don’t know how they will react. The barn cat who came in and pronounced herself a housecat, fondly known as Sheila, has been a very well behaved cat. I speak to her and she seems to understand. She even responds accordingly. She doesn’t like to be picked up but is fond of sitting right next to her humans and being petted. Sheila was probably the worst behaved cat of them all when sent to the vet to be fixed. Although she didn’t have to be caught in a live trap and caged for transport like the feral cats did, she was the only one of the bunch to twist around and bite the vet when she was trying to give her a shot.

So when the female barn cat known as Nosey showed up one day with a huge swelling on the side of her face, I was pretty worried. Outdoor cats get infections and swellings all the time because they get into tiffs with the other cats in their colony and take a scratch or two from a dirty claw. When the scratch is healing it itches and they scratch it again with their own dirty claw, leading to an infection and a swelling the size of a golf ball or worse.

I’ve seen this before, but it was on a cat who would actually let me touch and treat her wound. Nosey, although pleasant, meek and mild, will not allow anyone to touch her. I had to lock her in the basement, wait until the wound opened on its own, and then catch her in a fishing net to treat it. I held the net down and screamed for the Farmer. He helped me to hold her down and treat her. She got a head-to-toe once-over with antiseptic on her wound, an antibiotic and flea spray for good measure. She did protest once – first time I’ve ever heard her voice; I thought she was mute – and she did try to wriggle out of the net but she didn’t try to bite. Faced with this experience, Nosey showed she is all flight and no fight, for which I am truly grateful. Now she will stay in the basement with her food and water, sleeping in the living room of the dollhouse, until her wound is completely healed.

And for her good behaviour, she might get a few extra cat treats.

Enjoy Canada Day; hopefully it won’t be “raining cats and dogs” on July 1st.


Friday, June 21, 2013

In which Ginger doth protest too much

“The sheep have that pasture nibbled down to felt,” said the Farmer one day last week.

Now that our back two pasture fields have been tiled and planted, we no longer have as much grazing land for the sheep. There are two options: move them to the other side of the farm or supplement their diet with hay while the grass grows back. The latter is too expensive an option. The next day I came home from the work to find the Farmer had moved all the sheep up into the front and west fields, with the cows.

“They even sound happier now,” I commented. “But what about Misty and Donkey?” The horse and her friend stood at the fence watching the festivities on the other side – and probably planning a break-in. It’s not as though there wasn’t enough food left for them, now that they had the whole pasture to themselves. But they hate feeling left out and wondered what they were missing.

“Are they going to be ok over there without the Donkey?” I wondered aloud. So far this year we have only had one coyote strike, but one means they are watching and waiting for another easy opportunity.

The Farmer muttered something like “by the time we get a strike over there, the grass will be grown back over here and I can move them again.” I went out on the back porch and stared at the sheep. I thought about Gracie, who has twins of her own plus an adopted lamb on her. Her face has become so thin and elongated I didn’t even recognize her. And I thought of my little bottle-fed lamb, only recently weaned off milk, who still comes running whenever he hears my voice. I don’t want them to get taken by a coyote.

Finally I heard a big sigh and the Farmer came over to join me. “Ok, we can move the horse and donkey over there too. But remember last time? As soon as the horse arrived, the cows found a hole in the fence and left.” Oh yeah. I forgot about that. The cows hate having the horse and donkey around. A whole herd of sheep underfoot they can handle. But as soon as you introduce a big Belgian horse and a neck-biting donkey, they feel crowded.

I got busy weeding the garden while the Farmer trudged off to move the animals. Within about half an hour I knew they were in, because all I could hear was the loud protest of Ginger, bellowing repeatedly like a broken foghorn. I decided to go and have a look.

The sheep were nestled down for their mid-day nap, almost hidden in long grass under the shade of the trees. Most of the cattle were in the barn, where they also have a mid-day nap away from the high sun and the bugs. Donkey and Misty were standing in the breezeway, reveling in the wind blowing through, cooling their hot skin and blowing the bugs off them. They were also blocking entry to the part of the barn where the rest of the cows were sleeping. Ginger stood just outside, in the hot, wet mud, bellowing. She probably wanted to get in but she wasn’t going to risk brushing up against Misty or Donkey, for fear of getting a nip on her side. It’s really more humiliating than painful, I think. The only thing hurt is her pride. I told her she was being ridiculous and she snorted at me. Betty was resting on the far side of the barn with her calf, as if launching a passive-aggressive protest against the entire operation.

By sunset, everyone had “found their corners”, as the Farmer says, and it’s been quiet ever since. It’s weird to look out the window and not see a single farm animal, however. I’m sure the neighbours can do without all the mooing but they have said before they like to have the lambs up in the front field where they can see and hear them.

I’m just hoping they don’t get an up-close-and-personal visit from a certain angry cow and her calf, looking for a corner of the meadow to call their own.