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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.