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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Fisher Farm

I call this "Bovines in Hoarfrost"

Memories of Christmas past

When I was a little girl, Mom and Dad would pile my sister Cathy and me, along with cardboard boxes stuffed with wrapped gifts, into the back of our station wagon early in the day on Christmas Eve. Destination: East Ottawa, Grandma’s house. It was only an hour or so to drive but it seemed like quite a journey to a kid. That was before the 416, so we took old 16 (County Road 44) straight through North Gower.
Once in Ottawa, Cathy and I would settle in to the guest room with twin beds. I could never imagine my father as a little kid in that room. The twin beds had white chenille bedspreads with raised patterns and swirls – I am pretty sure they still do. A thick Persian area rug padded the floor over the thin green carpet between the beds. We slept deeply in that room.
On Christmas Eve, we would go to my uncle’s house two blocks away from Grandma’s. There our five cousins would have some sort of entertainment planned for the evening. When we were younger, the eldest, Sherry, had us all singing Christmas carols for the adults, in our pajamas. In later years, we snuggled down in the rec room and watched movies together on the brand-new VCR.
I was always anxious to get to bed, because in my reasoning, the sooner you get to sleep, the faster Christmas morning comes. Before bed we were allowed to open one gift but for some reason Mom was always allowed to choose which one we would open. It was always pajamas.
Grandma had sugar cookies and milk for Santa. We put those on a plate in the kitchen before turning in. I remember wondering how he would get in when Grandma didn’t have a fireplace. I studied the old coal burner in the basement and examined the laundry chute between the floors. As my Dad the science teacher said, there are some things we just aren’t meant to understand. I was ok with that.
Christmas morning Cathy and I woke with the very first rays of sunlight, and sometimes a bit before. I will never forget the feeling of the over-stuffed felt stocking that had been left at the end of my bed – likely to entertain us for another hour or two so the parents could sleep a bit longer. The stretched felt squeaked as I quietly pulled out a coloring book (in later years a fashion magazine), a doll, candy, tangerines, socks (in later years, pantyhose), hair accessories, jewellery, etc. One of us would wake the other and we would celebrate our finds in whispered squeals.
Once that excitement wore off, we would pull on slippers and pad down to the living room. There was a light left on so we could survey the bounty. The gifts from Dad even beat the ones we asked of Santa, because they were always so original. And he always painstakingly wrapped them himself. One year he gave us walkie talkies. Which reminds me of our last Christmas together, in 2007, when he gave us tickets to see Mamma Mia at the NAC. I miss my Dad. So many of my memories revolve around him.
On Christmas Day we got our best outfits on and went back over to our cousins’ house for a big turkey lunch. That was our tradition, every year.
Now that we have divided families and our kids are paired up with partners there are many commitments and social obligations so we have to be creative. Christmas morning we will gather at my sister’s house for brunch and gift exchange. Then home for a nap and Christmas afternoon the Farmer and I will head to his sister’s house in Ottawa for dinner.
But I harbour a secret wish. Sometimes I daydream about a Christmas a few years from now, when our five daughters will come and stay with us in this big farmhouse on Christmas eve, with their young families. Christmas morning we will be awakened by the squeal of tiny children in fuzzy pajamas with feet. Santa may have trouble getting down the chimney of our woodstove, so we might leave the porch door open for him. I can’t wait.
Enjoy your holidays making memories with family and friends.
Merry Christmas from The Farmer and me.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A donkey looks good to a donkey

“I haven’t seen you in a donkey’s age. You’ve been gone for donkey years. Almost as long as donkey’s ears.”

The many variations on the theme of this colloquial expression would lead one to believe that a donkey lives for a very long time. They also have long ears.
We aren’t exactly sure how old our Donkey is. He is getting bald patches on his back again but that is due to rain rot – a type of fungus – and not necessarily age. A few good applications of sulfur rub and he will be growing a thick, wiry coat again. Not a shiny, glossy and furry coat like the winter wear of the horse, but a reliable, almost impermeable covering of bristle that will get him through the colder months.
A quick search of the Internet says donkeys can live between 45 to 50 years. That’s a good 20 on a horse. The oldest donkey on record lived to the ripe old age of 57.
Donkeys are very easy to care for, they don’t ask for much, they are smart, and hardy and dedicated. So why the bad rap? Why do we have insulting references in almost every language on the globe, related to the stupidity of the ‘lowly’ donkey? Probably because the donkey can be found on just about every continent on the earth. They are common. They are easy to care for, so they are owned even by those who cannot afford the fussy feed and care that a horse might require, for example.
The donkey is the only animal on our farm who does not complain about the food. When the hay is a bit moldy or the silage a bit too ripe, he just keeps eating while the horse, cattle and even the lone sheep line up at the fence to sing a complaint in the general direction of the farm house. Donkey just stands at the feeder, happily chewing and swallowing down the sub-par menu.
When Donkey comes in to the stable for the night as company for the horse, he doesn’t even eat or drink. He just stands guard while she tosses her hay around and spills her water everywhere. He can get to her water and hay if he needs a snack but we don’t even bother to fill his water bucket anymore as it is just frozen solid in the morning, untouched.
If the horse is getting sweet feed, however, you have to give Donkey some. Same with apples. If he smells an apple, he will have his chin on your shoulder, nibbling at your ear until you hand it over. That animal loves a good over-ripe apple.
On our farm, the donkey has built a bit of a reputation because he is very smart and therefore, like the horse, he gets bored. If the ATV or tractor is left out in the open where the animals can access them, they will happily bite and tug on the squishy padded seat and rubberized handles for hours. The hoodlums will have the tractor stripped by the time the Farmer gets home.
If the animals are on the lawn, trotting down the road or visiting the cornfield next door, you can bet it was Donkey who let them out. He studies a gate latch and plays with it for hours until he masters it. What else does he have to do all day? Might as well work on his Houdini routine.
The Farmer says we don’t need Donkey anymore, because we only have one sheep left and she is kept safe by always standing next to the big Belgian horse. But I argue that Donkey and Misty the horse are best friends since she lost her sister. She would be lost, without him. She doesn’t even like to go into the stable if he isn’t with her.
Donkeys are important. This time of year we tell the story of a very special donkey who carried someone named Mary quite a distance on his back, without complaint or demand, all the way to Bethlehem.
So once again, I argue respect for the donkey. He shall receive a large bag of over-ripe apples to share with the horse and the sheep and his favourite cows on Christmas morning. They can eat the sweet fruit until their bellies ache. Except Donkey won’t get a belly ache, because he has a cast-iron stomach and he isn’t fussy like that.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Winter warning

The Accidental Farmwife
The animals prepare for winter
By Diana Fisher

I turned the porch light on and there he was. A huge grey tabby, with half an ear missing and some crooked whiskers. He was eating the cat food I leave there, and the light made him freeze on the spot. But he saw me. His eyes met and locked on mine. I did the same thing I had done a couple years ago to tame Sammy. Slow blinks. The grey cat stayed frozen, staring at me, and slowly his eyes began to appear less startled, less alarmed. Calmer. He slowly blinked back at me. Then he turned and disappeared into the wood pile.
As the weather turns colder, cats we’ve never seen before appear out of nowhere, looking for food. Cats we thought had disappeared long ago suddenly reappear on the scene, checking out the familiar feeding spots. I was happy to see Sabrina the barn cat again. None of the other cats accepted her and they always scared her away when she came to eat. I used to have to feed her behind the stack of rubber boots or up on top of the freezer, where they couldn’t see her.
We first saw the grey tabby last spring when that calico cat was here. Every time she was in heat he would show up, answering her mournful cry at the window. We got her fixed and found her a home, though, after her babies were weaned. Then we didn’t see him again. Until now. There are no fertile females here to attract him anymore so he must be here for the free food.
One of the barn cats who eats on the back porch but doesn’t like people, has decided she will occasionally come in just to warm up. Nosey just darts in when you open the door. If you aren’t looking down, you don’t even see her. She’s just a stripey blur. I come home from work and there she is in the hallway, sitting like a statue, watching me. The girls must have inadvertently let her in after school. Sometimes she overnights with us and I don’t even know she is inside until I go downstairs and see, out of the corner of my eye, a brown tail disappear into a dollhouse.
The horse, donkey and cows are now covered with a fine coat of fur. They are ready for winter. I try to remember how thick their coats were last year. Some farmers can predict how harsh the winter will be by the thickness of the animals’ coats. The horse can be convinced to come into the stable every night now, for sweet feed and hay and shelter from whatever weather the night will bring. In summer she often stays down in the meadow, sleeping under a tree. Now the animals are usually up by the barn, eating from the feeders.
We’ve had to put a few bales up a week, but it’s already December and they can still go down on the meadow if they want to. They keep eyeing my front lawn and watching to see if we remember to lock the gate.
The horse has had her anti-botulism shots so she can eat the wrapped silage hay but she prefers the dry hay. The cows also prefer the dry hay this year. Hopefully they will acquire a taste for the sweet whiskey-smelling wrapped hay soon because that is what we have planned to feed them through the winter.
The dog houses are lined with hay and the dogs spend long hours napping every day, in snug comfort.
The birdfeeder is full and the two house cats spend the afternoons on the windowsill, cackling at the chickadees. The birds are so happy to see the black-oiled sunflowers they flit around my head as I fill the feeder, brushing my arms with their wings.
That last wind made it easy for the Farmer to find deadwood for the fire. He cut the felled trees with his chainsaw, stacked the logs on his wagon and brought them up to the house. Then he threw the logs up on the porch and stacked them in a wall of wood to block the wind and feed our woodstove.
There’s nothing like a wood fire in winter. So we’re ready. Bring it on.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Seeing the first snow through an International student's eyes

My International student from Brazil had been taking pictures of frost cover all week. I kept telling her, “that’s not real snow.” I knew she would be excited to see an actual snowfall. “One day you’ll wake up and it will just be all white outside,” I told her. “It’s beautiful. I still get excited at the first snowfall, every year.” Sunday, Marilia and Vicky got to try out their new winter wear.
It was quite fun to watch. First, they opened the front door and just squealed as a gust of wind blew snowflakes in their faces.
“Ok, guys. We like to keep the snow outside if we can,” and I pushed them gently out the door, to more squeals. They carefully slid their feet over the slippery porch and I ran to get my camera.
Victoria, from Suzhou near Shanghai in China has seen snow before, “but never this big!” We had about 2 cms on the ground. I told her she ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Marilia, who lives near the beach in Recife, Brazil, had never seen a snowflake. She just stood there for a while, watching each beautiful, fat flake land and melt on her black gloves. I think she had tears in her eyes. I was reminded of my daughters as babies, seeing snow for the first time.
It must be like when we ‘Southerners’ head north to experience aurora borealis. Or the first time we see an ocean with no visible limit. For Marilia, feeling the snow fall on her face was like rounding a corner in Switzerland and being faced with the Alps for the first time.
“Do you hear it crunching under your feet?” I demonstrated by stomping around. “That means it’s good for making a snowman.”
Beach girl Marilia picked up a handful of snow, formed it into a perfect snowball and whipped it at Victoria. Vicky responded by throwing a handful of snow at Marilia. It all blew back in her face.
For the next twenty minutes the girls worked together to make a snowman that was about a foot tall. I think I’ll make them a life-sized one to greet them when they return from school on Monday.
I dragged the Christmas lights outside and proceeded to put them on the tree. The Farmer suffers from vertigo when at the top of a ladder so I get to do this job myself every year. I rigged up an extendable pole with a hook on the end but I still couldn’t reach the top of the evergreen I had decorated last year. Could it really have grown three feet in one year?
I decided to light the cedar shrub instead. This turned out to be not a great idea, as it was already circled with wild grapevine that gripped my hook pole and light string at every opportunity. I lost the business end of my implement in the tree, nearly fell off my ladder tugging on the string and had the branch whip back in my face, getting snow in my eyes.
The girls watched with concern from the window in the house, where they had retreated to warm up by the fire.
An hour later I had succeeded in throwing all ten light strings up onto the twenty-foot cedar tree. The vines held them in place. It was a group effort. It doesn’t look pretty, but as the saying goes, a man on a galloping horse wouldn’t tell the difference. Especially if he’s riding after dark.
When I returned inside to take a layer off, having worked up a bit of sweat, I found the girls still sitting on the couch by the fire, in full winter gear. Hoo boy.
Maybe it’s more like the opposite of us going to the desert for the first time, in +50 degrees Celsius. Because these two are acting like it’s forty below when it’s plus 2.
Marilia is here until mid-January. Hopefully we won’t get minus 30 until she is gone home to the beach. Victoria, however, is going to get to wear her Ugg boots and high-fashion parka a little more than that. She is here ‘til the bitter end and other than a break at Christmas, she doesn’t go home to China until June. Oh Canada!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

It's Canada Day again.

As I walked around the block this morning I noticed them hanging from trees, mailboxes, and farm gates. I also noticed them in the department store, shop windows and restaurants. The municipality is flying theirs at half mast. Canadian flags. It’s Canada Day again.
The events of Wednesday, October 22nd in Ottawa were heard around the world. One man was shot and killed in the line of duty, and then the shooter threatened our national headquarters. Our sacred Parliament buildings.
We have learned a senior security agent – Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers – ran toward the gunfire exchange he heard in the front hall of Centre Block. He chased the shooter to where he hid behind a stone pillar and then Vickers, who is not a young man, hit the marble floor, rolling over onto his back as he spun and slid around the pillar to land at the feet of the shooter. Then, with several quick shots, he took the killer down. Vickers was given a hero’s thank you in the House of Commons the next day with a prolonged, loud standing ovation and speeches from our leaders. Many are asking for recognition of his heroic efforts on a grand scale.
Others are asking that a fund be established in honour of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, so his son will always know how grateful his country is for his service. Just two days after the shooting that fund had already reached $300,000. When it reaches $500k, it will be split between the familes of Nathan Cirillo and Patricen Vincent, the Warrant Officer run down in Quebec October 20th.
As I write this, Cpl. Cirillo hasn’t been buried yet. But he has come home.
We first heard that the fallen soldier’s hearse would be escorted along the Highway of Heroes – the designated route between Trenton and Toronto that far too many have taken when they return from overseas. But Cirillo wasn’t flying home to Canada; he was in Ottawa. Realizing his route would be along Hunt Club and the 416, an approximate schedule was released and people by the hundreds lined the roadways to wait and watch him pass.
It was a P.D. day in our area so many students also had the opportunity to witness and take part in the solemn moment. Parents tried to find ways to explain what happened, and why we are all so affected by it.
Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth. I hope that parents will find a way to explain the events of October 22nd to their children, themselves and each other, that does not involve reference to any religion, race or culture. Responsible journalists do not attribute these crimes, both the killing Oct. 20th of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec and the murder of Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial downtown Ottawa, to any religion, race or culture.
In both cases, the killers had a history of mental health problems. Mental illness took the lives of four people: the two victims and the two men that killed them.
While we are busy claiming attacks on our service men and Parliament are attributed to a particular religion, race or culture, and putting millions of dollars toward fighting that war, I hope that someone up there in the upper echelon of government sees fit to also invest some funding in mental health research, awareness, treatment and care.
In the meantime, let us look at the good that came out of the bad. Because there is always something. This week many in downtown Ottawa, in the line of fire and under lockdown, have a newfound respect for our service men and women, our police officers and security personnel. Those who ran toward danger while ushering others swiftly to safety. We are waving the Canadian flag and wearing our national pride in a bright, bold shade of red. And we stood together, no matter what our race, religion or culture, in person and in front of television sets and online, to watch one young man make his final trip home, to Hamilton, along an extended Highway of Heroes.
If you are among those who think our displays of patriotism are of little effect, think again.
Why did we unfurl our flags on the highway overpasses from Hunt Club to the 401? Cpl. Cirillo’s family appreciate the outpouring of support. But we also did it for ourselves. It was a way to make sense and find closure after a traumatic event that shook all of us.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In which the Accidental Farmwife becomes a hunting widow. For a day or two anyway.

The Farmer’s father is 89 years old. And he’s determined to go to his traditional hunt camp again this year. With his mobility a bit compromised, it might be foolhardy for Wally to go hunting on his own again but he really doesn’t like to miss it. So the Farmer is going with him. Hopefully the two of them will enjoy their time together and no one will get lost in the woods.
A lot of hunter’s wives are used to their men going off into the bush for a week or two at the beginning of November. Some of them even look forward to it. They plan girls-only get-togethers, shopping trips, ladies’ lunches and movie nights. A ‘hunting widow’, as she is called, will take advantage of the solitude and spend her days at home without worrying about her man’s schedule, his favourite meals, TV shows, or comfort zones.
One of my friends plans home decorating projects for when her husband is away on his annual hunting trip. The year it was really warm in November and the deer weren’t moving, he called to say he was bored and coming home early. She told him he had better not, or she would put him to work. So he spent a few more days in the woods, reading a book.
I am not accustomed to my man going off on his own for several days at a time.
If the Farmer isn’t home, I am cold all the time and I don’t sleep well. I have to leave lights on and I stay up way past my bedtime, watching useless movies on Netflix.  
Now don’t get me wrong – I truly enjoy my alone time. But the Farmer and I have formed such a secure, routine partnership, I feel quite unsettled without him. Like I’m walking around all day with just one shoe.
The Farmer went away in May, on a business trip with the college. I managed. We Skyped twice a day and I kept busy so that the days would go by quickly. I guess I will do the same this time.
I will invite friends over for a sleep-over movie night with sushi and cocktails and chick flicks. I will sleep in and stay up late, work on my book and read others. I will appreciate the fact that my husband has his own interests. We are both very independent people, thank goodness.
So I’m a hunting widow this year! But it certainly isn’t going to be lonely. We have three international students living with us, after all. I have to get them to their various activities, keep the house clean, keep them fed and entertained. We’ll go to the movies and the hockey game and have a great time.
I think I’ve got it all under control. This farm pretty well runs itself. As long as the water to the barn doesn’t freeze or otherwise break down, we’re good. If it does, I will have to line up a row of barrels and fill them with water, twice a day.
I hope the snow holds off and we don’t get an early storm while the Farmer/Hunter is away because I can’t drive that decrepit old tractor to bring the cows hay. I would just have to open the door to the barn, climb up onto the hay bales and roll one out for them. Which wouldn’t be so bad, I guess. I’ve managed in the past. The farm survives without the Farmer. For short periods of time.
So I guess we’re good. I’m even looking forward to it. I can take the girls into the city, visit friends I haven’t seen in a while and not worry about rushing home to make dinner or keep company with the man of the house. It will be a novelty, and it will wear off, because I like my routine.
Yep, we’re good. As long as the Farmer is home in time for Sunday dinner. Because that is one thing that just doesn’t happen without him. I love houseguests but get stressed when things have to happen on schedule, like a coordinated dinner for 20.
He has a free hunting pass until Sunday. Or I’m cancelling dinner.
The nice thing about the Farmer going off for a weekend hunting is that I can bank those points toward a nice weekend away in Montreal or Toronto with my girls. We can go Christmas shopping, take in a concert or show, enjoy girl time and not feel guilty about leaving the Farmer home to fend for himself. Because if I can survive solitude, so can he!
I will just have to leave bowls of cat food and water all over the basement for Sammy and Sheila because he isn’t likely to remember to feed them unless they trip him on his way up the stairs.

“The Farmer’s Wife” hosts the afternoon drive at 97.5 Juice FM on weekday afternoons.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

There is a woman who embodies everything I have ever wanted to be. The positive energy emanating from this person just swirls around her and fills the room. Her laugh cracks through the air and she is very quick to give you a big, warm smile, even if you have yet to be formally introduced. She isn’t happy because life is easy and good. She is happy because she is content with what she has. She is grateful, and blessed. I want to learn that trick. Maureen Kathleen Theresa Cullen Leeson is my mother, and we are celebrating her 70th birthday this week.
Mom was born and raised in Ottawa. She spent a fair amount of time in a house on Donald Street in the east end. Her mother, my grandma Vicky, raised five kids – four boys and one little girl – on her own. She took in boarders to make ends meet. Mom says they were poor growing up. She remembers going to the home of a more well-to-do friend one day after school, and being amazed by the bowl of fruit in the centre of the kitchen table. She told herself, when I’m married and have a family of my own, there will always be a bowl of fruit in the centre of the table. And so there always was.
My mother must have inherited her tenacious spirit from my grandmother. She had to be resilient, with four rather wild brothers sharing the small home. Many times my father would say, “it’s amazing your mother turned out normal, growing up with brothers like that.”
My childhood memories are full of song. My mother woke up singing. “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day. I’ve got a beautiful feeling, everything’s going my way” – and she meant every word. I thought she surely must be one of the best singers in the world. She seemed to have a song for every occasion. The radio was always on, right beside the kitchen sink, so she could sing while cooking and doing the dishes. That too, was passed on from her French Canadian mother.
Mom taught us to be resilient too. I remember the first day of Grade 6, or maybe it was 5, when I was wearing a brown polyester A-line skirt and a lemon yellow tee-shirt and I thought I looked just fabulous, with my little pixie haircut and Mary Jane shoes. Until I got to school and someone told me that yellow doesn’t go with brown and my hair makes me look like a boy. A skinny, brown boy.
I was pretty upset when I got home and didn’t want to talk about it but Mom eventually got it out of me. “That’s ridiculous,” she said. “I studied the colour spectrum in my Interior Decorating course and yellow goes perfectly well with brown. That person just doesn’t know any better.”
Later, when I ran off and got married at 19, and later when I had serious trouble in my first marriage, and even when I decided to move to Asia, my mother was always there for me, showing support without meddling. I know she worried a great deal about me and my impulsive decisions, but she remained a steady, positive force I could always depend on. Never passing judgment.
My mother is abundantly generous. Whether it’s the loan of a vehicle, or extra place settings for Thanksgiving dinner, she always thinks of what you need and offers it, before you even realize you need it.
I’m constantly asking myself “What would Mom do?” Because in any given situation, that would be the right answer. It’s a safe bet, anyway.
Live life to the fullest. Speak your mind. Go out of your way for people. Enjoy a good glass of wine each night. Greet each day with a smile.
We celebrated Mom’s 70th with a professional family photo shoot. She is still the same classic beauty with the demure smile, the stylish dress, the matriarch of the family. She is the glue that holds us together.
My whole life I’ve been told I look and sound just like my mom. I didn’t see it much before but now I see it more and more every day. And that’s just fine with me, because there isn’t anyone I would rather be like, in this world. Happy Birthday, Mom. We love you.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Everyone needs a witness to their life.

“We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness." ~ Susan Sarandon, Shall We Dance, 2004

When I first met Norma Fisher she was dancing with her husband George at a fundraising event for the hospital. I watched decades of history as they flowed across the dance floor together. Back at the table when they took a dance break, I asked Norma how the two met.
“I wasn’t sure how I felt about him at first,” she said. “He was a vet. He smelled like a vet.” I guess the fine aroma of farm animals didn’t put her off too much, as they eventually married and had a good, long life together.
Dr. George C. Fisher passed away last week, at the age of 97. Those who knew him were very sad to hear of his passing but it also gave us an opportunity to celebrate his life of service. The man answered every call for service that came his way. He was a strong supporter of the Kemptville District Hospital, the Kemptville College Foundation, and a lifelong member of the Rotary Club. He touched the lives of many people within his circle of friendship and care. His family wisely decided to extend his visitation hours to six instead of the usual four. It was a very busy day for them, and I’m sure very overwhelming, to see so many people lined up to say their goodbyes to George.
As we made our way up the line, I hoped that someone had given Norma a royal chair to sit in. I didn’t want to imagine her standing for hours. She was in fact sitting in the perfect chair, of barstool height, so that she was at eye level with her visitors. Her foot was in some sort of brace, however, because she had recently fallen and hurt it. No dancing for a while.
When it was my turn, I gave Norma a hug. “You will miss your dance partner,” I said, and she smiled. But I know she has missed George for a while, as he has been ailing. “How long were you two together, anyway?” I asked. “Sixty-three years,” she said.
“Wow. How did you make it last that long? Did you ever want to just wring his neck?”
Norma replied that whenever a disagreement threatened to come between them, they would each go off on their own and think about it. And then they would come together again, and one would admit to the other that they were wrong. It’s a give-and-take. And you must never say an unkind word, because it hangs in the air between you and you can never take it back once it’s out there. Good advice. Sounds like it came from another Fisher I know and love. More than once we have been asked if we are related to George and Norma. No, but it sounds like a lovely family to be a part of.
The photo slideshow at the service showed one of the Fisher granddaughters dressed up in her wedding gown, visiting George in hospital. She didn’t want him to miss out on seeing her in person on her big day.
One woman in the receiving line had come all the way from Mexico. She knew George and Norma through the Rotary exchange program. I asked her about her accent and she told me her story. She said she loved the Fishers, they were her family, and she wouldn’t miss the chance to come and say goodbye.
This week at Sunday dinner Paulina and Carey got out their big telescope and set it up so we could look at the stars in a full moon sky. I don’t know why but looking at the stars always makes me think of my Dad. Maybe because it makes me feel so small. He would have been 73 this week if he were still with us. Another larger-than-life character gone, but we are witnesses to their lives. Their lessons stay with us; even the ones they never knew they were teaching.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Happy 7th Anniversary to the Farmer from his Farmwife

Seven years ago this week, I became The Farmer’s Wife. Recently I saw a meme on Facebook asking “If you had to marry your partner on the exact spot you first met, where would that be?” I first met the Farmer when my mom brought me to his farm to pick up a Thanksgiving turkey. And we did get married on the farm, so I guess we did it right.
My middle daughter Anastasia (now married herself), was my event planner, designer and coordinator. The Kemptville College did the catering – roast beef, salads, potatoes and rolls. A substantial farm meal. The first of many to come. My mother-in-law-to-be, Lorna, baked three of her specialty buttermilk-chocolate cakes with cream cheese icing and decorated them simply with silk flowers on top. A good friend of mine since forever, Jenny brought her own boxes of colourful flowers to provide a backdrop for the altar, which the Farmer had created under a homemade rose arbour he built specially for the occasion.
Corey Arcand pitched a huge party tent on the lawn behind the farmhouse. Our friends and family helped us set up the decorations we rented – silk flower trellises, yards of tulle fabric, an old farm door and a white picket fence. The Farmer built a dance floor and set it in the middle of the tent. Pots of fall chrysanthemums in rich burgundy and gold – my favourite colour and his – lined the front of the head table.
The caterers set up dining tables and lined up chairs on both sides of the aisle leading to the altar. The bar-and-buffet tent was installed and the porta-pottie arrived. As we sat down to our rehearsal dinner that night, I had a little panic attack. I worried the girls hadn’t organized the music for the reception. The Farmer pulled me outside for a moment.
“Deep breath,” he advised, and pulled me into a big, warm hug. “It will all come together. Don’t tire yourself out. It’s just a great big party with a little bitty wedding in the middle.” That centred me and brought me back to earth.
The day of our wedding dawned damp and cool but the sun quickly warmed things up and dried out the grass. The girls and I headed to Rhonda’s for our up-do hairstyles and some breakfast.
Back at home, we darted past the Farmer and his men and sequestered ourselves in the big bedroom at the back of the house. My eldest, Milena, did my makeup and Jenny started what would turn out to be about 12 solid hours of photography – her priceless wedding gift to us. When someone you’ve known most of your life takes your wedding photos, they don’t have staged scenes in mind. They wait until they see something they recognize as truly you, then click.
My dress came from the bridal salon that was closing in Kemptville, so I got it at a really good price. The veil cost more than the dress but we have certainly gotten our money’s worth on that as it has been worn by two other women in my family since. It’s the family veil.
My mother and father walked me down the aisle, one on either side. I’m so grateful to have shared my wedding day with Dad, as we would be saying our final goodbyes just five months later.
I wanted our five daughters to feel involved in this new union so they each were given a verse to read from “On Children” in The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. The Farmer and I wrote our own wedding vows. His had something to do with hunting and fishing and not spending too much time on the couch. The reverend from the United Church officiated, and the rain held off, though the wind threatened to blow the veil right off my head. Danny Rembadi stood beside the altar and played his guitar and sang, providing the perfect soundtrack for the event.
We drove the pickup to the back of the pasture and Jenny took more photos in the tractor lane and meadow. Then we had dinner, speeches and dancing under the big white tent. The sky finally opened and the rain came down after dark, but by then no one cared anymore about getting a little muddy and wet. Besides, I hear it’s good luck to have a little rain on your wedding day. It was an awesome day, full of great memories, and every year we celebrate it with another great big party on the farm.
Happy Anniversary, to the Farmer. You have made me one happy Farmwife. Xo

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Bremen Town Musicians

The Bremen Town Musicians ride again

I realize the Brothers Grimm tale of a donkey, dog, cat and rooster is fictional but mismatched inter-species friendships happen all the time. Take my trio of donkey, horse and sheep for example. Some animals just don’t like to be alone, so they pair up with whomever they can find. Others could care less, are quite happy in their solitude, and use their independence to torment the pack-dwellers at times. I am thinking of Donkey as I write this.
When the two Belgian horses arrived at the farm, Donkey was quite smitten. He followed them around the barnyard and they tortured him by gracefully shaking out their long blonde manes and thundering away across the pasture, leaving him to follow with his weird sideways trot.
After Ashley died suddenly and unexpectedly, Misty was left without her half-sister, best friend and leader. She climbed the manure heap, using it as a lookout post, and whinnied, tossing her head that way she does, looking for her sister. Every day for over a week she ran up and down the pasture, searching for Ashley. Eventually the Farmer pulled her aside for a long talk. He took Ashley’s old halter down off the hook in the stable and held it under Misty’s nose as he spoke. Then he put the dead horse’s halter on Misty, and Donkey got Misty’s discarded adornment.
That week Misty decided Donkey would be her new friend. She formed an attachment to the funny little guy and in many ways, he rose to her expectations. She no longer had to walk the pasture unaccompanied or sleep alone at night. When something truly scary like a barn cat or squirrel scurried by, Donkey got between it and the massive cowardly horse, protecting her.
Unfortunately, Donkey also likes to tease the horse at times. He doesn’t mind being alone, and is often strolling independently out to pasture while Misty isn’t looking. Many times she has come crashing out of the barn, in a panic, looking for her friend. She calls him again and again but he doesn’t answer. He just stands in the hedgerow out of sight, silently chewing and twitching his ears, as if he is amused at her discomfort.
When we sold the sheep I couldn’t give up Gracie. The Farmer warned that she would be ‘coyote bait’ without the rest of her flock. Safety in fluffy numbers, I guess. I am happy to report he was wrong, so far.
Her first week as lone sheep on the farm, Gracie stayed up at the barnyard, nickering and calling for her flock-mates. One day she even followed the truck that took them down the road to see if it would lead her to a reunion. She got distracted and wandered into the forest instead, and I had to go and pull her back out.
It took a long time for Gracie to get the courage to follow the horse and donkey down the field to the pasture meadow. But somewhere along the way, she decided that she would be safe from the coyotes – and from Donkey, who has been known to entertain himself by biting and chasing sheep – if she just stayed tucked in behind the horse. Sometimes she appears to be right under the horse. I just hope she doesn’t get stepped on.
I wondered what the horse thought of this new attachment. In the past she kept her distance from the sheep – particularly the lambs – because, I think, they made strange noises, she didn’t like the way they felt when she accidentally stepped on them, and anything small, fast and unpredictable is particularly terrifying her. It’s the elephant and the mouse story all over again.
The other day Misty started out to pasture, picking up the pace to catch up with Donkey. Suddenly she stopped, turned and whinnied at something. I went out onto the porch to see what she was excited about. Gracie was there, limping along. The sheep was favouring one foot that had been nicked in a hoof trimming session and it was slowing her down. The horse was telling her to hurry up. When the little sheep stopped to catch her breath, the huge Belgian trotted back up to the barnyard to accompany her on the long walk. I think she would have carried her if she could.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Another week, another six feet of zucchini

Here’s why I don’t like to cook. First, you have to hang around the kitchen a lot. To watch, listen and smell for signs of food over-boiling or burning. I tend to have a short attention span. One minute I’m in the kitchen spreading butter on bread, the next I notice something happening with the horse out the window so I have to pull boots on and go outside to see what’s up. Ten minutes later the garlic bread is burnt. Or the pasta has boiled to mush. Or the tomato soup has boiled over. Again.
Second, you never have $500 dollars worth of exotic spices and special ingredients in your kitchen with which to complete the recipe, so you have to substitute. Also, I just cannot stand the idea of putting two cups of refined white sugar into anything. This is where I really get into trouble. Today I decided to tackle the two rather large zucchinis (that didn’t even fit in the kitchen sink) by making some muffins. I used gluten-free flour, until I ran out. I added hemp, chia, flax and quinoa because I love to think I’m making something healthy. I brought up the dry ingredients to the right quantity with some rolled oats.
Then it came to the wet ingredients. Eggs, vanilla, olive oil, but I’m not adding sugar, so I poured in some maple syrup instead. But that made it really wet, because syrup is wet whereas sugar is dry. Hmm. Add some more oats. And some quinoa flakes for good measure. Pour in the cocoa powder, mix well, spoon into muffin tins. It still looks really wet. Oh well. Hopefully we have muffins in half an hour, and not 48 servings of chocolate-flavoured zucchini porridge.
That used up one third of one zucchini. I have four more. I am planning to force them on dinner guests tonight but I still want to use up some on my own. I am not going to waste anything that grows in that garden. I am determined. Mother Nature is up there laughing because she is making me cook and bake. I’ll show her.
Next, I seed the rest of the two large zucchinis and slice them into strips like they do in the pub. Of course, my veggies are so large, the strips are rather curved. I’m quite proud of the way my gluten-free breadcrumbs turned out. If it wasn’t for this food processor, I would never set foot on the business side of the kitchen island.
The Farmer doesn’t like me in his kitchen on Sundays. Any other day of the week, fine, but Sundays he likes everything and everyone in place and on schedule. Throw a half-confident, disorganized cook into his kitchen prep area and he gets very stressed. So I move my stuff out onto the porch. We have another stove there. I take my zucchini slices and dip them first in egg, then roll in breadcrumbs. So far, so good. Now comes the tricky part. You have to have the oil hot enough in the fry pan to crisp the batter but you don’t want it so hot that it burns. Each zucchini stick has to be in there about 4 minutes on each side to cook through.  Most of mine were half-cooked and a little burnt. The sun porch filled with smoke and all the dinner guests stood between me and the doorway, commenting on the situation instead of helping or getting out of the way. The Farmer came in and tried to take over but I managed to divert his efforts. In the end,  everyone who dared try my cooking had to admit, they were pretty good. There’s nothing like fresh zucchini from the garden. The taste was lacking in something, so I added a little garlic salt. Yum.
Paulina found the old deep fryer in the basement, so there’s that. But I am going to try to perfect the less greasy method of cooking gluten-free breaded zucchini sticks. I’m not ready to throw in the dish towel yet.
The chocolate muffins turned out perfect. I’m better at this cooking gig than I thought. Still don’t like it though.  I would rather leave the cooking to the Farmer. At least on Sundays.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Getting back to nature, with the bites and rash to prove it

You never know what you’ll find in a garden. To the untrained eye, my garden seems to be a mass of green with no veggies or fruit just yet. The tomatoes are green, the beets, carrots and onions have not yet started to crown and the potato plants aren’t flowering so I don’t think they are ready to dig yet.
Just for fun, I lifted one of the vines the other day. It’s covered in prickles so you have to have gardening gloves on or you’ll be suffering with hair-like slivers for the rest of the day. I didn’t expect to find anything under the vine. There were a few green gourds and ovals – squash in the making. And there, lurking like the great crocodile of the garden, was a two-and-a-half foot zucchini. Wowza.
I remember my friend said you could stuff those, so I set about finding a recipe for the Farmer to use at Sunday dinner. The two seeded halves of the zucchini were trimmed down to fit on the cookie tray. I put out the ingredients and watched as my husband mixed together hamburger and tomato sauce (spaghetti sauce leftover from night before worked just fine), sliced sausage, rice and egg to glom it all together. Then he stuffed the zucchini and covered each half with a fine layer of shredded cheese and a sprinkling of parmesan. It was delicious. Victory over mutant zucchini.
I was quite disappointed that none of my beans or carrots came up this year from the seeds I planted. I guess I’m better off with plants. Or maybe they would have come up if I hadn’t left the sprinkler on that night back in May. All night. Anyway, I’m looking forward to my tomatoes ripening so I can make salsa.
On Saturday I was back in the garden for our weekly weed-tackling session when something rustled under the pumpkin vines. Immediately I thought of the little black snake I had seen in the field that moment but no, it was just a barn cat seeking some shade away from flies.
I don’t like it when animals surprise me in the garden. One year I stuck a pitchfork into the flowerbed at the stone fence, only to hear a scream from something not human. Immediately I pushed the giant toad off the end of my fork and then threw the fork into the bushes. The toad looked at me. He actually looked at me, and then he hopped away, seemingly unharmed. I saw him again later that year – at least I think it was him, because he gave me the hairy eyeball like we had something to settle. No more pitchforks for me. I stick to a hoe and spade now.
My vegetable garden is behind the miniature house that the Farmer built for his girls when they were little. We keep the door closed so the barn cats can’t get in but we did have a nest of wasps to contend with. I saw the hole leading under the structure but never saw who made it. There is a group of baby groundhogs living under the school bus shelter at the end of our lane so I just assumed that, once weaned, one little groundhog had decided to make his home under the playhouse.  The Farmer tried to catch it in a live trap with smelt and catfood for bait. No luck. Mustn’t be the right food for his liking.
I was yanking fistfuls of weeds out of the garden when I met the playhouse occupant. One of the fattest groundhogs I’ve ever seen came bounding across the meadow and nosedived into his dug hole under the structure.  So I may have some help weeding my garden and harvesting veggies in the near future, if we don’t discover the right type of bait for the live trap.
Oh and there’s one more surprise in my garden. It isn’t poison parsnip, poison ivy, hogweed or stinging nettle, because I know what they look like. But something is the cause of this lovely rash I’ve got running up my forearms.
Maybe it would just be easier to sign up for a farm share and let someone else do the gardening. Please pass the calamine lotion.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tale of a smart chicken and a dumb dog

This week we have a story about a smart chicken and a stupid dog. Chicken first. It was Sunday dinner, and Amanda and Paulina were missing from the dinner table. Carey shrugged his shoulders, picked up his fork and said “Amanda is worried the chickens have no water.”
Of course, the chickens have water. They are on an automatic watering system with these little dishes suspended from tubing dangling over the barn rafters. They need only to push down on the bowl with their beaks and presto - water fills the dish. It doesn’t give much water in each go, however, as too much water equals trouble for poultry. They will get their feathers wet or find a way to drown in it. The Farmer just shook his head and proceeded to serve dinner to 20-2 people, muttering under his breath something about people wandering around in other people’s barns.
Five minutes later, a breathless Amanda arrived. She explained that the chickens really did have no water. She should know – she raises her own little feathered family at home. She said they were pushing with all they had on the bowls, to no avail. One chicken even took it upon himself to leave the coop in search of H20. A self-appointed scout. His loud frantic chirping caught Amanda’s attention, and saved the day. When she finished chasing that bird back into the pen, she followed the piping to the source of the problem: the tube was no longer attached to the water pump. The Farmer knew exactly what had happened.
We often have to move things around in order to accommodate new creatures on the farm and the arrival of the chicks meant we had to steal the water from the main pump in the barn.  That water used to be the horse’s main source, on a float, always fresh. She didn’t appreciate having to pick her way through the muck to the cow’s side of the barn just to get a drink. So she bit down on the piping attached to the pump and pulled it free. Water sprayed everywhere, and she had a nice drink and a shower.
You learn to respond to strange sounds from the animals on the farm. It usually means something is amiss. Like when Cody the stupid Gordon Setter let out a yelp on our walk. He had found the electric fence. I was afraid his old 14-year-old heart would stop beating but no, he just shook it off and bounced across the meadow to report to me: “I’m ok!” Idiot.
As soon as the fields dried up I started walking Cody in the back 40 instead of down the road. There are a couple reasons for this. First, he drags me on the end of his leash down the road, making it a rather unpleasant experience. Secondly, he loves to run off leash, like a young pup instead of a geriatric pooch. I showed him the electric fence and told him every time to stay away from it. Does he listen? No. Of course, he probably can’t hear me either. And he has no short-term memory to speak of.
I wonder if he will remember the fence next time we go out. I hope so. Anything strong enough to stop a bull in its tracks cannot be safe for a dog.

The Farmer read my column last week. He pointed out that a sheep does not have a herd, but a flock. Well of course I knew that. I just momentarily forgot. Like when I say I’m going to the garden to pick some salad. Of course I mean lettuce. You get the gist of it. These columns are stories; not documentation of knowledge of any kind. But I argued, if the man who cares for the sheep is a shep-herd, why can’t you call a group of sheep a herd? He isn’t called a shep-flock. Besides, I don’t pretend to know what I’m talking about. I’m an Accidental Farmwife, remember? Not a real farmwife. Can’t even bake a pie. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Optical illusions and a new partnership on the farm

“Well that’s something you don’t see every day.” The Farmer was standing at the kitchen sink, looking out the window at the pasture.
I craned my neck to see what he was looking at. Misty the big Belgian horse was lying on her side, her back to us. Just then her tail flipped up and something moved under it.
“Ohmigod she’s giving birth!” I yelped.
“No….go get the binoculars.” And a moment later, “that’s just Donkey.”
“Wha?” I took the binoculars from him to confirm the sighting. Yep. Donkey was lying in mirror image to Misty, right in front of her. Basically they appeared, from our vantage point, to be spooning.
“She gave birth to a Donkey,” my husband smiled, patting me on the shoulder.
Just then my horse rolled around on her back for a minute, her favourite back-scratching technique, huge dinner-plate hooves in the air, bicycling and stretching. Then she got up, shook her mane out and proceeded to graze. Donkey followed suit, a scruffy gray copycat.
Sigh. We have bred Misty twice now, with zero success. We won’t try again. She came back from her two-week conjugal visit the last time a little more world-weary, and looking a bit sad and confused. The next time she leaves the farm for any reason, it will be for training. I would still like to be able to ride her through our forest trails and meadows.
I remained at the window. “Where’s my sheep?”
Since we sold the rest of the herd early spring, Gracie my tame ewe has been going through various stages of adjustment. First she did a bit of crying and looking for the rest of her herd. Sheep hate to be alone. I kept her in a pen for a while to ensure she wouldn’t go running off into the field, a fat, fluffy snack for a coyote.
She was a bit thin after her last birthing so I left her on the lawn in front of the house to take advantage of the fresh new greens we had growing. Unattended, she decided to follow the Farmer’s truck down the road. It was, after all, the very truck that she witnessed carrying the rest of her herd away. As he gathered speed and lost her at the bend, she veered right and wandered into the woods. Now, sheep don’t like to go into the forest, but Gracie probably saw the cows, Misty and Donkey and decided she needed to find a quick way back into the barnyard. Unable to breach the fence, she headed into the bush. I was notified by the neighbours and had to spend my morning retrieving her. No easy task, rolling a fat, stubborn sheep under a wire fence.
Next, Gracie got a long, sharp piece of grass wedged between her teeth. This caused her considerable discomfort, along with the parasites that caught her before we could give her the monthly shot that keeps her clean and healthy. The tooth abscessed and she was left with an open wound on her cheek. I had to woo her with sweet feed and tackle her every day so I could treat the wound and the Farmer could inject her with penicillin. She regained her strength and became smart to my daily ritual. Soon she was much better at getting the sweet feed from me than I was at getting medicine into her. I worried that having one lonely, mischievous sheep might indeed be too much trouble for one farmwife.
Then, like a miracle, Gracie decided to team up with Donkey and Misty. Instead of standing in the barnyard, looking longingly at the pasture and pining for the herd, the fat little sheep now follows that horse and donkey everywhere. If there is a threat of any kind, she just stands behind Misty.
Which is where she was at the exact moment that I was peering out the kitchen window.
“See that rock? It’s your sheep.”
The rock suddenly lifted its head and became a sheep again. She had been mimicking the exact movements of the horse and donkey, her trusted friends.
She got up and shook out her fleece, as if to say, “are we going now? Ok, I’m ready. Let’s go.”

Anyone need a sweet calico cat or snappy sheepdog?

Over the last month, every time I opened the spare door to the room that housed the new cat family, the mama looked at me as if to say, “WHEN. When are you taking these kittens that bite my tail with their sharp little kitten teeth and nurse for hours every day?”
I found homes for the three kittens born to the calico cat that was dropped off at our farm by her previous owner. I waited ‘til they were eight weeks old and comfortable with solid food (climbing into the food bowl and growling as they ate). I let her sniff and lick each one on the head as I put them in the carrier to leave. I spoke to them and they seemed to understand. But now that they are gone, she is pacing back and forth in the basement, crying.
She is calling for them, looking for them, and complaining. She doesn’t know what she wants. Now that they are gone, she is for the first time since she arrived, venturing out of the spare room to explore the rest of the basement. I have to keep her locked up for her own safety. We don’t want her getting outside and getting impregnated again by a roving tomcat. Next weekend she will be checked over by a vet, and given shots and any treatments she might need. In a week to ten days her milk will be dried up and it will be time to get her spayed.
By the end of June we will have a lovely, pleasant-natured, diminutive calico ready for adoption. I can’t keep her because we already have two cats that have claimed the house as their own (much to the Farmer’s chagrin) and that is plenty. She doesn’t want to live in the barn – she openly displays her distaste for the smell and the wet mud under her feet in there. She is someone’s housecat.
At the other end of the farm, we have an unemployed sheepdog. Chelsea, our purebred Border Collie is, like many of that breed, high-strung. She likes people but she doesn’t trust us so she looks all smiley and tail-waggy but if you linger just a moment too long when you pat her on the head, she will snap. She needs another sheep farm. Our sheep are gone, so she has nothing to do. She spends her days notifying us of every hourly activity of the dogs next door. Every vehicle’s arrival to and departure from the farm. Every bird flying overhead. She is bored. If you know a sheep farmer who needs a good working dog, give him my number. Chelsea loves to work the sheep.
One day Chelsea got off her lead and after a quick tour of the neighbourhood she returned to the farm to sit under her shade tree, beside her doghouse. Then she noticed the sheep were beginning to venture out of the barn after their midday nap so she herded them back into the barn. When we got home from work there she was, in the barn, pacing back and forth to keep her herd of 100 sheep tightly packed into the corner. Some of them were panting, in need of water. We put Chelsea on her leash and brought her back to her doghouse. The sheep ran over to the water trough and started gulping. Chelsea is a good sheep dog.
This is supposed to be our down season on the farm, as the water is on a float and the animals feed themselves out at pasture. Still, we find plenty to do, weeding the vegetable garden and perennial beds, cutting the grass, mending fences, cleaning the house, cooking Sunday dinner for 20 family members and friends…I left the sheets out on the line just past sunset and now they are wet with dew and we will have to wait til they dry before we can put them on our bed. The Farmer doesn’t like my spare sheets because they are red and he says they make him feel like Elvis. And so we sit on our bare mattress and grab ten minutes to talk before turning in.
I think the Farmer is afraid he will be bored without 100 sheep to shear by hand this year. And so he bought an old farmhouse to renovate. Never a dull moment, here on the farm.

This is for the birds

We missed the first shipment of chicks so we started our brood a bit late this year. The nice thing about raising chicks in the summer as opposed to the spring is you don’t have as much damp chill and drafts to worry about.
In spring you have to hang heavy blankets over the windows and doors of the chicken coop and stuff feed bags in the gaps and cracks to keep out the weather. Then you have to hang a heat lamp over each bundle of chicks to ensure they stay toasty, warm and dry.
The chicks pile on top of one another to get closer to the lamp and inevitably some smother. It’s an art, hanging that lamp just low enough that everyone is warm but not too hot and squished.
This year the Farmer separated the chicks into five groups and put them in plastic half-barrels – each with its own water and feeder. The chickens were pretty hardy but the turkeys taught us right away that they still need the heat lamp – even when it’s thirty degrees outside. I think we only have about six turkeys left. I hope these ones make it to Thanksgiving.
The chicks will drown if you give them too much water to mess with so they have these upturned mason jars with bowl lids. These are set up on bricks so they are at eye level for the chicks. Still they manage to tip them over and get themselves all wet. And waste the water. By the end of a hot day the water feeders are empty and I have to go in and refill them.
I’m the kind of Farmwife that likes to plant and weed a garden and perennial beds, keep the dog walked, fed and clean, manage the cats, clean the house and feed cute baby farm animals. Thankfully the Farmer is used to doing most of the dirty work on his own and he is happiest working alone, because mucking about with manure in the summer heat, being attacked by mosquitoes and deer flies, is not my idea of fun.
And yet the chicks needed me. So I grabbed a bucket and went over to the other side of the barn, to fill it from the trough. The cows have full access to the barn, and the water room is the coolest refuge from the midday sun so they have totally mucked up the floor, as they do. I filled the bucket, lurched in the sticky mud trying to lift it, and stepped ankle deep into wet muck. Damn cows. Blasted chickens.
Of course, the Farmer pointed out later, it was my fault. I had my little gardening shoes on and not my rubber boots. It’s a good thing I didn’t fall right over into the mud or I would have been really mad.
I trudged back to the chicken room and started filling the water – my foot squelching in the wet muck of my shoe. As I finished the water and started pouring cups of chick feed into the feeders, the mosquitoes discovered me. By the time I was done five minutes later I had a half dozen bug bites and one deer fly sting. But the chicks were fed and watered and chirping happily to themselves.
When you stick your hand into a mound of chicken chicks to scatter them and save the ones that are being trampled, first they scream at you and then they start pecking your hands. They aren’t my favourite birds. Later, when they are full grown, I refuse to get into their pens because they literally peck your ankles. Again, boots are required.
The turkeys are much more pleasant to deal with. They coo at you and wander over to stand at your side and inquire as to what you are doing. They look you in the eye when you talk to them. They wait until you are finished filling their feeders before they start pecking – at the food; not the human. And when you speak, they all answer in unison. Turkeys are cool. I like turkeys.
Chickens are delicious. And ours will be especially delicious this year, raised steroid and antibiotic-free in the old lambing area of the barn, with free access to the fenced yard outside. They are going to be happy, and everyone knows a happy chicken is a delicious chicken.

Another Canadian summer begins

I remember one Canada Day years ago, when I was a teenager. I went with friends to Parliament Hill to join the biggest party in the country. We had to park south of the city and bus in to downtown. Never comfortable in the high energy of the city I was a little overwhelmed and anxious but managed to get on the right bus at the right time.
When we made it to Wellington I couldn’t believe the number of people swarming up the street to the Hill. As we passed the eternal flame I saw the throng on the grounds and thought not one more person would fit inside the gates.
Somehow we found our way in. We wiggled and squirmed our way up through the crowd until we were close to the stage, where the musicians whose names I cannot remember – likely Glass Tiger or someone – were playing in the hot sun. I looked around and soaked it in, thought ok, so this is nice, sort of. It’s a little loud, a little crowded and very, very hot. Just as I turned back toward the stage, I got thunked on the back of the head with a beer bottle. It didn’t hurt much. I had a bit of a goose egg from it – but that was it for me. We left the crowd and watched the rest of the festivities from a safe spot on the edge of the insanity. And since that day I trust my instincts. I stay away from crowds.
When I was in Taiwan someone organized a Canada Day celebration on the beach for all the Canadians. It was a bit odd, singing O Canada and waving a tiny homemade flag on a popsicle stick while the scent of barbecued squid lingered in the air. Another year I went to a pool party with a bunch of Canadian friends and we were told it wasn’t safe to go in the pool due to the recent outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease. I just kept thinking of the Bill Cosby monologue of my youth. The one where he talks about the cows getting shot for hoof and mouth. The cows are being led to a hole and as they run one cow says, “Hey. Where we goin’?” “We’re goin’ to get shot.” “What for?” “Cause we got hoof and mouth.” “What’s hoof and mouth?” “See that foam around your mouth?” “Yeah.” “That’s hoof and mouth.” Of course you have to deliver this scene in the Cosby drawl. I delivered it poolside. Not one person laughed.
When my kids were little they decorated their bikes with red and white streamers, balloons and Canada flags and had a parade through our Hunt Club subdivision. We had friends over for a barbecue and then we packed up the kids for fireworks at night. I continued the tradition of bathing and dressing the kids in pajamas to take them to the park as night fell. The only night of the year when Moms do this. As kids it upset the natural order of things and we loved it.
Every year, right after Canada Day, Dad would put us in the station wagon, hitch up the camper-trailer and head to Bon Echo Provincial Park. For the next two weeks we would get up at dawn, eat a quick breakfast and then head to the beach for the day. We chose a spot on the beach, spread out our towels and anchored them with our flip flops, books, and beach bags on each corner. We went to Bon Echo the same time every year – the first two weeks of July – so we always saw the same people. The Kozaks, the Falles. Every July we met up on the beach and picked up where we left off the year before. We swam across the lagoon to the cliff, climbed up, jumped off into the lake and then did it all over again, until our empty stomachs growled and we had to head back to a campsite to forage for food.
Early morning and at sunset, my Dad hooked the tow rope onto the back of our speedboat. We waited at the lagoon to see who would show up for ski lessons. Only as an adult did I realize how generous he was with his time and his gas money. Always a teacher, even on vacation. He gave us summers to remember.
Canada Day officially marks the beginning of summer. Let the fun begin.

Friday, June 13, 2014

This one's for you, Dad

Dear Dad: I know we aren’t really big on heart-to-heart talks, but it’s Father’s Day this week and I just want you to know how I feel.
Growing up with you wasn’t always easy. You had a short temper and I did a lot of tip-toeing around trying to stay out of your hair. Raising my own kids, I tried to keep them quiet so as not to disturb anyone. Someone pointed that out to me one day – that it wasn’t normal. I loved it when your 2-year-old grandson moved in with you. He was loud and wild and free and he softened you up for the rest of us. Or maybe that’s just what happens when you are a grandparent. You don’t have the quick temper anymore. Your patience grows longer. At least that’s what I’m hoping, because I have inherited your short fuse.
Now that I’ve watched a few kids of my own grow up (I won’t say I raised them because they pretty much raised themselves), I want you to know I appreciate the rules you set while we were growing up. Some of them may have been unspoken; I can’t remember.  I think you passed some of them on not with words but by example:
-          Do the right thing.
-          Be kind to animals, always.
-          Work hard; then goof off.
-          If it’s a nice day, try to be outside in it.
-          There is no reason to sleep in past 10am, ever.
-          Nothing good happens after midnight.
-          If your dad hasn’t met him, you shouldn’t be getting in a car with him.
-          No matter what time of night you come home, always find your Dad and kiss him goodnight.
-          If you are in trouble, call your Dad. He won’t ask questions until the next morning, after the smoke clears.
-          Everyone is good at something. Don’t compare yourself to others.
-          A good work ethic, strong character and sense of humour are more important than good breeding, a Master’s Degree, fortune or fame.
-          Laughter is better than multi-vitamins.
-          Hugs heal.
My memory is sketchy and fading but thanks to family photos I do remember a few Father’s Days from the past. In one, you are sitting on our front step at the little bungalow on George Street, bare-chested and brown. I am the skinny boyish kid beside you in the pixie haircut, handing you something in a shoebox. You are smiling that big crinkly-eye smile. Wish I could remember what was in the box.
I made you an ashtray, at least once. You also received ties as Father’s Day gifts, and you actually wore them. Whether in a suit or t-shirt and jeans, you still hold the title of best-dressed man I have ever known. I bought you many, many books over the years, and watched you devour them in about three days per title. You were a speed reader. I have inherited that habit. I started buying you books with more pages so the gift would last longer.
Later on, gifts were related to boating and snowmobiling: two of your favourite things. I now have maps of the Big Rideau system marked up with “nice picnic spot” and “swimming hole” in your handwriting.
For the past six Father’s Days, I have had no Dad to buy a gift for. I might go visit your resting place, and then I might not, because I don’t really feel your presence there. I feel you when the whole extended, blended family is gathered around the dinner table, cutlery is clinking and the girls are laughing. Or after dinner, as we sit on the back porch watching the cows come in and the sun go down. The guys light up a cigar and the girls get out the guitars and sing in harmony. I know you would like to be part of that moment.
The steady pain of losing you that sat on my shoulders for a few years after your death has morphed into a steady, comforting presence. I miss you, but it is true, what “they” say. You will always be with me.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. We will spend it thinking of you, and celebrating the way you would, by enjoying the great outdoors, with family.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Singing the praises of our resident beast of burden: Donkey

I don’t often write about Donkey. He gets a passing mention from time to time but unless he is living up to his name and being a real a**, he doesn’t get any press. I think it’s time to change that. Let’s sing the praises of Donkey. He is mischievous and stubborn but he does have a few redeeming qualities. 
First of all, he is never sick. He can eat just about anything and never have as much as indigestion (that we know of, anyway). He is hardy in all kinds of weather, chilling in the shade on a blistering hot summer day and outstanding in his field (get it?) with a snowdrift on his back in winter.
Donkey also seems to have a handle on self-maintenance. When it’s time for his winter coat to come off, he just finds a patch of rough sand or gravel and rolls on his back in it. The extra hair comes off in a cloud of fluff and off he goes, his new shiny coat revealed for summer.
I’m glad Donkey’s constant traipsing over our glacial moraine pasture and its many stones trims his hooves fairly well, because I can’t imagine getting them trimmed. I asked Thad, the only person we know who can trim our untrained Belgian Misty’s hooves and he said he did work on a donkey once but the animal had to be placed in some sort of restrictive cage so that he couldn’t kick the farrier. No pedicures for Donkey.
According to the Internet, Donkeys have been used as working animals for over 5,000 years. I’m not sure how you get them to do any work as they are so mischievous but they certainly are strong and they do like to carry things. I never have any trouble putting the halter on Donkey; he stands stock still, lowers his head and acts like he’s being adorned with a mantle of which he is exceedingly proud. Like he’s the Mayor of Fisher Farm or something. Usually when he gets the halter put on him it’s because he has been chasing sheep and I need to dress him with the long gangsta chain that knocks him in his knobby knees if he tries to run. He seems to like it anyway.
A female donkey is called a Jenny; a male is a Jack. I wish I had known this when I was naming Donkey. Instead I was heavily influenced by my most recent reference: the movie Shrek.
Much like a horse, Donkeys are social, people-loving animals. They need plenty of mental stimulation because if they get bored they get themselves into trouble. Donkey has very dexterous lips. He can open gates and door latches with them. Usually this takes place because he can smell something delicious on the other side of the barrier but often it is just to get to the other side because he knows he isn’t allowed.
Misty is well aware of Donkey’s abilities, and shuffles around anxiously behind him until he has flipped the lock, the switch or the latch on whatever he is jimmying. And when they make their way into the shed without our knowledge, Donkey flips open the lid to the storage freezer like it’s his own personal lunchbox. The scent of molasses fills the air and Misty pushes her way into the space beside him to get her share. One day I walked in and Donkey had his head so far inside the deep freezer his front feet were off the ground. I didn’t get my camera out in time.
If the sheep are ever in trouble, Donkey is the first one to report to the house. He does this sometimes by braying but more often he does it simply by getting in our line of sight, i.e. directly in front of the kitchen window, and just staring at us. Then we know there is something wrong and we go out to investigate.
Perhaps the most important purpose that Donkey fulfills on our farm is as companion to Misty. When her sister died suddenly, she was lost. Then she felt that familiar nudge by a soft velvet snout against her flank. Donkey was there, and she let him fill the gap that her sister left behind. And he’s pretty good for entertainment value too.

In search of a good night's sleep

It’s been a long winter and I’m ready to do some spring cleaning. The urge to purge had me wanting to throw out our old bed so we went to the Finnerty Auction in search of a new one. Rhonda had tweeted that the showroom was looking like The Brick this week so we decided to have a look. Ken draws a crowd of antique collectors from near and far on a Friday evening as he liquidates furniture from old farms and estates.
I’m not much for antiques, but the Farmer is. He got distracted for a while by the old Sleeping Beauty spinning wheels and farm implements. I wandered over to the rather modern-looking king sleigh bed. In my increasing years I don’t sleep much, or very soundly, and the Farmer has restless leg syndrome. This tiny, almost imperceptible movement of his foot back and forth under the sheet is just enough to keep me awake. Many nights I had to sneak off into the spare room and sleep in the spare bed. There are a few problems with this arrangement: #1. The spare bed is now occupied by our boarder, an International student; #2: I have nightmares in a different room because my feng shuei is all screwed up and I start seeing things in the shadows; #3: I have to be alert enough to sneak back into the marriage bed early in the morning because if I don’t the Farmer gets all disappointed and everything.
If there is one thing we don’t want, it’s to sleep in separate beds, in separate rooms. That just feels like we’re senior citizens ahead of our time and we are not ready for that. Never, I say!
We spent the last year on two single beds shoved together. It solved the problem, as we each had our own little island of peace, yet we were still together. Unfortunately the rigid edges of the mattresses and the gaping canyon between the two wooden captain’s beds where they didn’t quite meet in the middle made for a pretty inconvenient situation at times.  (He’s going to love that I’m publicizing our private sleeping arrangements). I felt sad every time I made those two stupid little beds. I wanted something nicer.
The capacity crowd in the auction house concentrated in silence (or else you get “shushed” by the auctioneer) as Finnerty moved swiftly through the items, grouping them in bundles of two and three at a time.
“He likely won’t get to that bed ‘til 11pm,” the Farmer commented. I worried I would fall asleep first. Finnerty’s helpers kept moving up the left side of the room. Then, suddenly, the auctioneer announced they were going to move over to the back end of the hall on the right side, where the bedroom suites were grouped. It was like he read my mind. I watched as the couple that had been sitting on MY bed was asked kindly to take their seats elsewhere.
The queen-sized sleigh bed went for $1100. Ooh. That’s a bit rich for us. We had agreed we would pay up to $500 for the king bed but I didn’t hold out much hope. I started repeating in my head the mantra, “it’s too big for your room, people. Leave it for me. It’s mine.” And they did! Only one other person bid and the Farmer got the bed and beautiful pillow-top mattress for $500, all in. Amazing.
I realize the king bed with its gorgeous dark wood sleigh frame that perfectly matches my end tables and sets off my bronze-and-red colour scheme may not answer the problem of the restless leg in the night. But the waves that his leg used to make in the night are just ripples after crossing the wide expanse of our king bed now. In time I should be able to ignore them.
It could be worse, I suppose. I could be dealing with a snorer. How do you solve that problem, I wonder? Thank goodness neither one of us snores. At least, he doesn’t. I might. I wouldn’t know – he’s deaf in one ear and sleeps on his good one so he never complains. And with that, I’ll stop giving out all the Farmer’s personal information. Farmwife out!