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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Farmer starts a new project

The Farmer and I are alike in that we like to keep busy. We don’t bore easily, and we appreciate quiet time, but we seem to enjoy always having at least two jobs going at once. Now that he is retired from teaching he is quite busy as a real estate agent, and then of course we do have a beef cattle farm. But apparently that isn’t enough. He likes having somewhere to go every morning, so now he has a new project. He is going to build a log cabin.
It all started when I invited some friends over for dinner. The discussion came around to a surplus of cedar logs that our friend had on his property. I could see the wheels in my husband’s head beginning to turn. This man loves to build things. We have four-foot tall dollhouses in our basement that he built with his own hands. They were big enough for Sarah and Amy to sit inside when they were younger. They have proper wooden shingles and one of them is covered in artificial stone.
We also have a miniature playhouse outside that is quickly becoming an art installation, as it disintegrates into the earth. I have pointed out that a more urgent project might be repairing the floor on that structure so that our grandchild doesn’t injure herself in it. His reply was, “She’s small. I have a few years before I need to worry about that.” (So if you bring small children over to visit, beware the broken-down playhouse. I don’t think the staircase inside is safe either.)
My husband has built four houses, restored an old farmhouse and he has also built a couple of birch-bark canoes by hand. He is happiest when he is covered in sawdust, breathing in the smell of fresh-cut wood. He has a bunch of wood-working equipment but I just saw the Lee Valley tools catalogue arrive so I suspect he will be getting more. That makes Father’s Day and his birthday easy this year: gift certificates so the carpenter can go shopping.
The Farmer went out to survey the log collection. A deal was struck, and plans were made to trailer the wood to our house. Now he spends his evening studying a book on how to build a log cabin. I may pull up YouTube on the big screen and find him some DIY videos but I’m pretty sure he prefers to learn the old-fashioned way, by trial and error. He never follows the recipe when he cooks, either, and his meals always taste amazing.
I asked him where he was going to install his new cabin. I imagined he might want to use it as a cabin in the woods. A getaway man-cave for when I’ve got the house over-run with children and grandchildren.
“I can’t put it in the field with the cattle,” he explained. “They will poop all over it.”
I laughed, and then I remembered the year we had the cattle stuck in the log barn beside the chicken coop. They loved it in there. It was small enough that if they wedged themselves inside, it was cool and the bugs actually left them alone. We couldn’t keep them out of there and they kept pushing on the walls, threatening to heave the heritage building off its foundation. Eventually we had to nail a door on the outside to keep the out. They were most disappointed when they discovered it. Much mooing ensued.
No, the Farmer says he is going to build a log cabin on the front lawn. Well that sounds nice. Our grandchildren can use it as a play house. Or maybe I can put a bar and stereo and lounge in there and call it a party shack. I haven’t told him my plans yet. I will let him happily build it before I give him my suggestions. I’m sure they will be well received.
As we say goodbye to 2015 and hello to 2016, take a moment to reflect on how much has changed in the past twelve months, and brace yourself for the next. We can’t choose our future but we can choose how we are going to react to it. Enjoy every moment and try to slow life down a bit. All the best, from me and the Farmer.

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Choosing a Christmas tradition

Well this has been an interesting month. First, our grandchild is born a month early. Then, my book is ready months ahead of schedule. Two babies in one month. I’m so excited my head might explode.
This Christmas, as we sit down with family and friends over a meal cooked with love, we have so much to celebrate. But as we pull the same decorations out of the closet year after year to hang on the tree, we are reminded of Christmases past.
One Christmas in particular comes to mind for me, as I watch my daughter with her new baby and wonder what traditions she will keep, and what new ones they will develop as a family.
It was somewhere around 1993 or ’94, and I was living with my first husband in a subdivision just outside Kemptville. He was raised in the Czech tradition at Christmas, where “the angels” bring the tree, fully decorated and laden with gifts, while the family is eating their holiday meal in the next room. Now let the logistics of that endeavour soak into your mind for a minute.
While I suppose it is possible to drag a fully decorated tree into the house and install it, with presents beneath, all while curious children are in the next room, I don’t imagine it is easy. The kids are supposed to be kept out of the “Christmas room” for about a week leading up to the big day. In the time of larger houses and formal living rooms or sitting parlours, this may have been somehow possible. The door was closed, or a blanket hung as a curtain to block the view of the goings-on on the other side.
The children did not peek, because they were threatened with the possibility of being discovered and scaring the angels away. Much like the North American version, you don’t want to get caught spying on Santa Claus. You’re supposed to be tucked up in your beds, fast asleep while he is doing his work.
Back to the angels. They work behind the curtain for days, adding to their decorations, and occasionally making noises that only add to the excitement when heard by the children. Finally, during the holiday meal that is always held on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day, a bell is rung. That is when the children know it is time to go and discover what the angels have been up to in the other room. The angels ring the bell when they are finished their work.
Well, that Christmas in the early ‘90s, my three little girls were eating their breaded filet-of-sole and delicious, addictive potato salad (the traditional Czech holiday meal) when they heard the bell. Their forks stopped in mid-air and their eyes grew wide.
“Mom…” my eldest whispered. “Is that….the angels?!”
“I think so,” I answered, smiling. I told the girls they could get up and see what was in the other room. The room they had been forbidden to enter for nearly a week. The room that they swear they could hear angels working in. (I use the term “they” loosely. My eldest was four or five, my middle one was one or two, and we had a new baby.)
Just as we got up from the table and I pulled the baby out of her high chair, their grandfather rounded the corner of the room, a big smile on his face.
My eldest, 5-year-old Milena, stopped in her tracks and looked at him in horror. He was still holding the bell. I looked at my husband. He smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand and shook his head. Then I looked at Milena. I could actually see the wheels turning in her head.
“Jedda (spelled “Dede; Czech for grandfather)….did the angels leave their bell?”
“Yes! Yes! I found their bell!” yelled her grandfather, relief and joy on his red face, redeemed by the innocence of youth.
I can’t remember how many more Christmases the angels visited our home while the girls were young. Santa came too, and left a stuffed stocking for each girl as his calling card. We had a mixed-culture Christmas tradition and somehow, it worked.
Here’s wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas. Good luck keeping Santa and the angels and any of your other traditions as secret and magical as they were always meant to be.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The season of joy and sorrow is upon us

Imagine you’ve just lost your mother, and it’s Mother’s Day. Everywhere you look, the world is celebrating mothers. Now multiply that feeling by one hundred. That is what the holiday season feels like for many local families this year.
In some cases it’s the head of the household who is missing. The role will have to be assumed by someone else from now on. Holiday traditions may change a little, but many will remain the same. The missing person may be remembered with stories and anecdotes. In some cases a place is set for them at the table.
We miss the people we have lost. But Christmas and all year long, I believe we have a responsibility to be a witness to their lives.
Some cultures prefer not to mention the dead. They feel it is easier to move forward in their lives if they leave the past behind and never mention the name of the one they have lost.
In our house, it has been nearly eight years since we lost my Dad. The pain, although dulled over time, still swells up forming tears and catching us by surprise occasionally. We find bringing up stories of the past, using Dad’s favourite quotes and including his memory in our traditions helps to ease the sting of loss. This year we have much to celebrate with a healthy new baby in the family. We are not rich, but we have enough. We are trying to keep spending down, so that our credit balances do not rise out of control. I am following the plan of buying our daughters “one thing they want, one thing they need and something to read.”
For myself, I am really trying to slow down and pay attention. Long before the distraction of social media and cell phones, I have always been a person who finds it difficult to live in the moment. Big events tend to whizz past me and I realize afterward I didn’t take the opportunity to connect with people. In the end I am the one who loses.
I am practicing being present. Every evening I turn Facebook off early so I can enjoy conversation with my husband without distraction. Those pings and bells aren’t really conducive to a good night’s sleep either.
On the weekends, I also try to keep social media activity to a minimum. That way I pay more attention to what’s happening outside on the farm, and in the house with the ones I love.
It’s nice to feel connected to friends far away through Facebook and Instagram but they can wait. This Christmas I’m focusing on family. We are so lucky to have five generations of women getting together for a family photo. The new baby and her mama, my mom and I will head into the city to see Great Great Grandmas Vicky and Mabel. I don’t take much time off work over Christmas but I hope to grab a day here and there to extend the celebration a little bit. Being busy with family get-togethers over the holidays is a true blessing. Not everyone has time with family to look forward to at Christmas. I realize this, so I’m trying to make every moment count.
We have another little baby coming to our family this holiday season – the one that was due the same day as my daughter, December 31st. Gloria and Matt are probably on edge, watching and waiting for the signs to start appearing. With any luck we will have two little babies to pass around over the holidays.
We also have a loved one who is in palliative care. This will be her last Christmas. We will be making some time to spend with her as well.
As we head into the holiday home stretch, I encourage you to put the phone down and look around. Notice the people who are hurting, sad or lonely and consider giving them the gift of your time and attention. It doesn’t take much – just connect with them and see if there is anything they need, or if they would like to get together and chat over a coffee.
Even a simple Christmas card with a handwritten note inside can go a long way to remind someone that you are thinking of them during this difficult time. You can help make their holidays a little more bearable.

Monday, December 7, 2015

For everything there is a season

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; …a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” ~ Ecclesiastes 3

Our little Leti was born this past week, about a month early. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time when we realized Annie was not just having false contractions but was in labour. She was one day short of 36 weeks when the pains started. The staff at Winchester District Memorial Hospital were focused and awesome - and I use that word accurately as I spent much of my time there in a daze, my mind wandering back 24 years to when I was pregnant with Annie. 
The new mom and dad called us in to meet Leti when she was about an hour old, after she had had her skin-to-skin time with both her parents, and they had all had a chance to introduce themselves.
Leti was making a squeaking noise, like voiced breathing or high-pitched snoring, every time she breathed. The nurse said that, although it sounds ‘cute’, it actually means her little lungs were straining as they pumped outside the womb for the first time. The nurses took Leti over to the weigh table and made her comfortable. Then they put a little mask over her nose and mouth and pumped air in and out, slowly expanding and exercising her lungs. Leti closed her eyes and raised her arms to fall back alongside her head. She was totally relaxed. “She’s at the spa,” smiled the nurse.
Born at 6 lb. 7oz. and 20 inches long, this was not a small baby by any means. In fact she was likely growing a bit too long for her petite (and very active) mother and that is why she came early. She didn’t look premature; her skin was plump and pink and she cried heartily. But getting this little one to eat would take some convincing. She probably felt she was owed at least another month of womb service before having to do any work on her own.
As I write this, baby is still at CHEO, where she was taken the evening of her birth. There she was given an iv of sugar water that would stimulate her stomach acids and wake up her appetite. Her father fed her her first meal of mama’s milk through a syringe and baby bottle nipple. I dropped in for a visit the following day just as Annie and Leti were teaching each other how to breastfeed so the benefit of my 3+ years of nursing came in handy. Within minutes we had that hungry little fish latched on and demanding a good supply. I don’t think Annie will have any trouble with nursing.
By Friday it became apparent that Leti was a bit jaundiced and would need to go under the sun lamp for 24 hours. Another spa treatment. Now two days old and full of mama’s liquid gold, her energy levels were high. She found and tugged on her various tubes and wires and set off alarms regularly, getting constant attention from the nurses. On Saturday, the sun bed had done its work but the doctor decided another 24 hours on a low light would be ideal to avoid any further complications. But now Mom and Dad could take turns feeding and holding and changing her before putting her back in her spa bed.
After a few routine tests, Leti should be able to go home for real on Tuesday. Everyone is very excited to meet her. She has made a grand entrance to this life.
On Sunday evening, as about fourteen of us were gathered around the dinner table celebrating Leti’s birth, someone else was making his exit.
Harry Pratt spent the past several weeks in an intense battle with pancreatic cancer. Finally, he was at Kemptville District Hospital, the place he had valued so highly in his life, spending countless hours volunteering his services as an MC and auctioneer to raise funds for much-needed equipment. His family and friends turned the cafeteria of Kemptville District Hospital into a ‘winter wonderland’ chapel on Saturday, so that he could be part of his daughter’s wedding celebration. On Sunday, a close friend told him that everything had been said, and everything had been done. If he needed to go now, it was ok. So he did. Harry was just 68 years old when he passed away.

My mom worked with Harry at Towne Construction when she and Dad first came to Kemptville in 1965 so he and Sheila were always good friends of our family. But we all have memories of the great man and the work that he did in this community – some of it public, much of it private. He was caring and generous to a fault. He treated everyone like an equal and he exuded a positive attitude while wearing an infectious grin. While sifting through your own memories of Harry Pratt, I would recommend you make sure there is at least one in there of Harry dancing. Because I think that is what he is doing now. Rest in Peace, Mr. Kemptville. You will be remembered. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ready for baby

I bought a carton of cream with the expiry date of January 9, 2016. As I read the date I realized by the time this cream expires, my granddaughter will be born. Baby season is ramping up around here on the Fisher farm.
Saturday was Anastasia’s surprise baby shower. I am truly amazed that we managed to keep it secret all this time. We had a little help, because she was a bit preoccupied.
Earlier in the week, Annie got a call from one of her husband’s friends. They were planning to kidnap him for a Baby Bachelor Party. Apparently this is a thing.
Around 1:30 in the afternoon on the 21st, the Wiggins were sitting in front of the TV, watching an old Anthony Hopkins movie. They were just getting to the scene of a bear attack when four men, their faces covered, entered the house from four different doors. It was a bit of a shock, but not all that terrifying, because although they were wearing hockey masks, they were also carrying cheerleader pompoms. And one of them was in a Scooby Doo costume. Anastasia, who was in on the whole thing, concentrated on keeping their four hunting dogs from attacking the intruders.
Andrew was manhandled out of the house and into the driveway. Then the men revealed themselves to be his hunting buddies, and his heart rate went back to normal. I was just happy to hear the whole thing hadn’t gone horribly wrong – the last guy who was kidnapped for his bachelor party was taken naked from the shower. One of his abductors ended up with a broken nose. I think if you’re going to plan this sort of thing, it’s a good idea to have the subject’s partner in on it so they can run interference. Anastasia made sure Andrew was out of the shower and dressed before zero hour when the kidnappers arrived. And if the partner is pregnant, as in the case of Anastasia, it is more reason to ensure she is in on the game. Otherwise she might panic and go into early labour, and no one wants that to happen.
So Annie had plenty to talk about when I picked her up to take her “boot shopping”. That’s what I told her, anyway. She said she was suspicious about the plan, and wondered if it might be a ruse to get her to her surprise baby shower. But when I suggested I would make lasagna for dinner and invited her to join us, she was scratching her head again. She didn’t consider lasagna a typical offering for a baby shower. But she didn’t realize I had about thirty people coming late afternoon, and they would be coming and going to and from work, so I planned a potluck dinner. Everyone was bringing something. I made lasagna.
People started arriving at the farm at 2:00pm. I took off to get Annie at 2:20. As per the plan, I left my cell phone at home. She was so excited about The Abduction of Andrew, she just kept chattering away and I doubt she even heard me when I said I had to go back home to get my phone before we could go “boot shopping”.
She was still re-enacting the events of her afternoon when we pulled into the driveway and she saw the pink balloons the Farmer had tied there. “Oh, Mom!” she said, finally cluing in. There were so many cars, we had to park in the hay field up the drive. She was crying before we even got in the door.
We played a couple of games with our guests, while the little mama sat in her decorated chair of honour and opened her gifts, for two hours straight. It’s a good thing she grabbed a plate of sandwiches and a glass of punch before she sat down. Many of the things she received were hand made, and some barely-used items were handed down. The Wiggins family is pretty well equipped now, and that baby can come today if she has to (although we hope she doesn’t).
Anastasia was very pleased to discover that there actually was a pan of lasagna at her baby shower. And I ran out last week to get her a pair of Ugg-style boots for her swollen mama feet, so she had that surprise as well.
Just over a month to go until the due date. Christmas will be the second most important thing happening around here this holiday season.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The womanly art of having babies has changed

Well, I don’t think the essential art of having babies has changed much. But the culture around it certainly has. I walked into a baby-supply store yesterday and was completely overwhelmed by all the stuff the world says we need. I feel sorry for today’s expecting mom, trying to equip her layette and household with everything she will need when junior arrives. Where do you begin?
We have two babies in our family due on exactly the same date. Anastasia, our daughter, and Glorianna, our niece, are due December 31st. Gloria isn’t too concerned about the coming child. She has had a baby shower or two but she will likely give birth with just a bassinet for the baby to sleep in, a package of diapers and a car seat for the baby to come home in. She will get the rest of the items as she needs them. Daily trips to Babies R Us will keep the new daddy busy. Her baby registry is only about a dozen items long.
Anastasia’s gift registry is five pages long. She has worked as a nanny, and she used to run the infant program at the local Montessori school. She knows what she needs and what she wants. She is organized.
Both mamas-to-be have items on their registry lists that I have never heard of before. For example, what is a wiper warmer?? Gloria said she went into the baby store and just stood and stared at the wall of baby bottles. Then she turned around and walked back out. Gloria has a consultant advising her on what she will need. She also has a lactation consultant, a pre-natal consultant, and a doula. Anastasia doesn’t want to do any of that training-for-childbirth stuff. As with everything in life, she prefers to learn on her own. Thank goodness her doctor doesn’t seem concerned. She says she will teach Annie everything she needs to know when the time comes, about when to breathe deep, when to breathe shallow, when to hold her breath, and when to push.
When Gloria opened her gifts at her baby shower on Sunday, she got a little weepy. It’s part hormones, part anxiety about this whole new world she is entering. As an elementary school teacher, Gloria is very familiar with little kids. It’s the whole baby thing she has to get used to. She held up each little outfit, and imagined it filled up with fat baby boy. Her eyes welled up with tears. The little mamas have just over a month to go. The doctors tell them their babies are already four pounds.
I like that these young mothers have so many choices open to them. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, modern women were told they should bottle feed their babies formula. Certainly there were the earth mothers and the hippies who breastfed but most suburban moms felt the bottle was a sign of progress and independence. 
I was twenty-one years old with my first and I was determined I was going to breastfeed my baby. I had La Leche League on speed dial, and I called their experts day and night. I soon learned that making milk wasn’t going to be a problem if I learned to sit still long enough, drink enough water, and stop worrying so much. In just a few days I got the hang of it. And baby got enough milk. I fed her for a year, her sister for about eighteen months, and her other sister for nine months. I made their baby food by blending up unseasoned cooked meats and veggies, and I used cloth diapers unless we were going out of the house. Neither Gloria nor Anastasia have cloth diapers on their list.
I think I bought maybe one bottle of formula in the entire time I had babies in the house. I never bought a jar of baby food. I was proud of my ability to provide for my children, and to keep costs down while ensuring I was providing the most natural care and feeding possible.

But would I have used a Diaper Genie if offered one? You bet your buns I would.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

A love story's final chapter

The Farmer meets me for lunch nearly every weekday. He wants a simple meal, like you can cook at home, so we usually meet at one of the local diners. I tell him I can make us soup and a sandwich to take to work and save him the twenty bucks. He says he likes the break in the middle of the day, where you get out of the office, and have someone else make your tea. I think it’s an old habit from his bachelor days but perhaps he is on to something.
Many times we would see the same couple dining at a nearby table. He was broad-shouldered with a ready grin. She was petite and often had her eyes turned to the newspaper. They both had white hair.
If the Farmer caught me watching them he would sometimes give me a little nudge with his foot under the table. I tried not to eavesdrop but I couldn’t help it. The gentleman had a voice that was soft, but it carried. He called his wife sweetheart in every second sentence.
Their conversations were mostly him asking questions, her answering. He would say, “Where are you from, again?” or “Why did we never move to British Columbia? I always wanted to live out West.” She would answer, patiently, in a manner that revealed she had provided the same responses to the same questions, many times before.
Sometimes we exchanged smiles and waves as we went our separate ways after lunch.
Then one day, perhaps a year ago, I saw the woman sitting alone. I realized I hadn’t seen the pair for a few weeks, and now it was just her, on her own, reading her paper. I ventured over.
“Hi there. Where’s your sweetheart?” I asked her.
“Oh, he’s in the home,” she responded, soft and sad.
“He’s at home?” I was confused, and a bit daft.
“No, he’s in the home sometimes, and he also has to go to the hospital sometimes, but now he’s back in the home.”
“Oh.” And then, “You must miss him.”
“I visit him, but he keeps asking me when he can come home,” she says, and I can tell she is getting upset. I tell her I’m sure they are taking very good care of him and I’m sure he loves her visits.
I make a point of going over and saying hi every time I see her sitting there on her own. Sometimes her daughter is with her. We talked about how difficult it is to make life-changing decisions, about getting rid of most of the contents of the home you’ve lived in for decades. About leaving town and simplifying your lifestyle to accommodate your new requirements.
“Well you don’t have to decide to move right now, do you?” I ask.
“They took away my license,” she reveals. “I sit there in that house and my daughter has to come from Ottawa to drive me out to see my husband in the home.”
Plans are made for a garage sale, so that a lifetime of model airplanes and other unique collectibles will go to appreciative new owners. I think of how hard it must be for her to part with the things that her husband made with his own hands. But there is no room for these things in her new home, and perhaps she is looking forward to her own little space without them.
She moves into her new home, beside her daughter, in Ottawa. She will have help for the yard and the driveway. Her living quarters will be small enough for her to manage on her own. And her family will be close by in case she needs them for anything. I tell her I think she is making a very good decision for herself.
And then, like a confirmation, her sweetheart dies. There is nothing tying her to the home they lived in for so long. She is free to go, to enjoy her life, in its new shape.
She may be in a completely different environment now, but I’m sure she often feels the presence of a broad-shouldered man with a ready grin, sitting across the table from her, his big hands reaching for hers. Rest in Peace, George.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The cow clinic is open for business

A couple of our cows are still drooling. The Farmer took another look at the dosage on the Ivomec de-worming medication and realized he needed to give them about five times what he originally administered during his flying leaps through the herd. You have to spray the liquid on their backs. But first you have to corral them and sneak up on them. It’s a lot easier said than done.
Before he headed out to the barn to feed and do chores, I clipped a pedometer on his belt.
“We’re going to start counting our daily steps,” I announced.
“Why?” he shrugged.
“Because we are supposed to walk 10-12,000 steps a day,” I said.
“Says who?”
I convinced my husband that it was a good way to keep activity top of mind.
“Oh and when I get to 10,000 the pounds just fall off,” he said, shaking his head.
We got the cows in the barn by bringing fresh hay bales in where they could smell them. Step one, accomplished. Then we pushed them out the door where they were huddled at the entrance to the metal chute or alley with the head gate at the end.
“Just hold that bucket of sweet feed on your side of the headgate. When she puts her head through, push the gate lever down and it will hold her head in place.”
Theoretically, yeah. But this is a 1500lb Big Betty with an attitude. She wants the sweetfeed, all of it, then she is just going to shake that headgate lever off her neck and shove the whole gate open. And that’s exactly what she did. But by then she had her medication.
We are still learning just how strong our barn infrastructure needs to be to hold a cow in place. A lot stronger than it does to hold a sheep in place, that’s for sure.
This procedure went on for the next few minutes – push the cow into the chute, put the bar down behind her bum so she can’t escape, spray medication on her back, release. I ran out of sweet feed after Betty so she was the only one who got a treat. I’m pretty sure the rest of them could smell it and were quite confused about the trick.
Finally the only cow that remained to go in the chute was the sickest one of them all. Her chin was swollen with parasites and she had a foamy drool on her lip. But she didn’t like being the only one in the chute, so she took a run at the gate and, with all her strength, put her shoulder into it and busted it open.
“She’s the main reason I was doing this today,” the Farmer said, throwing his cane on the ground.
“You can still get her,” I encouraged. “Look. She’s right there, in the middle of the crowd around the hay feeder. Just sneak up on her and spray her back.”
The problem is, you have to pump the spray nozzle five times to get enough of a dosage. I am reminded of our big Belgian horse Misty, how she used to jump, all 1800 lbs. of her, straight up in the air if she heard a squirt from a spray bottle. I used to have to spray a cloth with bug repellent and wipe her down with it because she could not stand to be sprayed.
The Farmer snuck up behind the black drooling cow with the white face. She munched happily away on the hay, oblivious. It wasn’t the feeling of the cold, wet spray on her back, but the sound of the nozzle, I swear, that sent her reeling away from the feeder. She spun around and the Farmer got her again. She kicked her heels in the air and spun around in the other direction, trying to see where the noise was coming from. The Farmer kept jumping to stay behind her, out of sight. It was quite amusing to watch. Finally the startled cow took off toward the open pasture, a man in muddy duck shoes struggling to keep up with her, squirt bottle in hand.
“Run, Fisher, Run!” I laughed.
Mission accomplished, the Farmer limped back to the house, shook off his barn coat and kicked off his shoes. He pulled the pedometer off his belt and handed it to me. It read 5,000.
“Well that’s a good start,” I smiled.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

A grisly discovery shatters the peace and quiet of the farm

We own a mile of Kemptville Creek. The shallow waterway runs along the edge of our 200-acre property along County Road 18 east of Bishops Mills. If you paddle your canoe up to our property line, you can see the bridge over the creek at County Road 20. This is where the body of a young man was found last week. That, as they say, is a little too close for comfort.
I first learned of the discovery through a friend who met the police roadblock on his way home. I went and spoke to the officer on site, who could obviously tell me nothing, except to say there was no risk to public safety. Neighbours closer to the site said they had heard there was a homicide on the bridge. Another friend posted a message online saying a local resident had found a body.
I wondered how the police could say we were safe in our homes that night. How could they know? Did they have the person responsible in custody? No, they did not. For the next two nights I awoke every time the wind moved a tree branch, causing the outdoor sensor light to flash on, and off. My migraine headache induced by too much indulgence on Thanksgiving flared and lasted all week long.
In our secluded location, on a bend in a single-lane dirt road, we often see dumpings of garbage and even hunting carcasses: geese, fish, even a bear. It’s upsetting to think that the beautiful farmland, forests and roadways we call home are considered a place to drop unwanted trash to others. Now someone has turned our peaceful rural landscape into a crime scene. Yellow police tape flutters in the wind where it stretches around the site from tree to tree, blocking vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Crime scene investigators and forensics specialists are on the scene for days after the discovery, taking samples, photographs, and video. Documenting the scene where one young man’s story came to an abrupt end.
On Friday, police revealed preliminary autopsy reports. They had an unidentified deceased male and the cause of death was not obvious. Further testing would have to be done. The description of his attire and grooming was a bit more city than country in my first impression. Maybe he was brought here from Toronto, or Montreal. He had the name of a hardcore band on his t-shirt, “BANE”. They played Montreal last summer. If there was no sign of injury, did he die from drug overdose? Heart attack? The police say the body was in good shape, so it wasn’t in the water long. Tips have been flowing in from the public. Vehicles have been spotted near the site in recent weeks – but they often are. There is a parking area and a groomed path down to the water where people launch kayaks or canoes, or send their dogs in to fetch sticks on a hot day.
Hopefully by the time this column goes to print, the dead man will have been identified. It’s hard to imagine he doesn’t have anyone looking for him. With today’s rapid network of communications between policing partners in Canada and the US, surely they will have him identified soon.
I’ve spent far too much time over the past few days, wondering who he is, what happened to him and who the people are who can fill in the missing links to the story. Like a self-diagnosing sick person, I am online doing research and investigation, looking for clues.
The police said one thing during the press conference that caught my attention. For the first time in my many conversations with police since this case began, when asked if there was any danger to public safety, she didn’t say no. She said they were treating the case as a suspicious death, and we should exercise personal safety. I went home and made sure all windows were locked as well as the doors.
Then I sat and watched the sun go down over the creek, the cows grazing in the foreground, black silhouettes in the twilight. The air was filled with the song of geese flying in, following the line of the water, their favourite place to stop for the night.

Dealing with zombie cows on the farm

The Farmer and I were working in the garden when we noticed the cows. They were standing in a line beside the fence, staring at us. Most of them were drooling. They were very creepy, like zombie cows. I told them to cut it out. They moved closer. My husband said they likely had a wee dose of parasites from the grass, and they needed medication. He made plans to do it bright and early the next morning, before they left the barn.
Unfortunately for my partner, I had to be at work early for a meeting so he was on his own in the cattle-rustling business. He attempted to lure them into the cattle chute with a fresh new salt lick. As it had yet to be licked I don’t know if they could smell it. In any case, they weren’t interested and just by-passed the whole operation. He did manage to catch two of the tame ones – Betty and Mocha – but the rest took off before he could needle them with the Ivomec de-wormer.
Later in the day the cows were crowded around the water cooler at nap time, discussing politics or whatever it is they do at that time of day. The Farmer stood silently, just out of their circle. When they were huddled together he climbed halfway up the ladder to the hayloft and sprayed down onto their backs with the de-wormer that he hadn’t managed to get into them by needle.
A few minutes later he went out to see if he had missed anyone. The rest of the cows were lying down, in the cattle chute. He successfully sprayed them too. Mission accomplished. I told him he should have waited for me to come home with a bag of apples. My luring techniques usually work. But I think he was pretty successful because I don’t see anyone drooling anymore.
We’ve had our first frost now so I guess it’s fair to give up on my garden. I’ve ripped everything out and turned the sod over. I say sod because it was basically a grass garden with some plants sticking out of it. Next year I need to get serious about eradicating the grass and weeds. What an exercise in frustration – trying to find tiny green onions and carrots in weed patches that are twice as high as the veggies.
The Farmer has also requested that I don’t plant quite as many squash or ‘exotic’ (orange, green, pink, and purple) tomatoes next year. They make great photos to post on Instagram but they apparently are not ideal for his traditional spaghetti sauce.
My husband has spent most of his free time lately shoring up the woodpile as we prepare for another long winter. Soon he will install the wind barrier walls on the porch and we will stack cords of wood there, within easy (housecoat and slipper) access of the house.
I am looking forward to the winter, actually. I have just put the finishing touches on my first book (The Accidental Farmwife, due out this spring) and it is time to start working on another.
I will curl up on the couch beside the woodstove, computer on my lap and cat on my feet. Depending on the time of day, there may be a glass of red wine or a cup of green tea beside me. Life is good and there are things to celebrate about all four seasons.
The Junior Farmwife is entering her final trimester with grandchild #1. We are very excited getting ready for this most wonderful addition to our extended family. I have been given a playpen with change table, high chair, bassinet and crib. I am currently deciding on where everything will be installed and set up. Soon I will be more prepared for this child than her own parents are. Well, almost. I just want to be ready for the first time I pick up the phone and hear, “Mom, can you watch the baby for us?” You bet your sweet Aunt Bippy I can. So excited.
Have a great week, everyone, and remember – I don’t care who you vote for: just VOTE.


Why it's Misty the horse, of course

It was a very difficult decision to give up our beautiful Belgian horse, Misty. She wasn’t a trained horse, but we were absolutely positive she had untapped skills and just needed the chance to display them. Unfortunately, the Farmer and I were completely ill-equipped to discover, train or utilize those skills.
Having a horse is a huge responsibility. We considered ourselves lucky to have gone through six years without any major medical bills or disasters. But it was time to find a new home for our 1800-lb pet. She needed to find out what it means to be a workhorse. Traipsing around the meadow all day after a mischievous donkey had to be boring at times.
For over two years we fiddled with the idea. We put an ad on one website or another, and didn’t renew them when they expired. I put posts on Facebook saying Misty was looking for a new home, and as soon as I got a response I took the offer away.
Finally, on St. Patrick’s Day 2014, the Farmer got a call from Roy Sherrer, who raises Belgian horses on a farm near Spencerville. He knew Misty well. Just like that, she was sold. I blame it on the Guinness.
Within a few weeks, Roy had Misty hitched up with another horse and pulling a wagon. We were surprised but oh so happy to hear that she was learning to be a horse.
And then, once trained, Misty was sold. To a farmer in Quebec. Roy came over to get us to sign some papers and he asked us how many times she had been hitched before. The answer was, well, never. Misty had been hitched once for a photo opportunity, at her original farm. But we hadn’t put as much as a saddle on her. He said she learned within just a few hours, to follow the lead of her hitch partner, and pull. We were very proud.
Roy said Misty’s new owner was going to take her to the International Plowing Match in September. I started to think about how I would find out when Misty was competing, so I could attend. I imagined the Farmer and me, in our plaid shirts, cowboy boots and jeans, Misty’s own cheering section.
Then, out of the blue, I got a message from a friend who had an almost unbelievable story. My uncle and his partner Christiane used to enjoy their visits to the farm, and Misty. Christiane was visiting her mother in Val des Monts Quebec recently when she heard a familiar snort from the farm next door. She walked over to take a closer look and couldn’t believe what she saw. “Misty!” The red-gold horse responded to her name. Christiane checked in with the elderly farmer who had just added the horse to his team and he confirmed her name and origin.
Christiane gave me some more info about Misty’s new home. Her owner hitches his team to wagons and sleighs in the winter, complete with jingle bells, and takes families for rides in the village. He has a beautiful spot in the valley and she will be very happy there. I felt much better, knowing where she was. I know I need to let her go and it’s all quite silly to be concerned for her happiness but it’s nice to hear she found a good home.
Next, I received an email from the granddaughter of Misty’s new owner. Sarah explained that her father didn’t speak much English, so she would be our go-between. She told me Misty wouldn’t be going to the plowing match. Apparently she didn’t get along with her new hitch partner, so they were back to square one. Well that was disappointing.
I told her Misty is used to following, not leading. She followed her sister around from the day she was born. And when her sister died, she turned around and there was Donkey.  I’m sure they know Misty’s character by now, but I thought I would add my two cents. Hopefully they will give her another chance.
I think Misty would really enjoy being part of the Christmas celebration in the little Quebec village, jingle bells on her halter, pulling a sleigh. She always loved the attention of people, and the excitement of the crowd. I hope she gets her act together and if they don’t have a strong lead horse, she might consider being one herself.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

It's Turkey time

I went out to the barn to take stock of the flock before writing this column. Actually a group of turkeys is called “a rafter”. So I went out to check out the rafter of fat, fluffy Thanksgiving dinners on legs. They stand about three feet tall now, and greet me as I enter the barn.
Our birds are comfortable and happy right until their last moments, which are humane and calm. We moved our birds to the abandoned horse stable this year, so that we could hear them and their communal gobbling from the house. The sheepdog is keeping a close eye on the comings and goings from the area and announcing the arrival of any intruders.
The turkeys are enjoying the added benefit of social activity in this new location. They can see out through the slats of the stall, to the barnyard on one side and the house yard on the other. When they hear the patio door slide open, they comment. When a car drives up the lane, they comment. It makes life far more interesting for them, I’m sure. The soundtrack of the farm has been turkey song all summer.
In another week we will have fresh turkeys for pickup for Thanksgiving dinner so if you need one, make sure you let us know. We only have a limited number.
The wild turkeys are plentiful this year. The designated female leads the kindergarten troupe in a zig-zag across the road and I have to follow their silly parade as I’m trying to get to work. We watch from the back porch as the males compete in their flamboyant tango moves, fanning out their tails and attempting to impress the women.
September 26th was opening day for the duck hunt and the Farmer launched his favourite time of year with his traditional hunting party gathering. The trucks started arriving at 4am and unloading their gear. The canoes were already down at the creek so they piled everything on the trailer behind the ATV and rode down under the last of the full moon. By ten they were exhausted and hungry so they came back up to the farm for a feast of last season’s wild game. Hunting season is the only time of year that the wine and beer are flowing before noon – because the hunters have already been up for eight hours and they are ready for a relaxing drink.
A dozen men fill the sun porch picnic table, their plates loaded with venison roast, goose bourguignon, wild turkey and lake trout. I quickly toss a salad and add it to the table with potatoes and carrots so it isn’t a total meat meal.
After brunch the hunters retire to the back deck for cigars and coffee and a nap in the sunshine. Some of them head home, while others prepare to head back out to the creek for the sunset hunt.
I imagine I would find it all a bit boring, sitting in the bush for hours, but to them it’s a form of meditation, I think. And they say they solve all the world’s problems out there, in their deep woods conversations.
I think out of half a dozen hunters they got one duck. It was turned over to the host/cook and will be served as an appetizer at Sunday dinner with a side of goat cheese and red pepper jelly.
The Farmer and I sat up to watch the super blood moon total eclipse thingy last Sunday night. He set up our lawnchairs on the front porch and covered them with sheepskins to make them extra cozy. I poured the whiskey nightcaps, turned off all the conflicting lights and we settled in under a blanket for the big moment. We got some visits from the barn cats who were out for their evening hunt. White cats glow in the dark. Finally the moon started to look like something was happening – the eclipsed part started to glow red and if you stared at it long enough it actually appeared to be spinning. Very cool. Then, it was over. For another 18 years, at least. And the Farmer was snoring beside me. I’m lucky the cat woke me up or we might have been there until sunrise.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How to stay warm on a cool fall day.

Cooler weather makes the farm animals frisky

There are several simple things I wish I could do better. I wish I could drive a stick shift. I’m very proud of all my three daughters for learning how to do this. Maybe some day they will teach me. I wish I could wash floors and windows without leaving streaks. My husband is a master at the former, my mother the latter. I wish I could maintain attention span long enough to cook a meal without burning or over-boiling something. I get bored by cooking, and I lose confidence because it never turns out tasting the way I planned.
There are some things I have recently come to realize I am good at, however. After eight years on the farm I am getting really good at thinking like the animals. In the late summer, the apples on the trees just outside the barnyard are over-ripe. They get soft and heavy and fall from the trees, smashing into the ground and releasing a perfume that floats over the fence to reach the cows.
This is why I was not at all surprised to hear a cow during the middle of our movie the other night.
“What was that,” I shushed the Farmer. He seemed annoyed that I had stopped the movie we were watching, mid-scene.
“I swear I heard a cow.”
“Don’t be silly. It’s a science fiction movie. There are no cows on this planet.”
A few minutes later, another distinct “moo”. It seemed to be coming from directly outside the window I was sitting beside, as if a cow was on the front lawn, and had just recognized me through the glass. I got up and stepped out onto the back porch, just in time to see Big Betty skipping through the open gate onto the lawn.
Running back through the house to pause the movie yet again, I prodded the Farmer off the couch. “Cows on front lawn!”
He grumbled something about forgetting to shut the gate and said he would take the ATV down the lane to get them off the road.
I ran out the front door into the pitch black, just as the Farmer took off down the lane. A black mass burst out of the wildflower hedge, heading straight toward me.
“Watch out for the bull!” the Farmer called.
I hopped back up the steps into the house for a flashlight.
When I got back outside, the Farmer on his ATV was herding a steady stream of protesting cows off the road and up the driveway toward me. He hollered into the darkness, “turn your flashlight off and get outta the way!” I switched off my light and hid in the trees beside the lane. A wave of cattle stampeded by, just a few feet from my hiding place. The last one, a straggler, spotted me standing there. I guess cows can see in the dark. She padded over and sniffed at my leg. Then she jumped, startled, and took off after the others.
The beasts didn’t mess around the yard or trample my vegetable garden. I guess they knew the gig was up. Back in the barnyard, gate firmly locked behind them, the cows protested loudly. Mocha stood in front, the spokes-animal.
“I know it was you, Mocha,” I scolded.
She never could resist the smell of ripe apples. Thank goodness we don’t live closer to a busy road.
The sheepdog is barking a lot more at night, so there must be a lot of activity in the dark. I think she is worried about the turkeys in the stable, who are big enough to defend themselves now but starting to think about escape. We can hear their musical gobble-talk from the house. I think they are attracting wild turkeys with their song. The Farmer thinks I’m nuts but how else do you explain the return of the wild turkeys to the Fisher farm? The first year when we had a corn crib next door I counted forty wild turkeys strutting along the stone fence for breakfast each morning. When the corn crib came down their numbers dwindled and finally they disappeared from the property. Now, suddenly, they are back. I watch from the kitchen window as the males fan their tails and strut around the females in their seasonal dance. The babies sit and watch the display, amused.
The cooler temperatures are giving the animals new energy to get into mischief. If there is such a thing as spring fever, we must be heading into the fall friskies.

Cows don't mind the rain

I love the rain. Maybe because I was born in April. I never wake up to a rainy day and feel down. To me, a rainy day means snuggling indoors with a good book and a nice cup of coffee or glass of wine. It’s a day to get indoor work done without feeling guilty that you aren’t outside in the sun, because there is no sun. I usually spend it writing, reading, watching videos and doing yoga. Sometimes closets get organized, floors get scrubbed and the basement gets tidied up. The day is always well spent.
When I lived in Asia I loved being outdoors in the rain. It was warm and it seemed to clear the pollution from the air momentarily. It smelled sweet. The doorman of the hotel next to my apartment didn’t like seeing me outside in the rain, however. He used to chase me down the street with an umbrella, shouting that the acid rain would make me lose all my hair.
Cattle don’t mind the rain. They know when it’s coming, and they prepare for it. I remember as a kid when we rode past a field of cattle, we would count how many were lying down. If more than half the cows were lying down, it was going to rain. It’s as reliable a forecast as any other.
Last weekend when it rained I looked outside and saw my cows, most of them lying down, in the far pasture. “Look at your cows, lying in the water,” the Farmer commented. Some of the calves were lying flat out, legs outstretched. Sound asleep. I’m sure after weeks of stifling hot summer days with flies in your eyes and bugs biting you, it feels absolutely fantastic to have that cool rain washing your hide, doesn’t it Betty? She’s just lying there, legs tucked underneath her, chewing her cud and watching a team of wild turkeys skirting the edge of the field. I’m glad they have had more comfortable days recently because they have been doing a lot of complaining about the heat.
When you have cattle, one of your primary battles is a war against muck. You could lose a boot – or a small animal – in that stuff.
The Farmer can’t get his tractor in the barn to clear it out, so he has decided to lock the cows out of their favourite sleeping area until it dries up. I’m not sure what the plan is then. Maybe it will be easier to drive on and remove at that point.
Anyway, the day the iron gates went up across the inner sanctum, you knew it for miles away. The cows hovered outside, mooing and bawling in complaint.
They sought shade along the fenceline, in the trees and in the shade of the big scrap metal wagon. They pushed and shoved each other out of the way to get the prime spots. Then they took up residence in the other half of the barn, which is considerably less cool because it has an east-west location as opposed to the nice cross-breeze in the north-south wing. They are happy the heat has subsided now.
I watch as the ten calves file past me, en route to the salt lick. I can almost touch them across the fence but they stay just out of my reach. The little white-faced male who needed help when he was born is not so white-faced now, having been under his muddy mother’s udder for the season. Wow, that last sentence was a tongue twister or something.
I watch as the bull calf sidles up to the stable where the Farmer has left the radio on for the turkeys. It keeps them calm. I peek into the pen and there they are, each one a twenty-pound white feathered marshmallow, tucked into the hay. The calf appears to have his ear cocked, listening to the music.
Soon we will be saying goodbye to the turkeys and some of our calves, if not all of them. The price of beef is pretty high right now and we normally sell the males, at least. It’s a good thing they aren’t all that friendly because I have a bad habit of getting attached.
We have one bare tree and another wearing red so it will soon be time to collect a wheelbarrow of windfall from the apple tree. I will present it to the cattle as a special treat this weekend.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Of ghosts and happy memories at the end of summer vacation

I am writing this column on September 4th. This would be my father’s 74th birthday if we hadn’t lost him in January 2008. As I pore over old photos and memories rise to the surface, so do the tears. They come so easily, even after seven years! When we lost Dad, a friend who had lost her husband 3 years earlier said it wasn’t getting any easier for her. I remember thinking at the time, I hope the searing pain subsides a bit but I was also very afraid of the memory of my father becoming dull and fading away. I want to keep him with me, always. He was such a strong force in all of our lives and a part of me feels a little lost and confused without him here.
The memory, energy or spirit of Dad, whatever it is, has come back to me vividly since he passed. At first it was in dreams. Often I hear his voice in my head. Sometimes his cuss words or inappropriate sayings spill, unchecked, from my mouth. As I looked through photos today another incident came to mind where his presence felt very real.
In 2009, the Farmer and I were experiencing summer as recreational boat owners. The smell of the boat fuel, the water, the sun on skin - and watching my husband standing at the wheel with the wind in his hair just brought so many memories of Dad rushing back. I closed my eyes and stirred up the sight of him perched on the top of the Captain's chair, cigarette in hand. 
We went out on the Rideau Lakes, Dad's charts in hand. My father had marked his favourite swimming holes and places to stop for lunch, in his script, right on the map. His spirit was so strong with us that day. 
When we pulled in to the locks at the Narrows, I noticed an older man, tanned to leather-brown, wearing boat shoes, worn shorts and a gold chain. We met eyes and smiled as I excused myself to step past him on the dock. He perched on the edge of the picnic table. 
A few minutes later we were standing at the locks. The tanned man leaned over the locks as the boats slowly rose to the surface, chatting with the boaters, asking them about their boats and where they were from. 
It didn't register with me at first but when the man suddenly appeared at my side to casually comment on the weather, the memory of my father hit me like a wave. He WAS my father for a moment. I dissolved into a heap, unable to control my tears. I remember stepping back, away from the water's edge as my husband's arms enfolded me. I think the Farmer whispered an apology to the confused man. I don't remember much else about that day. I think I sheepishly smiled and waved at the man as we left in our boat but I can't be sure. On second glance, he didn't really look much like Dad after all. But there was just something about him. 
I like to think Dad was there that day to share the boating experience with me one more time. I have a photo of my Dad, not a very flattering one but he's in his favourite summer uniform: boat shoes and shorts, bare-chested and leather-tanned. Today on his birthday, I'm wearing his gold chain.
Dad so loved to be near the water. I’m not much of a water person; I feel much more at home on land. He used to tease me that I wasn’t a real Leeson because I get seasick on most boats. As summer wound down he would spend every available moment on the water.
Larry Leeson, the teacher, didn’t like a school year that began before September 4th. He preferred to enjoy his birthday out on the water for one last hurrah before it was back to the chalkboards and Bunsen burners of the science classroom. I think I remember at least one year where he just didn’t show up to work until his birthday had passed, even though Labour Day was long gone.

I don’t want to freak any of the young ones out who are currently attending classes on the site but as school ramps up for another year I am pretty sure the spirit of Larry Leeson is walking the halls of the old North Grenville District High School, along with a few of his closest friends. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

8 years of life as a farmer's wife

To Farmer Fisher on our 8th Anniversary.
It’s been eight years since you and I exchanged vows under the arbour you built for us at the farm. It was blowing a gale that day, but the rain held off and we have wonderful photos taken by a great family friend to remember that August 25, 2007.
Dad made it to the wedding. He was told he might be in the hospital recovering from surgery but he was determined he wasn’t going to watch me marry you on video. He wanted to walk me down the aisle, and he did. He also danced with me, for half a song, before he had to pass me over to you so he could go home and take a nap. The excitement of the day, the heat and posing for photos tired him right out. I am so very grateful that he was able to share the day with us. We did not know at that point that his condition was terminal and that we would have him with us just five more months.
You have a very practical, simple view of life, and so you may not realize, my love, that you have done miraculous things. You are the glue that holds this family together, and it just comes naturally to you.
We hadn’t lived together before marriage, so you were taking many chances when you made a commitment to me and my three girls. You didn’t know how we would work out finances, or living with teenagers, or even who would make most of the meals. Funny how those things just worked themselves out (and I agree the fire department doesn’t have to visit as often if we let you do most of the cooking.)
Occasionally I am reminded that other couples argue about things. They are unfair to each other, jealous of each other. Unforgiving and resentful. It’s been eight years and we have never really had a fight. It’s not because we agree on everything – it’s because you are so fair. That is all. Everything you do has a reason behind it.
Your love is deliberate and obvious. You put us first, in everything.
You accepted my children as your own. They have never doubted your commitment to them and you have given them a safe place to call home.
Through your fabulous Sunday dinners you have opened our home to our extended family week after week. As these gatherings swelled beyond our dining room table, you calmly drew up plans for a three-season sun room and built it to accommodate the crowd.
You set the tone, and the unspoken rules. Everyone knows family dinner is about acceptance, respect and celebration of each and every member of this extended family, which sometimes includes special friends.
I often think, without this weekly reservation, our children, siblings, parents and friends would just go about their daily lives and we would lose track of each other. Without this family dinner that we have made important, we might see some of our loved ones only a few times a year.
Back to the love. Thank you for insisting on our time together each day but also insisting on our time to ourselves. I love our morning coffee and our weekday lunches but I also love that you can entertain yourself with your hunting and fishing and farming. That gives me the downtime I need too. Thank you for filling my tires, taking the squeak out of my truck, and hosing down the doghouse area without waiting for me to complain about it.
I appreciate your being so generous with your time, your money and the TV remote. Thank you giving me space when I’m moody, a shoulder to cry on when I am down, and a number one fan when I succeed.
I don’t think I’ve improved as a cook and I certainly don’t make any more money than I did when you met me. I hope you’re not disappointed.
 I look at photos and can’t believe that skinny little thing you married is me. You certainly know how to grow your investment. You can stop that any time now, by the way.
Here’s to all that lies ahead – blessings and loss. Together we’ll get through it all. Happy anniversary, handsome.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Misty in training for the International Plowing Match 2015

We sold our Belgian horse Misty last spring but we have been keeping up to date on all her activities. Her new owner, Roy Sherrer of Shermount Farms near Spencerville has trained her to pull. This is a true testament to the man’s ability as a horse trainer – and our lack of it.
When we got Misty and her sister Ashley back in February of 2009, they were pretty much ‘green’ – and so were their new owners. They were accustomed to being led out of their barn every morning and back into the barn every evening by a rope attached to their halters. We tried this. It only worked if the horse actually felt like moving.
I don’t know how many times I was late for work, and pulling with all my strength on the end of Misty’s lead, trying to make the big horse bend to my will. I would just hang there like a soap on a rope, until she finally decided to stroll out of the stable and into the barnyard, where she spent her day.
Part of the problem is that Ashley was the leader, Misty the follower. When we lost Ashley to some mysterious fever or allergy in 2010, her sister was left to figure things out on her own. Mostly she decided Donkey was her new leader. Chaos reigned.
Donkey would help break the horse and sheep out of the barnyard so they could go eat apples on the front lawn and wander down the road to freak out the neighbours.
I got him to follow me back to the barnyard with apples or sweetfeed in my hand, and the rest of the herd followed. Including Misty.
And so this is how things were on the farm, for the next five years. When Roy bought our big horse from us, we had high hopes that he would be able to train her to do actual horsey things. Follow instructions. Pull a wagon, even. We expected it would take a while, but we had faith that wonderful things were in her future.
Sure enough, within the first few weeks we received photos and a video of Misty pulling a wagon. I could not believe that was my stubborn, skittish horse, pulling with all her might, next to another beautiful blonde Belgian. I got choked up with motherly pride.
Roy said he put the harness and yoke on Misty, and she started a bit. She has never even had a saddle on her before. Well, maybe once. Her previous owner hitched her up to a wagon for a photo opportunity once. But never again.
Hitched for the first time, Misty likely was confused and a bit scared. But as soon as she realized she was not alone in her situation – another (more confident and experienced) horse was right beside her - I imagine she was comforted, and then probably a little excited. The conversation probably went a little like this.
“Hi. I’m Goldie. Who are you?”
“I’m Misty. What’s goin’ on?”
“We’re hitched. Have you never been hitched before? Oh great…”
“Oh…hitched. Ok. I think I’ve seen this before. We pull, right?”
“Yes, we pull. Just follow my lead and when you feel me pull, you pull as hard as you can. You look strong. You’ll be fine.”
Roy was surprised to hear Misty had never pulled before, because she was a natural. She stumbled a bit at first, unaccustomed to timing her steps to another horse. But, a born follower, she quickly caught on and began to pull her own weight, and then some.
He taught her to pull the stone boat – a heavy float laden with cement blocks. When she was fully trained, he sold her to someone in Quebec.
I’m trying not to think too much about that part, because it stresses me a bit to think she is no longer going to be close enough for me to visit. Not that I visited her in the past – I thought it would upset me too much.
We will see her again, however, if only one more time. I am very proud to announce that Misty and her teammate will be pulling at The 2015 International Plowing Match in Finch this September 22-26. I’ll be the one in the floppy hat in the front row, cheering her on. Likely with a few proud tears in my eyes.

Watch for “The Accidental Farmwife – Volume 1” coming to a bookstore near you in 2016. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The cycle of life keeps on turning

Dad and Annie, 2007

The August long weekend will forever remind me of the day we found out my Dad was really, really sick. He had apparently been eating Advil like TicTacs all summer but finally gave in to the pain in his back August 1st and let us take him to the hospital. Of course, few doctors were available. The one that examined him told him he likely had a tumour on his pancreas. Then he left for the weekend.
Dad said, “well, that’s it, then,” with a note of finality. He had just seen a friend die of cancer and that experience, combined with his extensive knowledge as a science teacher, had him diagnosing himself within minutes. Pancreatic cancer. He said he wasn’t interested in chemo, and fell asleep under the cloud of painkillers.
The rest of us stood around his hospital gurney, in shock.
The next few months are a bit of a blur. We were trying to get used to our strong, infallible father being ill, recovering from surgery, and undergoing cancer treatment, which he eventually agreed to. The Farmer and I were planning a wedding at the same time. Two weeks before the date we visited Dad in hospital and said, “We will videotape the whole thing for you.” He replied, “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m walking my daughter down the aisle.” Well, he did. He had to go home and take a short nap after our photo session and dinner, but he returned to dance with me, for half a song. My new husband took over when it was clear my father needed to sit down.
All of these memories come rushing back, this time of year. Joy mixed with pain. We had Dad for just four months after his terminal diagnosis. The end came quickly, but we had time to say everything we needed to say. He held on for two hours as we stood around his hospital bed and shared memories, our arms around him. Blessings and loss.
How wonderful it is to turn and see my daughter now, swelling with pregnancy, pride and excitement. She keeps saying “it won’t be long now.” She is just seventeen weeks. I hate to tell her she has another twenty-three to go…
She really, really wants to know the sex of this child. Anastasia is used to getting what she wants. I think it will be absolutely hilarious if this unborn son or daughter of hers refuses to reveal its gender before birth. Ha! She has an ultrasound scheduled for next week, followed immediately by a “Gender Reveal” party. This is the new thing. You arm your guests with sticks and have them circle a huge piñata that is hanging from a tree in the yard. Obviously you need to adapt this plan if it is in winter. Everyone bashes away at the piñata until it rips open and the candies pour out. If the treats are blue and green, it’s a wee lad in her belly. If they are red and purple (Annie hates pink), it’s a lass. I don’t think she has a preference. She is just so, so ready to be a mama. At 23 she has been married three years already, a young wife. But she has also looked after children and worked in a nursery school for years. She is experienced, prepared, and ready.
Pregnancy has created a calm over Anastasia. Ever anxious and energetic, now she favours naps and takes her time. She seems to have grown up over these past few months.
Now when I think of the August long weekend I will think of Anastasia, in her billowing sundress, staring at the sunset. She is daydreaming of things to come. What will her life be like next year at this time? She will have a little crawler by then.
Anastasia and her grandpa were very close. She spent more time with him than any of his grandchildren. They respected and loved each other, without words. They just knew. And they loved spending time together.
I like to think that my father is somehow involved in this. He is watching over or looking down, or his lingering energy and presence is somehow forming the way Annie will be raising this child.
It just seems right. It’s the cycle of life.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Farmers escape

As you read this, we are gone. Our daughter and her husband are holding down the farm, so to speak. I truly love the 200 acres we have here along the Kemptville Creek, with its uncontested sunsets, lovable farm animals and comforts of home. But I just wanted to get away for a week, to a lake. I could live on a campsite for a week or even longer but the Farmer…not so much. So I went on Kijiji and rented a cottage.
We are hosting family and friends, a few at a time, in a big two-storey cedar cottage near Portland on the Big Rideau. The scent of warm cedar surrounds you as you walk up onto the porch. Just the words “Big Rideau” make me think of my dad and all the boating we did there. His handwriting is still on the charts that mark safe passage through the waterways. He has marked good spots to swim and stop for lunch – he wasn’t really into fishing. The Farmer will have to find the fishing holes on his own. I am going to be spending my time reading a few good books, taking long walks and swimming / floating in the lake.
It’s not easy to leave a farm for a week, especially when you have dependent farm animals. At the moment, the cows pretty much take care of themselves, as long as the water is running. They have access to four pasture fields and I think the hay is plentiful. Our ten calves spend their days huddled together for their afternoon nap in a kindergarten circle, guarded by one assigned cow. Or they spend their energy playing King of the Castle on the manure hill. Someone has to walk over to the barn once a day, however, just to ensure that water fountain is still operational. If it isn’t, they need barrels filled with the garden hose, twice a day. If you step into the barnyard with the bull, however, you must carry a big stick. I left that in the care and feeding instructions.
The cats can last a few days in the house before they need their food and water refilled but the outdoor barn cats need to be fed every day. If we leave too much food outside, we might attract unwanted company, like a skunk. Or a raccoon. Or a BEAR.
Cody, our 16-year-old, geriatric Gordon Setter, needs to be fed at least once a day, and checked carefully to ensure he has not spilled all his water and tangled his chain in his long fur. I mean, honestly. He’s hopeless.
Chelsea, the suspicious, yappy sheepdog, needs to be fed by a man. And it should be a man she knows quite well. She is not fond of women, children or strangers. Anastasia has discovered this fact the hard way, about seven years ago. She was still in highschool at the time. Always the first one out of bed and therefore the first one ready to go in the morning, Annie had a little extra time on her hands so she offered to feed the sheepdog.
Off she went to the barn, cup of kibble in her hand. As she squatted down to dump the kibble into Chelsea’s bowl, she turned and looked the little dog in the eye. Then, in her high-pitched, teenaged girl voice, she said, “there you go Chelsea! Eat it all up!”
Chelsea, being accustomed only to the Farmer, had never heard anything quite like it. She was also confused as to why Anastasia was lingering between her and the food bowl. The Farmer usually delivers the food, pats the dog on the head and walks away. I guess she suddenly felt threatened, and trapped, so she snapped. She flew at Anastasia, teeth bared, and if it wasn’t for the huge pouf of hair extensions that Annie had attached to her head in a ponytail, there would have been an injury, for sure. She never offered to feed that “crazy-ass sheepdog” again.
Now, fast forward 7 years and our little Annie is pregnant with her first child. She won’t be allowed to lift the chick feed bags on her own, even though she is more than able, so Andrew will be doing most of the work. It’s just as well, because knowing Annie she will encounter the one chicken who takes offence to her greeting or mannerisms and decides to peck her in the leg.