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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.