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Friday, May 20, 2016

In which the Farmer becomes a “sexagenarian.” Really. That’s what it’s called.

The Farmer turns 60 this month. We celebrated with something that I will likely never undertake again, as long as I live. I booked the Legion hall and threw him a surprise party.

I started planning the surprise months ago. I sent out the invitations, booked the hall and gave our girls their individual assignments for slideshow, music playlist, birthday cake, d├ęcor. I don’t know what I would have done without their help and the help of my mother and sister and friends. But when it came to the development of a believable fib that would get my husband to his own surprise birthday party on time, I was on my own. And I’m a terrible liar.

The anxiety set in about two weeks before the event. I worried he would make real estate appointments for the night of the party, or he just wouldn’t feel like going out. Someone asked how would I get him to the hall on time? I decided I would tell him we were going to the surprise 40th of a girlfriend of mine. “Which friend?” she asked. “It has to be someone he doesn’t know very well, but knows well enough to want to go to her party. You need a backstory. You need to know her birthdate, her middle name….” It worries me how much thought my daughter puts into telling a lie. She’s good.

The morning of the party, I still hadn’t told my husband that we had plans that night. Finally I blurted out, “it’s Mr. Stover’s retirement party tonight. You know, he taught with my dad for years.”  I gulped. He said ok. Then he said he planned to spend the day running around doing real estate stuff, and he would drive into the city to visit his dad. Good, I thought. Because I have to spend the day zipping around town buying decorations, getting my hair done, picking up helium balloons, collecting and testing audiovisual equipment and setting up the hall. I didn’t need to run into him.

On my first trip into town to pick things up, I ran into him. His eyes followed me as I drove on by. I smiled, waved and gulped. I should have been at work by then and he knew it. I sent him a text message. “Late for work! We need to be at the hall by 7:30 for speeches…” I got an “x” in return. I thought he was on to me. The adrenalin was upsetting my stomach.

We were late getting access to the hall and being technologically un-inclined, the set-up of the slideshow took me a lot longer than expected. I needed to get home to whip up the spaghetti I had promised the birthday boy for dinner.

After our meal, “We don’t have to be the first ones there, do we?” he asked. “Uh, no, but I don’t want to miss the speeches,” I reminded him.

When we pulled up to the building, one of my friends was outside, smoking a cigarette. When she recognized my truck she ran in to assemble everyone. Climbing the steps to the hall, the Farmer says, “Who is this party for, again?” He is 60. We are both getting forgetful. My heart was pounding. I had almost succeeded in surprising him. Then he saw the slideshow of our photos on the wall. He stopped and peeked around the corner. I had to pull him into the room.

“Oh no you didn’t,” he said. Everyone jumped out then to surprise him, and I could relax. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. The adrenalin rush was a bit much. I really don’t think I will be doing that again. But I think the Farmer was pleasantly surprised, and a little overwhelmed. Mission accomplished.
Most people don’t believe me when I tell them the Farmer is sixty years old. He looks much younger than that – but then, sixty is much younger these days. People don’t really retire –they just switch focus. Today’s pre-seniors spend more time pursuing quality of life – hobbies and activities they enjoy. After retiring from teaching, my sixty-year-old is working on his new career as a real estate agent. In his spare time he is cattle farming, building a log cabin, cooking Sunday dinners for up to twenty people a week and spending time deep in conversation with his new granddaughter. Life is looking pretty good at sixty. And the age comes with a sexy title.


Monday, May 9, 2016

To Anastasia on her first Mother's Day

I am writing this column as a letter to someone I only recently met. I have known Anastasia, my daughter, since before she was born. She introduced herself to me with firm kicks of independence and happy dancing while she was still in the womb. Anastasia the mother, however, I just met on December 2nd, 2015. She bears a resemblance to the young woman I watched grow up. But another aspect of her personality is emerging. She is a confident, calm and knowledgeable young mother, and I admire her patience, her strength and her wholehearted dedication to this tiny being who has been delivered to her care. This is my note to her, my middle daughter, Leti’s mom.

"Dear Anastasia. One year ago, you gave me a card that said, “Happy Mother’s Day, GRANDMA.” I thought you chose it for the flowers on it and didn’t read it very carefully. Actually, it was chosen with care. That is how you announced that baby Leti was coming. Of all the wonderful homemade gifts I have received over the years, I would have to say that’s a winner. I bought a brand new photo album and stuck the card on the front. Over the past year I have filled the album with weekly photos, chronicling every morning of this new journey that we are on: you as a mother, me as a grandmother. It’s quite an adventure already.

While you were pregnant, I listened as you reported on your frequent bouts of morning sickness and my memory (and my stomach) commiserated. But you were just telling me a story; you weren’t complaining. You never complained. Not even when your feet swelled up to the point you could no longer wear proper shoes. Not even when you could no longer sleep lying down but had to recline slightly in a chair, surrounded by your worried dogs. You studied pregnancy so that you would understand exactly what your body was going through, and you explained it to the rest of us. I was pregnant three times and all kinds of weird and wonderful things happened to me. I just listened to the doctor, whom I only saw about once a month for most of the pregnancy. In contrast, you trust your instincts and challenge the doctor when you see things a different way. I admire your confidence and will. You listened to the little person growing inside your body and made your own decisions on how things would go.

When you went into labour a month early, you trusted your instincts and got yourself safely to your husband and your doctor. You calmly told your mate he would not be leaving your side – not even to collect an overnight bag. You spoke to me and to your partner and to the nurses, all the while breathing deeply through your contractions. You were so calm. Even when the contractions went off the chart.

The birth itself, you tell me, was the worst pain you had ever been through, but only for a moment. When the baby was born and needed a little boost from CHEO for the first week you travelled back and forth to the hospital daily to be by her side. You curved your new little family into its own rhythm of feedings and changings, naps and playtime. The rest of the world was firmly but gently told to wait until you could fit it into your schedule. You realized you were in charge and made sure everyone else understood. A proud and protective Little Mama Bear.

You have everything you need, at 24, to carry out this most important job with ease. There will be challenges. There will be setbacks and disappointments. But with your calm confidence, your strong partner at your side, and your positive outlook, you will get through whatever comes your way.
For a long time I have been very proud of the young woman you have grown into, Anastasia. And now I would like to say I am in awe of the mother you are becoming. You will always be my daughter. My little girl. But I am very happy to know this new side of you: Leti’s Mom. It’s nice to meet you. Happy First Mother’s Day. Love always, Mom (Grandma ;)."


Sunday, May 1, 2016

The barn cat drama continues

In March, we came home from a Caribbean vacation to a mild winter day. As I slid open the patio door, all four cats (two house cats and two barn cats that over-winter indoors) ran out into the melting snow. We didn’t see the barn cats again for three weeks. I thought the season of the indoor feral cats, leaving mounds of fluff balls on the couch and tearing up the carpet as they race up the stairs was finally over. I was wrong.
Three weeks after he left, Junior came back. He dragged his sorry self into the house and sat at my feet, announcing his return with a plaintive wail. He looked very thin, as if he had either found himself trapped somewhere with no access to food, or he had been ill. His fur looked matted and the shine was gone from his coat and his eyes. All the fur was missing from the back of his left leg, and the remnants of a nicely cleaned wound was noticeable there. When I snuck over to pet him (he will only allow this if another cat is in between us and food is in front of him) I found another bald spot on his side and a wee hole in the top of his head. He had obviously been in a fight and done his best to nurse his own injuries before somehow finding his way back to the house. The other two cats, Sheila and Sammy, didn’t like the smell of him.
After a week or two of resting and fattening up, Junior went back outside. He returned at the end of April with what I thought was a broken paw. He held it up and limped around the house. I was amazed that he could still get up and down the stairs and onto his favourite birdwatching perches and napping spots with three legs. He made it look easy, but painful. I thought of how we used to splint the lamb’s legs when they got them stuck in the feeder or found themselves under the horse’s hoof. But the cat’s leg was much smaller. I didn’t think I had a splint small enough. Besides, this cat would have anything I constructed ripped off in no time. I crushed some homeopathic pills into his water for pain and planned to take him to the vet the next day. Sammy drank all the water and tucked himself into bed. Junior watched as I prepared the cat carrier and decided it would be safer to sleep up on a rafter in the basement.
On a Monday morning, I waited until the cats were crowded around the feeding station eating breakfast and then grabbed Junior gently but firmly by the scruff of the neck. I scooped up his hind end and tucked him into the waiting carrier. He didn’t struggle, as if he knew he needed help. I watched as he curled up on the fleece blanket and tried to tuck what I was pretty sure was a badly broken leg underneath him. It appeared flat on the foreleg and the paw was misshapen and swollen. It must have been extremely painful.
At the vet, I warned them that Junior is feral. They thought they were ready for him, but he surprised them. When they opened his carrier he flew through their legs and slid across the floor to hide under the x-ray machine. They spent about half an hour chasing him around the clinic before they were able to examine him.
All that running around burst the abcess that Junior was hiding between the pads of his paw. The vet confirmed there were no broken bones. He got an antibiotic shot to last ten days (no way he’s letting me give him oral meds twice a day after this), an anti-inflammatory painkiller and a good cleaning.
Once back at home I opened the carrier and Junior took a spot between the two housecats on the couch. They had a little conversation and decided he didn’t smell so bad after all. And the upside of all this drama is that although he is still suspicious when he sees the cat carrier, he lets me pet him now. I think he is grateful for the human intervention. The only problem is that now I think we have three permanent housecats. He’s afraid to go back outside.