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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Working through winter on the farm

Winter months are a great time to get indoor projects completed. This includes the book I have been working on for years. In winter I am not distracted by my garden that needs weeding, a beckoning swimming pool and an inner voice that screams “why are you sitting at a computer on a beautiful day like today?? You should be outside!!”
I put another log on the fire, pour a cup of tea and settle in for an hours-long writing session. Here’s why this particular project is taking so long to complete. I lived in Taiwan from 2003 to 2006 and wrote a number of articles for The Kemptville Advance during that time. Topics ranged from the Taiwanese President’s attempted assassination, to prawn fishing, to culture shock, to the tsunami.  I have some great stories to include in my book from those columns. But it’s going to be a sight more difficult than I first imagined.
When I returned from Asia, I got busy repatriating to Canada, restoring my status as a Canadian citizen and finding work. A few years passed before I decided to try and put my stories together into a book. Like five years. By then, I discovered that I no longer had access to the email account I used in Asia to send the stories home. No problem, I thought. I will just go to the newspaper office and get the stories there. The newspaper didn’t have the emails anymore either. And the floppy discs they had used to store my articles on were by then obsolete. I had no way of opening them to read the files inside. I resigned myself to collecting old copies of the newspapers from that time and transcribing all the articles by hand into my computer at home. That took the better part of a year.
I got busy working for the local radio station then, and writing news every day. When you use your brain to write all day, the last thing you feel like doing is writing when you get home. So the project got put aside again. For another almost five years. I’m sure it’s beginning to feel neglected.
Now that I have taken a closer look at the 50,000 words that I have as a foundation for this book, I realize we have a new problem. The articles that I wrote as a Canadian expat in Taiwan, in the throes of culture shock, actually come across as culturally insensitive and a bit prejudiced. In truth, I had fallen into the “us vs. them” syndrome. I thought I was very open-minded and accepting of the Chinese culture but when I read these ten-year-old articles again, they come across as mildly inappropriate.
Of course I didn’t mean all Taiwanese when I said they don’t treat women with respect or they have very little hope of a getting married after the age of thirty…I was simply referring to a few key individuals with whom I had had conversations on the subjects. But I didn’t make that clear in the articles and so now I will have to go back and edit them all. It will basically mean rewriting most of them.
The other aspect of the project that is holding me back is the idea that I need to secure my subjects’ privacy by allowing them to retain their anonymity in my book. I mean, they didn’t ask to have a book written about them, even if they are extremely interesting people: a drag queen, a drug dealer, a nudist and an escapee from the Mormons, among them. There are good stories there. I’m just not sure how to go about telling them without ticking anyone off.
And so, I rewrite sections of the book, I add new sections and I delete parts that I never liked in the first place. The project continues. It is giving me something to do during the long winter months while waiting for calves to be born. On that front we have two down and ten to go. So far we have two healthy little heifer calves: Holly and Annie.
Note to a reader who took the time to send me a handwritten letter: thank you Eileen for the advice about the cats. I didn’t realize they each need their own litter box. I have two set up but will get a couple more. I hope they appreciate this special dispensation.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Welcoming calving season with a little Holly

Calving season 2017 started a little early this year. Normally our cows give birth in late January to March. But the day after Boxing Day, one cow was hanging out in the barn by herself. When the Farmer went to check on her a while later, there was a tiny calf standing beside her.
The calf was up and moving around but didn’t appear to be eating. The lack of selenium in our soil has led to a weak suckling instinct in both our sheep and our cattle. The Farmer gave the little heifer a quick shot of the miracle supplement and in just a few minutes she was up and under her mother, nursing away.
We like to keep the new family in the barn for the first week or so, to ensure the baby knows who her mother is. Hopefully by the time they are released to the barnyard, they will have formed a strong bond and will be less likely to lose each other in the herd.
Every morning we brought two pails of water from the pump to the inner reaches of the barn, where the new mother and baby were recuperating. We filled the feeders with hay and tossed some old straw on the pen floor to sop up some of the wetness. It gets pretty messy in there in a very short time.
After a few days the new mother had had enough of the spa experience and was more than ready to get out of the barn for some fresh air and sunshine. Her little calf was running circles around her in the pen, ready to head out for a romp. We waited for a mild, sunny day to let the pair outside. The temperature was hovering right around the zero mark when I opened the door to the pen. Mama didn’t need much coaxing, and baby followed along with a little skip. I put some of the leftover hay outside in a spot that was sheltered from the wind. Cow and calf lay down for an afternoon nap.
Within about half an hour, the sky had darkened and a blizzard blew in with a snow squall and biting winds. I worried about the little calf and hoped her mom would lead her into the part of the barn where the cows take shelter from the weather. I stood at the window squinting my eyes, trying to see the little black dot in the snow against the barn. I worried she would be too cold, or get separated from her mom in the blinding snow. Just then the Farmer came in, sliding the patio door shut on the storm behind him.
“I put them back in the pen,” he announced. He said he picked up the little calf and carried her back to the room she had just vacated. The weather was just too nasty for such a new little creature. Mom followed, if a little reluctantly. She was enjoying being outside, but wasn’t about to let her baby be taken away.
The next day we tried again to let the animals outside. This time the pair sauntered as far away from the barn as they could go before hitting deep snow. They lay down together in the sunshine at the far corner of the field, as if to say, “we aren’t going back in that barn, thanks. We’re ok right here.”
The little heifer spends her afternoons lying on the bed of spilled hay around the feeder. The bull stands protectively over her so that no one accidentally steps on her while feeding.
We will have to keep a close eye on the rest of the cows to see if any others are planning a surprise birth. Betty is getting a little slower and she has a funny look in her eye. The other day she didn’t want one of the apples I was handing out, either: a sure sign that she isn’t feeling like herself.
Soon we will have fat cows stuffed into all of the old lambing pens and even the horse stable will be full. One down, eleven to go. Calving season 2017 has begun, with a little heifer calf I named Holly. It would be ideal if the rest of them were born before we head to Jamaica at the end of February. Our house sitters aren’t much for delivering calves.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Vanity is an easy scam target

Age is a funny thing. As a nineteen-year-old bride I often felt ridiculously young in comparison to my first husband and his friends. I remember one woman saying to me, “you aren’t very smart, are you?” I thought about it and realized she was referring to my lack of street smarts. My youthful naivete and lack of experience left me ill-equipped to handle certain situations – but I was educated, well-travelled and well-read, so I could beat the pants off people ten years my senior in a trivia contest. And I took to using five-dollar words that they couldn’t understand. I didn’t have many friends in that group.

Fast forward fifteen years and I was single at thirty-four, dating someone ten years my junior. Being with my young suitor took a great deal of energy. I found I occasionally had to explain away his behavior as one would with an untrained pup. He needed to be entertained, and supervised. At times he used vocabulary I did not understand. The tide had shifted. Never did I feel as old as when I was with him.

In 2006 I fell in love with my equal, the Farmer. He is older than me, but we feel the same age most of the time. And now, with another decade past, 50 is clear on the horizon and 45 is fading away in the rear-view mirror. I’ve had silver highlights in my hair – I like to call it “Arctic Blonde” – since my early 30s. If I were single, I would probably try growing it out. But the Farmer is not ready to have a grey-haired wife. So I dye it back to my natural dark brown, every two months. 

Wrinkles have set in around my eyes and mouth and my forehead looks like a grid, despite daily moisturizing since my teens. They don’t really bother me – I find wrinkles give a face character. It’s the under-eye saddle bags that bug me. I’m not sure where this luggage came from and where it is taking me. I’ve used treatments for sagging skin, sunken eyes, dark circles and puffy lids. Nothing works. I’ve tried natural remedies, getting more sleep, eating less salt, drinking more water and cutting out wheat. The bags remain. I tried wearing more makeup, or none at all. My father’s words ring in my ears: “easy on the warpaint. I wish women would just grow old gracefully.”

I caught a glimpse of myself on camera and was shocked at how unhealthy those bags under my eyes make me look. A smile takes them away immediately, but the resting face reveals all. And besides, you can’t go around smiling all day. You’ll look like an idiot. I know – I’ve tried.

I may have been harping and obsessing a bit too much about my eye bags on social media, because the advertising trolls picked up on it. Soon ads for face creams, wrinkle reducers and complexion enhancers were popping up all over my news feed. One day, during a weak moment of poor judgment, I clicked on one of them.

The ads for Face Replens Eye Cream by Image Revive promised to lift, smooth and lighten the skin under my eyes. I clicked through to the website, and read the inspiring testimonials. Something in the back of my head whispered “there’s got to be a catch” but when I saw “click here for free sample!” I went ahead. The catch is you have to enter your credit card information to cover shipping and handling.

That makes it easy for the company to open an account in your name and send you product on a monthly basis, whether you want it or not. I received my free sample in early November. By Christmas, over $600 dollars had been charged to my credit card by two different skin care companies claiming to have an account in my name. When I complained that I had not agreed to repeat orders after the free sample they agreed to cancel my account. After another half hour of complaining, they agreed to refund me half of the money they had charged my credit card.

Ok, I learned my lesson. I’m going to eat healthy, sleep well, exercise and smile more. I will use coconut oil for wrinkles around my eyes and cucumber slices for puffiness. I’m going to attempt to grow old gracefully, instead of kicking and screaming all the way.