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Thursday, December 27, 2018

What's your Word of 2019?

You still have time to get in on one of the trendiest New Year’s initiatives in recent years. It’s time to choose your 2019 Word of the Year.
The Word of the Year is the ‘new’ New Year’s Resolution. Rather than making promises you can’t keep beyond January (lose 10 pounds, stop smoking, save money…), the Word of the Year affirms the positive. Instead of giving yourself an almost unattainable goal, and then feeling bad when you can’t achieve it, why not give yourself something uplifting to focus your attention upon.
It has been proven that words have power. And although we often make declarations that we soon forget, I guarantee if you choose a word that truly resonates with you, it will stay top of mind all year long. And if you worry about forgetting your word, you can always put it in a visible place so that you start each day with a reminder. Stick your word on the bathroom mirror, or make it your computer screensaver. Attach it to the front of your fridge and tape it on the bottom of your TV monitor. Make it part of your everyday life.
Words have the power to change lives. We have all heard words that hurt. It’s amazing how much a word can scar – and how it sinks deep beneath the skin, so that you carry it with you wherever you go, from that moment onward. That’s why we have to be so careful in choosing the words we use with others – and with ourselves.
Think of the power of a simple “yes,” uttered at the right time and in the right place – such as an answer to a marriage proposal. Or imagine the freeing power of the word “no” – especially for someone who has trouble saying it, and rarely puts their own needs first.
The power of the Word of the Year is affirmation. You can use it to remind you of the positive things in your life, and the positive that you want to bring into your life. The first time I chose a Word of the Year, it was Grateful. Because it’s always a good idea to remind ourselves of the things we have – so that we can practice being content with our situation.
Last year, my word was Presence. In recent years I find I have had trouble living in the moment. I am always looking forward to a day, an event or a moment, and then when it arrives I’m already worried about when it will end. I don’t take the time to truly connect with the people around me and to enjoy the experience, whatever it may be.
Having that word taped inside my cellphone case last year actually helped me to work on being present. When I flipped that phone open and saw the word, more often than not, I decided to flip the phone closed again (sometimes, I’ll admit, after snapping a photo or two of my daughters, my grandchild, my dog or whatever it was that was happening). The word “Presence” reminded me of the power of connection with the people, places and things around me – without a phone screen between us.
As we come to the end of 2018, I look back and realize what a great year it has been for me and my family. I turned 50, we got a pup, we saw our youngest marry her beau, we saw another daughter engaged, I took a great job in the city, and we started a new way of life as I began commuting every day.
I love coming home to the farm and I know I’m lucky to have someone to share it with, who is so supportive of everything I do. We don’t take our blessings for granted. I’m going to choose my Word of the Year carefully – as if I were having it tattooed on me. I find my word is usually something to do with reflection. But for you it could be Calm, Peace, Fierce, Strength, Love, Focus, Risk, Try. Choose a word that will remind you of your hopes, aspirations and goals for 2019. Once you’ve chosen your word, as the ‘kids’ say, go out there and live your best life. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

'Twas the Night Before Christmas, on the Farm

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all of the sheep
Were tucked in their hay-covered beds, fast asleep
All except one little lamb named Lily
Who often got scolded for being so silly
The first to run out, the last to come in
Lily thought life without fun was a sin
She skipped through the fields and climbed on the rock
She never came home until five o’clock
Each night when the sun said goodnight in the West
Donkey knew Lily would give him a test
She’d hide in the fencerow behind a thick bush
Donkey would have to kick and push
Through thickets and thorns to find the wee thing
And soon as he did, Lily would sing
She’d bleat and she’d baa in terror and glee
Dart through his legs and off she would flee
To the barn where her worried mother stood
Snorting and stamping one little hoof
Into her pen Lily would race
Laughing as Donkey gave up his chase.
But on that December 24,
Donkey returned alone to the door
He looked at the ewe and shook his big head
The look that he gave her filled her with dread
A coyote was seen early that day
Stalking and searching out his prey
The wild dogs often came back at night
To catch what they saw during daylight
“I can’t find your Lily,” said the old beast
“Oh dear,” said the ewe, and she looked to the East
The coyotes’ song hung in the air
So eerie but sweet, it gave them a scare
And then, a flash of something so white
Dashed into the barn like a shooting star bright
Lily! The barn cat started his hissing
And mother ewe noticed something was missing
Lily had returned without fail
But somehow she had lost her tail!
Out in the dark, a coyote or fisher
Had tried to steal the lamb but had missed her
All Lily wanted to do was play
But she almost lost her life that day
As Donkey trudged back up the hill
To watch the farm by night
He thought of Lily – now she’s Lil
Who’d given them such a fright
The sun rose high on Christmas morn
As the animals gathered ‘round
To see what the Farmwife was placing on the ground
The scent of molasses filled the air – a very special treat
For animals in wintertime, a snack that is so sweet
But when she looked around she saw that something was amiss
She scooped up the smallest lamb and gave her a big kiss
“Oh my,” she scolded, “come on now, you’ll have your very own pail.”
“It seems that someone in the night has stolen your wee tail.”
Donkey started to wind up his own familiar song
And soon his bray was ringing out, like a bell so strong
“Hee haw, hee haw,” he sang, loud and clear
And all around the barnyard, coyotes shook with fear
The beast was declaring his watch over the sheep
All they had was one tail that they could keep
“I guess,” said the big dog, “we could eat mice,”
“They are here all around and they are very nice.”
And so, with Christmas, we marked one more year
Of life on the farm, which was safe without fear
“Watch out,” said Donkey to the lamb, “I want to be clear,”
“Listen to me or next time you will be missing an ear.”
Life on the farm is never boring
Animals do not rest
Farmers are awake at sunrise
Giving it their best
And so we want to send a wish
To all that may hear
To each Farmer, Merry Christmas
And to all a good year!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

If I should die before I wake

"Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."

 And as for the rest of me, you can take that too. I won’t need it where I’m going.
Most people don’t talk about death with their loved ones. It’s just not a topic that comes up in conversation, unless you are taking on some risky venture like swimming with the sharks. But perhaps we should have a chat with the people closest to us, because you never know what tomorrow will bring.
We need to have a talk about organ donation, with the ones we love. Basically, we have to make our wishes known, just in case. Do you want to have your viable organs harvested and passed on to someone who can use them when you die and don’t need them anymore? If so, you need to do more than just sign an organ donor card.
I read that more than 450 people declined to have their loved ones’ organs donated in 2018 because they were uncertain of their wishes (and that person was either deceased, on life support or otherwise incapacitated and unable to clarify). So not only did those people pass on, but they were not given the opportunity to save a person – or several people – through the gift of organ and tissue donation.
Your view of the hereafter may be very different from mine. Not everyone has a belief system that allows the concept of organ donation. But if you aren’t certain you are against it, I would encourage you to consider being for it, and to make your wishes known by doing a few things.
Sign the card that comes with your driver’s license. Put it in your wallet in case, heaven forbid, you are in a horrific crash and your organs need to be harvested without delay. Many a tragedy has turned into a miracle for a family in need, because the victim of a collision had signed a donor card.
Next, go to the government website: Be a Donor and check to see if you are a registered organ donor. All you have to do is enter your health card number and birthdate and you will see if you need to update your information.
These are great ways to let people know your intentions – that you wish to have your organs harvested and donated upon your passing. Unfortunately, this may not be enough. We are learning that hundreds of people pass away every year and their wishes are not honoured, because they didn’t make them clearly known to the family they left behind. When asked by medical staff about consent for organ donation, many people are saying no, even if a card has been signed by the deceased person.
To avoid this situation, I would urge you to make a point of writing a note in your own hand, stating your wishes to have your organs and tissues donated upon your death. Put that note somewhere safe, with your will or important papers, and make sure you tell someone that it’s there. They need to be aware of it before you die.
Now, I have to apologize for writing about such a difficult subject in what is typically a lighthearted column. I just was surprised to learn that signing the donor card – even registering with the province – may not be enough to ensure your wishes are upheld. If your family has any doubt that you want your organs donated, they can decline on your behalf.
Don’t leave any doubt in their minds. Make sure they know the answers to the difficult questions. Do you want to be an organ donor when you die? And beyond that - do you want to be buried or cremated? Do you want your ashes scattered somewhere in particular? Write it down, and tell those closest to you what you have written.
None of us know the hour or the day when our lives will come to an end. We also can’t know for sure what happens after we die. My father, who was a science teacher, often said “there are some things we just aren’t meant to know.” But on his deathbed, when asked if he wanted his organs donated, he said, “I don’t know if you will find anything worth saving, but you are welcome to it.”
In memory of the donors.
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Let's K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple, Silly) this Christmas

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A few years ago, it was my granddaughter’s first Christmas. The first grandchild of the family. To say she got spoiled is putting it mildly. And that’s not all – we didn’t just spoil her. We also spoiled each other. We went right nuts, buying gifts for each other. We gathered at my sister’s house on Christmas morning as we have been doing for the past few years. After brunch we turned around and looked at the piles upon piles of gifts. We couldn’t even find a place to sit down. That’s when we knew we had a problem. Like many families, we had out-Christmas’d ourselves. We had too much.
Christmas is about getting together. It always has been, for us too. But we have decided we are going to make it more about spending real time together and less about gifts from now on. We will be sharing a meal, with conversation. Giving time to that elderly uncle who just got sprung from the seniors’ home for the day, and listening to every last one of his long stories. Sitting together in the living room in front of the fire and attempting to sing along as the real musicians in the family give us their rendition of Joy to the World and O Holy Night. Trying old family recipes out on each other, and staying long enough to do the dishes. Singing some more, as we clean up the kitchen. Documenting the event in photos.
It will take some doing, to break the customary holiday spending habits but we are in agreement, it has to be done. I don’t want my family to be stressed, still trying to find the perfect gift for the last person on their list late at night on Christmas Eve. I don’t want them maxing out their credit cards so they can’t afford to do the things they enjoy or buy the things they need themselves. And this Christmas we are also looking out, beyond our family.
This year we have to focus on the people in the world who need us to share a few of our blessings with them. We have enough. We can buy extra groceries and give donations to the food banks. We can take a few hours to ring bells and fill kettles with cash for the Salvation Army. We can buy a gift for a child or senior on the Angel Tree. Fill a box for a woman at a shelter. Bring some warm clothing to a man at the Mission. Goodness knows they need the things more than we do.
For those few, simple and meaningful gifts that we are going to buy, let’s make them memorable, and environmentally-friendly. Let’s wrap our gifts in wearable scarves, cloth grocery bags, or socks! And let’s think about who is benefitting from our purchases. Who is getting our hard-earned money this year? Another big-box store? Nope. We are buying small-batch, handmade, and local gifts this year. Make a small business owner do the happy dance when you buy gift certificates, products or services – or take a loved one to lunch at a local restaurant. Make your Christmas count.
We ‘foster’ a child in a developing country all year round but at Christmas we top up the donation a bit to have more of an impact in the community. This year we are ‘stocking a medical clinic.’ One year we bought a goat for a family. I don’t care if they actually got a goat or not – it’s the thought that counts, right? And I understand the charitable organization in charge of distributing the wealth has to make sure that no family is receiving an obvious surplus of benefits over another family. They share the wealth. So my goat might have been translated into a clutch of chickens, or something else. But I like to think my goat was real. She was female, she was pregnant, and the woman who received her then had a bit of control over her own destiny, with either goat meat or milk to offer in trade.
A Canadian man attempted to track down his gift goat on a documentary in 2010. You can read about it here.
Whatever you decide to do this Christmas, don’t let the hype carry you away and rack up your Visa bill. I know many families are even just deciding to limit themselves to the simple “something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.” That sounds like a good place to finish. Here’s to not going overboard this holiday season.

Season of the Rodent

Mouse rodent cute, animals.

I had a dream about rats the other night. It’s no wonder. Rodents seem to be popping up all over the place these days. First, at the cottage. My husband bought us a lot on Bass Lake and he is building a cottage there. He uses an old trailer on the lot for shelter from the elements. He eats his lunch and waits out the rain on the screened porch. It’s old and worn out but it’s quaint.  I tried to convert that old trailer into a summer cabin earlier this year. The resident mice were against it.
I did my best to make the place hospitable. I swept and cleaned the cracked linoleum floor. I washed and disinfected inside all of the cupboards, closets and cabinets. I put fragrant fabric sheets inside all of the drawers to deter mice building nests within. I cleaned windows, stocked the kitchen with camping dishes, pots and pans and utensils, and I strung up my porch lights.
We stayed one night. It was pleasant enough, and there is nothing like waking up on the lake, to sip your coffee on the porch, listening to the birds. But one night was enough, because the mice were only mildly put out by my fervent sanitizing activities. They returned, full force, and they brought their friends.
“I don’t know why you bother cleaning,” my husband remarked as I once again emptied the cupboards and scoured the shelves. “The mice will just come back when we leave Sunday afternoon.” I looked at the mouse droppings in the towel closet and realized he was right.
I have only made it back to the lake for short visits since then. The Farmer is there nearly every second day, working away on his cottage. He sweeps out the trailer and eats his lunch on the porch. I think the dog sneaks up onto the bed because no one is watching him. I shudder to think what is happening in the cupboards.
“I opened the cupboard to get the tin of soup crackers and the mouse was in there,” my husband reported one day.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I asked him to pass me the saltines,” he laughed.
I told him to make sure he builds that cottage in a way that is decidedly rodent-proof.
Back at home on the farm, I can hear something in the sloped ceiling right above my pillow. I may not have bats in my belfry but I do have squirrels in my attic. The Farmer emptied my closet, climbed up into the attic and set live traps for the little creatures, who are obviously busy preparing for a long winter. I can see them running across the yard, huge beechnuts in their mouths. We have dozens of nut trees on this farm, so they won’t go hungry. But it would be really nice if they would store their nuts in hollow trees like they are supposed to – not my house.
The squirrels are able to take the food that my husband so generously leaves for them, without tripping the traps.
And now there are mice under my kitchen sink. I came down to the kitchen at 2am and there were my cats, lined up in front of the sink, staring at the cupboard door. When I opened it, Sammy darted in and grabbed something. He popped back out and ran past me toward the basement. A long gray tail was dangling from his mouth. I closed the cupboard door, and heard a ‘snap’. The next morning I told my husband he had a mess to clean up under the kitchen sink.
“Sammy caught one and you caught another,” I reported. But when the Farmer opened the cupboard he saw that the trap was empty. Either the rodents are getting smarter or the traps are getting worse.
This evening we were watching Netflix when I noticed a puddle forming outside the dishwasher. We turned the machine off and emptied the cabinet under the sink, again. We found the source of the water. A mouse had nibbled his way through the hose that feeds the water from the sink to the dishwasher. Tonight we won’t put the cats to bed in the basement. They have been given strict instructions to eradicate the house of rodents. I’m not kidding. This means war.
My daughter is storing her sports car in our barn for the winter, and I was worried about rodents getting inside the vehicle and nesting in her leather upholstery. I don’t know what I was worried about. Clearly there are no more mice in the barn.
They’re all in my house.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

What is that now, Junior? Life number 6?

This time of year the cats are in and out of the house, up and down the stairs, looking for excitement. They smell cooler weather in the air and they are invigorated by it. As soon as you slide a door open they zip through it.
I commute to work before the sun rises so I don’t see the cats until dinner time. I can’t keep track of where they are until Tuesday, when I work from home, or the weekend. Last Tuesday Annie and I were in the storage room, sorting little girl clothes to give to a friend who lost her home and all her belongings in a fire. The cats like to go in there, because it holds all kinds of interesting smells. When we leave we have to make sure they are all out again.
I guess we missed one. Today is Sunday and I went into the storage room to look for a futon cover. Suddenly I hear a ‘meow’ and Junior pops his head up from where he is snoozing in the blankets on the baby cradle. He jumps down and flashes through my legs and out the door.
“Junior! What the heck? How long have you been in here??!”
I hope I left the door open Tuesday and the Farmer decided to close it sometime later in the week. Because I would really hate to think I locked my poor cat in the basement for five whole days without food, water or toilet.
I sniffed the air. Huh. No trace of cat urine. Bizarre. I know they are basically desert animals and don’t need a lot of water but can they also hold their bladders for five days? Poor Junior.
I know he was in there for a while, because when he popped out he watched the dog very closely as he ate his kibble.
“Your food is up here,” I said to the cat, patting the top of the bench. Junior leapt up and started chowing down. He was mighty hungry. I stroked the cat’s fur. This is the only time he will allow me to touch him – when he is eating. Normally he arches his back, pushing up into the hand that is petting him. This time he just concentrated on his food.
We have had squirrels in our attic so the Farmer has been up there, setting live traps. Mostly he is just feeding the cunning little rodents, who appreciate the snacks he leaves them. But when Junior was missing for a few days, I just assumed he had gone up the ladder and through the open door to the attic. We left it open for a few days. I guess we are lucky we didn’t get a squirrel or anything else in the house. Imagine waking up to a raccoon on your bed.
I guess that storage room is a lot more soundproof than we originally believed. Junior is a very vocal cat. He often sits in the doorway to my office, vocalizing about anything at all and nothing in particular. He was probably calling to us through the closed door, but we didn’t hear anything. Not even when we went downstairs to put Fergus to bed and every morning when we released him from his crate.
“Why didn’t you call me?” I asked Junior, who just pushed into the older cat, Sheila, on the couch, and let her wash his ears. “And you, Sammy. I thought I could depend on you!” Sammy is the cat who came and woke me when the house was on fire last year. You’d think he would let me know that his brother was locked in the basement. Who knows what he was thinking. Maybe less competition for the cat treats. Survival of the fittest and/or smartest and all that.
I left the baby gates up around the pool this winter so I don’t have to worry about any animals accidentally breaking through the ice. This has happened at least once in the past. It may have happened more than once, but the Farmer doesn’t like to tell me.
I never thought I would lose Junior by locking him up somewhere in the house. I’m horrified to think what would have happened to him if I hadn’t gone looking for a futon cover. I guess I’m going to have to do a roll call every night before bed to make sure all fuzzy little felines are present and accounted for.
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Lucy the Moose on the loose

Photo by Paulina Hrebacka, The Kemptville Advance
A moose wandered out of the Ferguson Forest Centre and out onto the highway on Friday the 12th of October. No one was hurt, thank goodness, and the moose was ushered out of town by police, without incident. She was spotted crossing County Road 18 at midnight and again on October 13th in a soybean field outside Oxford Mills. But she hasn’t been spotted since then, unless people have seen her and are just keeping it to themselves. It’s all quiet on the Western front where the Moose on the Loose is concerned.
It was a big deal, to see a moose up close and personal, in our neck of the woods. We don’t normally get them this far south unless you are in a heavily wooded area. So on the 13th when I saw the cars pulled over at the side of the road and people standing in the ditch, taking photos of the moose and attempting to call her over with their faux-moose mating calls, I decided I would like a word with her myself.
“You can come and live at our place,” I told her. I understand that moose can’t see really well. They rely a great deal on their hearing, for their survival, so it is probably their best sense. I just spoke to the moose in a regular voice and she turned to stare in my direction.
“We have 200 acres. Much of it is forest. We also have soybean, but I don’t recommend you tramp all over it or the Farmer will get ticked off. Stay on the edges of the field, like you are now. If you get thirsty, there’s the creek. And if the winter is particularly cold, you can find shelter in our barn. We don’t have any animals right now. It’s just the Farmer in there, with his sawmill. He’s milling his own wood for the cottage he is building…”
I realized I was speaking to a moose. And I thought the people doing the moose calls were weird.
But seriously, I hope she comes to live on our property. If she doesn’t head back up north out of loneliness, that is. I don’t imagine there are too many of her kind around here. I wonder if she gets along with deer? We have at least one complete family living in our forest. The buck has a huge rack. She might be impressed by that.
A female moose is called a cow. Maybe she would like to spend time in a herd of cattle. She has probably already passed through several head of cattle on her recent journey. If she finds a farmer who is a little nearsighted, she might even blend in enough to help herself to their hay.
We are only 3 farmer’s fields south of where the moose was last spotted. If she continues to follow the creek, she will find us. It’s quite possible that she already has. Fergus the Golden Retriever has been doing an awful lot of barking at night. Perhaps he senses she is out there, in the meadow, just beyond the stone fence.
Our neighbour has been working for months, turning his forest into hay fields. Soon the leaves will be off the trees and I will be able to see past the tree line into his property. With the forest gone, my view will likely be unobstructed for miles. Maybe I will be able to see right into the village.
If that moose wanders out into the open, I will be able to see her. It would be comforting to know that she is in a safe place, and not having too many encounters with humans and civilization. Bad things tend to happen when wildlife and humans mix.
My son-in-law christened the animal Lucy the Moose because she is on the loose. I’m sure she would like to keep it that way. Oh and I know what you are thinking – the Farmer is a hunter. No need to worry, though. He only hunts what he likes to eat and he has had moose before. It was not to his liking. I’ve had it before as well, and I’ve got to admit I’m not a fan. So Lucy is more than safe here, should she decide to wander over and stay.
When the snow comes we will be able to track her like we do the deer in the forest.
It’s always nice to know your property is being enjoyed to its fullest.
 Post script: Lucy has since been spotted on the north side of the Rideau, on Fairmile Road, munching from an apple tree. Apparently she can swim!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

This term, let's do more than vote.

It’s almost October 22nd. This is the time where we are supposed to encourage and remind each other, from 18-year-old to senior, to get out and vote. It’s so important, to exercise your democratic rights this way. You get to contribute to the governance of the amazing community in which we all live.
If you were born and raised here, like me, chances are when you were 18 the primary thought on your mind was not getting out and voting, but rather, getting out of Dodge. But the truth is, most of us, if given the opportunity to live elsewhere, would still choose North Grenville. It is a pretty spectacular place to call home.
I lived in the suburbs. I also lived overseas. When it was time to come home to Canada, my publishing certificate in hand, I just assumed I would end up in Toronto. That city, after all, is the home of Canadian publishing. The Universe had another plan, however. I spent my first few months as a returning expat living at my parents’ house, waiting for my driver’s license, health card and other privileges of being Canadian to be returned to me. During that time, I met and fell for the Farmer. I wasn’t moving to Toronto.
I often think about how life can change in an instant. Sometimes the same opportunities come up more than once. But we still have to take the step, push the button, answer the call, mark the ballot. Buy the lottery ticket or you will never win.
This week, we get to choose who will make decisions on our behalf, for the next four years. Let’s choose carefully. We are in an interesting position, here in North Grenville. We are growing like crazy, but we are also trying very hard to hang on to our small-town feel. We want new businesses and industry to move in, so that our skilled workers do not have to commute to the city every day. But we also want to be able to walk to the store, and to recognize people on the street. We want to keep our small town, but we want it to become sustainable.
After we mark our ballots and learn who the new council will be, it’s important to stay involved. I don’t mean you have to go to council or committee of the whole meetings every Monday night – unless you want to. But stay involved. Get into the conversation on social media. Read your local news. Learn what decisions are being made on your behalf, and hold your elected officials accountable if you think they are not following the will of the people who elected them.
We want to see some big businesses move into our community in the near future. They would be foolish not to. We are perfect for them. We have green space and homes for their employees. We are situated next to the highway, half way between the United States and the Nation’s Capital. We have no excuse not to become a tourist attraction. We are beautiful, with our Ferguson Forest Centre, our South Branch of the Rideau, and our Old Town. We have talented artists to entertain us, fun things to do, and great places to eat.
When the new council comes in, and municipal staff makes plans to replace the Bridge Street bridge, I would like to see it built so that boats can easily pass beneath it. We can be a destination for daytrippers by water. We used to have huge steamer ships come to our town centre.
Local businesses need to realize that we are still a big community of commuters. Ottawa is a government town and many of us are driving North every day to help staff the machine that runs the country. Stay open later so that we can shop locally after work in the evenings. Kemptville used to have a thriving downtown of shops that stayed open late until the last train brought workers home on a weekday evening. We need to look at our past to define our future.
We have many things to consider as we manage our community growth and prosperity into the next 4 years. We want all the things that growth brings, but we also want to remain the community that looks out for its own. We are North Grenville.
Now let’s go and vote.

What will you leave behind?

I am thinking the Farmer and I are going to leave a few things behind for our loved ones when we leave. It won’t all be intentional.
I cut my weekly columns out of the newspaper and file them in binders in my office. I now have 11 years of columns. That’s 572 stories of our life here together on this farm. It’s like a “Dear Diary” of my life.
Most days before I head out on my morning commute I write a note to my husband and leave it on the kitchen island next to the 50-year-old stainless steel percolator that he insists on using for his coffee. I think the drip machine makes a tastier brew and more than once I have accused him of using the perk just for nostalgia’s sake. He does things like that. He has his favourite coffee cup too. I bought it at the Salvation Army. He says it perfectly fits his nose. I didn’t realize his nose was a concern. If I have fresh lipstick on, I seal the note with a kiss. Those ones are his favourites, but he keeps all of them.
If he is going out to show a house in the evening, my realtor husband leaves me a note. It’s usually very short, and funny. But don’t tell him I said that. I’m trying not to encourage his particular wry sense of humour.  The Farmer saves our messages to each other in shoeboxes so that our loved ones’ loved ones can get to know us a little bit better after we are gone. I think he is up to shoebox number 4 by now. They are in a rusty old metal filing cabinet in the basement.
I started writing important little things that I wanted to remember in a hard-covered journal the year we were wed. I still haven’t filled the book, because with my weekly column acting as a journal, I don’t have much else to say. The book is saved for the things that are either too banal, too trivial or too personal to print. That little book will be of interest to someone someday, I’m sure. It is already of interest to me, as I flip back through the past decade of scribbled notes about 30 degree days in November, sheep that had quadruplets, movies that made me cry and jobs that I applied for. It’s funny but I don’t even remember writing half of this stuff and it’s only been a few years since I did.
I also seem to be one of the few people I know who still prints photographs for albums. I actually have too many photos for albums so the Farmer gave me an old cabinet in which to store them. The cabinet stands about four feet tall and it’s two skinny drawers across, seven down. It will take me at least another twenty years to fill it with photos, ticket stubs, postcards and notes. I already have a tallboy of four drawers filled with photos and cards from our first decade together. These are standing right beside the front door of the house. I was thinking of pushing them out onto the front lawn when the porch caught fire last year. Luckily I didn’t have to.
There is something else the Farmer and I will be leaving behind, and it isn’t necessarily on purpose. My husband and I occasionally put money, spare car keys, gift cards and other valuables “in a safe place” for future use. Then we promptly forget where we put these things. I am also in the habit of stuffing ten-dollar bills in out-of-season coat pockets, so as to surprise myself when the weather changes. I do the same with purses that are out of rotation. Someone is going to feel like they won the lottery someday, when they go through our things.
I saw a documentary once about seniors who decide they don’t trust banks anymore. Some of them tape their money to the bottom of desk drawers. They stuff the piano or the mattress with bills or they fill a rubber boot in the attic. Then they forget that they did it. Years later, they pass away and the contents of their home are distributed or sold. Sometimes the new owners discover the bounty. Sometimes they don’t.
To whomever inherits the contents of the humble home that I have shared with the Farmer I would like to say, check every envelope. Do not throw out shoeboxes full of paper without having a read. Look under the chair cushions, and check behind the dresser drawers. I left something for you.

Tea with the brides of yesteryear

The Kemptville District Hospital Ladies’ Auxiliary had a great idea for a fundraiser: a Vintage Bridal Tea. In this case, not only the gowns were vintage; one of the brides was too.
The event was sold out – a huge success – and I know a few people were sorry they missed it so I’ll fill you in on what happened.
Months ago, Linda Carnegie started organizing the event and accepting donations of vintage bridal gowns for the show. St. Johns United Church was chosen as the venue because it has a circular aisle and riser – perfect for a fashion show.
It wasn’t easy to find models for the gowns, because in many cases women were a lot tinier in days gone by than we are today. Most of the gowns, starting with the 1920s flapper-style floral number, were modeled on mannequins.
A lot of research went into this event. Jenny Thibert (my co-host) and I were provided with a bit of commentary on bridal fashion in each decade, along with a few anecdotes about each dress.
Entering the 20s, dancing became a big part of the wedding celebration, and the gowns got shorter as a result.
In the depression-era 30s, gowns were practical and sturdy. They were made out of florals or solid colours in fabrics that could be worn again for other occasions. There just wasn’t extra money to spend on a one-time gown, even for an occasion as special as a wedding.
In the 40s and 50s, the crinoline took over. In some cases the dress was wearing the bride and not the other way around.
In the 60s wedding gowns took on a number of different styles, depending on the bride’s own choice rather than one particular style. Some were a bit more mod, with mini-dresses hidden under long veils – and white go-go boots to match. Others had a bit of a space-age effect, with metallic touches on the shoulders and belt. The crinoline was still in fashion for the princess-inspired bride, and the simple column dress made an elegant, clean line.
My favourite wedding gown decade was the 70s. Wedding gowns were long and free-flowing without the added bulk of crinoline. Most had long sleeves and high necks, and the daisy pattern that had debuted in the 60s was all the rage in the hippy generation.
At the Bridal tea, one model showed a wedding gown that had been designed and worn by a First Nations bride in the 70s, complete with fringe. The bridesmaid gowns were a blast from the past too, in their couch-cushion florals and starchy organza fabric.
I’m amazed at how well the gowns kept their colour and shape after all these years. In honour of the event, I decided to take my own gown out of storage from when I married the Farmer 11 years ago. It’s still in style, but I have no intention of selling it just yet. With 5 daughters between us, someone may find a use for it yet. My gown from 2007 was strapless off-white with a boned and embroidered bodice and rosette accents on the back and the train. I got it from the bridal salon that was once located at #10 Prescott Street in Kemptville. When they went out of business, I got the dress for about $150. The veil cost more, at $199.
I can’t get my dress to zip up anymore, as I was pretty tiny when I got married. I got my eldest daughter try it on though, so that was fun.
At the Vintage Bridal Tea, we had a vintage model. Norma Fisher whispered in my ear in the dressing room: I feel a bit silly, modeling wedding gowns at my age. I told her, Norma, if I look like you when I’m a senior, I’m going to be strutting around every chance I get!
Norma wriggled easily into her sleek cream-coloured, long-sleeved gown with lace overlay. And that’s a good thing because I can’t think of anyone else who could have fit into it. She said the seamstress charged her $15 for the dress back in 1951, and she gave her $20. Norma also modeled her own daughter’s wedding gown for our charity fashion show. How many 96-year-olds do you know who could do that.
You can see some of the photos from the KDH Vintage Bridal Tea on Kathy Botham’s Facebook page.

North Grenville: a refuge from the storm

Well that was quite a weekend. A tornado touched down in the Ottawa area Friday night and some people suffered a great deal of damage to their homes and property. Although we in North Grenville were virtually unharmed by the storm, we did notice a change in our little town. Saturday morning, thousands of our neighbours to the north woke up to realize their electricity had not come on over night. Worse than that, they were told that the power might be out for five days. The stores, restaurants and gas stations in the remaining powered areas of the city just couldn’t accommodate the customers, so residents of the blacked-out areas headed south, to Kemptville.
I was doing my regular Saturday grocery run when I noticed the lineup from the MacEwen gas station. It was spreading all the way back, out of the parking lot and down the road, into the roundabout. There were about fifty cars lined up when I drove by. At first I thought, Wow. The price of gas at 1.18 must be really good in Kemptville. Then I realized what was going on. Storm refugees.
There was an actual traffic jam in the Canadian Tire parking lot, and the grocery stores were experiencing the same influx of people who had come-from-away. I had a couple of my own storm refugees – my daughter and her fiancĂ© from Barrhaven, who needed to take a shower, get a good night’s sleep and use our Internet for the night before they hoped to return home.
As power lines were down on a section of Greenbank Road and traffic was nuts, it took our Barrhavenites almost two hours to get here. Once in town, they realized they were starving and pulled into Fat Les’ chip stand for a poutine. It turned out to be a wise decision, because nearly every other restaurant in town was full to the rafters with a line of hungry, rumpled and tired people waiting to be seated.
I didn’t hang around long enough to witness any grumpiness myself, but I hear that some people were less than patient when dealing with the traffic and congestion in the stores. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that, like me, they did not immediately realize why they were forced to deal with a sudden influx of shoppers in our little community. For the most part, I think we can safely say, residents of North Grenville quickly realized that the newcomers to town were here because they were hungry and in need of supplies. They didn’t need anyone giving them a hard time. That’s not what my hometown is about.
Here is something I found on Facebook Sunday night that warms my heart. It was written by Kika Smith, who runs one of our local coffee shops. Located on the County Road 43 strip, Brewed Awakenings would have been directly in the line of fire for all of those disheveled visitors in desperate need of a good cup of java:
What a weekend! It has been an incredibly busy weekend with many new faces coming in from areas affected by the tornadoes. I want to take a minute to thank my phenomenal staff, who took it all in stride and continued to smile and put orders out quickly. One of my staff was headed to volleyball tryouts, which got cancelled, and when she saw how busy we were, she came in and worked for six hours. Not only that, but her dad came in and did dishes for us for hours, smiling and joking the whole time. Thank you Rachel, Rick and Debbie at Grahame's Bakery, who were ridiculously busy at their place but took a couple minutes to drop off some extra bread; not because we asked them to but because they knew that we would be as busy as they were and need the extra bread. Thank you to Paula who stopped in for a coffee and cleared tables while she waited. Thank you Cathy, who offered to run out and get us any groceries that we may need. Thank you Ghislaine, one of our regular customers who offered to do dishes when she saw our absolutely full restaurant; she decided to come back when it was less busy to get her espresso and then helped us clean up at the end of the day. Again, a huge shout out to my staff for being so amazing. And lastly, thank you to all our customers, new and regular alike, for their patience and humour. We live in an incredible community.
Indeed, we do.

Turning back time

By now you may have heard they found a one-hundred-year-old time capsule when they demolished Leslie Hall. What did Kemptville residents want us to know about life in our little town back then? What items did they chose to place in that capsule and seal away in a cement block, to be uncovered and discovered one hundred years later? As I write this, several old newspapers and collector coins have been revealed from inside the time capsule. I am anxious to see what else is in there. But in my opinion, the newspapers are all we really need. They tell the stories and live on for centuries if preserved properly.
I did some digging through the archives about ten years ago when I was writing a history column for The Advance. Reading those old newspapers was quite an education. Beyond the headlines, the articles and the editorials, there are so many clues to what life was like years ago, between the pages of a newspaper. Luckily the North Grenville Historical Society has many of these publications saved on micro fiche – itself a bit of technological history – so we can look things up and imagine Kemptville life in decades past.
Old newspapers tell us what was going on back in the day, but they also give us an idea of how each bit of news was perceived. You will notice if you read an old newspaper that the idea of journalistic neutrality may not yet have been introduced at the time of printing. Today we accuse some publishers of being partisan in their thinly-veiled barbs against one political party or another. One hundred years ago it was more likely that local reporters and editors would openly express their political opinions. They were also pretty nosy about residents’ private business, so the papers were full of scandal and speculation. It no doubt sold more copies.
The Classified section had a busy Personals section in days gone by. I guess it was like the original Facebook, spreading gossip and connecting people. I remember reading one personal ad in a paper from the 40’s. Buried among the birth and engagement announcements, was a small notice about a young woman who appeared to be entertaining people from out of town. The reporter had noticed a strange out-of-town vehicle in her laneway and had had the gall to approach her and ask her who was visiting! Then he wrote about it (I say ‘he’ because most reporters were men, after all), so that everyone in this little town would know who they were, why they were visiting and when they were most likely to be leaving town. Bizarre. At first I thought the reporting of people’s personal lives was incredibly intrusive. And then I realized, it was likely just the way they did things back then, in this small town, to keep people feeling safe and informed.
We may not have had high security back in the earlier part of the 20th century but we sure knew how to keep an eye on things. Not much got past the local newspaper reporters. Another article from the 30’s has made the rounds several times, and become part of our local folklore. It’s the one about the strange black vehicle that was seen pulling into the big stone mansion on Oxford Street on more than one occasion. The writer noted that the car was a shiny black sedan, and that the driver killed the headlights as it cruised silently into the lane of the stately house, owned by a physician who had a practice in Chicago. The car also had Chicago license plates, the article said. The writer surmised that the good doctor must have had mysterious friends visiting from out of town. Over the years someone decided that one of those elusive characters must have been Al Capone.
Things really haven’t changed that much. You can still get the local scoop at the barber shop or bakery. We just don’t read about our neighbours’ personal lives in the newspaper anymore, because we have a different idea now of what is truly news-worthy. We have learned to value our privacy and to respect others’ too, hopefully. And it is no longer considered scandalous to have a gentleman caller if you are one of the town’s unmarried school teachers, living alone. It’s called life – and it has changed in so many ways in the past one hundred years. What will it be like in another one hundred?

Monday, September 10, 2018

What's in your spousal account?

This has been a season of marriage. I’ve been to bridal showers and a bachelorette and we’ve hosted a wedding. More than once at these gatherings I was presented with a small square of colourful paper and asked to write my Advice for a Happy Marriage on it. In 300 words or less. That is a tall order.
The Farmer and I just marked 11 years together. This marriage is easy. I know we are lucky – but we are also experienced. The luck part is that we don’t have too many conflicting views about how to run this thing. We agree that we each need our time to ourselves, to pursue our own interests, and we should be supporting each other in those pursuits. We agreed on that from the beginning. The Farmer warned me, I guess, from that first date, that hunting and fishing and watching war documentaries are just some of his favourite things. Hunting season at our house is like playoff season to the sports fan. And the war documentaries? They are just a constant. The television is always broadcasting some grainy black-and-white footage of soldiers or airmen in combat.
 I actually have a theory about that.
I think it’s quite possible that the Farmer is drawn to war documentaries as a form of past-life regression. That’s the only way I can explain his fascination with fighter pilots and infantry. I know his father trained on a fighter jet but the war ended before his training was complete – so I don’t think he is the inspiration behind this particular obsession. I think the Farmer was a fighter pilot in WWII. He likely came to a dramatic end, and he is back here now feeling some kind of spiritual connection to what he sees in those documentaries. Like a cellular memory.
The Farmer knows that, although he also loves a good crime documentary, I can’t handle the gory bits. Courtroom photos of body parts and blood give me bad dreams and night terrors. The same goes for the nasty things that are displayed on TV as part of life and death in the animal kingdom. I don’t need to see a lion taking down a gazelle, thank you very much. My husband knows to change the channel when I walk into the room. And part of a successful marriage is the give and take of the television remote.
So back to the marriage advice. When asked, I usually write down my favourite bid of advice, which was given to me by a grand old church lady when I was a young wife (the first time), in 1987. She said, “My piece of advice to you is not ‘never go to bed angry’ but rather ‘if you must fight, fight naked.’” It’s funny how I can’t remember much from that time but those words have stuck with me!
My second favourite piece of advice was given to me by the Farmer himself. I think he included it in his wedding vows, which he wrote with equal measure of humour and sincerity. He said, “I promise to never speak an unkind word.” That is profound. And it might be difficult for some people but, as I said earlier, I am lucky. The Farmer is pretty easygoing and easy to live with. Of course, he didn’t say “never mutter an unkind word under your breath, so quietly that the other person can’t hear you.” That may have been done once or twice. I’m only human.
And my final piece of advice is to think of marriage like a bank account. You will make deposits into your account whenever you do something thoughtful, caring and loving for your spouse. Those deposits will sit there in your spousal account, waiting for that inevitable day when you totally screw up. We all make mistakes and unintentionally hurt, annoy or frustrate our partners. That is when it comes in handy to have a healthy balance in your spousal account. It will be difficult for your sweetheart to be mad at you for long if you are usually a great partner who carries their own weight, shows consideration, appreciation and interest, and puts their spouse before themselves.
Of course, it’s totally within the rulebook to remind your partner of the balance in your account. In fact, you might have to, depending on how badly you messed up.

Here’s to the next generation of newlyweds. Good luck to you all. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Would you like your Thanksgiving turkey to go?

The turkeys delicately pick at their feed. They strut around the barn calmly and wander outside for fresh air on occasion. They are quite nervous, however. If there are strange noises or new arrivals in the barnyard, they are more likely to stay inside.
But there is always one in every bunch, or rafter, of turkeys. One rogue turkey goes wandering every chance he gets. The Farmer keeps finding one bird out of the penned area, wandering the barn. If the door is left open, he is often found poking about outside.
I asked my husband how he knows it’s the same bird every time. They all look the same to me.
“Oh, it’s him,” he says. “I know his face.”
We took a week off the farm earlier this month to enjoy a cottage on a lake. The Farmer had to come home every couple of days for real estate business, and to fill the feeders in the chicken and turkey coops. Every day he counted beaks. All was good until the last day of our trip. One bird was missing.  
Travelin’ Tom had busted out of the coop once again. He was sighted high-tailing it through the soybean field, leaving a tuft feathers behind where he had squeezed through the barbed wire fence. The Farmer attempted to follow this trail, but he couldn’t find Tom. My husband, intrepid hunter of wild turkeys in springtime, sat out at night with a flashlight in an attempt to blind and nab his own bird. But the turkey wasn’t coming out of hiding.
One Saturday night, on our way out to a friend’s house for a barbecue, we saw Tom. He was just standing in the bushes at the side of the driveway, watching us go. I think I even saw him wave.
“Saw the turkey,” I said to my husband, under my breath. I hoped my already hard-of-hearing husband didn’t hear me, because we were late for the party and I didn’t want his turkey-hunting obsession to ruin our evening.
“Huh?” He slammed on the brakes. Just then a bloom of white feathers burst out of the undergrowth and took off down the tractor lane toward the barn.
“Oh. Looks like he’s headed home anyway.”
But Tom wasn’t quite ready to return. Perhaps our domestic bird had encountered a gang of wild turkeys who had taken him under their wing, so to speak. A band of feathered friends who taught him how to forage for mushrooms, bugs and berries in the forest. They probably showed him the creek that runs alongside our property, with its fascinating collection of crickets, frogs and fish. I don’t think he could fly up to roost with his wild friends in the trees but I imagine he gave it a good old college try. His adventurous spirit kept him out of doors for several days and warm nights. When it started to get cooler in the evenings, however, Tom wandered back home. He was spotted in the front yard after Sunday dinner.
“Ooh. There’s the turkey!” I notified my husband. The bird was standing in the corner of my flowerbed, munching on a hosta. Most Sundays we have at least two if not three dogs in attendance, and this week the dogs got to the bird before we did. The turkey mustered every ounce of strength he had to launch himself up into the air and over the stone fence into the bush. My daughter Annie, who had been brought up to date on the situation, called her trained hunting dog to action.
Rupert the aged yellow lab with the bad hip put on his game face. He bounded like a deer into the bush and after a bit of rustling and a spray of feathers, he emerged with the massive turkey in his jaws. Annie gently collected the bird and praised her dog, who had been careful not to harm the turkey. The bird, for his part, had gone peacefully into the arrest, playing dead. This is a good thing because he could have done quite a bit of harm to both dog and humans with his talons.
Annie carried the bird back to the barn and made sure the door was barred shut. Quite an amount of gobbling and squawking ensued, as Tom regaled his friends with his tales of excitement and intrigue.
I’m going to save Tom for someone special this Thanksgiving. He will be a meal that comes along with its own story to tell over dinner.

But...that's not my cat

Our well-used, well-worn farmhouse was in the best shape it’s been in the past decade when we hosted our daughter’s wedding in June. We had new hardwood floors and fresh paint and the porch had been rebuilt after our October fire.
That was the fire that redeemed the trio of lazy cats who live in our basement. Well, one of them, anyway. The other 2 are just riding Sammy’s tail and reaping the benefits of his celebrated heroism.
Sammy is the one who led the charge up the stairs and down the hall to our bedroom that fateful night. Sammy is the one who woke me and alerted me to the fact that OUR FRONT PORCH WAS ON FIRE. The cats saved the house – and us! – that night. The firefighters said 5 more minutes and the flames would have reached the roof, burning the house from the top down, possibly without even activating the fire alarms. Nice thought.
So anyhoo, the Farmer’s rhetorical “tell me again why we have 3 fat, lazy cats in the house?!” was answered that night and I suspect he won’t be asking it again for a while. But this latest development in Life With Cats does not bode well for our felines.
The other day I was in the kitchen, having successfully (I thought) locked Sammy and his buddies outside, when I felt something brush my leg. “How did you get back in?!”
Someone decided to create their own cat door in our sliding screen patio door.
Our cats prefer to stay in the house and when a beautiful day with birds chirping and a breeze blowing lures them out onto the back deck, they like to reserve the right to return indoors at a moment’s notice. Thus the creation of a cat door in the bottom of my screen. I pointed it out to the Farmer, who shrugged and mumbled something about further destruction of his abode by animals of a feline persuasion. He’s much more of a dog person.
I guess that means repairing the door is not on the top of his priority list. Neither is painting the front door that the dog scratched up, actually. The Farmer’s mind is on Bass Lake these days, where he is building a cottage. It’s kind of like the shoemaker’s kids having no shoes and the hairstylist’s kids having terrible hair. I can’t get that man focused on the Honey Do list at home.
So Sammy lets himself out onto the porch through his handy escape hatch. He hides in the vines and cluck-clucks at the birds on the feeder. When he is bored with that, he slinks back inside through the broken screen. The screen is lifted and curled back about a foot and the rough edge is covered in cat hair. It’s quite a mess. I threatened to take the door off and bring it into Home Hardware to have the screen replaced. The Farmer said “Don’t be ridiculous; I can repair that myself.”
The other night we were watching TV when we heard cats howling at each other. I assumed the stray tom was back in the area and went out the front door to save my cat from harm. But there was no one out there. The howling continued, so I went back in through the house to check out the back porch. On my way past the den, I realized the howling was inside the house. And a cat tail was sticking out of the dog’s crate.
I pulled the sleep-curtain that covers Fergus’ crate aside and saw that Sammy (owner of the protruding tail) had cornered a white and brown cat in the kennel. We don’t own a white and brown cat.
“Hey honey,” I called to the Farmer. “Come see this. This is not my cat.”
I explained to my husband that the intruder must have entered through the cat door, like everyone else. He picked up the extremely friendly kitten and gently placed him outside, shooing him in the general direction of the house next door, where he actually lives. But a visit from the neighbour’s pet does not seem to be enough to encourage him to repair the broken screen door.
What will it take? Waking up to find a raccoon snacking on cookies at the end of our bed? Encountering a skunk in the hallway during a midnight bathroom break?
I may have to stage an incident to prove my point. In the meantime I am going to google how to remove a screen door.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Flashback to the Summer of '79

Dad and Mom took my sister and me to the Maritimes in 1976. It is a long trip by car, so we planned to leave at 4am to make the most of the day on the road.

I remember waking as soon as I felt Dad’s footfall in my room but I clenched my eyes shut and let him collect me in my blankets, which had been carefully chosen, along with my new cotton pyjamas, for the ride. Already tucked in the pockets of the station wagon were crayons, colouring and puzzle books and a bag of candy for each of us that we had selected from the bins at the B&H grocery the day before. I couldn’t read on the trip because I get carsick, but I had made sure that six of the newest Nancy Drew mysteries were packed in my Barbie suitcase for the holiday.

The sun was just coming up over the treetops of George Street as we snuggled into our carbed and drove away. Dad had planned to arrive at Silver Lake truckstop just as they opened, a little before 6am.

“Best breakfast you’ll ever eat,” he proclaimed. And so it was, but mostly because it was in a restaurant instead of our own kitchen, and we didn’t have to do dishes.

From that trip I remember:
-         -  Collecting shells between the rocks at Peggy’s Cove
-          - Eating lobster for the first time in Shediac, New Brunswick
-          - The beach where my sister stepped on a dead jellyfish and got stung anyway. Dad said she should pee on it to relieve the sting. Today we just take Benadryl.
-         -  A long-haired woman in a leotard doing yoga in the campsite next to ours. She ate yogurt and drove a VW beetle. Mom said she was braless.

At one point on our journey, we rounded a curve and the camper-trailer came right off the back of our station wagon and careened into the ditch. I noticed right away but didn’t say anything at first because I knew it would upset my father. I learned some new swear words on that trip, but not from music. Dad outlawed the radio because they kept playing ‘dirty songs’ like Cheap Trick’s I Want You to Want Me. Instead we listened to the Funny Funkies and Goofy Greats on 8-track cassette. We heard them so many times, we learned the lyrics to every single song. “Ahab the Arab, sheik of the burning sand…Wella wella wella bird bird bird, bird is the word!...Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes and a bone in her nose, ho ho!”

After that first trip, camping became a big part of every summer for my family. We would rent a campsite at Bon Echo Provincial Park for the first two weeks of July every year. Every year we reunited with other families who did the same – kids from the Toronto area – mostly boys. Standing on the edge of puberty, barely filling out our bikinis, this was a big deal for my sister and me.

We spent our days staked out on the beach, my ‘ghetto blaster’ playing The Police’s Synchronicity, or we swam across the lake to the cliff, where we climbed up onto a ledge, ate blueberries and dove into the deep, black water to keep cool. Mom knew we would be out all day so she never bothered with lunch but as soon as we returned, ravenous, to the campsite, we snacked on Ritz crackers topped with thin coins of Polish sausage, cheddar cheese and dill pickles. A camper’s charcuterie, if you will.
That held us off while she got dinner on the bbq. We had to have our meal eaten and dishes done by 6pm, when the camp ball game began. My sister and I were not exactly athletic (well maybe she was but I certainly wasn’t). It was all a big social activity.

After ball we headed back to the beach to cool off. With the sun going down the water was smooth as glass. Dad would drive the boat over from the lagoon and back it up to the beach, just outside the swimming ropes. One after another he taught our friends to waterski. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what a generous act that was – an expense of time and gas money. He was always a teacher, even on summer holidays.

Now my husband and I rent a cottage for a week each summer, just so I can get back to a lake. As the sun sets I settle in on the screened porch with my book, my beer and my camper’s charcuterie. I close my eyes and listen. A loon is calling. And somewhere, a kid is sitting in the water, balancing huge skis on his feet. A motor revs. “Hit it!”

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Raising the next generation of farmers

I didn’t grow up on a farm. I never imagined myself a farmer…until I fell in love with one. Of our five daughters, only one showed a real interest in the farm. From the age of 15 she was here with us, birthing lambs, taming cows and training a donkey. At least once a week the Farmer had to go out and holler at Annie to put some shoes on. She would be out there barefoot in the barnyard in a bikini top and jean shorts, a baby duck under one arm and a lamb in the other.

Before long we could count on Annie to look after the farm in our absence. She saw things in a very practical way – she didn’t get upset over losses and she celebrated every little achievement, whether it was a healthy calf or a crop of tomatoes.

Annie grew up to have a little farm girl of her own. Leti is fascinated with the rooster next door, the tractor in the shed and the barn cats in the basement. Like me, she can do without the chickens. They peck. The other night Leti was here and the first thing she wanted to do after dinner was head to the barn.

“Well ok, but it’s going to be mucky,” I warned. It had rained quite a bit and the ground was very muddy.

“It’s ok Grandma,” she replied. “I like mucky.”

We got sidetracked on the way to the chickens. The farm equipment was parked in the barn, side by side.

“That’s a tractor,” Leti announced. “And that’s a four-wheeler.”

She studied the third item.

“You cut grass with it,” I hinted.

“Lawn mower!” she exclaimed, climbing aboard the ride-on mower.

She fiddled with the key but didn’t turn it. She jiggled the gear shift and patted the seat, looking behind her as if she was going to reverse out of the barn.

“Let’s do this!” she cried. I laughed.

“Your dad must say that.”

Leti’s dad has her feeding goats and pitching hay. She even went up to her other grandma while she was on her horse and demanded to be pulled up into the saddle. Later we looked at the pictures and I asked her about it.

“That’s Princess,” she said. “I was in the saddle.”

“I see that!” I said. “Were you scared?”

“No. Grandma was there. The horse was hot.” And she changed the subject, going off to look for her golf clubs.

If you are raised on a farm, you are accustomed to early mornings. There are lives in the barn, depending on your waking.

If you are raised on a farm, you live by the weather. Rain or lack of it, sun or lack of it affects everything from your crops to the hay you feed your livestock.

If you are raised on a farm, you know the pleasure and satisfaction of a hard day’s work. You don’t need a gym membership – you just need to get out there and hoe the garden, pitch the hay and muck out the stalls. After working up a sweat, you will appreciate the results of your efforts.

If you are raised on a farm, you know what it means to depend on your neighbours. You rely on them to tell you if they notice something strange – like a brush fire or a flood. You need to keep your relationship in good standing, because your cows might end up on their front lawn some misty morning.

If you are raised on a farm, you have a different outlook on life. You know where your food comes from. You have witnessed births, growth, harvest, and death. Life is less mysterious and startling when you live on a farm. It has a matter-of-fact quality to it, so it does.

A man who works the land has an honesty and integrity about him that is born out of life on the farm. A woman on the farm is in touch with nature and life and the power the earth holds.

We are not guaranteed Leti will be a farmer when she grows up. Maybe she will travel the world and settle in an exotic locale overseas. Maybe she will be drawn to the lights and noise of the city.

But I do know this. When Leti thinks of the comfort and safety of home, she will think of a farm.

Do what you love. Love what you do.

When I was travelling in Germany in the late ‘80s, I noticed an interesting cultural thing that people do there. When you ask someone what they ‘do’, they respond with the thing that they love doing – which isn’t necessarily their job. For example, a bus driver might answer that he plays the guitar. A financial analyst might say that he skis. Or paints. Or makes birdhouses.

It’s possible there was something lost in translation but I found it quite endearing, listening to people describe what they did in life. It’s what they want others to know about them – what they love to do. I guess the trick is to find a way to make a living doing what you love. Most of us are lucky to make enough at a job so that it funds what we love outside of work.

The Kemptville Live Music Festival was a 1980’s high school reunion of sorts – the soundtrack of our adolescent years was blasting from the stage and it seemed as though most of my graduating class had shown up to witness it live and in colour.

At least Facebook is good for something. It helps you to put a name to the faces you no longer recognize, thirty years since the last time you saw them. We drifted around the festival and reconnected and asked each other what we were doing for work, and in life. One girl told me she finally has her ‘big girl’ job – working in a seniors’ home as a recreation coordinator. She said she never imagined she would enjoy working in that environment, but she does. I told her I believe we need more people who love working with seniors to actually be in those roles. Seniors’ homes can always use more quality staff.

For my 50th birthday, my doctor scheduled a list of tests. Happy Birthday to me. Because of blood sugar issues and heart palpitations, I needed bloodwork and an ECG. I was also due for a mammogram and I received a note in the mail saying that if I didn’t pass preliminary testing, I would also be treated to a colonoscopy. I’m at the age where body parts, internal organs and systems start to malfunction and misbehave. My doctor wanted to check me out head to toe. First on the list was a pelvic ultrasound.

I have started a new job downtown Ottawa and I was in the middle of training, so it wasn’t very convenient for me to be taking time off for medical appointments. I tried to get two tests booked for the same day but it just wasn’t possible.

I showed up early for my ultrasound appointment and sat down gingerly in the waiting room (I’m not sure what ginger has to do with it – basically I was sitting uncomfortably). I expected to be waiting for the better part of an hour, as per usual. To my surprise, however, someone popped out to see me within minutes.

The women working in the diagnostic imaging department at Kemptville District Hospital were beyond helpful. They must remember what it feels like to be sitting uncomfortably waiting for these procedures, so they schedule appointments accordingly and do whatever they can to speed things along.

As I sat there marvelling that the nurse featured on the wall poster was actually the same person speaking to me, I saw a note waving in front of my face. The nurse was pointing to my requisition form.

“I see your doctor also wants you to get a mammogram,” she pointed out.

“Yeah, I’m getting a complete list of tests, now that I’m 50…”

“Well why don’t we see if we can get at least two of these done today?” she smiled.
Well I wasn’t expecting that. What a great idea.

When I was in the ultrasound room, the technician worked quickly and efficiently, so I could be released from my misery as soon as possible. The mammogram technician was equally awesome, and funny – which seems to make things easier when you are in such a compromising position. Less than an hour later I was back in my car headed to work.

It’s so nice to see people who really love their jobs – particularly when they are working with the public. Linda, Kayla and Jackie are very good in their respective roles at the hospital, and they make sure things go as smoothly as they can while you are in their care.


A toady would a wooing go uh huh

A couple of years ago, I had a most horrific experience involving a toad. But first I must say I have always loved toads. I remember collecting handfuls of the tiniest little creatures I have ever seen – each one smaller than a dime – on the south-facing sunny wall of my grandfather’s cottage when I was a child. Many times in my youth I encountered toads in the garden and picked them up to examine their lumps, bumps and kind, smiling eyes.

I didn’t like frogs near as much. They are slimy, they jump out from under your hand a millisecond before you were about to catch them, and their eyes are more cunning than kind.

In Chinese culture, toads are good luck. Many times you will see a large figure of a toad squatting beside the cash register in a Chinese restaurant. It often has a coin in its mouth, signifying wealth and business prosperity.

The magical author Alice Hoffman uses toads in her stories quite often to show that something bad is going to happen. They are warty little harbingers of doom. Well it wasn’t quite doomsday for my toad, but it came close.

I was digging in the cool shade garden by the stone fence when it happened. I stuck my pitchfork into the earth and pulled it out. I heard a strange noise like a tiny, almost imperceptible squeal. I was aghast to see a massive toad on the end of one of the tines. It had skewered him through the fleshy overhang of his belly.

“Oh no no no no….” I muttered to the toad as I gently removed him from the end of the pitchfork. The whole time I was doing this delicate surgery, I was running my old first aid training through my head – the part where you don’t pull the arrow out of the victim it has been shot through. You simply tie a tea towel around the wounded body part – arrow still inside – and rush them to the hospital.
I imagined myself rushing the toad to the animal hospital or sanctuary, wrapped in cotton on the end of my gardening implement. But by then he had already limped away into the dark, cool earth beneath the biggest of my hostas – the one that is called Elephant Ears.

I said a little prayer for the toad and apologized aloud for wounding him. For the rest of the summer, every time I weeded that flowerbed, I looked for my toad but he was nowhere to be found.

The next summer, I was digging in the flowerbed by the stone fence, planting daffodil bulbs. My hand hit something familiar in the cool, dark earth beneath the hosta. I pulled out the warty clump and turned it over. It was my toad. The one I had wounded. He was alive, and looking none the worse for wear, save a large lump on his side where he had once been impaled.

I turned him to look at his face. If he had ever had kind eyes, there was no kindness for me now. This toad had more of a Jabba the Hutt look of apathy and disdain. I put him back in the bushes, happy at least to know he had survived.

The other day I was watering flowers and I moved all of my potted plants into one location to make the job easier. The sun had been beating down on us for a few days without a drop of rain. After a couple of hours under a light mist from the sprinkler, I moved my lilac and fuchsia impatiens back into the shade along the stone fence. That’s when I saw him.

There, in the middle of a pot of double impatiens lay a small toad. I would say he was likely a teenaged toad, as he was bigger than the tiniest I’ve seen and smaller than the biggest. The funny thing about this toad was that he was lying on his back in the middle of the potted plant. At first I thought he was dead, then I saw him wriggle his legs, as if he were trying to right himself. I don’t know if he had fallen off the fence into the plant or what, but it did not appear that he had planned the excursion. I picked the toad up and turned him around to face me. He had the sweetest little face.
Yes I know what you are thinking. The heat is getting to her head. But really, I was so happy to see another toad in the garden. To me it’s a sign that we have cultivated a healthy, vibrant and welcoming place for creatures of all kinds. Even the warty ones.