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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Happy Easter to you and yours - whatever that means to you

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They say you don’t remember much before the age of 4, so I’m assuming our granddaughter’s first two Easter celebrations were a bit of a blur. She’s well aware that something is up this year, however. Even a pre-schooler can’t ignore the constant barrage of bunnies, chicks and pastel coloured eggs in every store she enters.
Leti’s mom used to help me run my home daycare when she was a little girl, and she was a preschool teacher herself for a time as an adult, so she is well versed in arts and crafts for fledgling artists. I will soon have new artwork for my fridge: bunnies created by tracing a pudgy little hand, baskets of coloured eggs that are primarily pink (her favourite colour), spring flowers, and butterflies. When my fridge is covered, I move the creations to our secondary fridge. It’s hard to put them away but I tuck them into my photo box when I need to make room for more.
We are not a regular churchgoing family. Our holiday customs seem to always centre on food. When it comes to Easter traditions on the Fisher Farm, it pretty much comes down to chocolate fondant eggs. For as long as I can remember, those huge (size of a goose egg) solid candies have been part of our springtime celebrations. My mother was part of the local sorority, Beta Sigma Phi. The “Laura Secord’ style fondant eggs were their creation. I think every kid whose mom was in that group is now addicted to those eggs.
When I became a mom, I made a huge mistake. I bought the vanilla, the sugar and the canned milk and I started making the eggs myself. Now my kids (who are 25 and up, raised on these eggs…) look for these decadent treats each Easter.
I have shared the recipe in the past. Basically it’s a solid ball of sweetened condensed milk and icing sugar and butter, rolled up and dipped in melted chocolate. Just Google solid fondant Easter eggs and Bob’s your uncle. And don’t forget to brush your teeth afterwards. Last year we had our lovely Norwegian international student offer to make the eggs. She loved to cook and wanted to take part in our traditions. She was possibly unprepared for the messy situation of sticky, icing sugared fingers.
We had fun teaching Leti and her cousin Walt how to hunt for eggs. The first year, the 18-month-olds wandered around the yard like two tiny drunk men, smacking into each other, trying to figure out what I was saying. “Go get the eggs! Look! There’s one!” Walt was way ahead of Leti on this, and when he opened the plastic egg to find jelly beans inside, he would offer her a candy, then change his mind and swipe it out of her reach. It was very entertaining for the adults to watch. Leti, unoffended, would sit on the steps then and swing her feet, giving Walt the side-eye of suspicion.
Last year, the 2.5 year olds suddenly knew how to play the game. They collected the eggs, but Leti, twitterpated, was more interested in following Walt around the yard. We got some wonderful photos from both of those Easter egg hunts. Someday when they are teenagers we will show them pictures of stolen kisses and shared giggles on the porch.
Easter at the Fisher Farm is all about family. We host about 40 guests for a lunch at 2pm on Easter Sunday. The young families show up first, so the kids can do the egg hunt. Then our 5 children and their mates, our siblings and parents and aunts and uncles show up for the feast. We may not be a huge churchgoing family but we know we have a very unique situation here. 
For lunch, we serve a turkey we raised ourselves. It lived free range in the barnyard, a short but happy life. We go to Albert’s for the ham, because what is Easter without it? Guests bring side dishes and Grandma always shows up with some local maple syrup. Easter is nice and late this year, so hopefully we will be able to enjoy a walk in the back 40 after lunch. Because that is our church. The trees are the steeple. The stone fences are the pews. God is all around us. We are blessed and we know it.

Give the dog a bone - and stand back!

For the first year of his life, Fergus was quite thin. He was born the runt of the litter – that is part of the reason why we chose him from among his fatter, fluffier siblings. But no matter how much food we gave him, Fergus just didn’t gain the weight he was supposed to in the first year. He just wasn’t food oriented – and he preferred running for the ball over napping and all other activities. He was the product of his own self-induced bootcamp: a lean, mean barking machine. Except for the mean part.
We were used to our skinny Minnie Golden Retriever. He wasn’t emaciated or anything – just very slim. But when I posted photos of Fergus on social media, I would occasionally receive negative comments. “Your dog is so thin!” “Oh! Poor Fergus! You really should feed him more!” Honestly.
I took Fergus to the vet and they confirmed that, while our pup was on the diminutive side for his breed, he was also perfectly healthy. He was not underweight, but hovering nearby (within a pound of that rating). We were already feeding him the puppy food that supports fast growth, and agreed to keep him on it until he was 18 months old. We continued to feed him on demand, whenever he wanted to eat, because he never over-ate.
Occasionally we laced the food with something slightly fattening and delicious. We poured cooled bacon fat on the kibble. Laced it with the fat off a pot of fresh chicken broth, or coated it in a thin layer of peanut butter. I continued to throw Fergus’ beloved ball for him, but when he slowed down, I offered food and water. Then he ate.
Slowly, over the next year, Fergus gained weight. His hollowed out hip area became sturdy and solid. Now he is a very handsome, muscular young dog. But you know, he will probably always be on the lean side. And that’s ok.
I don’t know why some people felt the need to tell me my dog was skinny, in social media posts. It isn’t as if I was unaware. I do appreciate their concern, but I’m pretty sure the same people wouldn’t have the nerve to accuse me of not feeding my dog enough if they met me at the dog park. The anonymity of social media can make people bold.
Now, I do have a problem with Fergus for which I might consider taking some advice. For a dog who is rather unconcerned when I fill his bowl with kibble, preferring to eat at his leisure, nibbling a few bites at a time and only after he has had exercise, Fergus is a whole other animal when you give him a fresh beef bone.
A friend of mine has a Golden Doodle and noted the same food aggression in his fluffy little dog. This creature that resembles a teddy bear most of the team becomes a growling, snarling beast when you go near him and his bone. It’s funny at first…and then a little scary!
My daughters have raised dogs, and their advice is to train them as puppies to accept having their food taken away and given back again. Well, we did that with Fergus. He appears completely uninterested if I take his bowl of kibble away. If I take his bowl of leftovers (people food) away he might look a bit disappointed, but he certainly doesn’t growl at me. But all that changes when the dog gets a bone.
Online advice from the ASPCA says that it is completely natural for dogs to exhibit “resource guarding” behaviour. Apparently some dogs will even guard stolen socks, or food that they can see on the kitchen counter. Thank goodness Ferg isn’t that bad. He just wants his bone, and he wants to be left alone while he enjoys it.
The most common advice I am seeing online is to let the dog alone while he enjoys his bone. Of course, we have control over when he receives a treat like this, and we know to give him his space. But being unaware of the strange workings of the canine mind, I am worried about what might happen if Fergus exhibits this resource guarding behaviour when we have children visiting the house.
If you have advice on how to handle this, I would love to hear it. You can email me at
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Here's how we become a tourist destination

I love to travel. I also love my home. I find it fascinating, when traveling, to realize that in most cases, the places I want to see and the things I want to do are all connected to the local culture. I want to eat what the locals eat, hang out where they do, and enjoy a glimpse of their daily lives. Maybe we should try to do the same in North Grenville. We could become the prime tourism destination for people visiting the Nation’s Capital who really want to see small town Canada.
When my husband the Farmer was the Professor, he took part in a tour of a community in Nova Scotia that had embraced tourism. It seemed like everyone in the community was opening their home and business to visitors in some way. There were bed and breakfast spots that offered great trails for hiking and photography. Some catered to those who wanted to learn how to cook the local cuisine. Others were located on farms, where guests were invited to take part in the daily routine of care for the animals and harvesting vegetables for dinner.
It’s like when you go to Europe and you take a tour of cheese factories, vineyards, cafes, and scenic areas. You want to see and experience the best that the region has to offer. We can do that. We have plenty to offer.
If you operate a local business, be it a hobby farm, an Adirondack chair factory or a maple sugar bush, I would encourage you to explore ways in which you can offer tours, workshops and hands-on experiences for tourists. Then get connected with local travel agents, tourism websites, blogs and accommodations.
As for making our area more hospitable to tourists, there are a few obvious things that we need to consider. We need a large, affordable hotel. I understand that once again, a feasibility study is being conducted to prove that we have the traffic to support this kind of business. It’s not like in bygone eras where every village had a hotel. Now you have to have sustainable traffic flow of something like 50,000 people a year in order to make it cost effective and profitable.
Of course, turning the dorm rooms of the former Kemptville College into a hotel seems like an obvious conclusion. I don’t know what the plans are yet for that building but it seems silly that we can’t take advantage of those existing accommodations – especially during Kemptville Live Music Festival weekend, sports tournaments and other local events. Something tells me that if we were in Europe, our still-useful buildings would already be repurposed. Europeans are very good at recycling real property.
Once we have room for people to sleep, we need them to park somewhere. If the school board manages to find a buyer for our old high school on Prescott Street and it is deemed unfeasible to turn it into condos or a retirement home or something, they might consider a paid parking lot. Goodness knows we need parking downtown. I realize those bump outs were meant to slow down through traffic but they ate up some of our parking spaces. Not ideal.
Finally, I would like to see what the plans are for the Bridge Street bridge. There was a time when we could drive small boats right under it. Now the creekbed needs to be dredged to make room for the engines. But if we are looking at rebuilding the bridge anyway, wouldn’t it make sense to look at other options as well? We once had big steamships coming into the centre of Kemptville on a regular basis. Has the south branch of the Rideau changed so much? Imagine if we could lure boaters in off the Rideau to the centre of Old Town for lunch, or to stay overnight like they do in Merrickville and Manotick.
I think we need to entertain the thoughts of someone who can see the big picture. Dredge the creek, rebuild the bridge in a way that allows boat traffic, expand the existing dock. Businesses will spring up again in downtown Kemptville. We will need a public bathroom facility and an electrical source at the water’s edge. There is plenty of room at Curry Park.
Am I the only one crazy enough to imagine this potential? We could attract daytrippers to our town. We have plenty to offer.


Forgetful Farmwife

I washed the dog last Saturday. I removed his wireless fence collar and proceeded to bathe the pooch in the bathroom tub. An hour later, the dog was all fluffy and clean and ready to roll. But his collar was missing.
I searched the laundry, the towel closet, the space behind the washing machine. The Farmer and I went room to room, looking for the lost collar. It’s kind of essential that we find this thing. It keeps the Ferg on the property when we aren’t around to supervise him. We need it.
Honestly, this wireless fence system has got to be one of the best inventions ever for the dog owner. You don’t have to mark out a perimeter and bury a stupid wire on your property. You just dial up the boundary on the base unit, say, 50 metres from your house, and then walk the property line with your dog, holding the collar. The collar will start to beep when you reach the set boundary. The dog will hear it, and you say, “no, no, No. Go HOME.” That’s what we did with Fergus, back when he was about six months old.
I recommend you do the next step with a glove on. You have to breach the perimeter at least once, to test the level of ‘static correction.’ In other words, you’re gonna get a shock. It won’t be a big one, but it’s rather startling. You can reset the level of static based on the level of energy in your dog. If he’s a docile dog, he probably needs a much lower level than a hyperactive one.
Once you have everything set and you have explained to your dog how it works, you put the collar on him and watch what happens. The minute he heads for the perimeter, you start telling him “No. Come Home.” If he doesn’t listen, and continues to go through the boundary, it will beep. He will stop and look at you, and you can call him home. Reward him for doing the right thing and following your direction. Have some dried liver treats or something in your pocket for this purpose.
You are going to have to let him go through the invisible barrier at least once, however. Ideally, he will get bold or forgetful and go through when you are watching, so you can explain to him what the heck just happened. When he gets the shock he will likely overreact, yipping and yelping and running in circles. Call him home, comfort him, and let him go again. He will likely figure out pretty quickly that the moment he hears the beep, it’s time to rein it in. Listen to Momma and just don’t go there.
This collar has allowed us to leave our young Golden Retriever outside for a few hours unattended, in warmer months. Now that our neighbour’s dog is getting to the roaming age, he is enticing Fergus over the fence for the occasional rumble. It’s all about testosterone-filled teenaged boys posturing for territory and no one gets hurt, but I don’t want Fergus thinking he can just hop the fence and go terrorize Rocky on his own property, anytime he wants. Also, it will soon be warm enough for the neighbour’s chickens to be outside the coop, roaming the yard. Fergus cannot resist the urge to chase chickens. They make such entertaining noises and their feathers fly everywhere when he tackles them. We have to find that collar.

The invisible fence is also portable. We can take the base unit with us and reset it for the cottage or a friend or relative’s house when we are visiting, so that our dog is safe. All we have to do is walk the new boundary with him. As soon as he hears the beep, he remembers.
I wish I could remember where I put that darned collar. I’m going to have to buy a new one if I can’t find it, and they are worth a couple hundred bucks with a new set of batteries. But at least that would be a surefire way to find the old collar. Buy a new one. Happens every time.

Spring enters on tiny lamb feet

Spring is set to arrive after 6pm on Wednesday, March 20th. I don’t know about you but I am ready. I don’t know why but this winter seemed longer than usual. Maybe it’s the simple fact that we did not escape to the sunny south this year. That does a nice job of breaking up winter.
I know spring is in the air because the birdsong has changed. I hear those birds that are only around in spring. And I haven’t seen them myself yet but I have heard reports of geese sightings over Bishops Mills. That is always a welcome sight at the end of a long, cold season of snow and ice.
In years past, we were up to our rubber boots in lambs by the middle of March. I have to admit, I’m a bit nostalgic looking at other farmers’ posts on social media of their newborn fluffies. We gave up raising sheep because it was more work than it was worth, but I do miss the lambs. They were fun. Especially the ones I bottle fed.
We kept the lambs in the barn with their moms for about 8 weeks. After that, we opened the door and let ‘em go. The ewes would be the first to escape to freedom, forgetting for a moment that they were mothers at all. They kicked up their hooves and pranced into the meadow where they fell on the new grass and munched all the green sweetness.
Their babies would be right behind them, in a mass of squealing and bawling fleece. Abandoned. Terrified. Out in the sunshine and wide open space for the first time in their short lives. Hearing their bleats, the mothers would come to their senses. Turn around and bounce back over to the calls that belonged to them. Reunited with their babies.
Often the ewes would feed their young and then tuck them into the bushes, out of the hot sun and blackflies, for a nap. Then they would wander off to eat their fill. When the babies woke up, the squealing would start all over again. We could hear this drama from the house and we always knew when someone was separated from their wee one.
Occasionally a ewe would cry to tell us that her lamb had gotten himself stuck in the hay feeder. One day we went out and saw a ewe standing there beside the huge round bale, bawling her face off. I couldn’t see what the problem was. All around her, sheep were munching away, chewing their hay. The lambs were huddled in a kindergarten setting over by the rock pile, with one ewe watching over them. Then I saw it. A tiny hoof poked out of the hay that was under the massive feeder. The ewe had shoved her lamb under there for safety, but she almost lost him. As the animals fed and dropped hay around the feeder, it covered the lamb completely. He had wriggled so far beneath the feeder that I could barely reach him to yank him out.
Sheep usually react just like I do when they are truly terrified by something: they are completely silent. When they spot a coyote watching them from his perch behind the stone fence they turn and run quietly up to the barn, en masse. All you can hear is a gentle stampede of tiny hooves.
Luckily the arrival of Donkey put an end to most of our sheep kills. We only lost one or two after he showed up on the scene – usually on the days when we had a farm party and he decided he would rather be at the fence, socializing with humans, than watching over his flock.
Spring is an exciting time when you live on a farm. It’s a season of promise and planning, determination and design. We prep our gardens and flowerbeds for the summer growing season ahead, and watch as the tractors roll in to sow seeds in the fields.
Fergus the retriever is pretty happy about spring. He’s muddy as a pig today because it is mild and wet out there. He’s not much for the summer sun but he can’t handle extreme cold either. Spring and fall are his favourite seasons – and they are ours too. I’m looking forward to pulling on some rubber boots and taking him on our first patrol of the property for the season. The lambs may be gone but the coyotes are still there.