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Sunday, May 12, 2019

A wife of noble character, who can find?

A wife of noble character, who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Proverbs 31:10

My mother-in-law passed away last month. She had suffered with Dementia. When we heard, we hopped in the car for a drive into the city to see my father-in-law, Wally. He was sitting on the couch at his daughter’s house, and he was exhausted. I went and sat beside him.
“I’m sorry you lost your girl, Wally,” I said, patting him on the knee.
“Well, we knew she was sick two years ago,” he explained. “The Dementia got worse, day by day. And I lost her, day by day.”
At first, it was kind of cute, the way Lorna would forget things: her purse, her bowling schedule, how many glasses of Cuvee Speciale she had had…and then it began to take us by surprise. Soon she was forgetting recipes she had practiced for over fifty years. Each Sunday she asked, “whose baby is that?” or “Which of my sons are you married to?”
Lorna wasn’t sure what was happening, but she learned to cope. She would just smile and nod and pretend that she knew who was addressing her. But if you were a relatively new acquaintance, from the past five years or so, your name would escape her. The disease took hold and the decline came quickly these past few months.
Lorna met Wally in the early 1950’s. He was sitting on her mother’s living room couch one day when she came home from school. Her brother Bill had brought him home. Lorna took one look at the handsome man with the big grin and flashing eyes, walked into the kitchen and told her sister Dot: “See that man in the living room? That’s the man I’m going to marry.”
Wally and Lorna were married for nearly 7 decades. They raised 5 children together. Wally worked in metals at the National Research Council and while Lorna worked at a bank for a time, her domain was the kitchen. The aroma of her baking attracted neighbourhood kids to the kitchen door, where they were allowed “two cookies each” from the jar she kept there. Each day at lunch her children ran the few blocks home, where Lorna had covered the dining room table with open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on her fresh baked bread.  Every Thursday she made dinner for the extended family. Her recipes were handed down through the generations, to her children and grandchildren.
When it was time to sit down with the pastor and put a celebration of life together for Lorna, Wally had some strong ideas. His wife was not overly religious, he said, but she did like to attend church regularly. We got out the Bible and started choosing psalms and prayers of remembrance. Suddenly it hit me: “Lorna was a Proverbs 31 wife,” I said, explaining the verse about the Wife of Noble Character, who was known for her strong work ethic, integrity, charity, strength and love of family. We decided to include that verse in the service readings.
Wally surprised his sons by producing a long list of music he wanted played at Lorna’s celebration, including the original Deep Purple: “when the deep purple falls, over sleepy garden walls…” I thought that was perfect, because Lorna loved the colour purple. Her favourite song Stardust also mentions the colour purple in the first line. We made sure there was a touch of purple among the simple garden flowers at her ceremony, and those of us who didn’t wear purple clothes pinned on a purple ribbon or butterfly in her memory.
Wally led the readings with a memorable tribute to his beloved “Lorn.” He barely looked at his notes but rather he scanned our faces as he spoke about his love for his wife. His kids got up and took their turns then, adding a few laughs here and there, as Lorna would want.
Finally it was time for the pastor to read Proverbs 31. It was the perfect summary of Lorna’s life. And when she got to verse 22, the pastor looked up and smiled, “she was clothed in fine linen…and purple.”
Maybe Lorna had a hand in planning her own celebration of life. It was a simple, honest and straightforward service – much like Lorna herself. And as I looked around the room at four generations of Fishers and Patersons, I wondered if Lorna had pictured something like this family legacy on that day, decades earlier, when she first spotted Wally sitting on her mother’s couch.
Just look at what you have made, Lorna. Well done, thy good and faithful servant, indeed.
In memory of Lorna June Paterson Fisher.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Farmers are the Kings and Queens of upcycling

I hate to spend money. My husband might spit out his coffee reading that line (if he read my column, which he doesn’t), because he has seen my Visa bill. So let me clarify: I hate spending too much money for something. I do enjoy a good retail therapy session – but it has to be filled with amazing deals, great finds and super sale prices or I will have buyer’s remorse, and likely return what I bought.
My parents raised us to be thrifty, and I have worked hard for my money since I was a young girl. I know the value of a dollar, as they say. I was also a single mom going without luxuries in order to pay the utility bill and put food on the table. That is when I discovered thrift shops, second-hand stores, and consignment. We have all of these stores in Kemptville, and my closet is full of the treasures I have found on their racks, at a fraction of the original price. I am happy to know that I am reducing the amount of clothing going to a landfill, by buying second hand. And you find things that were made to last – wool suits, leather jackets, silky blouses and designer dresses – for the price you would pay for a trendy new top from a big box store (which might actually fall apart after 3 washes – the top; not the store).
When I married the Farmer and moved in, I used to laugh at all of the examples of things that had been put to good use for a second time: a rusted out farm implement became an art installation in the garden; broken deep freezers were turned into feed storage bins; and an old bedframe, complete with springs, was attached to the side of the house so the vines could grow on it. But my Farmer learned how to upcycle from his uncle, when he spent summers on the family dairy farm near Winchester. That uncle was raised in the 30’s, during the time when nothing was wasted or thrown away if it had an ounce of use left in it.
Yes, you can go to the farm store and buy nifty, new-fangled items with which to store and serve your animal feed – or you can make your own from things you have around the house. Old ice cream containers make great scoops for corn and sweet feed. Those rubber nipples for feeding lambs fit right over the end of a soda bottle. An old kiddie pool makes a great pen for baby chicks, and the upturned lid to a garbage can makes a great field dish for sweet feed when you are trying to attract a cow.
I’m even learning to save and recycle seasonal décor: the decorative pine cones, ribbon, foam sponge and pot from my Christmas garden arrangements have been put away until next December, when I will walk around the property collecting the red dogwood, emerald pine and white birch branches to create my own display. Those two pieces were worth $50 last year.
We need porch shades to reduce the sun in the back of the house in the summer. It gets really hot at dinner time and the setting rays blind whomever decides to sit in the spot that is directly in their path. I found a page of exterior shades on Amazon, and showed the Farmer. They ranged in price from $17 to $267.
“I just took the old porch apart at the cottage site,” he announced. “I’ll bring the blinds home from there.” Well, that’s a good idea too. The cottage itself, when it is finished, will be a hotbed of recycled items. I doubt there will be anything new in there at all. From appliances and rugs to furniture and décor, it will all be coming from our basement – the family catch-all for unwanted things.
My Word of 2019 is “Less.” It stands for a lot of different things: less eating and drinking, less worrying, less spending. The next time I go to spend money on a non-consumable something I think I need, I’m going to put my single mom hat back on and think like the Farmer: “Do I really need it? Can I find something else I already have to serve this purpose?”
I found an old leaky cooler today and upcycled it into a recycling bin for our empties. I’m starting to get the hang of this.

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How to paint a farmhouse kitchen

I woke up on Good Friday and had the sudden impulse to paint the kitchen. We had two full days to get it done before Easter Sunday, when better than 30 people would be filling the house for lunch. I didn’t see the problem. The Farmer groaned, rolled over and went back to sleep. I went downstairs and started taking things off the kitchen walls.
My husband, a child of the 60’s, loves old knickknacks and especially things that remind him of his youth. I think the collection of pastel-coloured plates we have on the wall above our china cabinet once belonged to June Cleaver. I carefully removed them, along with my collection of brightly coloured and patterned olive oil, cookie and cigar tins. I’m not crazy about having an array of dusty old duck decoys on display in our dining area but I do live with a hunter. I also got the screwdriver out and took down the wooden sign that says “Welcome to the Farmhouse Kitchen – meals served with love – always open.”
Next I had to take some spray cleaner to the top of the cupboards, where grease collects. The Farmer, God love him, cooks a bit like the Swedish Chef - with enthusiasm, and the occasional fling of sauce, flour and spices. It’s messy work. I found spaghetti on the ceiling and dried peas behind the fridge. He doesn’t even like peas. I have no idea how they got there.
Soon I realized why the Farmer had groaned about the prospect of painting the kitchen. When he finally gave in and joined me in my project we took down two lights, a ceiling fan, curtain rods, a smoke detector and a pot rack. Once the ceiling and walls were bare, I started taping the edge of every wall, door and cabinet. Then I went to the basement to get the bag of old dropsheets that used to belong to my father, the family painter. I remember being enlisted to help paint my own bedroom in the house we built on Johnston Road. It was 1980 and Patsy Gallant was singing “From New York to L.A.” on the radio. If I look carefully, I can still find the rose-beige paint on the striped pink sheets.
The last thing to be painted over was the growth chart that had been etched into the wall between the kitchen and living room. One after one, each child and foster child that had lived here had stood against the wall and endured the measuring of height with a pencil tick over their tousled heads. The Farmer was silent as he read each name, height and date before erasing them with a few brushstrokes.
Painting is an opportunity to rearrange and redecorate. But when the final coat dried, just in time to set up for Easter dinner, we put everything back exactly as it was. For another twenty years, God willing.
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Cultural observations from the other side of the pond

I was supposed to stop and get something for dinner on the way home from work. But as I walked through the doors of our local grocery store, I got distracted by the harbingers of spring: tiny Easter table centrepieces of purple pansies, yellow tulips, pink roses and Styrofoam eggs in brown paper baskets. Suddenly, I was back in Europe, walking along the port in Marseilles, sniffing baskets of fresh lavender. Ten minutes later, my list ignored, I was at the cash with a basketful of flowers, a baguette, some olive tapenade, pâté and goat cheese. We were having tapas for dinner. I might be back home but mentally, I am still cruising the Mediterranean.
I finally got the Farmer to Europe. I have said before, I’m pretty sure he was a WWII fighter pilot in his former life, because he is obsessed with war movies. His entire adult life he has watched these films – the grainy black and white footage found on YouTube is his favourite. So against my better judgment (due to my propensity for motion sickness on an air mattress in a swimming pool) I stuck him on a cruise ship with 4,500 other souls and we toured the Tyrrenhian Sea, enjoying day trips in Palermo, Malta, Barcelona, Marseilles and Genoa. We got a whole weekend in Rome. He thought he had seen all there was to see of ancient Europe, in movies and books. But there is something special about standing at the entrance to the Roman Colosseum, smack in the middle of a bustling metropolis, surrounded by locals, tourists and the ghosts of gladiators.
My husband toured history. I toured for the culture. When I go to another country, I want to eat the way the locals eat and I want to live the way they live. We took the hop-on, hop-off bus tours and visited all of the required sites but when we got hungry we wandered off the beaten path. We followed dimly lit, cobblestone streets too narrow for motorized vehicles, and stumbled upon local cafeterias (the Roman version of a family diner) that served fresh, homemade and well-priced local fare.
The Italian way of eating is antipasto (first plate), pasta (second plate), meat and veg (third plate) and dessert (fourth plate). They don’t snack. They eat well balanced meals three times a day and after lunch they nap for a couple of hours. This is how they are able to put dinner off until at least 8pm, and go dancing at midnight. It was against everything I had learned about healthy eating habits but I did my best to do as the Romans do, when in Rome. It’s a good thing we walked an average four hours a day on our city tours or I might have had a bit more baggage to bring home if you know what I mean.
I spent my 51st birthday in Palermo. I believe you can never have too many pairs of boots and so I was on the hunt for something in Italian leather. There were plenty of shoe stores but when I made the universal sign for boot (a karate chop to the top of the calf under the knee), the salesladies just laughed and shook their heads and mumbled that it was the wrong season for boots: “saisonee malee” or something like that.
As we gave up and headed back to the port I spotted a store window full of boots. And next to the door, a huge poster that said 50% off (because it wasn’t the season for boots!). Alas, when we tried the door, it was locked. A quick consultation with two Italian ladies who had joined me to admire the window display confirmed that most stores were closed from 1 to 3pm. I was out of luck.
Suddenly a man appeared at my elbow. “Are you just looking or will you buy?” he asked, bleary eyed.
“Oh, I want to buy,” I assured him.
About twenty minutes later I had not one but two new pairs of Italian leather boots and Andrea, my new Sicilian friend, had a healthy sale heading into his siesta.
I really wanted to go back to the shoe store ladies and show them my loot, pulling a Pretty Woman: “Do you work on commission? Big mistake. Huge.” In reality the Farmer saved money on my gift because even two pairs of boots in Palermo were priced lower than one pair of Italian leather boots back home.
The pizza and pasta were undercooked, the coffee was too strong and the people were a little rude but I’ve got to admit, Italy, you’ve got style. I think I will adopt your post-lunch siestas and your food-centred celebrations. Barcelona, Malta and Marseilles, we barely met but I appreciate your attitude, love your colour and plan to return someday soon.

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