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Friday, September 27, 2019

The desk.



My mother has sold her house. After several years of thinking about it, she is finally moving to a smaller place where she won’t have to worry about keeping a large lawn mowed and a long driveway plowed. Her new place will still have plenty of room for entertaining and a spare bedroom for guests. And best of all, she has a new screened-in porch for sitting year round in comfort. Half indoors, half out. There she can curl up in a comfy chair and watch the seasons come and go as she loses all track of time in a good book. She will have the time to do this now, because she will have less house and yard maintenance to eat up her free time on the weekend.

The house Mom is vacating was my home from age 16 to when I left at 19. Three years is not a long time to gain a lifetime of memories, and yet I am feeling a bit weird about the house leaving our family. This is where we lived when I graduated high school, and moved out to be married. It’s where I went when that first marriage ended, and where I returned to when I moved back from living overseas. It has always been a place of calm. A safe retreat from the harsh storms of life.
I feel a bit unhinged to realize I will never again sit quietly in the living room where I shared my last long talk with my father before he died. He was napping on the couch after a particularly gruesome round of chemo, and when he awoke he told me about his dream – driving a big truck through the desert. “It’s always Arizona in my dreams,” he explained. He also dreamed of multi-coloured, patchwork-patterned race cars, gangs of dancers in competition, and packs of friendly dogs. “Those must be good drugs you’re on, Dad,” we joked. We realized later he was describing his kind of perfect Heaven. His presence remained so strong in that house, even after Mom redecorated, and his favourite chair disappeared.

Maybe this is why, on the day we helped Mom to pack up the last of her things, I claimed Dad’s desk. He had that small, sturdy piece of wood when he was in university and it moved with him to Kemptville when he married Mom in 1965. He sat at it and wrote lesson plans as a young teacher in their apartment above Anderson’s Ladies Wear on Prescott Street. After I was born, the desk moved to the front room of their first house on George Street – with a view of the huge King Crimson maple tree that my grandfather planted on the front lawn.

In 1980 we had Norenberg Construction build us our dream house on 4 acres on Johnston Road – a sprawling split-level house with a family room, a fire place and a living room we weren’t allowed to sit in unless we had company. The desk had its own room in that house – a den with a window facing west so you could see who was coming up the drive.

When we moved to Beach Road, the desk went downstairs. Every evening during the school year Dad marked papers at that desk after dinner. Sometimes the papers were mine, or my sister’s. We listened as he mumbled and grunted to himself, wondering what mistakes we had made in our work.
As soon as he walked in the door after work each day, Dad sat at the desk and wrote in a ledger. He showed me how he wrote down what he spent every day, and where he kept the receipts. After he died, we learned he had given money to several of his students over the years to buy a first car, or to sign up for hockey. He also helped me many times, when as a single mom I couldn’t afford to repair my car or pay my utility bill. I wanted to pay him back but he wouldn’t let me. “Don’t lend what you can’t afford to give,” he always said. I guess he had to be careful with his money, to ensure there would still be enough when the need arose.

I took the desk home with me today. I’m not sure where I will put it, but the smooth, dark wood polished with my father’s hands will have a place of honour for many years to come.
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Monday, September 9, 2019

Banned from my own porch by yellow stripey things



I love my back porch. The Farmer built a trellis roof so vines can grow overhead to provide shade. I sit out there in the afternoon on the porch swing, enjoying a book in the last rays of sunlight. That is, I do that most summers. Not this year. This year I have been banned from the porch by yellow stripey things.
I do not know the difference between the various yellow stripey things. I can’t tell a hornet from a wasp from a yellow jacket. Obviously, I know the fatter and fluffier they are, the better. We like bumble bees. They are basically flying pandas.  I am happy to see these bees returning to my wildflowers and perennials, because I know they are important for pollination. It’s their grouchy, skinny little cousins I don’t like.
We occasionally have what I thought were wasps living in the vines that cover the western side of the house. They can be a problem, particularly at Thanksgiving when we have close to 40 people sitting on long tables on the lawn, attempting to eat their turkey and cranberries. Then the wasps can become a little too interested in anything with a fruit base, from pie to wine. The food doesn’t last long however, so the wasps move on to other pursuits.
We have also had wasps living in nests they build under our star ornament. This farm d├ęcor was popular about a decade ago, designed to resemble the stars that hobos used to paint on the side of farmhouses during the Great Depression, to indicate a generous handout within. The wasps tend to find my wall star very hospitable indeed. Every year we have to spray another nest to repel the flying beasts. But other than that, the wasps usually keep to themselves.
Things are different this year. 2019 is shaping up to be the Year of the Wasp. I have the wounds to prove it. I hadn’t even noticed wasps before I headed out to pull weeds from my garden, halfway through August. I was happily tugging away at weeds that were threatening to choke out my sedum and hostas – my flowerbed had been neglected all summer. Suddenly, a little cloud of wasps rose up from the dirt. I had uncovered a nest. I felt a sting on my leg, my hip, my hand and my elbow. I swatted and ran for the house, calling the dog to follow me. I was thinking about jumping in the pool but I wanted to make sure the pup was safe, so I pulled him into the house with me. I ran upstairs, continuing to swat and swear all the way. The Farmer popped his head out of the kitchen where he was in the midst of preparing Sunday dinner for a dozen people.
“What the…?” He asked, wiping his hands with a dishtowel and following me up the stairs.
As I stripped off my shorts and shirt and dropped them on the floor I noticed more wasps rising from the clothing. “Ah! They won’t stop stinging me!!” I screamed as I hopped into the shower, under a cold blast of water. The Farmer flailed around the bathroom, swatting at flying pests as I attempted to soothe my wasp stings under the spray.
For the next two days my 7 wasp stings throbbed in pain. I used Benadryl and cold compresses to quiet the agony. Then the itching began. I haven’t itched like that since the sand ant episode in Taiwan. I scratched in my sleep and woke up raw. I had to choose my clothing to make sure I wasn’t irritating any of my bites. I couldn’t wear pants or even a wrist watch.
Finally, after 2 weeks, my stings subsided to a dull mosquito-level itch. And then, I noticed a wasp in the kitchen. I tried to swat it, but it escaped. I thought it had gone out onto the porch, so I closed the door. About half an hour later, I felt something in my hair. Panicked, I swatted at it, and got sting #8, on the back of my hand. I have scars all over my body from these wasp stings. And yet the swarming jerks continue to pursue me, whether I am walking the dog or taking a lunchtime stroll at work.
Perhaps I have enough of their venom coursing through my veins now, they think I am one of their own. I’ve had it. I’m ready for fall.
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I'll have another dozen




I call myself The Accidental Farmwife because when I married the Farmer we were not cohabitating under the same roof, and I truly didn’t not know what I was signing up for. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into – this life of waking up in the middle of the night to check on pregnant ewes, sitting on a pile of less-than-clean hay to bottle feed hungry baby lambs, putting every resource and effort into making a sick animal healthy only to see it succumb to a mysterious disease or hopeless injury. Granted, I didn’t have to do much of the heavy lifting: the Farmer handled that. Mostly he let me ‘dabble’ in the farm life but the truth is, once introduced to the animals, I felt their dependence on me for their wellbeing and quality of life. I was hooked.
Farming for us is a hobby – we both have other jobs – but at times it has threatened to completely take over our lives. During lambing and calving season, for example, our day jobs had to take a bit of a back seat while we dealt with matters at hand – assisting with difficult births and keeping watch over new arrivals to ensure they made it through the first few days of feeding and bonding with their mothers.
I didn’t know what I had signed up for – and yet it has been a perfect life for me. I slowly introduced my favourite things to the Farmer, which include good food, good music, travelling and a good book. We balanced our farm lives with all of those things and our marriage is a strong mix of both. He still has his hunting and fishing. I didn’t mess with that. It’s important to have your own interests, along with those you share and discover together.
I call myself The Accidental Farmwife – but when you think of it, every marriage is a bit of a surprise. You go into a union with your own set of expectations, and you have to be open about these or you might be in for a shock. Marriage doesn’t really change people, so it’s a good idea to know the person you are joining your life with, before you say I do. Part of this is taken care of, for the most part, if you marry someone who had a similar kind of upbringing to your own. What are their traditions? What do they most hold dear? The Farmer and I both love big family gatherings so that is something we look forward to each and every weekend when we host our growing brood for Sunday dinner. We have some differences, too, but these have never worried us or forced us to make uncomfortable choices.
For example, if I really want to go somewhere or do something that isn’t really his bag, the Farmer feels comfortable telling me that he will go for a short time but he might want to excuse himself after an hour. The same goes with his hunting and fishing. I’ll go along, if invited, if it involves a nice screened-in porch, bottle of wine and good book for me. Just don’t ask me to bait any hooks.
A wise woman once told me that every ten years or so, you become a different person in one way or another. If that is true, then every decade you are also married to a different person. Life throws us curveballs – sometimes our bodies have surprises in store for us that will force us to put our plans aside for a while as we deal with sickness. Our families have emergencies that need our attention – we lose loved ones – or our careers take a sudden turn. We think we know how to do life, until the plot twists. If we are lucky, we can ride these waves together. We need to put the less important distractions aside and focus on the important things in life in order to support each other through the difficult times. That is what makes the good times so much richer.
This year the Farmer and I are celebrating our 12th anniversary quietly, at home. He fell off his ladder last week, while building our cottage, and broke several ribs. He is recovering quickly, but we won’t be going out dancing to celebrate this year. I guess he thought it was time to exercise the “in sickness and in health” option.  Ah well. I think I’ll keep him.
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