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Friday, December 10, 2021

Answering the call

I often hear, “you’re all over the place!” Especially in the fall and winter, I seem to be busy volunteering as MC at local charity events (pre-Covid, anyway), working in the food bank and manning the kettle for the Salvation Army. I have always enjoyed volunteering in the community. It’s a very rewarding pastime. And I’m not affluent, so instead of writing a cheque, I donate my time and efforts. But to be honest, I volunteer to feel that I am doing something in a sometimes helpless situation.


Did you know that the demand on our local food bank has more than tripled since the beginning of the pandemic? There are a variety of reasons for this. Many people were laid off. Some had family members turn to them for help, and their household grew in size. Others are unable to work, due to health concerns and other factors. We have people accessing the food bank for the first time, fully dressed for work. They have jobs – but they can’t pay rising housing, fuel and utility costs while also putting healthy food on the table. It’s a very difficult situation to be in – and it’s happening in large part to frontline workers: those in long term care and customer service.


It's frustrating that our government doesn’t have a firm plan in place to stock food bank shelves in order to support the people who keep things operating safely in a pandemic - people who are forced to put their own health at risk so that our seniors will be well cared for and we can access the grocery store. Our local food bank did gratefully receive a hefty grant from the government as emergency funding. That money was to be used during the pandemic, and it helped to stock shelves for the past year. It is spent now, and there is no sign of a renewal of financial support in the near future.


While our funding disappears, our numbers remain steady. Many food bank clients are returning to work, but they still need help to feed their families. Costs have gone up. Shifts have been reduced. The world is not the same as it was – and it won’t be changing anytime soon. Our need continues while our support fades away. We are working on sustainable plans for community sponsorship and support, because we know we will have to raise much of the funds ourselves.


This is why I ring the bells at the Salvation Army kettle. We hope to raise enough money to stock our shelves for several months after this Christmas campaign. Thank you for your donations. Every dollar helps.













Monday, November 8, 2021

The dining room table tells a story of memories


My prized possession is an old drop-side dining room table. It sits at the end of our 16-foot picnic table on the dining porch, ready to serve as backup should we get a sudden boost in numbers. Over the years it has acted as the dessert table at Thanksgiving dinner, a table for all my tropical plants in the sunroom, and it sat at the end of the hall and displayed family photos. I have often said, in case of fire, grab my photo albums and my drop-side table.

I remember my Dad bringing the little round table to me at my apartment on Prescott Street when I was a newly single mom of 3 back in 2000. I said, “That’s it??” In my recollection, that table was HUGE. But inanimate objects do tend to loom large in our childhood memories.

My first memory of the table was my view of it from my seat at a tiny pink child-sized Formica table. If I stood on my toes, I could just barely peer over the edge of it to see what the adults were eating. The table has a drawer at one end where I often hid toys and treats that would be rediscovered months later. Mom can’t remember where she got the table for their first apartment as a married couple, but she does remember painting it 1960s turquoise to match the flowered wallpaper in her new kitchen in their first house on George.

As my sister and I grew up we eventually took our seats at the round table, and then one day our family outgrew it. The table went into storage. Years later, Dad decided to present me with the table that he had recently refinished. The top of the table had been repaired over the years with plastic paint but when he stripped the turquoise off the legs he revealed the original tiger-striped wooden spindles. If you look closely, you can still see tiny flecks of turquoise paint in the curves. My childhood memories are stored there.

In my farmhouse kitchen stands a well-used oval dining table on 2 sturdy pedestal legs. It has suffered a few water stains that I have managed to remove but our Chinese students made a heat mark with their rice cooker one day and that left a permanent scar. Occasionally a cat will get up there to investigate in the night, leaving behind a claw scrape. Every week I polish these imperfections and wonder if my grandchildren are developing their own fond memories of a table that has gathered and fed us food, fellowship and love.


Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Farmer's favourite shoes are on their way out the door


They say you can tell a lot about a person by the state of their shoes. If the shoes are brand new and spotless, it could mean that the person is trying to make a good impression and they care about their appearance. Or, it could mean that they spend too much on material things.

Alternatively, if a man’s shoes are beat up and dirty, it might imply that he doesn’t care much about his appearance or the impression he is making, along with the dirt on your floor.

If a man’s shoes are worn but clean and well-cared for, that might mean he is hardworking and reluctant to waste money. I usually keep a pair of shoes for an average 3 to 5 years. As soon as they start to look worn out, however, I toss them. I tend to buy leather boots so that they last longer. I have a pair of hiking boots that are close to 20 years old. My pink rubber boots are 15.

My husband has a problem with hanging on to shoes long after their expiration date. And I don’t mean running shoes – he doesn’t even own a pair of those. He has golf shoes that look like they belonged to Jack Nicklaus circa 1985. He has a pair of construction boots (likely with sentimental value) that are so stiff you could use them as flower planters (in fact I think I will). I caught him fishing his favourite loafers out of the garbage after I threw them out - And his favourite ‘dress shoes’ embarrassed me recently at a family wedding because I looked down at his feet to see why he had stumbled during the photo session and realized that his shoes had suddenly grown a mouth.

“You put on a nice suit, a beautiful shirt and matching tie, and then you choose these shoes??” I asked, incredulous. The black shoes had broken spines and frayed laces along with the flapping sole.

“I wanted to be comfy,” he explained, smiling sheepishly. “They feel like slippers.”

Then I looked a little closer and realized that he had also swapped out the dress shirt that I had chosen for him, at the last minute. The one he wore to the wedding had a fraying collar and cuffs.

“You look like a hobo,” I muttered. But he was still handsome and the shoe didn’t show in the pictures. The next day he showed me proudly how he had fixed his broken shoe, with bright yellow shoe glue oozing out from under the toe.

“Well that’s just perfect,” I laughed.

I might have to throw them in a bin far from home so he can’t retrieve them.



Giving a pandemic of thanks


The first thing I’m grateful for this year is the ability to gather. Last year we were all set up to host Thanksgiving dinner at the cottage – for 25 extended family members – but then Doug Ford came on the radio and told us not to host anyone outside our household. Thanksgiving was cancelled.

This year we can actually go back to our tradition of inviting about 40 people to the farm for turkey, ham, and all the usual suspects. We will set up tables end to end on the yard and pray for good weather. Our guests will come from all over Ontario and they will each bring a dish to share. We haven’t seen some of these people in two years.

This pandemic has gone on a bit longer than most of us expected, and some say we will never really be free of it. The virus will mutate again and again and we will have to get another booster every season, like the flu shot. That may be true. We may be forever on edge when we hear a cough or a sniff. That’s ok. Hopefully we will also learn to don a mask at the first sign or symptom of something contagious, and to bow out of gatherings when we are feeling unwell. That should also be part of our ‘new normal’.

Every Thanksgiving we look over the past year and think of a few things to give thanks for. This year, I am thankful that I can work from home. I don’t have to commute, pay for parking or be in an office, killing time when I’m not actively working on something.

I am grateful that I can be available for my children and grandchildren when they need me. I can drop in on my Mom and sister. I can take the dog for a walk anytime I like. I can volunteer at the food bank. What a blessing.

I am grateful that no one I know has become seriously ill with Covid. I still have one daughter who can’t smell – but she isn’t complaining. I’m grateful that I can enjoy a good meal in a restaurant with friends. I’m really looking forward to enjoying live music again soon. I’m so thankful that I was able to attend 3 weddings and dance the night away in celebration of life and love.

As we sit down to enjoy our meal together this Thanksgiving, we will each write down one thing on the whiteboard that we are thankful for. Then we will take a picture of the board, as a reminder of this moment in time. We are thankful, in the middle of a pandemic.


Dusting off my donkey whispering skills


Donkeys can open almost any gate that is enclosing them. They have all day to consider the challenge. They use their dexterous lips like fingers, sliding open bar locks and lifting hinges. They heave their solid bodies against fences and doors, busting loose.

More than once I found my donkey on the wrong side of the fence. To be fair, sometimes he was outside my kitchen window trying to tell me that something was wrong with the sheep. A coyote had been spotted or the flock was lost in the field after dark. But most times he was leading the massive Belgian horse out on an adventure. He was visiting the neighbours’ horses and cows and checking what was growing in vegetable gardens. He prided himself on not getting caught until he had surprised at least one neighbour having their morning coffee and pooped on at least one lawn.

I discovered an almost foolproof way to get my donkey back into the barnyard within minutes. I just took a handful of apples with me. He couldn’t resist the sweet scent – in fact that is often what lured him out of bounds in the first place. The Belgian would follow him willingly – more comfortable inside the barnyard than out.

So when I encountered a pair of naughty donkeys trotting up Patterson Corner’s Road one recent morning, I thought I knew what to do. I pulled over, put my 4-ways on flash, and calmly stepped over to the nearest apple tree. The donkeys, a small grey and a larger black (the ringleader) walked curiously toward me, then suddenly turned tail, kicked up his heels and bolted into the nearest soybean field.

The beasts had come up from Lindsay Road, so that is where I started knocking on doors. I would need help and a halter to bring the animals home if they weren’t going to come for my apples – and they weren’t. I decided to stand in the road to slow traffic while I thought of what to do. The donkeys watched me from the neighbours’ front lawn and snickered to themselves.

Luckily, a 4-wheeler drove up just then. Help had arrived. After a few more forays into neighbouring fields we were able to usher the animals back into the yard of the elderly woman who was boarding them. We found the fence that they had lifted clear off its hinges. I excused myself, seeing that the donkeys were back where they belonged and in good hands. I imagine they were fitted for halters later that same day, while the fence was being repaired.

Sometimes I miss having a donkey. They are a whole lot of trouble sometimes but they sure have character.





Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Fourteen years and counting!

In the late summer of 2007, I became an accidental farmwife. And by that I mean I was so busy trying to keep track of three daughters that I barely had time to imagine what life was going to be like with my new husband. Yes, I knew he was a farmer. But he was also a university professor. He was pretty much always washed up and free of any residual farm detritus when he came a courtin’. He didn’t smell like sheep poop when we dated. All of that changed when we married. Soon I too had a strange funk about me.

Approximately twenty-four hours after we put the wedding d├ęcor away, I was properly introduced to my new charges: two hundred sheep and a loud, ornery and mischievous attention freak of a donkey. I was alarmed to hear that he didn’t have a name, so of course I gave him one. Donkey. You had to say it in a Scottish accent though, like in Shrek.

I very quickly fell into step in the farming life. I took care of the animals and assisted my husband the Farmer when he would allow me. Mostly he prefers to do things himself – but he let me take care of the babies. I got to know the different characters on the farm: the ewe who would head-butt me if I came too close, the ewe who might squash her own babies if you didn’t separate them; the sheepdog who was a bit crazy, and the Gordon Setter who would take off if left off leash for more than about thirty seconds.

The Farmer taught me how to rub a newborn lamb to life, to assist a ewe in childbirth, and to feed the young a bottle. There was no guidebook – we were both learning by doing. Before long I was writing stories about the animals. Those stories became a weekly column in the local paper.

I am always thrilled to hear that a story touched someone in some way. Many times I have received letters from readers, saying that they cut out a particular column and stuck it on their fridge or tucked it away in a scrapbook, because it meant something to them. Maybe they were farmers themselves – or married to one.

Some of my most loyal readers are in seniors homes. The stories bring them back to when they were learning how to mend pants and the fence that ripped them. When they were crying over a tiny lamb or calf that didn’t make it. When they were struck dumb by the beauty of a newborn foal.

If you are a farmwife, I would love to hear your stories. Here’s to the farming life. Live it well.


I'm not a doctor; I just write like one


I have kept a diary since I was a little girl. I filled one little hard-covered journal (the kind with the lock and key) every year. Mostly they were notes about what we ate, where we went, and then which boys I thought were cute, and plans for my clothes and hair and other such banalities. When I got married, I brought them with me in a suitcase of their own. As an adult, I continued to journal. I planned my perennial garden. I recorded my favourite bible verses (don’t laugh; I did. This one was particularly helpful to a 25-year-old mother of 3: Philippians 4:13). I developed a habit of burning those journals at the end of every year, as a therapeutic sort of exercise.

I started a new journal the day I married the Farmer, on August 25, 2007. Basically, I record the BIG events in the lives of our family members: births, deaths, engagements, marriages, new jobs, health concerns, etc.

I picked up my pen to record our youngest daughter’s engagement the other day and realized I have lost the physical ability to write. As a writer my typing skills are pretty strong, but I guess I haven’t been writing longhand for a while because my penmanship is absolute crap. I used to write all the time – in school, in long letters to pen pals – but when do I write these days? Grocery lists are about it.

Does anyone else have this problem or is it just me? I try to write, and my fingers fail me. I can’t seem to keep the cursive flowing. Good luck to anyone who finds this particular journal after I am gone. It appears to be filled with the style of hieroglyphic shorthand my mother used in the ‘70s.

I’m working on a novel – my first – and thought it might be nice to do the first draft in longhand, in a notebook. A favourite writer, Elizabeth Hay, told me that is the way she always begins a new book. The idea appealed to me because it meant I would be leaving something behind for my descendants, in my own hand. Now I see that hand is illegible.

I will go back to typing out my story on my laptop, disconnected from the Internet and its distractions (which was the secondary appeal of the notebook). I will continue to record family events in my journal, but I might switch to printing instead of cursive. I guess if you don’t use it, you lose it. If I feel the need to record something scandalous or salacious, I will do it in my busted-up handwriting, like a code that must be broken, to protect the innocent.



Friday, August 6, 2021

The battle for dominance continues

We haven’t quite won the battle over ownership of the cottage. It’s like the squirrel has allowed us to visit periodically over the summer, but she isn’t about to vacate so that we can have the place to ourselves. I thought she was gone after our initial seasonal arrival weekend. We made enough noise to scare anything away. After a few weeks of Pam screaming at me from the rafters, she seemed to exit the premises. But no, Pam is still there, making her presence known (I decided that was her name one day. It seemed to fit). And she is still doing construction.

I know we have to get the squirrels out of our cottage. I mean, they are likely to chew wires and leave piles of squirrel poop everywhere, aren’t they? When she kept appearing inside the house, I alerted my husband (translation: nagged him repeatedly). I bought a squirrel deterrent kit and he got up on a ladder to install it. Basically this involved stuffing a large amount of very fine steel wool in the common entry points. The problem is, there are many more access points in our cottage. Basically we are living in a large birdhouse that is full of gaps. When you stand in the kitchen you can feel a breeze even when the windows are closed!

Pam has chirped at us as we lay in bed, huddled under the protection of our mosquito / squirrel nets. She has stolen toilet paper, ear plugs, dog food and socks. She has hammered and scraped up there in the rafters in the wee hours of the morning, dropping wood shavings on the people sleeping below. When we went for a walk, she went into the dining room and peed on the floor. That was a pretty nasty calling card. It’s time for Pam to go.

Being farmers, we have a variety of live traps at our disposal. I already know Pam likes dog food. We will set the trap, catch Pam, and move her to another location. Then when we know she is gone we will try to find the other main entry points and close them up so no other squirrels decide to move in.

Time is of the essence. We have a very determined squirrel and that can only mean one thing. She is getting ready to birth litter #2 for the summer of 2021. She likes the cottage my husband built, and she likely had her spring litter in our attic. I read that squirrels can chew through electrical wires and burn your house down if you let them settle. This means war, Pam. Pack your bags.


Thursday, July 8, 2021

Here's how to make a chicken happy (and save your ankles)


The Farmer and I have been raising meat birds for years. I prefer turkeys to chickens, because turkeys respond to you with a simultaneous “gobble” when you speak to them. Chickens just squawk and scream without grace or style. Turkeys stand politely beside you while you top up their feeders. Chickens can actually be quite aggressive when you enter their pen. But, I have discovered, if you can find a way to keep your chickens content, they are far more agreeable and pleasant to be around. This may be our year to have a flock of happy chickens (and less peck marks on my ankles).

We have always had music on in the barn. It may or may not be a deterrent to predators, but when we had sheep and cattle it definitely seemed to soothe the beasts and help them sleep. 

The chickens seem to like the music too. I often tiptoe up to find them sitting together and commenting quietly on the tunes. When I worked at LCBO, I learned that chickens also love brightly coloured liquor boxes! They poke around inside, comment on the colour, and roost atop the boxes. But their absolute favourite thing, I have found – the thing that gets them more excited than a fresh pour of food in their feeder – is new, dry bedding.

The Farmer has been milling his own wood on a 16-foot sawmill that he keeps where the cows used to live in the main part of the barn. He buys full logs and cuts them into boards for various projects. So far he has built a log cabin and a lake house. All of this activity has filled one whole storeroom in the barn with wood shavings.

And so, every few days we can make a few dozen chickens positively squeal with delight. First we top up the feeders and water, then we go into the other room and come back with a wheelbarrow full of wood shavings. With each pitchfork-full, the chickens go hopping and squawking and crashing into each other, trying to be first to nestle into the soft, dry bedding. They wiggle their fat bird bums into the nest, drying their damp feathers and soothing their hot skin.

Even the turkeys allow themselves to get a bit excited over a fresh bed. They strut around, commenting to each other on the lovely feeling beneath their clawed feet.

The life of a meat bird may be short, at 10 to 12 weeks, but it can at least be comfortable. It’s the least we can do, to say thank you for providing good food for our family.





How to recognize Canada Day when you don't feel like celebrating


Phew. We made it to Canada Day again. Yes, we were warned that it takes about 18 months for a pandemic to run its course, but I wasn’t ready to believe it. And yet here we are, marking another July 1st without our parades, fireworks and outdoor concerts. At least we can get together in small groups for a barbecue and celebrate our country’s birthday.

The discovery of the graves of hundreds more Indigenous children at residential school sites has many people questioning what there is to celebrate, however. For this is not just a story that the First Nations elders pass down from one generation to another in their traditional storytelling style. This is not just Indigenous history. It is Canadian history.

This moment in time will be remembered for more than just a pandemic, here in Canada. This year will stand in history for the moment in time when we all had to realize that our first Prime Minister, our first leaders, in government, the Church, and even the scientific community, had some pretty messed up ideas about the people who lived here first, and continued to live in their own traditional ways, on the land.

We are only starting to realize the depth and breadth of damage that has been inflicted on our First Nations people who were forced to attend and suffer the impact of the Indian Residential School system. Those who survived lived to tell the stories of their peers – tales of physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of the people who operated the system designed to strip them of their Indigenous culture. 

It is a crushing feeling, to hear these stories and witness this incredible pain that our First Nations people have been suffering for so many years. If there is a positive side to this story, it is that these lost children have been found. The stories of their elders have been validated at last.

What can we do, as non-Indigenous Canadians? We can educate ourselves. Seek to understand that trauma inflicted on a community such as that in the Sixties Scoop and the residential school system has a negative, crippling impact on both the present and future generations.

Let this Canada Day mark a change in our cultural identity as a nation. Let’s support our First Nations people with respect, by standing quietly as allies while they tell their stories, seek justice, and sing their children home.

“You are free now, you may go home to Creator, to your mom and dad, your aunties and uncles who are waiting for you. You are no longer stuck here; this world is letting you go.” – Councillor Barbara Sarazin, Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation.



Dr. Doolittle would be very comfortable here


The wildlife are a little too friendly for my liking this season. First, when we were putting the dock in at the lake, a little water snake slithered over to let us know that we were in her territory. The Farmer is in complete denial that we have a snake on the property. He is really not fond of them at all. We shooed her away and she left – but came back every time we splashed. We suspect she has a young brood nearby.

My daughter was standing on a sandbar, baby on her hip, when a big fat bass bumped into her leg. It swam away, but seconds later it was back to nudge her again. I tossed her the fishing net and she gently scooped the fish up so the kids could examine the shiny green scales. We gently returned the fish to the water and kept the dog away (he loves to fish) until she could escape. Later we realized she probably had a nest nearby as well. We could have been standing on it.

I was gone away for one night – less than 24 hours – when a family of ducks decided to move onto our deck. They left droppings everywhere. It took me the better part of an hour to scrape and hose down the wood. I could see the ducks watching me from the marsh, and making the occasional rude remark as I eradicated evidence of their late night partying. I'm on the lookout for a length of those flags you see waving at car lots. Apparently that is what is done on the lake, to keep the geese away.

I know that wolf spiders are harmless but they do give you a bit of a shock when you open your eyes in the morning and see one watching you from the wall beside your bed. At almost three inches across they aren’t tiny either. And it’s really quite alarming to see them move. They don’t spin webs to catch their prey – they run and pounce on them like wolves! I do hope that particular creature makes himself scarce when my eldest is around. She is a true arachnophobe and the ensuing drama would not be pretty.

The bats are back – outdoors, anyway. Maybe my bat house worked after all. I was lying in my little mosquito tent in bed and heard a “thunk” on the window, followed by a baby bat sliding down the glass.

Perhaps the most annoying and intrusive of our cottage guests this year is the little red squirrel who has been nesting in the wood paneling above the bed in the guest room. For several nights she did construction. She made quite a mess. We tried to plug the entrance she was using but really, in a treehouse cottage such as this, there are just too many doorways to block.

Our only hope to reclaim the cottage for ourselves is to make a lot of noise and hope the animals decide to vacate the premises.





Off to a rough start to summer 2021


I have high hopes that this summer will be a good one. We know what to expect in terms of reopening the province, and it is likely that any setbacks won’t hit us as hard as they did the first time around. We know what we are dealing with now, when it comes to the pandemic. But can we talk about the mosquitoes? I mean, what the..? Is it just me, or are those tiny bloodsuckers worse than ever before?

I am one of those people who typically get a few bites at the beginning of the season, so I start wearing bug spray and then they don’t seem to bother me anymore. This year I am starting each warm spring day with a thick layer of bug repellent and I am still covered in bites. And they aren’t just annoying  - they itch like poison ivy. I have tried Benadryl, After Bite, Polysporin with cortisone for itching. Nothing works. I take half an allergy pill and head to bed and I wake to see I have been scratching in my sleep. But I am not getting bitten in my sleep! Not anymore. I brought the mosquito tent out early and installed it over my bed. Hopefully I will develop some sort of immunity to mosquitoes over the next few weeks or it’s going to be an ugly summer.

When we opened the cottage for the season it quickly became apparent that mice had been nesting inside. Something bigger had taken up residence as well – perhaps the squirrel that insists on weasling into the house through the gap in the rafters. I brought my cat to the cottage in the hope that his presence would scare away the rodents. The sounds and smells of the wildlife in the great outdoors had the cat up all night long. He just kept roaming the house, chirping and squawking. He didn’t catch anything, though. After 3 nights I took him back to the farm so I could get some sleep. At least my mosquito tent will keep me safe from squirrel attacks while I sleep.

I emptied the farmhouse of anything perishable and prepared to spend the summer at the cottage. I may have jumped the gun, however because it is absolutely freezing in there. It’s a solid wood structure, much like a log cabin, and it acts like an ice box. This is lovely on a humid summer day but at the moment I have to wear a sweatsuit to bed so I don’t freeze in my sleep. At least the thick clothing keeps me from scratching my insect bites. Please pass the calamine lotion.



P.s. - a reader passed along a jar of "Jewel Weed oil". The weed is local, found near poison ivy. That's often how this works. The thing that can save you is growing right next to the thing that is giving you grief. 

Turkey and the doe


It must have been a blue moon last week because I looked out the kitchen window and saw a deer in our field.

We live on a fairly big piece of land – a mixture of forest, meadow and crop fields, so you would assume that we see the occasional deer. I guess the property is just big enough to keep them happy without the need to come in sight of the house, because they rarely do. We know they are there because their little high-heeled hooves stamp patterns into the snow and soft earth of the fields. The rams make scrape marks on the trails, marking with their scent to claim their territory. They also scrape their antlers against the rough bark of the trees to relieve themselves of the downy felt of youth.

The Farmer had been out hunting wild turkey earlier in the day, so I’m surprised all that activity didn’t scare the doe into hiding. Quite the contrary – in fact, she appeared to be carrying on a consultation with the aforementioned wild turkey in the middle of the field directly following the hunt.

When I told my husband what I saw, he was so surprised he went and got his binoculars.

“But I was just out there a minute ago,” he said.

“They must have been watching you. Now they are discussing your skills,” I smiled.

The next day he headed out again and once more he returned without having fired his gun.

“See anything?” I asked.

“Nope,” he replied.

Ten minutes later I was doing the dishes when something caught my eye out the window. The deer was back. This time she had a beau with her and they were bounding around in a circle. They were actually frolicking in the same field I saw her in with the turkey the day before. Bizarre. I reported my discovery to the Farmer.

“No way!” he declared. “Where? Show me.”

“Same place as yesterday!” I said. “Seems to me if you want to see a deer or turkey you might consider hanging out in those cedars beyond the stone fence. They know where your tree stands are, and they are staying clear of them.”

Advice from someone who will never hunt to someone who has been hunting every season for the past 50 years.

My husband doesn’t hunt at the cottage, and there are plenty of deer there to entertain him. At sunset they pick their way through the old abandoned apple orchard beside our cottage lot. Sometimes they tiptoe through our property, bounding away and flashing the white underside of their tails when they hear the dog coming.





Sunday, April 11, 2021

Fergus has a bad case of vernalagnia

 They say a dog understands up to 300 words. When we speak to them, we aren’t supposed to muddle those words up in complicated sentences. We are supposed to speak a maximum of three words at a time: “get the ball;” “time to eat;” “come HERE;” and “Get OUT.”

Apparently our Golden Retriever Fergus seems to think that when the neighbour’s dog comes outside and ventures near the fence line dividing our properties, and I see what Ferg is thinking and I say, “NO,” that actually means, “Go get him, Ferg!” It happens every time. I see the big, muscular full male dog (Ferg hates that Rocky still has his family jewels and he does not) slinking along the trees (Ferg hates slinking), which he is completely entitled to do, as it is his own property. Ferg sees this from his perch on the porch, and starts to shake. I see what’s going on and say quietly, “come here, Ferg…” to no avail. Ferg gives me a slow side eye. He gathers his body up underneath him into a pouncing stance…I say, in what I hope is a firm tone, “NO, Ferg!” and off he goes like a shot.

When that happens, I have either forgotten to put his radar collar on him, or it just isn’t working and needs to be reset. He knows when it is juiced up and when it isn’t.  He’s pretty good at avoiding the zap.

Sometimes while Ferg is marauding next door, he takes the opportunity to chase chickens and ducks. They make delightful sounds and sometimes feathers fly. It’s a fun game. I don’t think he has ever hurt a chicken but I brought the owners one of ours out of the freezer once as compensation for the stress.

When Rocky is put in the house and the birds are back in their coop, Ferg struts home, triumphant. Unfortunately this seems to be happening more frequently, now that the smell of spring is in the air and both dogs are spending more time outside. It’s getting pretty embarrassing. My dog seems to feel the need to assert his dominance, even outside his clear territory. I don’t remember this being a problem in summer – probably because the leaves are on the trees and the dogs can no longer see each other.

This “spring fever” has also started to affect Fergus’ bedtime routine. I used to let him out for one more run around the yard, before retiring for the night. Lately, he just doesn’t want to come back in. I let him out, he bolts through the invisible fence and just keeps trotting up the driveway or into the open field under the moonlight.

It seems silly but I have to take him out for his evening walk around our own yard on a leash. He can’t be trusted and I don’t want him to meet a skunk or porcupine.



Monday, March 1, 2021

Goodbye to Albert's Meat Shop


I went into the butcher shop on a Saturday and saw the sign on the Plexiglas that was protecting the cash during the pandemic. It said that the shop would be closing on January 23rd, forever. I asked the owner if he was planning an early retirement and he said it was just the right decision for him and his wife. The store was sold, but it would not be a meat shop again. As I drove away, I did the math and realized it was the end of a sixty-year business.

After I wrote a story about our life-sized dollhouse, Beverley Buckingham emailed and reminded me that she used to have one at her father’s butcher shop on County Road 18. Beverley was just nine years old when her parents built and opened the little shop that would be Buckingham’s Meats, in 1961. Her father, Hilton, had always been a butcher. He had been in charge of the meat department at Anderson’s on Prescott Street, Kemptville. Now home to a suite of apartments on the top, retail on the bottom, the entire three-story complex used to be a department store with men and women’s clothing and grocery.

When Hilton moved to work at the Creamery (now a condo building on Asa), customers used to rent space in the meat lockers for their own frozen goods. Everyone had a cold storage in their basement but no one had a freezer at home. Hilton’s clients were loyal, and followed him from one business to another. So it only made sense that he should just open up his own.

“It was a family business,” Beverley explained. Buckingham’s started as a custom butchering business, charging just 3 cents a pound. People could bring in their own meat and Hilton would cut it for them. His wife did the wrapping and the kids did the lettering.

After 3 or 4 years, customers started asking to have special orders brought in. Hilton made a deal with Schneider’s, and went into retail. His business grew, and an addition was built on the shop. The customer base grew, and Hilton aimed to please. One of Beverley’s favourite memories is of a woman who came in one Saturday morning, wielding a roasting pan.

“I need you to cut me a piece of meat to fit in this,” she said.


Meanwhile, in Brockville, young Albert Dyks was shuttling back and forth between the various IGA meat departments in the region. He worked all but Wednesday afternoon and Sundays, including a late shift on Friday and an early start on Saturday. He almost fell asleep at the wheel one day, prompting his wife Ina to suggest they move to Kemptville. The B&H offered him a fulltime gig in their meat department, which would become his post for the next 8 years.

In 1972, Albert bought the meat shop and the house from Hilton, who retired from the meat business to become the town building inspector. With three little kids at home, the youngest just 2 years old, Ina had her hands full.

“Albert said, it’s ok - I’ll run the shop myself. You can just help me on weekends,” Ina laughed. “That didn’t last long…”

Soon, everyone in the family was behind the meat counter. Ina started with very little knowledge of the business, and soon became very familiar with the different cuts of meat. She and Albert passed on their business knowledge to their 3 kids, who all worked at the shop part time.

Like many shops in the region, the retail business of Albert’s closed down for a week during hunting season, while they ran a business doing custom cuts for hunters. It was not Ina’s favourite time, and she may have been a bit relieved when new regulations came in restricting butchers from hanging wild game in the same cooler with other meats.

They also did custom cuts of farmed meat on their “day off” Mondays, but that too soon came to an end. Albert focused on supplying the same quality Buckingham’s was known for, and “Albert’s Meat Shop” gained a reputation for excellence that, along with his sparkling personality, had customers arriving from all over the region.

In 1988 the Dyks’ built a new building and expanded with new and used equipment. The shop thrived as a supplier of local and special order meats, and Albert’s developed a regular clientele. The town grew and new grocery stores popped up. It was difficult to compete with the larger chain stores, who could sell their meat at a loss just to get customers in the door. But you didn’t go to Albert’s to get the cheapest cut of meat.

In 2006, Mike and Susan Simpson approached Albert about buying the shop.

“There are no coincidences,” Ina says. “God had a hand in it.”

As they were already considering retirement, Albert and Ina agreed to sell. Once retired from the business that had consumed and enriched so much of their lives, they were able to enjoy their 50th wedding anniversary and a trip to Holland in 2013. Albert passed away suddenly in 2014, and the whole community mourned his loss.

Mike and Susan Simpson carried on the tradition of special orders and quality meats for their customers. It was no doubt a challenge to compete with the bigger grocery stores, especially during a pandemic. A focus on farm-to-table has had a resurgence, however, as even people from the city are starting to show more of an interest in where their food comes from.

From my own perspective, I know our family will really miss the special ham-on-the-bone that the Simpsons would order for us each Easter and Thanksgiving. When we heard they were closing, we ordered one so we could enjoy it one last time before we have to find another local source.

If you are considering opening a butcher shop or something like it, you might take your lead from one of our local long-time business professionals. You have to grow and change with the times, but you also have to know when it is time to step back and let someone else take over.

And to the Buckingham, Dyks and Simpson families, thank you! Your customers will miss you when we sit down to Sunday dinner.






Wednesday, February 3, 2021

In which the mini-house gets a second chance

When I first joined up with the Farmer 14 years ago and moved onto the farm, I was quite taken by the tiny miniature farmhouse in the backyard. The Farmer had built it himself, as a playhouse for his two little girls. By the time I arrived, it had already been sitting idle and unused for a few years.

I pulled the rickety screen door open and pushed the wooden one in. Crouching down, I could just fit myself inside. There was a perfect replica kitchen with upper and lower cupboards and a tiny sink. A child-sized table and chairs sat under a window with floral curtains. There was a set of stairs to a loft, where someone once had a nap or maybe camped out. The blanket was still there.

Under the stairs, a mosquito net hung down over a bassinet, protecting the pretend princess that lay inside, eyes closed. Dreaming.

As the girls became teens and moved out, we watched the tiny playhouse slowly fall apart. Wind blew the shingles off the roof and bricks fell out of the chimney. A groundhog family tunnelled beneath the house, causing the floor to cave in. Raccoons took up residence inside and clawed their way through the screens when the door was closed.

I still thought the house was beautiful, if in a slightly haunted way. It was front and centre in all of my sunset photos for the next several years.

Then, one day, my daughter had a daughter. I asked the Farmer if we could fix up the little playhouse and he said, “No – I’m afraid it is beyond repair.” I stuck my head into the house to survey the damage. It didn’t look that bad to me. But what do I know?

By the time our granddaughter turned 2, she was totally fascinated with the little playhouse. She would stand on the tiny porch and peek in the window. She understood it was unsafe to go inside, with the broken floor. But that didn’t stop her imagining that a witch or a fairy lived inside.

Our granddaughter is now 5. The other day, the Farmer surprised me. “You will have to make sure there are no wasps in there,” he started, “but if you can clean it up, I will put in a new floor.”

The playhouse is getting a second chance to entertain children. And since she is old enough to wield a paintbrush now, our granddaughter will be enlisted to help give the house a new coat of paint.

I told her to choose a colour that her sister will like too.





Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Our handsome guardian angel.

Dear Larry, Dad, Grandpa:

It's been 13 years since you left us but your memory will always live on in our hearts. 

Wish you could see your grown-up grandchildren now and meet your two great granddaughters, who will have to get to know you through the many stories told by your family, friends and students. 

We feel you are with us on so many occasions. You are our handsome guardian angel, always looking over us. 

You are never forgotten and will be forever loved. ~Maureen

Funny how I can still so easily be moved to tears, even after so long. I heard a new one the other day: "Grief is just Love with nowhere to go." That makes sense. We sure had love, even if we didn't say it every day. 

Annie and I took baby Adira to meet your mom the other day. Grandma is turning 98 in February. We are so proud to celebrate our 5 generations. I know you would be proud too. 
Your great granddaughter Leti seems to have your smile - I often see it flash across her face. 

I find myself repeating your silly sayings (many unfit for public consumption) and wondering how you would fare in this pandemic situation. I'm sure you would be ok with the isolation bit - you often said you weren't very fond of most people anyway! Hah. 

I miss you, Dad. I had a visit from a cardinal last week - the first one in about a year. When I posted your photo online, with the anniversary of your passing, someone said, "There's your cardinal." I like to think you are somehow aware of us. We are certainly aware of you. ~ Dee.

I miss you, Dad. But I dream, and I often wake up with the knowledge that I have received a visit from you. I know this is special, because not everyone gets a visit, or remembers the details.
 I treasure these visits. They are little flashes of a life we shared. 

Also, in April we welcomed a new member to our family. He shares your birthday, and your name, I take much pleasure getting calls from the vet about Larry Leeson. ~ Cath.

We love you. We remember you. We celebrate the time we shared and the influence you had on our lives. 

Larry Leeson was here in physical form from September 4, 1941 to January 14, 2008. 
His presence lingers around his loved ones.