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Monday, December 15, 2014

A donkey looks good to a donkey

“I haven’t seen you in a donkey’s age. You’ve been gone for donkey years. Almost as long as donkey’s ears.”

The many variations on the theme of this colloquial expression would lead one to believe that a donkey lives for a very long time. They also have long ears.
We aren’t exactly sure how old our Donkey is. He is getting bald patches on his back again but that is due to rain rot – a type of fungus – and not necessarily age. A few good applications of sulfur rub and he will be growing a thick, wiry coat again. Not a shiny, glossy and furry coat like the winter wear of the horse, but a reliable, almost impermeable covering of bristle that will get him through the colder months.
A quick search of the Internet says donkeys can live between 45 to 50 years. That’s a good 20 on a horse. The oldest donkey on record lived to the ripe old age of 57.
Donkeys are very easy to care for, they don’t ask for much, they are smart, and hardy and dedicated. So why the bad rap? Why do we have insulting references in almost every language on the globe, related to the stupidity of the ‘lowly’ donkey? Probably because the donkey can be found on just about every continent on the earth. They are common. They are easy to care for, so they are owned even by those who cannot afford the fussy feed and care that a horse might require, for example.
The donkey is the only animal on our farm who does not complain about the food. When the hay is a bit moldy or the silage a bit too ripe, he just keeps eating while the horse, cattle and even the lone sheep line up at the fence to sing a complaint in the general direction of the farm house. Donkey just stands at the feeder, happily chewing and swallowing down the sub-par menu.
When Donkey comes in to the stable for the night as company for the horse, he doesn’t even eat or drink. He just stands guard while she tosses her hay around and spills her water everywhere. He can get to her water and hay if he needs a snack but we don’t even bother to fill his water bucket anymore as it is just frozen solid in the morning, untouched.
If the horse is getting sweet feed, however, you have to give Donkey some. Same with apples. If he smells an apple, he will have his chin on your shoulder, nibbling at your ear until you hand it over. That animal loves a good over-ripe apple.
On our farm, the donkey has built a bit of a reputation because he is very smart and therefore, like the horse, he gets bored. If the ATV or tractor is left out in the open where the animals can access them, they will happily bite and tug on the squishy padded seat and rubberized handles for hours. The hoodlums will have the tractor stripped by the time the Farmer gets home.
If the animals are on the lawn, trotting down the road or visiting the cornfield next door, you can bet it was Donkey who let them out. He studies a gate latch and plays with it for hours until he masters it. What else does he have to do all day? Might as well work on his Houdini routine.
The Farmer says we don’t need Donkey anymore, because we only have one sheep left and she is kept safe by always standing next to the big Belgian horse. But I argue that Donkey and Misty the horse are best friends since she lost her sister. She would be lost, without him. She doesn’t even like to go into the stable if he isn’t with her.
Donkeys are important. This time of year we tell the story of a very special donkey who carried someone named Mary quite a distance on his back, without complaint or demand, all the way to Bethlehem.
So once again, I argue respect for the donkey. He shall receive a large bag of over-ripe apples to share with the horse and the sheep and his favourite cows on Christmas morning. They can eat the sweet fruit until their bellies ache. Except Donkey won’t get a belly ache, because he has a cast-iron stomach and he isn’t fussy like that.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Winter warning

The Accidental Farmwife
The animals prepare for winter
By Diana Fisher

I turned the porch light on and there he was. A huge grey tabby, with half an ear missing and some crooked whiskers. He was eating the cat food I leave there, and the light made him freeze on the spot. But he saw me. His eyes met and locked on mine. I did the same thing I had done a couple years ago to tame Sammy. Slow blinks. The grey cat stayed frozen, staring at me, and slowly his eyes began to appear less startled, less alarmed. Calmer. He slowly blinked back at me. Then he turned and disappeared into the wood pile.
As the weather turns colder, cats we’ve never seen before appear out of nowhere, looking for food. Cats we thought had disappeared long ago suddenly reappear on the scene, checking out the familiar feeding spots. I was happy to see Sabrina the barn cat again. None of the other cats accepted her and they always scared her away when she came to eat. I used to have to feed her behind the stack of rubber boots or up on top of the freezer, where they couldn’t see her.
We first saw the grey tabby last spring when that calico cat was here. Every time she was in heat he would show up, answering her mournful cry at the window. We got her fixed and found her a home, though, after her babies were weaned. Then we didn’t see him again. Until now. There are no fertile females here to attract him anymore so he must be here for the free food.
One of the barn cats who eats on the back porch but doesn’t like people, has decided she will occasionally come in just to warm up. Nosey just darts in when you open the door. If you aren’t looking down, you don’t even see her. She’s just a stripey blur. I come home from work and there she is in the hallway, sitting like a statue, watching me. The girls must have inadvertently let her in after school. Sometimes she overnights with us and I don’t even know she is inside until I go downstairs and see, out of the corner of my eye, a brown tail disappear into a dollhouse.
The horse, donkey and cows are now covered with a fine coat of fur. They are ready for winter. I try to remember how thick their coats were last year. Some farmers can predict how harsh the winter will be by the thickness of the animals’ coats. The horse can be convinced to come into the stable every night now, for sweet feed and hay and shelter from whatever weather the night will bring. In summer she often stays down in the meadow, sleeping under a tree. Now the animals are usually up by the barn, eating from the feeders.
We’ve had to put a few bales up a week, but it’s already December and they can still go down on the meadow if they want to. They keep eyeing my front lawn and watching to see if we remember to lock the gate.
The horse has had her anti-botulism shots so she can eat the wrapped silage hay but she prefers the dry hay. The cows also prefer the dry hay this year. Hopefully they will acquire a taste for the sweet whiskey-smelling wrapped hay soon because that is what we have planned to feed them through the winter.
The dog houses are lined with hay and the dogs spend long hours napping every day, in snug comfort.
The birdfeeder is full and the two house cats spend the afternoons on the windowsill, cackling at the chickadees. The birds are so happy to see the black-oiled sunflowers they flit around my head as I fill the feeder, brushing my arms with their wings.
That last wind made it easy for the Farmer to find deadwood for the fire. He cut the felled trees with his chainsaw, stacked the logs on his wagon and brought them up to the house. Then he threw the logs up on the porch and stacked them in a wall of wood to block the wind and feed our woodstove.
There’s nothing like a wood fire in winter. So we’re ready. Bring it on.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Seeing the first snow through an International student's eyes

My International student from Brazil had been taking pictures of frost cover all week. I kept telling her, “that’s not real snow.” I knew she would be excited to see an actual snowfall. “One day you’ll wake up and it will just be all white outside,” I told her. “It’s beautiful. I still get excited at the first snowfall, every year.” Sunday, Marilia and Vicky got to try out their new winter wear.
It was quite fun to watch. First, they opened the front door and just squealed as a gust of wind blew snowflakes in their faces.
“Ok, guys. We like to keep the snow outside if we can,” and I pushed them gently out the door, to more squeals. They carefully slid their feet over the slippery porch and I ran to get my camera.
Victoria, from Suzhou near Shanghai in China has seen snow before, “but never this big!” We had about 2 cms on the ground. I told her she ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Marilia, who lives near the beach in Recife, Brazil, had never seen a snowflake. She just stood there for a while, watching each beautiful, fat flake land and melt on her black gloves. I think she had tears in her eyes. I was reminded of my daughters as babies, seeing snow for the first time.
It must be like when we ‘Southerners’ head north to experience aurora borealis. Or the first time we see an ocean with no visible limit. For Marilia, feeling the snow fall on her face was like rounding a corner in Switzerland and being faced with the Alps for the first time.
“Do you hear it crunching under your feet?” I demonstrated by stomping around. “That means it’s good for making a snowman.”
Beach girl Marilia picked up a handful of snow, formed it into a perfect snowball and whipped it at Victoria. Vicky responded by throwing a handful of snow at Marilia. It all blew back in her face.
For the next twenty minutes the girls worked together to make a snowman that was about a foot tall. I think I’ll make them a life-sized one to greet them when they return from school on Monday.
I dragged the Christmas lights outside and proceeded to put them on the tree. The Farmer suffers from vertigo when at the top of a ladder so I get to do this job myself every year. I rigged up an extendable pole with a hook on the end but I still couldn’t reach the top of the evergreen I had decorated last year. Could it really have grown three feet in one year?
I decided to light the cedar shrub instead. This turned out to be not a great idea, as it was already circled with wild grapevine that gripped my hook pole and light string at every opportunity. I lost the business end of my implement in the tree, nearly fell off my ladder tugging on the string and had the branch whip back in my face, getting snow in my eyes.
The girls watched with concern from the window in the house, where they had retreated to warm up by the fire.
An hour later I had succeeded in throwing all ten light strings up onto the twenty-foot cedar tree. The vines held them in place. It was a group effort. It doesn’t look pretty, but as the saying goes, a man on a galloping horse wouldn’t tell the difference. Especially if he’s riding after dark.
When I returned inside to take a layer off, having worked up a bit of sweat, I found the girls still sitting on the couch by the fire, in full winter gear. Hoo boy.
Maybe it’s more like the opposite of us going to the desert for the first time, in +50 degrees Celsius. Because these two are acting like it’s forty below when it’s plus 2.
Marilia is here until mid-January. Hopefully we won’t get minus 30 until she is gone home to the beach. Victoria, however, is going to get to wear her Ugg boots and high-fashion parka a little more than that. She is here ‘til the bitter end and other than a break at Christmas, she doesn’t go home to China until June. Oh Canada!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

It's Canada Day again.

As I walked around the block this morning I noticed them hanging from trees, mailboxes, and farm gates. I also noticed them in the department store, shop windows and restaurants. The municipality is flying theirs at half mast. Canadian flags. It’s Canada Day again.
The events of Wednesday, October 22nd in Ottawa were heard around the world. One man was shot and killed in the line of duty, and then the shooter threatened our national headquarters. Our sacred Parliament buildings.
We have learned a senior security agent – Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers – ran toward the gunfire exchange he heard in the front hall of Centre Block. He chased the shooter to where he hid behind a stone pillar and then Vickers, who is not a young man, hit the marble floor, rolling over onto his back as he spun and slid around the pillar to land at the feet of the shooter. Then, with several quick shots, he took the killer down. Vickers was given a hero’s thank you in the House of Commons the next day with a prolonged, loud standing ovation and speeches from our leaders. Many are asking for recognition of his heroic efforts on a grand scale.
Others are asking that a fund be established in honour of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, so his son will always know how grateful his country is for his service. Just two days after the shooting that fund had already reached $300,000. When it reaches $500k, it will be split between the familes of Nathan Cirillo and Patricen Vincent, the Warrant Officer run down in Quebec October 20th.
As I write this, Cpl. Cirillo hasn’t been buried yet. But he has come home.
We first heard that the fallen soldier’s hearse would be escorted along the Highway of Heroes – the designated route between Trenton and Toronto that far too many have taken when they return from overseas. But Cirillo wasn’t flying home to Canada; he was in Ottawa. Realizing his route would be along Hunt Club and the 416, an approximate schedule was released and people by the hundreds lined the roadways to wait and watch him pass.
It was a P.D. day in our area so many students also had the opportunity to witness and take part in the solemn moment. Parents tried to find ways to explain what happened, and why we are all so affected by it.
Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth. I hope that parents will find a way to explain the events of October 22nd to their children, themselves and each other, that does not involve reference to any religion, race or culture. Responsible journalists do not attribute these crimes, both the killing Oct. 20th of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec and the murder of Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial downtown Ottawa, to any religion, race or culture.
In both cases, the killers had a history of mental health problems. Mental illness took the lives of four people: the two victims and the two men that killed them.
While we are busy claiming attacks on our service men and Parliament are attributed to a particular religion, race or culture, and putting millions of dollars toward fighting that war, I hope that someone up there in the upper echelon of government sees fit to also invest some funding in mental health research, awareness, treatment and care.
In the meantime, let us look at the good that came out of the bad. Because there is always something. This week many in downtown Ottawa, in the line of fire and under lockdown, have a newfound respect for our service men and women, our police officers and security personnel. Those who ran toward danger while ushering others swiftly to safety. We are waving the Canadian flag and wearing our national pride in a bright, bold shade of red. And we stood together, no matter what our race, religion or culture, in person and in front of television sets and online, to watch one young man make his final trip home, to Hamilton, along an extended Highway of Heroes.
If you are among those who think our displays of patriotism are of little effect, think again.
Why did we unfurl our flags on the highway overpasses from Hunt Club to the 401? Cpl. Cirillo’s family appreciate the outpouring of support. But we also did it for ourselves. It was a way to make sense and find closure after a traumatic event that shook all of us.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In which the Accidental Farmwife becomes a hunting widow. For a day or two anyway.

The Farmer’s father is 89 years old. And he’s determined to go to his traditional hunt camp again this year. With his mobility a bit compromised, it might be foolhardy for Wally to go hunting on his own again but he really doesn’t like to miss it. So the Farmer is going with him. Hopefully the two of them will enjoy their time together and no one will get lost in the woods.
A lot of hunter’s wives are used to their men going off into the bush for a week or two at the beginning of November. Some of them even look forward to it. They plan girls-only get-togethers, shopping trips, ladies’ lunches and movie nights. A ‘hunting widow’, as she is called, will take advantage of the solitude and spend her days at home without worrying about her man’s schedule, his favourite meals, TV shows, or comfort zones.
One of my friends plans home decorating projects for when her husband is away on his annual hunting trip. The year it was really warm in November and the deer weren’t moving, he called to say he was bored and coming home early. She told him he had better not, or she would put him to work. So he spent a few more days in the woods, reading a book.
I am not accustomed to my man going off on his own for several days at a time.
If the Farmer isn’t home, I am cold all the time and I don’t sleep well. I have to leave lights on and I stay up way past my bedtime, watching useless movies on Netflix.  
Now don’t get me wrong – I truly enjoy my alone time. But the Farmer and I have formed such a secure, routine partnership, I feel quite unsettled without him. Like I’m walking around all day with just one shoe.
The Farmer went away in May, on a business trip with the college. I managed. We Skyped twice a day and I kept busy so that the days would go by quickly. I guess I will do the same this time.
I will invite friends over for a sleep-over movie night with sushi and cocktails and chick flicks. I will sleep in and stay up late, work on my book and read others. I will appreciate the fact that my husband has his own interests. We are both very independent people, thank goodness.
So I’m a hunting widow this year! But it certainly isn’t going to be lonely. We have three international students living with us, after all. I have to get them to their various activities, keep the house clean, keep them fed and entertained. We’ll go to the movies and the hockey game and have a great time.
I think I’ve got it all under control. This farm pretty well runs itself. As long as the water to the barn doesn’t freeze or otherwise break down, we’re good. If it does, I will have to line up a row of barrels and fill them with water, twice a day.
I hope the snow holds off and we don’t get an early storm while the Farmer/Hunter is away because I can’t drive that decrepit old tractor to bring the cows hay. I would just have to open the door to the barn, climb up onto the hay bales and roll one out for them. Which wouldn’t be so bad, I guess. I’ve managed in the past. The farm survives without the Farmer. For short periods of time.
So I guess we’re good. I’m even looking forward to it. I can take the girls into the city, visit friends I haven’t seen in a while and not worry about rushing home to make dinner or keep company with the man of the house. It will be a novelty, and it will wear off, because I like my routine.
Yep, we’re good. As long as the Farmer is home in time for Sunday dinner. Because that is one thing that just doesn’t happen without him. I love houseguests but get stressed when things have to happen on schedule, like a coordinated dinner for 20.
He has a free hunting pass until Sunday. Or I’m cancelling dinner.
The nice thing about the Farmer going off for a weekend hunting is that I can bank those points toward a nice weekend away in Montreal or Toronto with my girls. We can go Christmas shopping, take in a concert or show, enjoy girl time and not feel guilty about leaving the Farmer home to fend for himself. Because if I can survive solitude, so can he!
I will just have to leave bowls of cat food and water all over the basement for Sammy and Sheila because he isn’t likely to remember to feed them unless they trip him on his way up the stairs.

“The Farmer’s Wife” hosts the afternoon drive at 97.5 Juice FM on weekday afternoons.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

There is a woman who embodies everything I have ever wanted to be. The positive energy emanating from this person just swirls around her and fills the room. Her laugh cracks through the air and she is very quick to give you a big, warm smile, even if you have yet to be formally introduced. She isn’t happy because life is easy and good. She is happy because she is content with what she has. She is grateful, and blessed. I want to learn that trick. Maureen Kathleen Theresa Cullen Leeson is my mother, and we are celebrating her 70th birthday this week.
Mom was born and raised in Ottawa. She spent a fair amount of time in a house on Donald Street in the east end. Her mother, my grandma Vicky, raised five kids – four boys and one little girl – on her own. She took in boarders to make ends meet. Mom says they were poor growing up. She remembers going to the home of a more well-to-do friend one day after school, and being amazed by the bowl of fruit in the centre of the kitchen table. She told herself, when I’m married and have a family of my own, there will always be a bowl of fruit in the centre of the table. And so there always was.
My mother must have inherited her tenacious spirit from my grandmother. She had to be resilient, with four rather wild brothers sharing the small home. Many times my father would say, “it’s amazing your mother turned out normal, growing up with brothers like that.”
My childhood memories are full of song. My mother woke up singing. “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day. I’ve got a beautiful feeling, everything’s going my way” – and she meant every word. I thought she surely must be one of the best singers in the world. She seemed to have a song for every occasion. The radio was always on, right beside the kitchen sink, so she could sing while cooking and doing the dishes. That too, was passed on from her French Canadian mother.
Mom taught us to be resilient too. I remember the first day of Grade 6, or maybe it was 5, when I was wearing a brown polyester A-line skirt and a lemon yellow tee-shirt and I thought I looked just fabulous, with my little pixie haircut and Mary Jane shoes. Until I got to school and someone told me that yellow doesn’t go with brown and my hair makes me look like a boy. A skinny, brown boy.
I was pretty upset when I got home and didn’t want to talk about it but Mom eventually got it out of me. “That’s ridiculous,” she said. “I studied the colour spectrum in my Interior Decorating course and yellow goes perfectly well with brown. That person just doesn’t know any better.”
Later, when I ran off and got married at 19, and later when I had serious trouble in my first marriage, and even when I decided to move to Asia, my mother was always there for me, showing support without meddling. I know she worried a great deal about me and my impulsive decisions, but she remained a steady, positive force I could always depend on. Never passing judgment.
My mother is abundantly generous. Whether it’s the loan of a vehicle, or extra place settings for Thanksgiving dinner, she always thinks of what you need and offers it, before you even realize you need it.
I’m constantly asking myself “What would Mom do?” Because in any given situation, that would be the right answer. It’s a safe bet, anyway.
Live life to the fullest. Speak your mind. Go out of your way for people. Enjoy a good glass of wine each night. Greet each day with a smile.
We celebrated Mom’s 70th with a professional family photo shoot. She is still the same classic beauty with the demure smile, the stylish dress, the matriarch of the family. She is the glue that holds us together.
My whole life I’ve been told I look and sound just like my mom. I didn’t see it much before but now I see it more and more every day. And that’s just fine with me, because there isn’t anyone I would rather be like, in this world. Happy Birthday, Mom. We love you.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Everyone needs a witness to their life.

“We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness." ~ Susan Sarandon, Shall We Dance, 2004

When I first met Norma Fisher she was dancing with her husband George at a fundraising event for the hospital. I watched decades of history as they flowed across the dance floor together. Back at the table when they took a dance break, I asked Norma how the two met.
“I wasn’t sure how I felt about him at first,” she said. “He was a vet. He smelled like a vet.” I guess the fine aroma of farm animals didn’t put her off too much, as they eventually married and had a good, long life together.
Dr. George C. Fisher passed away last week, at the age of 97. Those who knew him were very sad to hear of his passing but it also gave us an opportunity to celebrate his life of service. The man answered every call for service that came his way. He was a strong supporter of the Kemptville District Hospital, the Kemptville College Foundation, and a lifelong member of the Rotary Club. He touched the lives of many people within his circle of friendship and care. His family wisely decided to extend his visitation hours to six instead of the usual four. It was a very busy day for them, and I’m sure very overwhelming, to see so many people lined up to say their goodbyes to George.
As we made our way up the line, I hoped that someone had given Norma a royal chair to sit in. I didn’t want to imagine her standing for hours. She was in fact sitting in the perfect chair, of barstool height, so that she was at eye level with her visitors. Her foot was in some sort of brace, however, because she had recently fallen and hurt it. No dancing for a while.
When it was my turn, I gave Norma a hug. “You will miss your dance partner,” I said, and she smiled. But I know she has missed George for a while, as he has been ailing. “How long were you two together, anyway?” I asked. “Sixty-three years,” she said.
“Wow. How did you make it last that long? Did you ever want to just wring his neck?”
Norma replied that whenever a disagreement threatened to come between them, they would each go off on their own and think about it. And then they would come together again, and one would admit to the other that they were wrong. It’s a give-and-take. And you must never say an unkind word, because it hangs in the air between you and you can never take it back once it’s out there. Good advice. Sounds like it came from another Fisher I know and love. More than once we have been asked if we are related to George and Norma. No, but it sounds like a lovely family to be a part of.
The photo slideshow at the service showed one of the Fisher granddaughters dressed up in her wedding gown, visiting George in hospital. She didn’t want him to miss out on seeing her in person on her big day.
One woman in the receiving line had come all the way from Mexico. She knew George and Norma through the Rotary exchange program. I asked her about her accent and she told me her story. She said she loved the Fishers, they were her family, and she wouldn’t miss the chance to come and say goodbye.
This week at Sunday dinner Paulina and Carey got out their big telescope and set it up so we could look at the stars in a full moon sky. I don’t know why but looking at the stars always makes me think of my Dad. Maybe because it makes me feel so small. He would have been 73 this week if he were still with us. Another larger-than-life character gone, but we are witnesses to their lives. Their lessons stay with us; even the ones they never knew they were teaching.