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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.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Happy 7th Anniversary to the Farmer from his Farmwife

Seven years ago this week, I became The Farmer’s Wife. Recently I saw a meme on Facebook asking “If you had to marry your partner on the exact spot you first met, where would that be?” I first met the Farmer when my mom brought me to his farm to pick up a Thanksgiving turkey. And we did get married on the farm, so I guess we did it right.
My middle daughter Anastasia (now married herself), was my event planner, designer and coordinator. The Kemptville College did the catering – roast beef, salads, potatoes and rolls. A substantial farm meal. The first of many to come. My mother-in-law-to-be, Lorna, baked three of her specialty buttermilk-chocolate cakes with cream cheese icing and decorated them simply with silk flowers on top. A good friend of mine since forever, Jenny brought her own boxes of colourful flowers to provide a backdrop for the altar, which the Farmer had created under a homemade rose arbour he built specially for the occasion.
Corey Arcand pitched a huge party tent on the lawn behind the farmhouse. Our friends and family helped us set up the decorations we rented – silk flower trellises, yards of tulle fabric, an old farm door and a white picket fence. The Farmer built a dance floor and set it in the middle of the tent. Pots of fall chrysanthemums in rich burgundy and gold – my favourite colour and his – lined the front of the head table.
The caterers set up dining tables and lined up chairs on both sides of the aisle leading to the altar. The bar-and-buffet tent was installed and the porta-pottie arrived. As we sat down to our rehearsal dinner that night, I had a little panic attack. I worried the girls hadn’t organized the music for the reception. The Farmer pulled me outside for a moment.
“Deep breath,” he advised, and pulled me into a big, warm hug. “It will all come together. Don’t tire yourself out. It’s just a great big party with a little bitty wedding in the middle.” That centred me and brought me back to earth.
The day of our wedding dawned damp and cool but the sun quickly warmed things up and dried out the grass. The girls and I headed to Rhonda’s for our up-do hairstyles and some breakfast.
Back at home, we darted past the Farmer and his men and sequestered ourselves in the big bedroom at the back of the house. My eldest, Milena, did my makeup and Jenny started what would turn out to be about 12 solid hours of photography – her priceless wedding gift to us. When someone you’ve known most of your life takes your wedding photos, they don’t have staged scenes in mind. They wait until they see something they recognize as truly you, then click.
My dress came from the bridal salon that was closing in Kemptville, so I got it at a really good price. The veil cost more than the dress but we have certainly gotten our money’s worth on that as it has been worn by two other women in my family since. It’s the family veil.
My mother and father walked me down the aisle, one on either side. I’m so grateful to have shared my wedding day with Dad, as we would be saying our final goodbyes just five months later.
I wanted our five daughters to feel involved in this new union so they each were given a verse to read from “On Children” in The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. The Farmer and I wrote our own wedding vows. His had something to do with hunting and fishing and not spending too much time on the couch. The reverend from the United Church officiated, and the rain held off, though the wind threatened to blow the veil right off my head. Danny Rembadi stood beside the altar and played his guitar and sang, providing the perfect soundtrack for the event.
We drove the pickup to the back of the pasture and Jenny took more photos in the tractor lane and meadow. Then we had dinner, speeches and dancing under the big white tent. The sky finally opened and the rain came down after dark, but by then no one cared anymore about getting a little muddy and wet. Besides, I hear it’s good luck to have a little rain on your wedding day. It was an awesome day, full of great memories, and every year we celebrate it with another great big party on the farm.
Happy Anniversary, to the Farmer. You have made me one happy Farmwife. Xo

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Bremen Town Musicians

The Bremen Town Musicians ride again

I realize the Brothers Grimm tale of a donkey, dog, cat and rooster is fictional but mismatched inter-species friendships happen all the time. Take my trio of donkey, horse and sheep for example. Some animals just don’t like to be alone, so they pair up with whomever they can find. Others could care less, are quite happy in their solitude, and use their independence to torment the pack-dwellers at times. I am thinking of Donkey as I write this.
When the two Belgian horses arrived at the farm, Donkey was quite smitten. He followed them around the barnyard and they tortured him by gracefully shaking out their long blonde manes and thundering away across the pasture, leaving him to follow with his weird sideways trot.
After Ashley died suddenly and unexpectedly, Misty was left without her half-sister, best friend and leader. She climbed the manure heap, using it as a lookout post, and whinnied, tossing her head that way she does, looking for her sister. Every day for over a week she ran up and down the pasture, searching for Ashley. Eventually the Farmer pulled her aside for a long talk. He took Ashley’s old halter down off the hook in the stable and held it under Misty’s nose as he spoke. Then he put the dead horse’s halter on Misty, and Donkey got Misty’s discarded adornment.
That week Misty decided Donkey would be her new friend. She formed an attachment to the funny little guy and in many ways, he rose to her expectations. She no longer had to walk the pasture unaccompanied or sleep alone at night. When something truly scary like a barn cat or squirrel scurried by, Donkey got between it and the massive cowardly horse, protecting her.
Unfortunately, Donkey also likes to tease the horse at times. He doesn’t mind being alone, and is often strolling independently out to pasture while Misty isn’t looking. Many times she has come crashing out of the barn, in a panic, looking for her friend. She calls him again and again but he doesn’t answer. He just stands in the hedgerow out of sight, silently chewing and twitching his ears, as if he is amused at her discomfort.
When we sold the sheep I couldn’t give up Gracie. The Farmer warned that she would be ‘coyote bait’ without the rest of her flock. Safety in fluffy numbers, I guess. I am happy to report he was wrong, so far.
Her first week as lone sheep on the farm, Gracie stayed up at the barnyard, nickering and calling for her flock-mates. One day she even followed the truck that took them down the road to see if it would lead her to a reunion. She got distracted and wandered into the forest instead, and I had to go and pull her back out.
It took a long time for Gracie to get the courage to follow the horse and donkey down the field to the pasture meadow. But somewhere along the way, she decided that she would be safe from the coyotes – and from Donkey, who has been known to entertain himself by biting and chasing sheep – if she just stayed tucked in behind the horse. Sometimes she appears to be right under the horse. I just hope she doesn’t get stepped on.
I wondered what the horse thought of this new attachment. In the past she kept her distance from the sheep – particularly the lambs – because, I think, they made strange noises, she didn’t like the way they felt when she accidentally stepped on them, and anything small, fast and unpredictable is particularly terrifying her. It’s the elephant and the mouse story all over again.
The other day Misty started out to pasture, picking up the pace to catch up with Donkey. Suddenly she stopped, turned and whinnied at something. I went out onto the porch to see what she was excited about. Gracie was there, limping along. The sheep was favouring one foot that had been nicked in a hoof trimming session and it was slowing her down. The horse was telling her to hurry up. When the little sheep stopped to catch her breath, the huge Belgian trotted back up to the barnyard to accompany her on the long walk. I think she would have carried her if she could.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Another week, another six feet of zucchini

Here’s why I don’t like to cook. First, you have to hang around the kitchen a lot. To watch, listen and smell for signs of food over-boiling or burning. I tend to have a short attention span. One minute I’m in the kitchen spreading butter on bread, the next I notice something happening with the horse out the window so I have to pull boots on and go outside to see what’s up. Ten minutes later the garlic bread is burnt. Or the pasta has boiled to mush. Or the tomato soup has boiled over. Again.
Second, you never have $500 dollars worth of exotic spices and special ingredients in your kitchen with which to complete the recipe, so you have to substitute. Also, I just cannot stand the idea of putting two cups of refined white sugar into anything. This is where I really get into trouble. Today I decided to tackle the two rather large zucchinis (that didn’t even fit in the kitchen sink) by making some muffins. I used gluten-free flour, until I ran out. I added hemp, chia, flax and quinoa because I love to think I’m making something healthy. I brought up the dry ingredients to the right quantity with some rolled oats.
Then it came to the wet ingredients. Eggs, vanilla, olive oil, but I’m not adding sugar, so I poured in some maple syrup instead. But that made it really wet, because syrup is wet whereas sugar is dry. Hmm. Add some more oats. And some quinoa flakes for good measure. Pour in the cocoa powder, mix well, spoon into muffin tins. It still looks really wet. Oh well. Hopefully we have muffins in half an hour, and not 48 servings of chocolate-flavoured zucchini porridge.
That used up one third of one zucchini. I have four more. I am planning to force them on dinner guests tonight but I still want to use up some on my own. I am not going to waste anything that grows in that garden. I am determined. Mother Nature is up there laughing because she is making me cook and bake. I’ll show her.
Next, I seed the rest of the two large zucchinis and slice them into strips like they do in the pub. Of course, my veggies are so large, the strips are rather curved. I’m quite proud of the way my gluten-free breadcrumbs turned out. If it wasn’t for this food processor, I would never set foot on the business side of the kitchen island.
The Farmer doesn’t like me in his kitchen on Sundays. Any other day of the week, fine, but Sundays he likes everything and everyone in place and on schedule. Throw a half-confident, disorganized cook into his kitchen prep area and he gets very stressed. So I move my stuff out onto the porch. We have another stove there. I take my zucchini slices and dip them first in egg, then roll in breadcrumbs. So far, so good. Now comes the tricky part. You have to have the oil hot enough in the fry pan to crisp the batter but you don’t want it so hot that it burns. Each zucchini stick has to be in there about 4 minutes on each side to cook through.  Most of mine were half-cooked and a little burnt. The sun porch filled with smoke and all the dinner guests stood between me and the doorway, commenting on the situation instead of helping or getting out of the way. The Farmer came in and tried to take over but I managed to divert his efforts. In the end,  everyone who dared try my cooking had to admit, they were pretty good. There’s nothing like fresh zucchini from the garden. The taste was lacking in something, so I added a little garlic salt. Yum.
Paulina found the old deep fryer in the basement, so there’s that. But I am going to try to perfect the less greasy method of cooking gluten-free breaded zucchini sticks. I’m not ready to throw in the dish towel yet.
The chocolate muffins turned out perfect. I’m better at this cooking gig than I thought. Still don’t like it though.  I would rather leave the cooking to the Farmer. At least on Sundays.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Getting back to nature, with the bites and rash to prove it

You never know what you’ll find in a garden. To the untrained eye, my garden seems to be a mass of green with no veggies or fruit just yet. The tomatoes are green, the beets, carrots and onions have not yet started to crown and the potato plants aren’t flowering so I don’t think they are ready to dig yet.
Just for fun, I lifted one of the vines the other day. It’s covered in prickles so you have to have gardening gloves on or you’ll be suffering with hair-like slivers for the rest of the day. I didn’t expect to find anything under the vine. There were a few green gourds and ovals – squash in the making. And there, lurking like the great crocodile of the garden, was a two-and-a-half foot zucchini. Wowza.
I remember my friend said you could stuff those, so I set about finding a recipe for the Farmer to use at Sunday dinner. The two seeded halves of the zucchini were trimmed down to fit on the cookie tray. I put out the ingredients and watched as my husband mixed together hamburger and tomato sauce (spaghetti sauce leftover from night before worked just fine), sliced sausage, rice and egg to glom it all together. Then he stuffed the zucchini and covered each half with a fine layer of shredded cheese and a sprinkling of parmesan. It was delicious. Victory over mutant zucchini.
I was quite disappointed that none of my beans or carrots came up this year from the seeds I planted. I guess I’m better off with plants. Or maybe they would have come up if I hadn’t left the sprinkler on that night back in May. All night. Anyway, I’m looking forward to my tomatoes ripening so I can make salsa.
On Saturday I was back in the garden for our weekly weed-tackling session when something rustled under the pumpkin vines. Immediately I thought of the little black snake I had seen in the field that moment but no, it was just a barn cat seeking some shade away from flies.
I don’t like it when animals surprise me in the garden. One year I stuck a pitchfork into the flowerbed at the stone fence, only to hear a scream from something not human. Immediately I pushed the giant toad off the end of my fork and then threw the fork into the bushes. The toad looked at me. He actually looked at me, and then he hopped away, seemingly unharmed. I saw him again later that year – at least I think it was him, because he gave me the hairy eyeball like we had something to settle. No more pitchforks for me. I stick to a hoe and spade now.
My vegetable garden is behind the miniature house that the Farmer built for his girls when they were little. We keep the door closed so the barn cats can’t get in but we did have a nest of wasps to contend with. I saw the hole leading under the structure but never saw who made it. There is a group of baby groundhogs living under the school bus shelter at the end of our lane so I just assumed that, once weaned, one little groundhog had decided to make his home under the playhouse.  The Farmer tried to catch it in a live trap with smelt and catfood for bait. No luck. Mustn’t be the right food for his liking.
I was yanking fistfuls of weeds out of the garden when I met the playhouse occupant. One of the fattest groundhogs I’ve ever seen came bounding across the meadow and nosedived into his dug hole under the structure.  So I may have some help weeding my garden and harvesting veggies in the near future, if we don’t discover the right type of bait for the live trap.
Oh and there’s one more surprise in my garden. It isn’t poison parsnip, poison ivy, hogweed or stinging nettle, because I know what they look like. But something is the cause of this lovely rash I’ve got running up my forearms.
Maybe it would just be easier to sign up for a farm share and let someone else do the gardening. Please pass the calamine lotion.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tale of a smart chicken and a dumb dog

This week we have a story about a smart chicken and a stupid dog. Chicken first. It was Sunday dinner, and Amanda and Paulina were missing from the dinner table. Carey shrugged his shoulders, picked up his fork and said “Amanda is worried the chickens have no water.”
Of course, the chickens have water. They are on an automatic watering system with these little dishes suspended from tubing dangling over the barn rafters. They need only to push down on the bowl with their beaks and presto - water fills the dish. It doesn’t give much water in each go, however, as too much water equals trouble for poultry. They will get their feathers wet or find a way to drown in it. The Farmer just shook his head and proceeded to serve dinner to 20-2 people, muttering under his breath something about people wandering around in other people’s barns.
Five minutes later, a breathless Amanda arrived. She explained that the chickens really did have no water. She should know – she raises her own little feathered family at home. She said they were pushing with all they had on the bowls, to no avail. One chicken even took it upon himself to leave the coop in search of H20. A self-appointed scout. His loud frantic chirping caught Amanda’s attention, and saved the day. When she finished chasing that bird back into the pen, she followed the piping to the source of the problem: the tube was no longer attached to the water pump. The Farmer knew exactly what had happened.
We often have to move things around in order to accommodate new creatures on the farm and the arrival of the chicks meant we had to steal the water from the main pump in the barn.  That water used to be the horse’s main source, on a float, always fresh. She didn’t appreciate having to pick her way through the muck to the cow’s side of the barn just to get a drink. So she bit down on the piping attached to the pump and pulled it free. Water sprayed everywhere, and she had a nice drink and a shower.
You learn to respond to strange sounds from the animals on the farm. It usually means something is amiss. Like when Cody the stupid Gordon Setter let out a yelp on our walk. He had found the electric fence. I was afraid his old 14-year-old heart would stop beating but no, he just shook it off and bounced across the meadow to report to me: “I’m ok!” Idiot.
As soon as the fields dried up I started walking Cody in the back 40 instead of down the road. There are a couple reasons for this. First, he drags me on the end of his leash down the road, making it a rather unpleasant experience. Secondly, he loves to run off leash, like a young pup instead of a geriatric pooch. I showed him the electric fence and told him every time to stay away from it. Does he listen? No. Of course, he probably can’t hear me either. And he has no short-term memory to speak of.
I wonder if he will remember the fence next time we go out. I hope so. Anything strong enough to stop a bull in its tracks cannot be safe for a dog.

The Farmer read my column last week. He pointed out that a sheep does not have a herd, but a flock. Well of course I knew that. I just momentarily forgot. Like when I say I’m going to the garden to pick some salad. Of course I mean lettuce. You get the gist of it. These columns are stories; not documentation of knowledge of any kind. But I argued, if the man who cares for the sheep is a shep-herd, why can’t you call a group of sheep a herd? He isn’t called a shep-flock. Besides, I don’t pretend to know what I’m talking about. I’m an Accidental Farmwife, remember? Not a real farmwife. Can’t even bake a pie.