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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

8 years of life as a farmer's wife

To Farmer Fisher on our 8th Anniversary.
It’s been eight years since you and I exchanged vows under the arbour you built for us at the farm. It was blowing a gale that day, but the rain held off and we have wonderful photos taken by a great family friend to remember that August 25, 2007.
Dad made it to the wedding. He was told he might be in the hospital recovering from surgery but he was determined he wasn’t going to watch me marry you on video. He wanted to walk me down the aisle, and he did. He also danced with me, for half a song, before he had to pass me over to you so he could go home and take a nap. The excitement of the day, the heat and posing for photos tired him right out. I am so very grateful that he was able to share the day with us. We did not know at that point that his condition was terminal and that we would have him with us just five more months.
You have a very practical, simple view of life, and so you may not realize, my love, that you have done miraculous things. You are the glue that holds this family together, and it just comes naturally to you.
We hadn’t lived together before marriage, so you were taking many chances when you made a commitment to me and my three girls. You didn’t know how we would work out finances, or living with teenagers, or even who would make most of the meals. Funny how those things just worked themselves out (and I agree the fire department doesn’t have to visit as often if we let you do most of the cooking.)
Occasionally I am reminded that other couples argue about things. They are unfair to each other, jealous of each other. Unforgiving and resentful. It’s been eight years and we have never really had a fight. It’s not because we agree on everything – it’s because you are so fair. That is all. Everything you do has a reason behind it.
Your love is deliberate and obvious. You put us first, in everything.
You accepted my children as your own. They have never doubted your commitment to them and you have given them a safe place to call home.
Through your fabulous Sunday dinners you have opened our home to our extended family week after week. As these gatherings swelled beyond our dining room table, you calmly drew up plans for a three-season sun room and built it to accommodate the crowd.
You set the tone, and the unspoken rules. Everyone knows family dinner is about acceptance, respect and celebration of each and every member of this extended family, which sometimes includes special friends.
I often think, without this weekly reservation, our children, siblings, parents and friends would just go about their daily lives and we would lose track of each other. Without this family dinner that we have made important, we might see some of our loved ones only a few times a year.
Back to the love. Thank you for insisting on our time together each day but also insisting on our time to ourselves. I love our morning coffee and our weekday lunches but I also love that you can entertain yourself with your hunting and fishing and farming. That gives me the downtime I need too. Thank you for filling my tires, taking the squeak out of my truck, and hosing down the doghouse area without waiting for me to complain about it.
I appreciate your being so generous with your time, your money and the TV remote. Thank you giving me space when I’m moody, a shoulder to cry on when I am down, and a number one fan when I succeed.
I don’t think I’ve improved as a cook and I certainly don’t make any more money than I did when you met me. I hope you’re not disappointed.
 I look at photos and can’t believe that skinny little thing you married is me. You certainly know how to grow your investment. You can stop that any time now, by the way.
Here’s to all that lies ahead – blessings and loss. Together we’ll get through it all. Happy anniversary, handsome.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Misty in training for the International Plowing Match 2015

We sold our Belgian horse Misty last spring but we have been keeping up to date on all her activities. Her new owner, Roy Sherrer of Shermount Farms near Spencerville has trained her to pull. This is a true testament to the man’s ability as a horse trainer – and our lack of it.
When we got Misty and her sister Ashley back in February of 2009, they were pretty much ‘green’ – and so were their new owners. They were accustomed to being led out of their barn every morning and back into the barn every evening by a rope attached to their halters. We tried this. It only worked if the horse actually felt like moving.
I don’t know how many times I was late for work, and pulling with all my strength on the end of Misty’s lead, trying to make the big horse bend to my will. I would just hang there like a soap on a rope, until she finally decided to stroll out of the stable and into the barnyard, where she spent her day.
Part of the problem is that Ashley was the leader, Misty the follower. When we lost Ashley to some mysterious fever or allergy in 2010, her sister was left to figure things out on her own. Mostly she decided Donkey was her new leader. Chaos reigned.
Donkey would help break the horse and sheep out of the barnyard so they could go eat apples on the front lawn and wander down the road to freak out the neighbours.
I got him to follow me back to the barnyard with apples or sweetfeed in my hand, and the rest of the herd followed. Including Misty.
And so this is how things were on the farm, for the next five years. When Roy bought our big horse from us, we had high hopes that he would be able to train her to do actual horsey things. Follow instructions. Pull a wagon, even. We expected it would take a while, but we had faith that wonderful things were in her future.
Sure enough, within the first few weeks we received photos and a video of Misty pulling a wagon. I could not believe that was my stubborn, skittish horse, pulling with all her might, next to another beautiful blonde Belgian. I got choked up with motherly pride.
Roy said he put the harness and yoke on Misty, and she started a bit. She has never even had a saddle on her before. Well, maybe once. Her previous owner hitched her up to a wagon for a photo opportunity once. But never again.
Hitched for the first time, Misty likely was confused and a bit scared. But as soon as she realized she was not alone in her situation – another (more confident and experienced) horse was right beside her - I imagine she was comforted, and then probably a little excited. The conversation probably went a little like this.
“Hi. I’m Goldie. Who are you?”
“I’m Misty. What’s goin’ on?”
“We’re hitched. Have you never been hitched before? Oh great…”
“Oh…hitched. Ok. I think I’ve seen this before. We pull, right?”
“Yes, we pull. Just follow my lead and when you feel me pull, you pull as hard as you can. You look strong. You’ll be fine.”
Roy was surprised to hear Misty had never pulled before, because she was a natural. She stumbled a bit at first, unaccustomed to timing her steps to another horse. But, a born follower, she quickly caught on and began to pull her own weight, and then some.
He taught her to pull the stone boat – a heavy float laden with cement blocks. When she was fully trained, he sold her to someone in Quebec.
I’m trying not to think too much about that part, because it stresses me a bit to think she is no longer going to be close enough for me to visit. Not that I visited her in the past – I thought it would upset me too much.
We will see her again, however, if only one more time. I am very proud to announce that Misty and her teammate will be pulling at The 2015 International Plowing Match in Finch this September 22-26. I’ll be the one in the floppy hat in the front row, cheering her on. Likely with a few proud tears in my eyes.

Watch for “The Accidental Farmwife – Volume 1” coming to a bookstore near you in 2016. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The cycle of life keeps on turning

Dad and Annie, 2007

The August long weekend will forever remind me of the day we found out my Dad was really, really sick. He had apparently been eating Advil like TicTacs all summer but finally gave in to the pain in his back August 1st and let us take him to the hospital. Of course, few doctors were available. The one that examined him told him he likely had a tumour on his pancreas. Then he left for the weekend.
Dad said, “well, that’s it, then,” with a note of finality. He had just seen a friend die of cancer and that experience, combined with his extensive knowledge as a science teacher, had him diagnosing himself within minutes. Pancreatic cancer. He said he wasn’t interested in chemo, and fell asleep under the cloud of painkillers.
The rest of us stood around his hospital gurney, in shock.
The next few months are a bit of a blur. We were trying to get used to our strong, infallible father being ill, recovering from surgery, and undergoing cancer treatment, which he eventually agreed to. The Farmer and I were planning a wedding at the same time. Two weeks before the date we visited Dad in hospital and said, “We will videotape the whole thing for you.” He replied, “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m walking my daughter down the aisle.” Well, he did. He had to go home and take a short nap after our photo session and dinner, but he returned to dance with me, for half a song. My new husband took over when it was clear my father needed to sit down.
All of these memories come rushing back, this time of year. Joy mixed with pain. We had Dad for just four months after his terminal diagnosis. The end came quickly, but we had time to say everything we needed to say. He held on for two hours as we stood around his hospital bed and shared memories, our arms around him. Blessings and loss.
How wonderful it is to turn and see my daughter now, swelling with pregnancy, pride and excitement. She keeps saying “it won’t be long now.” She is just seventeen weeks. I hate to tell her she has another twenty-three to go…
She really, really wants to know the sex of this child. Anastasia is used to getting what she wants. I think it will be absolutely hilarious if this unborn son or daughter of hers refuses to reveal its gender before birth. Ha! She has an ultrasound scheduled for next week, followed immediately by a “Gender Reveal” party. This is the new thing. You arm your guests with sticks and have them circle a huge piñata that is hanging from a tree in the yard. Obviously you need to adapt this plan if it is in winter. Everyone bashes away at the piñata until it rips open and the candies pour out. If the treats are blue and green, it’s a wee lad in her belly. If they are red and purple (Annie hates pink), it’s a lass. I don’t think she has a preference. She is just so, so ready to be a mama. At 23 she has been married three years already, a young wife. But she has also looked after children and worked in a nursery school for years. She is experienced, prepared, and ready.
Pregnancy has created a calm over Anastasia. Ever anxious and energetic, now she favours naps and takes her time. She seems to have grown up over these past few months.
Now when I think of the August long weekend I will think of Anastasia, in her billowing sundress, staring at the sunset. She is daydreaming of things to come. What will her life be like next year at this time? She will have a little crawler by then.
Anastasia and her grandpa were very close. She spent more time with him than any of his grandchildren. They respected and loved each other, without words. They just knew. And they loved spending time together.
I like to think that my father is somehow involved in this. He is watching over or looking down, or his lingering energy and presence is somehow forming the way Annie will be raising this child.
It just seems right. It’s the cycle of life.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Farmers escape

As you read this, we are gone. Our daughter and her husband are holding down the farm, so to speak. I truly love the 200 acres we have here along the Kemptville Creek, with its uncontested sunsets, lovable farm animals and comforts of home. But I just wanted to get away for a week, to a lake. I could live on a campsite for a week or even longer but the Farmer…not so much. So I went on Kijiji and rented a cottage.
We are hosting family and friends, a few at a time, in a big two-storey cedar cottage near Portland on the Big Rideau. The scent of warm cedar surrounds you as you walk up onto the porch. Just the words “Big Rideau” make me think of my dad and all the boating we did there. His handwriting is still on the charts that mark safe passage through the waterways. He has marked good spots to swim and stop for lunch – he wasn’t really into fishing. The Farmer will have to find the fishing holes on his own. I am going to be spending my time reading a few good books, taking long walks and swimming / floating in the lake.
It’s not easy to leave a farm for a week, especially when you have dependent farm animals. At the moment, the cows pretty much take care of themselves, as long as the water is running. They have access to four pasture fields and I think the hay is plentiful. Our ten calves spend their days huddled together for their afternoon nap in a kindergarten circle, guarded by one assigned cow. Or they spend their energy playing King of the Castle on the manure hill. Someone has to walk over to the barn once a day, however, just to ensure that water fountain is still operational. If it isn’t, they need barrels filled with the garden hose, twice a day. If you step into the barnyard with the bull, however, you must carry a big stick. I left that in the care and feeding instructions.
The cats can last a few days in the house before they need their food and water refilled but the outdoor barn cats need to be fed every day. If we leave too much food outside, we might attract unwanted company, like a skunk. Or a raccoon. Or a BEAR.
Cody, our 16-year-old, geriatric Gordon Setter, needs to be fed at least once a day, and checked carefully to ensure he has not spilled all his water and tangled his chain in his long fur. I mean, honestly. He’s hopeless.
Chelsea, the suspicious, yappy sheepdog, needs to be fed by a man. And it should be a man she knows quite well. She is not fond of women, children or strangers. Anastasia has discovered this fact the hard way, about seven years ago. She was still in highschool at the time. Always the first one out of bed and therefore the first one ready to go in the morning, Annie had a little extra time on her hands so she offered to feed the sheepdog.
Off she went to the barn, cup of kibble in her hand. As she squatted down to dump the kibble into Chelsea’s bowl, she turned and looked the little dog in the eye. Then, in her high-pitched, teenaged girl voice, she said, “there you go Chelsea! Eat it all up!”
Chelsea, being accustomed only to the Farmer, had never heard anything quite like it. She was also confused as to why Anastasia was lingering between her and the food bowl. The Farmer usually delivers the food, pats the dog on the head and walks away. I guess she suddenly felt threatened, and trapped, so she snapped. She flew at Anastasia, teeth bared, and if it wasn’t for the huge pouf of hair extensions that Annie had attached to her head in a ponytail, there would have been an injury, for sure. She never offered to feed that “crazy-ass sheepdog” again.
Now, fast forward 7 years and our little Annie is pregnant with her first child. She won’t be allowed to lift the chick feed bags on her own, even though she is more than able, so Andrew will be doing most of the work. It’s just as well, because knowing Annie she will encounter the one chicken who takes offence to her greeting or mannerisms and decides to peck her in the leg.

Monday, July 20, 2015

An Irish Wake on the Farm

Well, that was a first for this farm. We have hosted a wedding, holiday dinners, birthday celebrations and farm parties in the moonlight. But this is the first time we have ever hosted an Irish Wake.
Sunday morning dawned bright and humid, with a severe thunderstorm watch. By afternoon, Kemptville had its first ever thunderstorm warning. Perfect. We started to think maybe Uncle Pat was trying to go out with a crash and a bang. Luckily, the storm passed north of us and we just got the tailwinds. It didn’t rain on us, and we managed to escape with one toppled tent, one ripped tarp and some overturned lawn chairs. We got the mess cleaned up before everyone arrived at 3pm, and made sure the remaining infrastructure was securely fastened to the ground.
Pat’s sister (my mom) and his girlfriend Christiane had been working on this Celebration of Life for weeks. I panicked a little bit when the guest list swelled to 50, then 60 people who would like to stay after the service for a sit-down meal. We had never fed quite so many before.  We decided to dedicate the kitchen-dining area to the main buffet, turn the back TV room into dessert land and put all the appetizers with the drinks out on the back porch and tables set out on the lawn under the tent. I stood in the middle of the house and imagined the flow of a possible 70 people through the house. In the end, only about 40 showed up out of fear of the storm so it was quite comfortable.
As fitting for a man who has lived in Ontario, B.C. and Asia, teaching little theatre and English as a Second Language, working as a radiologist, cab driver, professional actor and performer, Uncle Pat’s guest list was quite a motley crew. There were relatives from long ago and far away, some who hadn’t seen each other in three decades. We worried past history might cause some drama between a few people, to which Mom responded, “It isn’t a good Irish Wake without a donnybrook or two.” Grandma was present of course, along with Pat’s sweethearts past and present, a new Canadian from Mexico who was one of his ESL students and even a psychic medium.  Three of his co-stars from a recent Ottawa theatre production managed to get here through what sounded like a remake of “Trains, Planes and Automobiles”.
A long-time family friend, Janet Stark, performed the services for us. We made her a little platform and affixed a gazebo on top of it. Pat’s widow Christiane decorated with Irish mementos, Pat’s favourite sunflowers and a string of Tibetan prayer flags. The Irish Catholic / Buddhist service was like none I had ever attended before, and I’m sure none I will ever attend again. We served punch, water and soft drinks before the service, and I only had to take one beer out of someone’s hand, reminding them we had to go to church first, Irish Wake second.
Pat’s brother got up with his guitar and started to sing Amazing Grace. But when the wind whipped up again, knocking the deceased’s photo to the ground and whisking the sheet music off into the pasture, he switched to something else. “These Hands” by Hank Snow was the perfect choice.
After prayer, readings and shared memories, we passed around the Irish whiskey, had a few toasts and sang a few Irish songs.
The wind ripped brother Jack’s music from the stand and caused his guitar to hit and cut his forehead. A gale thrashed at the tents, carried song, tore the strips off the bottom of the Tibetan banner and carried them skyward. It was a dramatic display. A grand finale of a life. Pat’s photo kept repeatedly falling over and having to be replaced above his urn on the stage. And then suddenly, at the end of the service, calm. A vacuum of energy, like a powerful presence had just left the room with a great door slam.
At the end of the service, the medium came up to speak quietly with some of us. She said Pat had indeed been there. She felt he went and kissed his mother on the cheek. Later my mother told the psychic Pat hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye to his 100-year-old mother. They had been extremely close in recent years, living in the same building.
Pat even performed a little miracle on his way out. His two remaining brothers, who hadn’t seen each other in 30 years after parting on bad terms, grabbed a guitar and a mic and sang a number of Irish tunes with their sister, my mother.
Rest in Peace, Uncle Pat, with the certainty of a life well lived and always remembered. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Part Two: Vitor's last hurrah

Well, we almost made it through the week without any disasters. I was amazed how quiet and well-behaved my daughter’s city dog German Shepherd – Rottweiler could be, on his farm stay-cation. He went into his crate without a fuss, because although I find it odd, it is a completely normal part of life for him. It’s his safe place. His haven.
We started out the week with a brisk 45-minute walk in the morning but after he had done that once, he didn’t want to again. Like me, he doesn’t really see the point of walking just for walking! Vitor prefers to get his exercise playing fetch. He’s really good at it. Except he tends to break hard plastic Frisbees and eat the pieces. I found him an indestructible rubber toy to fetch.
During the evenings when the Farmer and I settled in front of Netflix with our geriatric Gordon Setter Cody, Vitor came along and settled in too. Sort of. Mostly he flopped around and chewed on a very loud squeaking sheep toy. This alternated with stealth attacks on our poor 16-year-old dog, who was a bundle of nerves by the end of the week. If Vitor got too rowdy we would put him outside, where he would sit on the porch and watch us through the window until it got dark or he started whimpering to come in, whichever came first.
When we weren’t home, we put him in the crate. When one of us was home but too busy to watch the dog, we put him on a lead outside, and he lay under the cool skirts of the cedar tree, counting the cows as they lined up at the fence to investigate him.
If we were both home and present, I let Vitor run free. He checked out the raccoon traps (empty), pushed his nose as far down the groundhog hole as it would go (and emerged unbitten), chased the farm cats into hiding, and visited Cody regularly (mostly to see if he had any kibble left in his bowl).
He even tried to visit Chelsea the Border Collie but she threatened to bite his nose off. She doesn’t like being approached when she is tied; she feels trapped. Later she remedied the situation by escaping from her lead. When they were both free, they got along just fine.
Friday night, Vitor’s last night on the farm, I let him out one more time before bed. Granted, it was a bit later than usual. I settled in on the couch with my book and waited for him to reappear at the screen door.
Five minutes later I hear barking. I slid the door open, stepped out on the porch and was hollering for Vitor when the stench of skunk slapped me in the face. Vitor appeared then, and marched into the house, triumphant.
“Did you get that funny-looking cat, Vitor?” I asked him. He did a lot of lip-licking and snout-snuffling, and settled in for the night. A faint smell of skunk spray had followed him into the house, so I had to wash him the next morning before returning him to his tidy townhouse in the suburbs. I also packed a dry shampoo in his bag in case the smell re-emerged from his damp coat and he began to offend his caregivers.
The last thing Vitor did before leaving the farm: he ripped his squeaky sheep toy apart. I’m not sure why he slept with it and carried it around all week, only to destroy it in the end.
I helped the dog to hop up into the cargo section of my Explorer. This was to his liking until we got going down the road. At first I thought he was yelping and whining because he wanted the windows open instead of the air conditioning. Then I realized what he really wanted was to be in the back seat. Every five minutes he gave an air-splitting yelp, nearly prompting a heart attack and swerve in his chauffeur. I learned to watch him in the rear-view mirror so I could tell when another yelp was coming.

Vitor seemed happy to be home in his Barrhaven townhouse. He pinned the cat by the neck and gave him a good love bite. I wonder if he will miss the excitement and activity on the farm. Something tells me I’m going to miss him. 

Vitor of Barrhaven: city dog on the farm

This waking up at 4am is for the birds. Literally. The little squawkers are so excited about the rising sun; they just can’t keep their delight to themselves. They sit in the tree positioned directly outside my bedroom window and sing their song of love to the warm rays of the glowing orb, waking me from a deep sleep. A sleep that I have zero hope of returning to, now that the sun is up.
I try, for three more respectable hours, to get some sleep. I shut the window, pull the window shade down, fluff my pillows and squeeze my eyes shut. Then I hear the dog. He figures, if the birds are up, the people should be up, and that means he might be getting fed soon. He too, sleeps under our bedroom window, where we can hear every move he makes. His low harrumph wakes up the sheepdog, who starts yipping and yapping at the cows, just emerging from their night in the barn.
The cows call to their calves with a low moo that becomes increasingly agitated; a bellowing foghorn in the morning dew. Good thing I’m a morning person. I throw the covers back and get ready to start the day.
On my way down the stairs, my eye is drawn to the window where I am pretty sure I see a skunk making its way across the porch. Not paying attention to my step, I trod on and then trip over a cat. Adrenalin rush is better than caffeine. I’m awake now.
I put the coffee on, boil some water for my hot lemon, and feed the dog.
We have a houseguest this week: Vitor of Barrhaven is here while his human is away on holiday. My city daughter’s city dog watches me silently from his crate. I almost forgot he was there. I have learned to clip the leash on him as soon as I open the door. He’s very jumpy first thing in the morning and he also loves to chase cats.
We step out onto the porch and I take a quick look around for the skunk before feeding the cats. Six of them peer at us from under lawn furniture, scowling and horrified as if to ask, “what fresh hell is this?!”
Vitor’s owner works from home so I’m told he gets about three walks a day. He’s a lean, muscled Rottweiler / Shepherd mix, about 2 years old I think, and he needs plenty of exercise. We start each day with a good 45-minute walk and then I tie him up outside for a couple hours while I work around the house. Sometimes I let him run free around the property but he doesn’t know what the rules are so he keeps coming back to the porch and whining at the door. Either that or he chases cats, rolls in the spot where he found something dead or wanders over to eat whatever Cody has left in his bowl. I feed and water him and watch as he tips his food bowl over and picks the kibble out of the grass. It’s his morning ritual.
Chelsea broke off her chain last night and came to the fence to investigate this new smell/animal. The first meeting did not go well. I put Vitor in his crate in the house while the Farmer went to fix Chelsea’s lead. The little sheepdog, aka Houdini, found a gap in the fence and wriggled through it. She crept up onto the back porch and sniffed through the screen door at Vitor.
Vitor was named after a UFC fighter. He has a lot to live up to. He held his own in a swim meet with my other daughter’s four hunting dogs: she threw the rubber bird into the creek and they splashed in, racing for it and Vitor got it first, nine times out of ten. He quickly learned the hierarchy of dogs in that little clan, as Beretta the boss emerged onto the shore first to demand the duck be dropped at her feet. He only challenged her once. It was pretty neat to watch. Soon she had her own personal duck-fetcher.
My daughter might have a challenge on her hands when she returns from holiday. Vitor may not be content with a simple romp in the park anymore. He is ready for doggy Olympics. He has been training on the farm.