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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Learning how to look after Leti

The Farmer and I had the opportunity to babysit our granddaughter Leti for the first time. It was the busiest five hours in our recent history.
Anastasia and Andrew arrived an hour early to settle Leti in for her visit. Annie fed and changed her baby before she left, and left two bottles of mama’s milk behind. Theoretically that is more than enough for a four to five hour stay. Then she decided to leave us a can of formula “just in case Leti is doing her nervous eating.” I thought that was funny – a baby getting nervous and snacking to settle herself. But Mama was right.
Leti slept in her bassinette for the first hour. When she began to fuss I picked her up, checked her diaper and tried dancing and jiggling her around the room. Then I remembered that, like her mother before her, Leti does not often appreciate being danced or jiggled. She likes to be held still. She’s not a candidate for one of those vibrating baby chairs and she doesn’t need to be rocked to sleep. That movement seems to make her nauseous.
Her mother was the same. The first time I went out to dinner and left Anastasia with a sitter, when she was about two months old, I forgot to tell her caregiver how to settle her. I was just so excited to be getting out of the house that I made sure she had enough milk and knew where the diapers were and I left. Margaret was the kindly old grandma from next door – she had run a home daycare and looked after her own grandchildren for so many years that I felt quite confident she would be able to handle all the troubleshooting and problem-solving on her own.
These were the days before cell phones. But we had left the phone number of the restaurant where we were heading, so Margaret could find us in an emergency. I was just getting used to being out on the town without a baby strapped to me when the server approached our table, phone in hand.
Margaret actually sounded quite calm, which was remarkable given that there was the obvious sound of a furious baby screaming in the background. It wasn’t a hungry or scared or pained cry. It was Annie’s angry cry.
“I’m so sorry to bother you. I have tried everything and I cannot get this child to stop yelling and go to sleep. I know she must be exhausted. I tried rocking her, walking her, putting her in the swing and dancing her around the room. Do you have any hints?”
“Yes, sorry. I should have told you. Just put her on her face in her crib and walk out of the room. Make sure the monitor is on, and close the door behind you.”
“Really? Wait. I’ll try it while you are still on the phone, if you don’t mind.”
I heard the sound of the screaming growing more distant on the other end of the line. I pictured the two going into the nursery, Annie being placed in the bed on her stomach, her toys tucked in around her…then I heard the door softly closing. The crying abruptly stopped.
“Well. That worked. I guess she just likes to be left alone! Enjoy the rest of your evening.” And she hung up the phone.
Leti opened her eyes and looked, startled, at my face. The same colouring as her mother, and likely a similar voice…but not the mama. I snapped a photo of her obviously confused expression. Then the nerves must have started because she demanded a bottle. And within half an hour of finishing that one, another. I changed her diaper after each feeding and when she asked for the third bottle I realized we had to start on the formula.
“Stop feeding that kid, will ya?” the Farmer commented. “You’re going to make her sick!”
I explained about the nervous eating and grandpa had to admit, it seemed to be the only thing that settled her. About twenty mls into the formula, Leti passed out. The excitement mixed with the heaviness of the milk to put her to sleep. She was blissfully dreaming of her mother when the real one arrived to bundle her up and take her home.
Grandma’s first babysitting event went well, and we got to know each other a little better. Lesson learned: always have plenty of snacks on hand.

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Ode to Codesville McCode

For two days I have had a migraine. I think it’s because my head has been wrung dry of any more tears. I have been crying at the slightest mention of my silly old geriatric dog Cody, who we had to put to sleep this week. He was in his 17th year.
We have been trying to make this decision for a while now, the Farmer and I. Cody the Wonder Dog has been starting to really show his age this past year. First he went stone deaf. Then his hind legs started to give out on him on his daily walk. Then the inevitable loss of control over his bodily functions. I think he started to lose his eyesight as well. The one thing our old Gordon Setter never lost was his appetite. Or his youthful spirit. We knew he was old, but he didn’t.
The Farmer adopted Cody about fifteen years ago. The two-year-old dog was rejected by an apartment-dweller who said he received a failing grade in obedience school. That I can believe. The only instruction Cody can follow is “sit.” I also wondered at someone who thought a Gordon Setter was a good choice for an apartment dog. He is quite large.
Cody has only two bad behaviours: he runs away whenever he sees the opportunity, and he has an insatiable appetite, unable to resist the temptation of unattended food. He once ate an entire boneless rib roast that I was defrosting for our Sunday dinner. He didn’t leave a trace. The only evidence was his burp.
Cody joined us in the house several times a day, where he would lie on his blanket in front of the TV, next to the fire. On extremely cold or stifling hot nights we would bring him upstairs to sleep beside our bed. But for the most part, he was an outdoor dog. When I first met Cody I thought it strange that he was always tied up. Surely he can be loose on the property, I thought. I thought wrong. The moment that dog was off his leash, he would bound down the road and into a neighbour’s yard or garage, to check out their garbage. Even when his legs no longer worked, his brain told him to RUN. He made it partway down the road and collapsed, rolling himself out of harm’s way into the ditch. He was brought home by a neighbour more than once. Covered in mud.
And so tied up he remained. Perhaps that is why he lived so long – because he couldn’t get into things that might otherwise hurt him. He had a pretty controlled environment.
You have to take stairs to get into our house, so eventually even that was a problem for dear old Codesville McCode. If ice coated the steps, he lost his confidence altogether and barked for us to help him in his soft little voice. He lost his loud bark months ago.
Finally we decided it was time. He had a good long life, we told ourselves. But still, it was very difficult. I took Cody’s photo one last time, kissed him on his forehead, wiped his rheumy eyes and said goodbye. The Farmer took him on his final trip to the vet.
When I got home that night, everything seemed so quiet. The usual black hairy mass emerging from the shadows to greet me was no longer there. I let myself into the house and gave the Farmer a hug. Silly old dog. We miss him so much.
Next, I had to tell the girls. I couldn’t do it over the phone, so I sent an email. There will be something missing from our family gathering this Sunday. It bops up and down on the porch in front of the kitchen window, ears flapping, barking silently, asking to be let in. To lie on the blanket in front of the fire, for as long as his heavy winter coat can stand. To be with his family. His people.
Thanks, Cody, for your years of service as our watchdog, our people-greeter, our entertainment and companion. Go now and run, puppy-brain. And eat all the dessert.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

The Accidental Farmwife book is now available!

It's here, finally! I've had inquiries so I'm posting this general info. If you want a copy of "The Accidental Farmwife" (a compilation of my weekly columns over the past seven years) mailed to you, it's a total of $28.75 across Canada. That includes the book, the tax, the packaging and post. Just email me a money transfer at:, provide your mailing address and it's in the mail tomorrow. OR...for fans of the e-book, it's on Amazon at the end of the month! Thanks everyone for your interest and support!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Toning down technology

Think of how dependent we are upon technology. And then think of where you would rather not be, when the power goes out. Most places have generator back-up power but what if, for example, you were up on the highest point of a chair lift, suspended over a deep valley in the mountains? Yikes. I would not do well with that one. That was the first thing that popped into my head when the power went out at Walmart on Saturday. Our friendly cashier, Sue, had just rung through my $350 order and I had my card in the machine when the lights went down. We were stranded. Held hostage for a few minutes by the electricity fairies. But at least we were not on a chair lift, suspended over a deep valley.
I’m not sure what we would have done if the power had not returned. As it was, we had to unbag and re-scan each item all over again.
The power went out for close to 100,000 hydro customers Christmas Eve. We weren’t among them, but we have had our power go out before while awaiting 20 people for a regular Sunday dinner. I wanted to cancel but the Farmer just considered it a challenge. We lit candles and he cooked our dinner on the bbq.
Over the holidays we gathered the women and children together for a very special photo session. With the arrival of Leti, my granddaughter, we now have five generations. My grandmother, Victoria, is 100. Her daughter, my mother Maureen, is 71. I am 47, my daughter Anastasia is 24, the same age my mother was when she had me. Leti is just a month old. I look at the five faces in that photograph and I think about how different life is for each of us.
My grandmother grew up on a farm in Quebec. She had five children: four boys and a girl, my mother. Grandma’s marriage ended in the 1950’s, when she was in her late 30’s. I can just imagine the stress she went through, working to make ends meet, raising five kids on her own. The struggles in her life only rounded out her character. She has a great sense of humour, a quick Irish temper, and a buoyant, optimistic spirit. I think I inherited that from her, at least, if not her tenacity.
My mother has her mother’s boundless energy. She too sings from morning to night, and hurries to get things done effectively and efficiently. I have never seen her being lazy. She doesn’t even slow down enough to get sick. She is always doing at least two things at once. If she is watching television, she is also folding laundry. When we were young she always worked outside the home, returning after a full day in the office to whip something up in the kitchen and get dinner on the table by 6.
I always have at least two things on the go: a project / course / book as well as my day job. I’ve been a single mom for a time as well so I understand the value of a dollar and I am constantly worried there won’t be enough. It’s a hard feeling to shake. I value the things money can’t buy far more, however, and I thank the women in my life for that. I’m trying to remember not to let the distractions of technology get in the way of enjoying the people around me. I need to focus more, and to live in the moment. My husband has that gift mastered, and I do well to follow his lead.
Anastasia is not your typical twenty-four-year-old. She has no Facebook profile; she prefers to spend her time out of doors with her four dogs, her husband and now, her baby daughter. It will be fun to watch as the new Anastasia emerges. The Annie that is raising a child.

I look at this tiny new baby, Leti, and wonder what life will be like by the time she is ready to be a mom. How important will technology be for us then, or will we have learned to put electronic devices in the background where they belong? Maybe by the time Leti is an adult, we will be growing their own food and finding alternative ways of travel that do not pollute the earth. Or maybe that will take another generation, or two. 

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Farmer starts a new project

The Farmer and I are alike in that we like to keep busy. We don’t bore easily, and we appreciate quiet time, but we seem to enjoy always having at least two jobs going at once. Now that he is retired from teaching he is quite busy as a real estate agent, and then of course we do have a beef cattle farm. But apparently that isn’t enough. He likes having somewhere to go every morning, so now he has a new project. He is going to build a log cabin.
It all started when I invited some friends over for dinner. The discussion came around to a surplus of cedar logs that our friend had on his property. I could see the wheels in my husband’s head beginning to turn. This man loves to build things. We have four-foot tall dollhouses in our basement that he built with his own hands. They were big enough for Sarah and Amy to sit inside when they were younger. They have proper wooden shingles and one of them is covered in artificial stone.
We also have a miniature playhouse outside that is quickly becoming an art installation, as it disintegrates into the earth. I have pointed out that a more urgent project might be repairing the floor on that structure so that our grandchild doesn’t injure herself in it. His reply was, “She’s small. I have a few years before I need to worry about that.” (So if you bring small children over to visit, beware the broken-down playhouse. I don’t think the staircase inside is safe either.)
My husband has built four houses, restored an old farmhouse and he has also built a couple of birch-bark canoes by hand. He is happiest when he is covered in sawdust, breathing in the smell of fresh-cut wood. He has a bunch of wood-working equipment but I just saw the Lee Valley tools catalogue arrive so I suspect he will be getting more. That makes Father’s Day and his birthday easy this year: gift certificates so the carpenter can go shopping.
The Farmer went out to survey the log collection. A deal was struck, and plans were made to trailer the wood to our house. Now he spends his evening studying a book on how to build a log cabin. I may pull up YouTube on the big screen and find him some DIY videos but I’m pretty sure he prefers to learn the old-fashioned way, by trial and error. He never follows the recipe when he cooks, either, and his meals always taste amazing.
I asked him where he was going to install his new cabin. I imagined he might want to use it as a cabin in the woods. A getaway man-cave for when I’ve got the house over-run with children and grandchildren.
“I can’t put it in the field with the cattle,” he explained. “They will poop all over it.”
I laughed, and then I remembered the year we had the cattle stuck in the log barn beside the chicken coop. They loved it in there. It was small enough that if they wedged themselves inside, it was cool and the bugs actually left them alone. We couldn’t keep them out of there and they kept pushing on the walls, threatening to heave the heritage building off its foundation. Eventually we had to nail a door on the outside to keep the out. They were most disappointed when they discovered it. Much mooing ensued.
No, the Farmer says he is going to build a log cabin on the front lawn. Well that sounds nice. Our grandchildren can use it as a play house. Or maybe I can put a bar and stereo and lounge in there and call it a party shack. I haven’t told him my plans yet. I will let him happily build it before I give him my suggestions. I’m sure they will be well received.
As we say goodbye to 2015 and hello to 2016, take a moment to reflect on how much has changed in the past twelve months, and brace yourself for the next. We can’t choose our future but we can choose how we are going to react to it. Enjoy every moment and try to slow life down a bit. All the best, from me and the Farmer.

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Choosing a Christmas tradition

Well this has been an interesting month. First, our grandchild is born a month early. Then, my book is ready months ahead of schedule. Two babies in one month. I’m so excited my head might explode.
This Christmas, as we sit down with family and friends over a meal cooked with love, we have so much to celebrate. But as we pull the same decorations out of the closet year after year to hang on the tree, we are reminded of Christmases past.
One Christmas in particular comes to mind for me, as I watch my daughter with her new baby and wonder what traditions she will keep, and what new ones they will develop as a family.
It was somewhere around 1993 or ’94, and I was living with my first husband in a subdivision just outside Kemptville. He was raised in the Czech tradition at Christmas, where “the angels” bring the tree, fully decorated and laden with gifts, while the family is eating their holiday meal in the next room. Now let the logistics of that endeavour soak into your mind for a minute.
While I suppose it is possible to drag a fully decorated tree into the house and install it, with presents beneath, all while curious children are in the next room, I don’t imagine it is easy. The kids are supposed to be kept out of the “Christmas room” for about a week leading up to the big day. In the time of larger houses and formal living rooms or sitting parlours, this may have been somehow possible. The door was closed, or a blanket hung as a curtain to block the view of the goings-on on the other side.
The children did not peek, because they were threatened with the possibility of being discovered and scaring the angels away. Much like the North American version, you don’t want to get caught spying on Santa Claus. You’re supposed to be tucked up in your beds, fast asleep while he is doing his work.
Back to the angels. They work behind the curtain for days, adding to their decorations, and occasionally making noises that only add to the excitement when heard by the children. Finally, during the holiday meal that is always held on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day, a bell is rung. That is when the children know it is time to go and discover what the angels have been up to in the other room. The angels ring the bell when they are finished their work.
Well, that Christmas in the early ‘90s, my three little girls were eating their breaded filet-of-sole and delicious, addictive potato salad (the traditional Czech holiday meal) when they heard the bell. Their forks stopped in mid-air and their eyes grew wide.
“Mom…” my eldest whispered. “Is that….the angels?!”
“I think so,” I answered, smiling. I told the girls they could get up and see what was in the other room. The room they had been forbidden to enter for nearly a week. The room that they swear they could hear angels working in. (I use the term “they” loosely. My eldest was four or five, my middle one was one or two, and we had a new baby.)
Just as we got up from the table and I pulled the baby out of her high chair, their grandfather rounded the corner of the room, a big smile on his face.
My eldest, 5-year-old Milena, stopped in her tracks and looked at him in horror. He was still holding the bell. I looked at my husband. He smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand and shook his head. Then I looked at Milena. I could actually see the wheels turning in her head.
“Jedda (spelled “Dede; Czech for grandfather)….did the angels leave their bell?”
“Yes! Yes! I found their bell!” yelled her grandfather, relief and joy on his red face, redeemed by the innocence of youth.
I can’t remember how many more Christmases the angels visited our home while the girls were young. Santa came too, and left a stuffed stocking for each girl as his calling card. We had a mixed-culture Christmas tradition and somehow, it worked.
Here’s wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas. Good luck keeping Santa and the angels and any of your other traditions as secret and magical as they were always meant to be.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The season of joy and sorrow is upon us

Imagine you’ve just lost your mother, and it’s Mother’s Day. Everywhere you look, the world is celebrating mothers. Now multiply that feeling by one hundred. That is what the holiday season feels like for many local families this year.
In some cases it’s the head of the household who is missing. The role will have to be assumed by someone else from now on. Holiday traditions may change a little, but many will remain the same. The missing person may be remembered with stories and anecdotes. In some cases a place is set for them at the table.
We miss the people we have lost. But Christmas and all year long, I believe we have a responsibility to be a witness to their lives.
Some cultures prefer not to mention the dead. They feel it is easier to move forward in their lives if they leave the past behind and never mention the name of the one they have lost.
In our house, it has been nearly eight years since we lost my Dad. The pain, although dulled over time, still swells up forming tears and catching us by surprise occasionally. We find bringing up stories of the past, using Dad’s favourite quotes and including his memory in our traditions helps to ease the sting of loss. This year we have much to celebrate with a healthy new baby in the family. We are not rich, but we have enough. We are trying to keep spending down, so that our credit balances do not rise out of control. I am following the plan of buying our daughters “one thing they want, one thing they need and something to read.”
For myself, I am really trying to slow down and pay attention. Long before the distraction of social media and cell phones, I have always been a person who finds it difficult to live in the moment. Big events tend to whizz past me and I realize afterward I didn’t take the opportunity to connect with people. In the end I am the one who loses.
I am practicing being present. Every evening I turn Facebook off early so I can enjoy conversation with my husband without distraction. Those pings and bells aren’t really conducive to a good night’s sleep either.
On the weekends, I also try to keep social media activity to a minimum. That way I pay more attention to what’s happening outside on the farm, and in the house with the ones I love.
It’s nice to feel connected to friends far away through Facebook and Instagram but they can wait. This Christmas I’m focusing on family. We are so lucky to have five generations of women getting together for a family photo. The new baby and her mama, my mom and I will head into the city to see Great Great Grandmas Vicky and Mabel. I don’t take much time off work over Christmas but I hope to grab a day here and there to extend the celebration a little bit. Being busy with family get-togethers over the holidays is a true blessing. Not everyone has time with family to look forward to at Christmas. I realize this, so I’m trying to make every moment count.
We have another little baby coming to our family this holiday season – the one that was due the same day as my daughter, December 31st. Gloria and Matt are probably on edge, watching and waiting for the signs to start appearing. With any luck we will have two little babies to pass around over the holidays.
We also have a loved one who is in palliative care. This will be her last Christmas. We will be making some time to spend with her as well.
As we head into the holiday home stretch, I encourage you to put the phone down and look around. Notice the people who are hurting, sad or lonely and consider giving them the gift of your time and attention. It doesn’t take much – just connect with them and see if there is anything they need, or if they would like to get together and chat over a coffee.
Even a simple Christmas card with a handwritten note inside can go a long way to remind someone that you are thinking of them during this difficult time. You can help make their holidays a little more bearable.