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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.

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.