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Thursday, May 25, 2017

We have entered the Golden age on the farm

(photo of Fergus by Paulina Hrebacka)
The Farmer and I have entered a new era. After ten years of marriage, at the ages of 61 and 49, we have welcomed a new baby into our lives. He is a Golden Retriever and we have decided, after much debate, to name him Fergus.
The Farmer wanted to name him Red. He is a red type rather than the English blond type of Golden, but I argued that “Red” is simply a colour and not a name. I wanted to name him Finn, but perhaps that is more fitting of an Irish setter. Goldens come from Scotland. We were watching Outlander on Netflix one night when the name came to me. He will be known as Fergus the Red. Fergie for short.
We have received a great deal of advice on how to train this puppy. Some say you should crate the dog beside your bed so you can get up in the night to put him outside. This will speed up house training. However, I was reminded that if you allow the pup to sleep in your room as a pup, he will think it is his room going forward. I don’t want to be sharing my room with a huge dog that is dreaming loudly about chasing rabbits and snoring in his sleep. When I mentioned this to my husband he said, “Well, you could always go sleep in the other room!”
Fergus was tucked into his pet carrier on the first night. This was settled into the larger crate which will from now on be his safe place for naps and bed time and anytime he wants to get away from us, our visitors and our house cats. (Although we haven’t seen much of said house cats since Fergus arrived.)
I left the door to the carrier open so that Fergus could use the puppy pads in the larger crate if need be. And there was a need, the first night. The second night, I awoke a couple times in the night and brought him outside to relieve himself in the long grass that I have designated as his toilet area. His crate pad stayed dry.
The first full day at home, Fergus roamed around and explored every corner in the house. He discovered that although he can wedge himself under or between many different pieces of furniture, he cannot always extricate himself. He is very quiet, and doesn’t know his name yet so I spent a few minutes looking for him before finally discovering him stuck uncomfortably in a tight space under the spare bed. I decided to block the exits so he has to stay in the room with me.
I also used up about half a bottle of enzyme spray to eradicate pup accident odours. We are starting to learn each other’s language so hopefully in the next week or so we will go through a day without an indoor mess. It’s hard to know when he is planning a pee when he spends the majority of each day with his nose to the ground, sniffing. Always sniffing.
The other thing Fergus loves to do is chew. He has a variety of chew toys in different strengths so that he can exercise his needle-sharp teeth. Unfortunately he likes toes and fingers the best. I have the marks to prove it. But for the most part our tiny Golden Retriever wants to please us. It is obvious that he is looking for instruction, so we just have to figure out how to tell him what we expect, and to reinforce it.
This is all new to me so, of course, I am reading. I’m learning how to train our pup so that he can soon go off on road trips with the Farmer / Real Estate Agent. It wasn’t our intention to buy a puppy. We have both always owned rescue dogs from shelters. But despite contacting all area shelters and registering with Golden Rescue, we were unable to find a retriever that way, so we had to place an order for one of a spring litter.
Fergus is the Farmer’s “retirement dog”, although that man may never really retire. He has always wanted a Golden, so I suppose he deserves one. It’s plenty of work, training and cleaning up after this little creature but I realize he will only be little for so long. Thank goodness he sleeps a lot, because I am exhausted.


I guess this means we should listen to the cats

Our house was not completely flooded. We really have nothing to complain about, in comparison to the hundreds of people in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec who have lost everything in the rain and floods these past few weeks. But we did get some water in the basement.  It wouldn’t have had the chance to cause any damage, if we had only listened to the cats.
Sheila the housecat doesn’t really like people. She pretends to be friendly if she hears cellophane or senses that you may be eating cheese, but she doesn’t really want to be petted. She barely tolerates me. If Sheila’s food bowl is empty and I am busy making something in the kitchen, she winds herself around my legs and gives me a quick bite on the calf. She doesn’t have what you would call a nice disposition.
Still, Sheila has her good qualities. She played surrogate mom to all those kittens I nabbed from the barn and brought into the house to wean and adopt out. When their new families came to pick them up, she followed them to the door one by one and when they left she sat at my feet and complained.
Today, whenever we are sitting watching TV in the evenings she pulls one of her kitten-sized toys out of the basement and sings to it, loudly. This is quite regular behaviour for her, and it goes on for about five minutes. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention when it went on for more like half an hour one night last week. But I was watching the season finale of Outlander and didn’t want to be interrupted.
When I finally got up to see what the heck Sheila was hollering about, I found her sitting at the top of the basement stairs with about six toys around her. They appeared to be wet. I flicked the light on and peered down the stairs. Sure enough, the floor was covered in water. Ugh.
A quick investigation by the Farmer confirmed that the hose used to drain condensation from our furnace was blocking the sensor ball on the sump pump, so it wasn’t able to switch on when the water level got too high. Water had seeped out of the workshop area of the basement to soak the carpet in the next room. The parquet floor in the spare bedroom will likely have to be ripped out and replaced also.
I spent the next few days sopping up wet cat litter and carrying soggy boxes of baby clothes upstairs to be dried and repacked. I will be investing in some waterproof boxes for storage in the future. Maybe some that can float.
The cats’ litter and food had to be moved upstairs to the bathroom for a few days while the water dried up. That gave them free run of the house during the night, which they truly loved. I could hear them ripping up and down the stairs after each other when I was supposed to be asleep.
You would think we had learned our lesson, but, no. A few days later, it happened again. Sheila tried to tell me. I was sitting on the couch reading a book and she attempted, unsuccessfully, to launch herself up into my lap. She almost never does this, and hasn’t tried in years. I laughed when she misjudged the distance to the couch and fell over. Sheila walked away, dejected. She was back a few minutes later with a wet cat toy. That got my attention. The sump had failed again.
I suspect we will be checking that mechanism more often on rainy days, and perhaps investing in a battery-operated backup system. The Farmer is cutting the carpet up into manageable pieces that can be lifted up the basement stairs and out onto the back deck for disposal. It is a mess, and our basement smells a bit like a wet sock, but it’s nothing like what the owners of truly flooded homes are dealing with.
Last year the drought had us using up our hay months ahead of schedule, because nothing was growing in the pasture. This year we are starting the cattle on pasture early, because of the rain. You never know what you are going to get, but from now on I’m paying attention to the animals. They seem to know what’s up.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Here's to you, Mom

Being a mom is one of the best jobs on Earth. It’s very rewarding. It’s also completely thankless sometimes, if that makes any sense. Mom doesn’t usually get a thank you when she wakes up in the middle of the night to change diapers and provide food for her new babe. She will likely get more complaints and protests than gratitude when she makes healthy snacks and lunches for her child. And she probably won’t get many thanks when she drags that kid out of bed for school, church or hockey practice early in the morning, even though they know it is for their own good. But she will keep on doing all of those things, because she is a mom.
It often isn’t until we are moms ourselves, or we lose our moms, that we realize how much they did for us. Probably the best gift you can give your mom (I’m speaking from my own perspective as the mom of 3, step-mom of 2 and grandma of 1) is your time and attention. She doesn’t need you to buy into the commercialism of the event and spend a lot of money on a gift – but if you want to, that’s perfectly fine. What Mom really wants, I’m guessing, is to hear your voice on the phone, see you on Skype or Facetime, or spend time with you on Mother’s Day. We don’t all have those perfect movie script mother-child relationships, so if you can’t imagine sitting across from your Mom for an entire lunch date, why don’t you ask what she wants to do. Maybe it’s going to a movie together, and sharing a laugh. Or go through old photo albums together, tidying up her storage room at the same time. Don’t forget the wine. Your Mom might want to go somewhere with you, or she might just want you to tell her all about what you have been up to lately. Detail by detail. You can sacrifice the time. Think of all she has done for you.
If you don’t have a mom figure in your life, there might be another woman you can honour on Mother’s Day. Maybe a favourite teacher or coach, who was your confidante during difficult times while you were growing up. Or maybe there is a mom in your life who is missing her own children and would love to spend some time with you on Mother’s Day. If you’ve lost your Mom, maybe you can honour her memory by pulling her old recipe box out of storage and making some of her favourite dishes.
Looking for a last-minute gift idea for the mom who has everything? Here are some of my favourites. 1. Book a photo session together. I did this one year and it was quite an experience. The photo shoot itself was moving, because you don’t usually spend that much time hanging on to this person you call Mom. Spending an hour in each other’s embrace, laughing and goofing off for the camera is a memory you will treasure forever. With the photos to match.
2. Buy tickets for an upcoming concert and plan to go together. Make sure it’s music that Mom likes. If she isn’t into loud noises, consider a play or a comedy show. It will give you another experience to share and look forward to.
3. Plan a day trip together. Go for a drive, do some window shopping and include some destinations from your past, with at least one stop for food. Stir up some memories and take the time to chat about the good old days.
4.  Book a spa day together, if you’re into that sort of thing. This can be a mani-pedi and hair experience at a salon, or a massage and soak at the hot springs. The idea is to have some laughs and spend time together with no cell phone distractions.
5. Make a photo book. If you don’t have a lot of time to spend with Mom on Mother’s Day but you want her to know how much you appreciate her, scan or take photos of old photos, and download recent ones onto a USB stick or your phone. Then head to a photo kiosk and print a hard-covered photo book. You can even add text if you want to. It’s a thoughtful gift and doesn’t have to cost much.
Happy Mother’s Day. Enjoy every moment.

The evolution of a hobby farm

The face of a farm is ever-changing. When I first moved onto the farm, the pasture was dotted with fluffy white sheep as far as the eye could see. The Farmer started with a dozen or so sheep in 1998 when he built the farmhouse to accompany his newly purchased 200 acres and barn. Every year he sold the male lambs after weaning and let the females stay to keep the ram busy and build up the herd. Before long, he had a herd of 200 sheep. The farm was quite well suited to sheep farming, but it didn’t start out that way.
A long while ago, The Fisher Farm was a mink farm. Then it was a piggery for years. The feeders and pens were built low to the ground to accommodate the pigs, so the Farmer didn’t have to renovate much to host his sheep. Cattle are another story. We added two Hereford cows to our menagerie in 2008, and slowly started building that herd so we could move out of sheep farming. Sheep are hard on your back. You are in a constant bent-over state, trimming their hooves, shearing them, administering their monthly shots and pulling them out of whatever mess they have managed to entangle themselves in. I also found sheep farming extremely hard on my heart. With lambing season happening at the tail end of winter, a freezing cold barn often meant a high lamb mortality rate. Sheep are also adept at contracting all varieties of disease, named in the most obvious of ways: Stiff Leg Disease; Hard Bag; Foot Rot; Sore Mouth; Bent Leg; Frothy Bloat; and even Fuzzy Lamb Syndrome. Sheep farming was never a very good money maker for us. We did it because we enjoyed it, and as the Farmer says, it kept him busy.
Cattle farming was, for the most part, a much simpler venture. The cows often give birth without any human intervention or help. We have had at least one problem calf each year that requires bottle feeding or other assistance at the start. But other than the first week or so where we have to keep Mom and Babe inside the pen (which used to house sheep and is constantly getting destroyed by cows), cattle farming has been pretty easy.
The cattle test our fences for us every year. If there is a weak section of fence, they will find it. Then we get a call from a neighbour about cows in the road, or in their backyard. That’s how the Farmer knows it is time to reinforce the electric wiring.
Cattle farming has been fairly profitable for us over the past few years, but last year’s drought was a real lesson in what can happen when your meadows don’t replenish themselves. We had to dip into our winter hay storage to feed our herd during the summer. This was expensive. When we factored in how much we were getting for each calf sent to market, we realized they weren’t exactly paying their room and board. It may be time for another step in the evolution of the Fisher Farm.
“I think I’m slowing down a bit,” said the Farmer as we sipped our drinks during the first afternoon patio-sit of the season. “I hate to think of not being the Farmer anymore though…” and by that I knew he was referring to his farming-as-a-hobby to keep him from getting bored in his semi-retirement. How a real estate agent who is building a log cabin and maintaining his own property has time to get bored is beyond me. But I know farming is important to him as it keeps him healthy. With animals depending on you making a trip to the barn each morning and night, you are getting out of the house in all kinds of weather. I really think this is why he is never sick – because he spends so much time out of doors. Then there is the shoveling of their manure and pitching their hay. You save money on a gym membership.
We can rent out the rest of our pasture fields for cash crops, but it would be nice to find something else to occupy the barns, and keep the Farmer busy. I’m thinking about all that woodworking equipment he has in the shed. I know several people who would really appreciate some handmade wood furniture, including yours truly.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Afternoons with Lorna

Wally is into his 90’s now, and as he puts it, some of his parts are in need of repair. He had surgery recently, and had to spend a couple weeks in the hospital. That left Lorna at home, without her mate. When Wally isn’t around, Lorna gets quite confused. She has about a twenty-minute window before she starts questioning where he has gone and when he will return. We made a reservation for her at the Perley Hospital Residence, right around the corner from her house. Lorna was not pleased with the idea and said she wouldn’t go. We called Wally at the hospital and after she argued with him for a few minutes she hung up the phone. “He told me to behave myself,” she reported, and reluctantly packed her bag.
On the move-in date, Lorna’s daughter sat down in the Residence office to record every pill, eye drop and medication that Lorna takes, including dosages and times to administer. I went with Lorna to the games room, to meet her new housemates. Most of the guests at the Residence had some sort of memory loss or confusion. Some of them were recovering from surgery and others were there to give temporary respite to their caregivers. The Residence consisted of one large circular hallway with rooms along the outside and kitchen, social room and offices in the middle. If a guest found themselves lost, they only needed to continue around the circle to find their room.
“Lorna,” she read aloud the sign on her bedroom door. “That’s me.”
The Residence was extremely accommodating. But Lorna was not comfortable there. Several times a day she asked where Wally was and when he would be coming. Every morning she woke and packed her bag, ready to go home. She fretted over baking she needed to do. When we told her he had to stay in hospital for two weeks she said that was ridiculous and demanded the telephone. Each day we got Wally on the phone for Lorna, and each day she told him, “You get your a** home right now!” She lasted three days there, and we had to bring her back home. Her other daughter came from Edmonton to stay with her until Wally was out of the hospital.
Now when Wally has to go to a doctor’s appointment, needs to go shopping or just feels the need to go for a drive, I sit with Lorna. First we check to make sure she has taken her pills. Then I ask if she has eaten. I have to look for clues or ask Wally, because Lorna cannot remember. She has her books, but she can’t concentrate on them. She does part of a crossword, then asks where Wally has gone. Her short term memory is gone, but her long term memories are vibrant. I distract her with questions about the past. She tells me about when her five children were in school, and she had to have lunch ready for them. She says she never watched television during the day, and she isn’t about to start now. I pull out my laptop and start working on a writing assignment. Lorna picks up a notepad and questions the notes she has written there.
“Whose phone number is this? And who is this cheque for?” I explain that the number is the home care service and the cheque is for the cleaning lady. I will repeat that information three more times over the afternoon.
Lorna is unsettled without Wally. I don’t know what she is like when he is home. He has removed the fuses from the stove so that she won’t be able to burn their dinner. He has put her baking ingredients in the basement, where she seldom goes. Lorna used to bake for every Sunday dinner. She baked cakes for our wedding. She doesn’t bake anymore.
Some things are hard wired. Lorna takes meat out of the freezer every day, to defrost for dinner. She makes tea, and wonders aloud if Wally is hungry. As long as he is there, she is not at a loss for what to do.
Lorna knows she is having issues with her memory. She needs to be reminded who the new baby belongs to each Sunday. Her fridge is covered with photos of her loved ones. Pieces of Lorna’s memory are slowly disappearing, but the deepest memories are the ones she holds in her heart.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The cat came back, to toy with my emotions.

“The cat came back, the very next day…the cat came back – we thought he was a goner but the cat came back, he just wouldn’t stay away…” – Harry Miller, 1893.
Monday was not a good day. It started off ok, when the temperature rose to 23 degrees in the sunshine. But when I stepped out onto the back porch, the Farmer met me with a hard look on his face.
“Go back in the house, please.”
“Huh?” that was rude, I thought. Then… “Is there a dead cat in the pool?!” I guessed it. It has only happened a couple of times in the ten years I have been at the farm, because most of our cats are far too smart to go near the pool. We lost a kitten once, and a stray who was obviously unfamiliar with the landscape. I needed to know who the victim was this time, and I dreaded the answer.
“I need to see him,” I said, fearing the worst. Junior, one of our two barn cats who over-winters in the house, had only started his springtime excursions the day before. Could he be the cat who fell in the pool? The Farmer didn’t want to show me. I grabbed the feed bag he was holding and peeked inside. The wet body was mostly grey. I started to cry despite myself, and stomped off toward the house. It certainly looked like Junior the grey tabby to me.
“I don’t think he fell in,” said the Farmer. He was on top of the ice. It’s like he was in a fight with another cat and just died there.”
I slammed the door behind me and vowed to buy a pool cover so we would never lose another cat. I blamed myself for announcing the weather forecast to Junior and shoving him and his siblings outside. The other cats were acting strangely, sitting at the patio door and staring out at the pool. Perhaps they had witnessed the entire unfortunate event. I cried intermittently throughout the day, whenever I thought of my cheerful, rambunctious cat who trusted me for his care and safety. I felt sick and couldn’t eat.
Tuesday was a little better. I had a number of work-related distractions and needed to focus on writing assignments so I successfully put Junior out of my mind for most of the day.
Wednesday morning I went outside to check on our lame calf. I found her lying in the woodpile, out of the wind. Her foot is healing well, and I like that she lets me put hands on her. That always makes it easier if you have to catch them to treat them or to take milk for babies in the future.
On my way back into the house, I heard a “mrrttt” and saw a grey blur shoot through my legs. Junior! The missing cat had returned from the dead. I followed him into the basement, where he allowed me to pet him as he filled his face with food. He seemed rather frantic, as if he had been through quite an experience. For the rest of the morning he was quite vocal, either purring with voiced breathing as he groomed himself in front of the wood stove, or sitting at my feet as I worked in the kitchen and at my desk, a barrage of kitty questions directed at me.
Junior spent a good part of Wednesday morning racing up and down the stairs after Sheila and Sammy. He appeared quite happy to be home. He rolled on his back and ripped at the carpet on the stairs, forcing me to lock him in the basement until he calmed down. Junior is back. Might I add this is also the cat who was adopted as a kitten and summarily returned for his inability to adapt to his new human. It's not the first time he has made a triumphant return to the farm.
I feel very bad about the cat who died in or around my pool, and will take steps to ensure no one falls into it and drowns ever again. I still have no idea which cat ran out of his nine lives. I don’t think it was the white and black stray tomcat who likes to engage Sammy in fights that leave holes in his leg. The cat I saw was grey. Perhaps it was another stray. This time of year the males are off wandering to see who they can fight for territory. They are looking for females to impregnate and leaving a trail of wounded warriors in their wake.
I suspect Junior knows, and is trying to tell me.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Owls, owls everywhere

What’s with all the owl sightings lately? First they started popping up in my Facebook feed. Someone snapped a pic of a Great Horned Owl on a tree in their backyard. Someone else shared a photo of a beautiful Barred Owl they spotted in the park. And then of course there was that Snowy Owl who got a close-up on a Montreal traffic camera last year. My social media feed is full of the feathered fellows.

Local media have done programs about the baiting of certain wild birds by photographers – so they could get the great shot. Is this why we are seeing so many owls? Because someone in our area has been trying to lure them? And what is the problem with that, anyway? Granted, it isn’t a very happy scenario for the tiny rodent being used as bait, but does it harm the owl?

There is a lot of money in wildlife photography if it is done well. Anything caught on film that we don’t typically see every day is a wonder to behold. The baiting of birds for this purpose can cause quite a bit of tension between photographers and birders, however. The former are trying to make a buck and a name for themselves, while the latter are trying to witness the bird in its natural habitat and behavior. Many birders are also concerned that the luring of birds with fake calls or bait will cause the animal to become too familiar and trusting of humans, who may lead them to harm, intentionally or not.

The Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club and other birding organizations have stopped posting owl sightings on their websites.  The baiting of birds is not illegal, but the concern is that the animal will in some way be harassed by the photographers. They might try to contain the bird or irritate it into opening its eyes for the shot.  Birding sites are developing and posting a Code of Conduct or ethics in an attempt to protect the birds from being bothered.

And then there is the belief that you should not interfere with wildlife or attempt to alter its behavior. The saying “a fed bear is a dead bear” is brought to mind. Owls can be quite trusting of humans and when they have found a suitable habitat, they often stay in the area. Once their location is discovered, they are at the mercy of the humans. In some cases when baited by a photographer the owls are being kept awake and prompted to hunt during the day, which is not their habit.

Some wildlife enthusiasts, on the other hand, argue that we feed other wild birds: why not owls? With live rodents as their main food source, they have been known to starve to death over a long winter. If we can help them to survive the cold, why shouldn’t we feed them? I’m not likely to go into a pet store and buy live mice for this purpose but if I knew an owl was hanging around my barn, fighting cats for mice and going hungry, I might be persuaded. The Farmer would think I was crazy, of course, putting live mice in a barn where we keep cats to control the rodent population.

I had my own owl sighting this winter. I was driving down Prince of Wales Drive, just north of Bankfield. The owl was on my left, perched atop a telephone pole. It appeared to be staring across the road at the billboard on the other side, which featured a photo of an owl, wings spread! I don’t know if owls can recognize a photo of another owl or not but if I hadn’t been in such a rush I would have pulled over and captured that spectacle on camera. I look for the bird every time I pass that spot now.
Fred Schueler of Bishop’s Mills sent me a photo of a Whet Owl that actually flew into his back porch when he left the door open a couple weeks ago. The bird might have just been seeking shelter, but it certainly knew which house to enter. Schueler is a renowned naturalist. If the owl stays around long enough, it might even get to be the subject of a painting by Fred’s partner, wildlife artist Aleta Karstad.

Whet Owl photo: Fred Schueler, Bishop's Mills