The country drop-in

Fresh farm eggs, a hand-made wooden stool, an apple pie still hot from the oven, a basket of organic vegetables just pulled from the ground, and a jar of local honey.

These are just a few examples of the welcome gifts presented to my family by neighbours when we moved here. In the early frenzied days of unpacking and settling in, there would be a knock on the door and a neighbour would be standing there, with a beautiful, welcoming gift in hand. So quintessentially country! Again and again, we were struck by their kindness.

Local harvest from a neighbour

Local harvest from a neighbour

There is often little to no warning when suddenly there is someone standing at the door. It’s a bit unnerving, actually; when you think you’re alone and then suddenly, you’re not. But these country drop-ins have become a regular part of my new life in the country.

In the city, visits were always orchestrated and well planned. People don’t drop-in. The closest I ever came to a drop-in there was a last minute phone call to get together. I’m not sure why that is. But in the country, drop-ins are prevalent. My city friends will often ask me things like “what do you do up there?” and “aren’t you bored?” “I’m not sure,” I’ll reply.

The truth is, I’ve never been busier, or more social. In fact, country living is exhausting! A friend of mine on Facebook once joked that he had to return to the city to relax. Now I know what he means. Considering I live in the middle of nowhere it may seem surprising, but I have people around me all of the time!

We learned very quickly (and the hard way) that you must always be prepared for unexpected visitors in the country. I have eluded in previous blog posts of our nudist approach to this place when we first bought the property. We believed that there was safety in our seclusion here and would often shed it all, just because we could. One particularly hot day, Rob was buck naked attending to some repairs outside the barn while I held the ladder (yes, I know…) when Great Grandma decided to “drop-in.”

Fortunately he was able to don his clothing again before Grandma noticed him and had a heart attack! Another time, my sister and I were sunbathing in all our topless beauty when my roofer decided to “drop-in” for some details. We scrambled for our clothes but not before he and his wife got a good look. She refused to get out of the truck. Oh well.

I can only hope that in some way, she will be forever altered by what she witnessed that day.

The early days-Daddy and Cal enjoying a carefree stroll through the orchard

The early days-Daddy and Cal enjoying a carefree stroll through the orchard

Now, though, things are different. Now that we appreciate how suddenly and unexpectedly the drop-in can occur. I am rarely in a state of undress here, just in case. And there is a part of me that is at the ready for the infamous drop-in at all times. And the truth is I love it!

These little impromptu visits are gems in my day. Just yesterday a huge red pickup truck pulled in my lane and an equally huge man and his wife jumped out to introduce themselves. Turns out they had been previous owners of the property and had some gifts for us. They had found hand written and signed tax receipts from the original owners (the Mulvihills-read about their story of survival and loss in the ‘about’ section on my homepage) dating back to 1874 stuffed into the original chinking of our home. They had them framed and wanted to pass them on to us.

I invited them in and, when my neighbours on the twelfth also dropped by, it was a party in the making! Our harvest table is often surrounded by visitors; young and old, family and friends old and new. It has served as a platform for laughter and tears, dreams and the occasional meltdown. And more often than not, it has been brought to life in the spirit of the country drop-in.

Enough already!

I recently read an article dealing with ageing. Despite the many clichés, it really hit home with me.

I’ve reached an age where I find myself looking at my body critically. I’m falling into all the traps. I catch myself pulling my face back, searching my reflection for my younger self.  I check out my backside in the mirror, wondering where my ass went (oh, there it is – above the back of my knees) and my boobs. Well….

My hair is greying at an alarming rate. The sleep creases on my face and chest when I wake up in the morning seem to linger for hours, refusing to let go. The lines around my mouth are particularly troubling.

I could go on and on. And sadly, my inner voice does.

Having spent over 20 years working in an industry that celebrates beauty certainly hasn’t helped. I won’t elaborate on that belaboured topic, but one can well imagine how that would affect a person living and working in that world for so long. Ageing as a woman is stressful enough, but ageing as a model has its unique set of challenges.

Despite all of this, I have been careful to promote a healthy view on ageing. I try to lead by example with my children. I remind them that, in my opinion, beauty is a virtue, not an asset. I don’t wear makeup, and my hair is worn in a ponytail more often than not.

I have always felt my true beauty was my personality – something I was fine with believing until my physical beauty began to fade. Have I been lying to myself all these years? Maybe I believed beauty wasn’t important to me because I was beautiful.

Looking at my reflection now, and not loving what I see, does that make me a hypocrite? Why do I feel compelled to judge myself like this? I guess in a way, I’m disappointed in myself. I need to snap out of it; I know better. Enough already!

Ageing is a privilege. I have known way too many people whose lives ended too soon, people who would have given anything to see their ageing faces looking back at them in a mirror. Lives cut short. If only they could experience the feeling of having survived another year.

It certainly puts things into perspective, and it makes my superficial complaints seem so childish and selfish.

Moving forward, my goal will be to embrace the passing years and all that comes with them. I should be proud: these changes are the battle scars that tell the story of who I am. And it’s a wonderful story. My lips have kissed away booboos, been kissed in friendship and in passion and brushed thousands of cheeks. My “ass” has flown 35,000 feet above the earth more times than I can count. It has sat in trains, theatres, on park benches, hospital beds, and oceans – plus the occasional photocopier, “back in the day.” My breasts have felt the tenderness of early pregnancy and the pain of breastfeeding. They have nourished and comforted three babies.

And my wrinkles? These lines on my face form the landscape of a life fully lived. They speak of years of laughter and happiness. This face has been held between the hands of lovers and caressed by the tender hands of my children. And sadness, loss and strife?  Those lines are there too. Without them I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

Baby love

Baby love

It’s a good reminder that time doesn’t really take away. Rather, it gives. It helps you write the chapters of your life. Yes, it’s a wonderful story. And it is not finished yet. It’s time to look in the mirror with pride.

Who is with me?

Bugs

I love bugs. I do. Except for flies and mosquitos.

Inner-city living will present you with bugs, of course. The odd fly or bumblebee might find its way into your home. An evening stroll or drink on a patio might entice a stray mosquito, but rarely. But the country? Country living finds you surrounded, hounded and plagued. And like the racoons, these country bugs mean business.

I remember visiting my cousins’ farmhouse when I was a child and marvelling at how easily the family coexisted with the flies. Flies were everywhere: on the table, on the walls, on your face…suspended and motionless in the green Jell-O mould….

My cousins were oblivious to them; unfazed by these little creatures that I knew, even back then, were born of feces.

Now these farm flies have become my problem. What to do? I’ve been asking my neighbours about their strategies and was expecting some age-old magic cures passed along from generations of farm living, but to no avail. Short of hanging fly tape all over my house, or spraying my home with pesticide (which I’m not about to do), I’m going to have to learn to be at one with the flies. Something I’m not willing to accept.

Then there are the mosquitos. Sweet jeezus, the mosquitos! In my effort to maintain a healthy, functioning nervous system in my body and in those of my children, I’ve opted to forgo the DEET in favour of a more natural alternative. I have tried everything from dabbing vanilla extract to my pressure points (was sceptical-and no, I’m not crazy) to rubbing lavender leaves all over my body, but these approaches were not effective.

However, I have found a concoction that seems to be working!

I Googled homemade bug repellent recipes, and this one from Wellness Mama caught my eye.

My take on it was similar but I did make a few changes. And please note: This will sting if you get it in any cuts, and watch your eyes!

Here’s my recipe:

Fill spray bottle (I used 16 ounce bottle that I found for 2$ in the bbq section of my local grocery store) 1/2 full with cooled, boiled water

Add witch hazel to fill almost to the top

Add 1 tsp glycerin

60 drops (give or take) of essential oils. I used a mixture of

Clove, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree Oil, Peppermint and Rosemary

Shake well and voila!

Bug Off

Bug Off

It smells amazing, and misted on your body, it’s quite refreshing on a hot day. You must SHAKE WELL before use and I re-apply it every time I go out the door. It won’t damage your clothes, and it can go in your hair, too. I even sprayed my dog (don’t use it on your cats because they’ll lick it and I don’t know if it would hurt them).

My daughter and I applied some and took a stroll through the trees – not a single bite. We fed the chickens – no bites. We did cartwheels and sat on the grass. I cracked my hip joints, but only got one bite on my upper inner thigh (where I hadn’t sprayed). It was incredible! I haven’t been able to stroll around my property and enjoy it like this in weeks because of these pests. This is a big deal!

As for the flies. I’m still working on that one. Fortunately, we don’t eat Jell-O.

 

The ‘Licker Store’

Cal and tantrum. Circa 2012

Cal and tantrum. Circa 2012

Looking back, I can see the humour in this. But at the time, I was mortified.

We’ve all experienced the grocery store melt-down at least once, either as the parent of the kid who is freaking out, or as the bystander having to listen to it. Whichever your vantage point, it is always irritating and sometimes extremely embarrassing. I was lucky that my daughters would rarely tantrum in public. But when they did, I had the anonymity of city dwelling to shelter me. All the faces that would look and judge were the faces of strangers, so I really didn’t care what they thought.

In a small community that cloak of anonymity drops, and you can feel a bit naked without it, let me assure you.

My son is getting to the age now where he tries to take me on intellectually, and sadly, often wins. “Why did you do that?” I will ask. “Because, I did that,” he will reply.

We’ll hold eye contact for a few seconds, until I look away in defeat. It’s hard to argue with that logic.

For many parents of young children, the trip to the grocery store can be stressful. It’s hard to keep the toddler strapped into the cart while trying to be a smart-shopper, and letting them out is simply not a wise option. The outing is often preceded with bribes and in some cases outright threats. Two things that, in my righteous pre-parenting days, I thought I would never do.

But threats and bribes have become two of the most effective tools in my parenting arsenal.

And so it was that I found myself at the local grocery store along with my mother and my son when Cal convinced me he could walk instead of riding in the cart. I was feeling generous and decided to allow it, but I warned him that if he ran off or touched things, he would find himself back in the cart.

Seconds later, he ran off and touched things. I wrestled him back into the cart. He was furious. I could see it happening; I could see his little brain trying to find just the right words to let me know the depth of his rage and disappointment. And then, he found them. Perfect in their simplicity. And, with a voice radiating decibels only achieved by infant vocal chords, yelled:

 

“YOU HAVE A VAGINA, AND IT’S DISGUSTING!”

 

I could see all the heads in my vicinity turning towards me in perfectly-timed synchronicity. I am grateful for the gene that separates me from the violent creature I could be. Instead of doing what I wanted to do, I calmly exited the store.

But, I had to swallow my pride and return a few days later. It’s my local grocery store after all, and there aren’t many up here. And so with as much dignity as I could muster, I returned, with my son in tow.

Now, remember my good friends “threat” and “bribe?” Well, they made an appearance in the car on the way. I promised Cal that if he behaved well and stayed in his cart at the grocery store, we would go to the liquor store on the way home. I know that sounds crazy, but here’s the thing: they give him suckers when he goes there. Little rewards for good behaviour. Now, I must explain something important here. He refers to suckers as “lickers.”

I suppose it’s because whenever his big sisters had suckers and he was too small to have his own, they would offer him “licks.” And so, “suckers” became “lickers.”

The irony here is that he calls the “Liquor Store” the “Licker Store.”

Cute, right?

Jump back to the grocery store. Cal has decided to be a jerk, and so I told him no licker store….

For the next 20 minutes, at the top of his lungs, he hollered:

“I WANT TO GO TO THE LICKER STORE! I WANT TO GO TO THE LICKER STORE! I WANT TO GO TO THE LICKER STORE!”

Sometimes, you just have to laugh. And after trying to explain to the lady at the check-out that he meant suckers, while she just looked at me blankly, I saw it for what it was: a fantastic story of the trials of parenting. And, of course my revenge will be sweet….

I get to teach him about the birds and the bees. And, vaginas.

 

And speaking of vaginas, check out this fabulous muff. “L’Origine du monde” by Gustave Courbet, 1866. I got to see the original hanging at the Musée D’Orsay three years ago in Paris. Beautiful.

 "L'Origine du monde" by Gustave Courbet, 1866.

“L’Origine du monde” by Gustave Courbet, 1866.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hobby farm – phase 1: Chicken Update

 

The "ladies" in the orchard.

The “ladies” in the orchard.

Well, despite the odds of being raised by novices in a house full of cats, our “ladies” as we like to call them, have grown into healthy and obnoxiously lovable creatures.

We nearly signed our divorce papers trying to assemble the pre-fab chicken coop. I’d like to go back to the Co-op and slap the pimple-faced kid behind the counter for telling me it only takes about 20 minutes to put together! I suppose if the morons who “pre-fabed” it knew their way around a measuring tape and how to use a level, it might have only taken 20 minutes. And that’s a big “might.”

Assembling the chicken coop from hell.

Assembling the chicken coop from hell.

It looks OK, but I’m thinking a raccoon would have no trouble unlocking it. We’ll have to do something about that. Raccoons in the country are a species unlike their city cousins. City raccoons are so dignified in comparison. These country guys? They will eat a dog.

So, the ladies are now able to graze free-range style in the orchard by day, and will be cooped up at night in the outdoor coop. They adjusted well to the transition. They even joined us for our picnic the other day, running over for scraps and hugs!

At the picnic.

At the picnic.

Rob was not impressed.

 

 

 

Boys with sticks

Strawberries with cream, peanut butter with jam, boys with sticks; some things just seem to complement each other naturally in life.

I come from a long line of women. I grew up with a mother and two older sisters. I only had one living grandmother. I have a dad, but even he was a woman by default. He would buy our household cartons of tampons and pads and suffer through “the full moon” right along with us. My mom had him trained to sit when he peed (something I have passed along to my own husband – I highly recommend it!), and he took care of most of the household cleaning and cooking.

My own daughters are girls through and through; as are my nieces. My out-of-country sister adopted two boys but, being out of country, their boyish ways have had little influence on me. So when my son arrived into my world, I was ill prepared. It’s a boy?

Oh, boy!

The boy-child

The boy-child

Three years later, I still marvel at what is between his legs. Every time I change his diaper, I honestly can’t believe what I’m seeing. The miniature, hairless “weenis” as my daughter coined it, so precious and, well, un-female….

But I digress.

It’s not just the “weenis” that makes life with a boy-child different. I used to sit in the city parks and be slightly shocked at the goings-on of the boys there. My girls would be playing, gently and carefully, giggling and skipping along. The boys, however, appeared to be at war with one another, or with a tree, or themselves, writhing and hollering, and generally nuts.

I would look at them, and then back at my girls, and give quiet thanks to my “stellar” parenting skills. Little did I know.

“Boys will be boys,” so they say. “They” are presumably mothers or caregivers of boys. That phrase in and of itself almost sounds like an apology, doesn’t it? Instead of saying “Yes, I know, he’s insane and I don’t understand why,” they say “boys will be boys” and everyone nods in solemn agreement.

For my family, dealing with a boy was in part experimental. Suddenly all of the female gender-specific paraphernalia became a thing of the past and we marvel still at what constitutes boy toys. A trip down the “boy” aisle at Toys “R” Us is both horrifying and exciting.

We quickly fell into the gender trap and began buying stuff like Star Wars figurines, books about trucks and tractors, and even picked up a beautiful vintage set of Buffalo Bill toy guns and holsters at a flea market. And who could resist the super hero pyjamas and bulldozer underpants?

Cal with his Buffalo Bill gun and favourite stick.

Cal with his Buffalo Bill gun and favourite stick.

So the argument became the age old “nature versus nurture.” When our son began behaving like an asshole, we were quick to use the above mentioned “apology.” But really, hadn’t we done this to him ourselves? I asked this very question to the parents of a local family I met recently. I honestly expected them to agree that we had, and to scold me for falling into the gender trap. However, they just seemed perplexed that it was even a concern. In the city, little boys can run around in pink skirts if they want to. In the country, I suspect it would be frowned upon.

The turning point for me was when, at a local drop in center, after kicking down a young child’s precariously-balanced stack of blocks, my son made a bee-line for the Barbie hair dryer and proceeded to “shoot” all the mothers in the room with it. It was not a great parenting moment for me. I hustled him out the door and that night, my husband and I decided to ban all toys and movies that conveyed violent behaviour.

I even bagged Buzz Lightyear.

Cal was sad. But, when he realized his favourite sticks (i.e. weapons) were also gone, he was enraged.

At the country school where I have been teaching, their philosophy on child play is either very antiquated, or extremely forward-thinking, depending on your opinion of what constitutes a safe play zone. There, they encourage children to run with sticks and climb trees. They have wooden-seated swings (or tooth extractors as I like to call them) and a metal slide that reminds me of the ones we had growing up. They have access to sharp tools; they throw snowballs, fall down, get hurt, and carry on. It’s quite intriguing to watch, actually.

I was discussing this different philosophy with one of the teachers during break when the door to the classroom flew open and one of my students came in, dragging a large tree limb behind him. We continued talking about the differences between what is generally accepted as “safe play” as the student hoisted the limb up onto a table and began rummaging through the cupboards until he found – wait for it – a hand saw.

I finally interrupted my conversation and, gesturing towards the table said, “Like this for instance. In a public school system, you would never see this!”

We both watched, mesmerized, as he furiously sawed away.

The Current on CBC Radio had an interesting show recently on this very subject. Studies have been conducted over the years about “safe” play grounds vs. “un-safe,” and the results have been surprising. There were far fewer injuries in the “un-safe” zones. There was a decrease in bullying and vandalism, and children learned important life skills in the process.

Swordplay, it seems, not only helps children explore the boundaries of relationships (good vs. evil), but also encourages imagination. And as Harry Harbottle says in an interview with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC’s Q (“Are playgrounds too safe?”), children are no longer able to learn how to manage risks.

By allowing my son to engage in these “violent” behaviours, to a degree and within reason, we are in fact helping him to be become a better person. One who can actually manage risk independently; a child who understands that actions have consequences and who can channel his aggression in a healthy way.

The violent toys and movies are still in a bag in the basement, but the sticks are back. Leaning against the side of the house, on top of the bookshelf, in the car…the little swords and guns of his imagination; precious in their innocuousness.

And all I can do is hope and pray that he will grow up to be a good man.

My nephews, Luke and Jude, carrying a large stick during their visit here last summer.

My nephews, Luke and Jude, carrying a large stick during their visit here last summer.

Dead things

A few days ago, I hosted my neighbours for an afternoon get-together. We wanted to take a hike through our bush to see the “huge disgusting dead thing” our kids had come upon during a hike a few days earlier. The way they described it had me thinking it might be worth a phone call to the prehistoric remains society!

In the city you might happen upon a squirrel freshly flattened onto the road or, if you’re up before the clean up crew, a cat or a raccoon.

Here, there is death everywhere.

It is part of the rural culture. Animals are raised for slaughter, men hunt and the general landscape of bush and acreage allows for nature to take its course in the circle of life. Coyotes can be heard hunting in packs in the night and the fox on our property has taken it upon himself to reduce the rabbit population.

A disturbingly fabulous image by Sally Mann.

A disturbingly fabulous image by Sally Mann.

Hawks and vultures circle above, barn kittens die of neglect; nests are raided leaving bits of pretty shells scattered about…and all these things, both big and small, have been significant learning curves for me. In the city we lead a fairly protected existence from all of this. Our road kill is quickly cleaned away; our meat is presented to us in clean, wrapped packages. This certainly didn’t prepare me for farm life.

Broken shells and a nest collected from my property.

Broken shells and a nest collected from my property.

The country is full of dead things. This is a fact I learned very quickly. And, it’s often dramatic. Last year there was a dead pig on the side of the road. A large, dead pig. Of course road kill here is varied and abundant, but the pig was a shock. This spring there was a severed rabbit carcass at my door step. A rabbit. Severed. (Thanks to my neighbour Ann for cleaning that one up for me!)

Out for a stroll a few days later I found its wee tail. How nice. Then there was the huge jaw bone on my driveway…that was special. And how about the head (of what might have been from above mentioned rabbit, but hey…) poking up from the melting snow next to the crocus?

The spring has also awakened the serial killer instinct in my “barn” cats. They are killing machines, bringing home quantities of mice, moles, chipmunks and snakes.

Back in the bush, we found the remains the kids had discovered, and it was a deer. Nothing nearly as dramatic as we were anticipating, but impressive nonetheless. It had been dead for some time with most of the bones already clean. It was both fascinating and morbid to look at, actually (I have an interest in skulls and may end up keeping this one for my collection). As I stood there, I wondered how many other “dead things” this bush had claimed over the years. Things, gone to ground, that I would never see.

Country living will toughen you up, there’s no doubt about it. But I don’t want to toughen up too much. I appreciate the circle of life, but I hope I never get to the point where I see death and don’t feel it.

I have a coffee table book, What Remains by Sally Mann. It contains a collection of photographs she took of people and places, post-humus. It is beautifully done, and absolutely captivating to look at. I will give the final words to her:

What Remains

What Remains

“When the land subsumes the dead, they become the rich body of earth, the dark matter of creation. As I walk the fields of this farm, beneath my feet shift the bones of incalculable bodies; death is the sculptor of the ravishing landscape, the terrible mother, the damp creator of life, by whom we are one day devoured.”