Ladies night

I have added two more chickens to my flock. I have a soft spot for the traditional “brown hen” and am channeling my inner Beatrix Potter.

The brown hens are historically good layers, and they’re so pretty to look at. On a more practical note, I have family coming for the summer, and could certainly benefit from some more egg production.

A neighbour has kindly offered me two of her hens. And this is where the fun begins!

The plan:

Like a thief in the night, I will be infiltrating their current home and snatching the chickens while they sleep (if you’d told me a year ago that this is the stuff I’d be doing living on the farm, I’d have laughed). I know my neighbour has at least one rooster in her hen house, and with my new fear of roosters thanks to the epic cock fights between Henrietta (girl name, I know) and I in the barn, (picture the rooster lunging at me with his big neck feathers and talons sticking out and me kicking and screaming over and over again until my foot finally makes contact with his head and he backs off…), things might get a bit hairy.

While I fancy myself to be brave in most situations, a strange hen house in the dead of night, with roosters and only a flashlight between me and god knows what, I have some trepidation as to how things will go down. Maybe I’ll bring my daughter along for bait….

The thinking behind this midnight abduction is that, if the chickens are moved while they are sleeping, when morning comes and they find themselves in new surroundings, they just think that they’ve been there all the while. Are they really that dumb? Quite possibly, me thinks.

With nervous giddiness, I await nightfall.

To be continued….

So that was not scary at all. What I wasn’t expecting though, was how sad I felt. At nine o’clock last night we all traipsed into the dark towards the hen house, flashlights in hand, the element of surprise on our minds. The little roost was quiet until we opened the door and shone our lights inside. Inside, the rooster and his girls were all perched for the night and obviously rather displeased at us bursting in and disturbing them.

My neighbour picked up the first hen within reach and plopped her into the waiting carrier. Then, the next one followed. The birds were obviously unnerved, and I felt terrible! And while, logically, I can’t compare our actions to those of some dark, clandestine subterranean strike force, there was something disturbingly deceptive in our actions. I know: they’re just chickens. But still….

We drove home and wrangled them out of their cages and up onto the perch next to their new family. We closed the coop door, sad but determined to do our best to help them along in their new home.

This morning, although they’re roaming the property in two distinct groups. “The ladies” – my existing brood – are coexisting in relative harmony. Henrietta, the rooster, is a bit out of sorts, running from one flock to the next like, well, like a chicken with its head cut off! He is trying to sort it all out, and has his hands full with two new additions that seem to have fallen from the sky.

Meanwhile, life goes on at the farm. I have one eye on my dishes and the other on the ladies. The kids are fighting over their choices of names. The dense fog that we awoke to this morning is starting to lift, and coffee is brewing.

Life is good!

chickenbums

A windy day! “The browns” finding their way around their new home.

FullSizeRender

Switching gears

It’s been a year of learning for me, and often the hard way. But I feel like I’m starting to really “get it” in terms of switching gears from city life to country living.

Things I hadn’t expected: little surprises here and there, and some things that haven’t changed since the day we first bought this property for recreational use, five years ago. There is such a dichotomy to the life I live now. City galleries, museums and restaurants one day, shoveling out the goat pen the next. It’s become my new reality and it’s interesting how the two extremes have meshed into the new me.

I was in Toronto a few weeks back and pulled a fresh farm egg out of my coat pocket that I had forgotten to take into the house. I couldn’t help but laugh! It was the perfect image of my two worlds colliding.

Some things I’ve learned are no-brainers, such as never underestimating the importance of four-wheel drive, and the immeasurable value of a pair of quality rubber boots. Other bits of wisdom have been harder to come by. I have been sitting here this morning, reflecting on my past year. I am experiencing little revelations and forming new opinions. I am also rethinking some sentiments that I made early on.

Never underestimate the importance of a good pair of rubber boots!

Never underestimate the importance of a good pair of rubber boots!

Things like the town folk who seemed so rude in the beginning, walking past without speaking, standing next to me in our children’s classroom and not speaking, brushing past me in the post office without speaking and so on…. Turns out they’re mostly not rude, just shy.

And the maze of back roads known as concessions and side roads that I found so daunting? They’re actually not confusing at all. Side roads join the concessions together. Easy.

I’m even beginning to recognize the different crops I pass on the road. I now know farmers are quite divided in terms of what colour their tractors are, too. You’re either a red man , a blue man or a green man. Period.

Apparently, you must have a mailbox at the top of your lane or else you don’t get any Canada post packages delivered to your home (FedEx and UPS deliveries don’t require a mailbox – but you need to know how your parcels are being shipped and provide the correct coordinates). Apparently, it pisses the rural mail delivery person off if they have to actually get OUT of their car to deliver anything, particularly the notice that says they can’t deliver to your home. Did you know they have special right-hand drive cars here so the mail can be just passed out the window and into the box? Cute.

I also got over (kinda) the heavy sense of guilt at having to actually DRIVE my garbage up to the top of my lane. Otherwise, it would take me a half hour walking the bags back and forth from house to roadside and at the end of my long day, that’s just not happening.

Another adjustment to country ways: the limited hours of operation for many small towns and villages in the area. No Sunday sales. No shopping on Mondays. Library is closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Oh, and so is everything else. I’m not sure how these businesses make money! And once “supper time” arrives – around six o’clock – everything shuts down. Streets are virtually deserted. There’s obviously no nightlife here, particularly during the work week.

There’s no such thing as 100 per cent whole wheat bread at the grocery store; folks around here will go as high as 60 per cent, no more. Strangely, though, they do sell dried seaweed….

Despite a renowned collection of award-winning craft breweries right in the community, I puzzle over the fact many locals drink the cheap, watered-down brands of beer. Bush, Coors Lite and Bud Lite seem to be the choice here. I caught myself looking at the people walking out of the beer store with cases of this stuff and judging them for their utter lack of taste. Does this make me a beer snob? I was also judging them because, along these beautiful concessions and side roads that I mentioned, is a graveyard of spent beer cans that have obviously been whipped out of car windows. And they are always, ALWAYS, those particular brands of lackluster beer.

beercan

Another beer can on the side of the road

Speaking of roadside, a fun game that my kids and I play here is “Count the Tim Horton’s Cups.” The record so far is 15, during a 20-minute trip to a neighbouring town. Who the hell litters like that?!

How many of these can you count on your next trip in the car?

How many of these can you count on your next trip in the car?

I’m also acutely aware of hunting seasons now. It’s a weird feeling, hearing the report of gun shots outside your home. I lived in the inner city of Toronto for 20 years and never heard anything like it, despite the gun crime there. During this time, the kids aren’t allowed to go into the bush, and we always wear bright orange gear when out for walks on the property, just to be safe.

I am integrating myself into the community slowly but surely. But I still have so much to learn. Despite these “learning curves,” I am never second-guessing my decision to move here. How could I? This place may have it’s, um, curious idiosyncrasies, but those foibles are easily eclipsed by the abundance of wonderfulness that comes with living here.

Things like having neighbours that will drop anything to come and help you. Whether you need help removing the head of a groundhog that your dog left on your porch, to hooking your car up to a tractor to get you unstuck, or hand-delivering baked goods to you “just because” (I could go on and on). Farmers take care of each other.

And what about the magic of waking up and looking out your window and seeing nothing but hills and trees? It takes your breath away, every time. Who wouldn’t want that?  I’ve learned that the silence here is not quiet at all, but noisy with the chirping of a thousand birds. It’s a symphony.

My organic produce isn’t packaged in a grocery store during the summer and fall; My produce is freshly-picked by my neighbour next door, pulled from the earth the morning I get it. And my eggs? A short walk to the hen house and “the ladies” have a nest full just waiting for me.

eggs

Beautiful fresh farm eggs from “the ladies”

Being connected to the land and watching how the seasons change has been quite an adventure. Country weather is dished out in extremes. Blizzards that block your lane and close the roads one minute, and gentle snow falls that sparkle in the sunshine like a million gems the next. Hot summer days buzz and stick to your skin followed by rain storms that make you head for the basement! Ankle-deep in mud in spring, searching for early blooms becomes the feeling of grass between your toes and bouquet after bouquet of freshly-cut flowers in the summer.

Summer storm brewing.

Summer storm brewing out my side door

It is magic that surrounds you here, and I wouldn’t give this up for anything.

Fire and ice

Recently, my family and I were invited to a neighbour’s farm to help celebrate the tradition of Candlemas (pronounced like Christmas, only with “Candle” instead of “Christ”).

I readily accepted the invitation because I knew there were going to be a number of neighbours there whom I have not yet met, but also because I was intrigued with the idea of Candlemas. I had never heard of this tradition until my neighbour explained it to me. It is simple enough, although upon researching it, it has a deep and diverse (and somewhat pagan) history.

Little did I know, but by participating in this magical evening, Candlemas has suddenly become one of my favourite traditions.

Simply put, it is the tradition of marking the arrival of spring. On the second of February (this date varies slightly depending on your source, but generally right in the middle of the winter equinox and the spring solstice), a hole is dug into the snow, down to the earth, and a candle is lit and placed into the hole. The belief is the fire will encourage the earth to warm, hence, hastening the arrival of spring.

It is understood to be a pagan ritual of Gaelic roots (originally called Imbolk), but was Christianized as a celebration of Saint Brigid. The Christian celebration is different with the blessing of candles in the church or some variation of the sort. It was also seen by some as a time of Divination, which in turn may have given birth to our current tradition of Ground Hog Day, where some poor celebritized subterranean rodent predicts (or divines) the arrival of spring.

On the night we celebrated, it was very cold, and very dark. With our tummies full of food and drink, children large and small in tow, we trudged as a group through the deep snow into a field not far from the house. As the newly appointed orchard, our hosts had chosen this area to be the place to dig.

The kids were having so much fun, crawling somewhat blindly through the night. Laughter from adults and children alike broke the silence as we followed the warm glow of the lantern ahead. After a few words regarding the ceremony, we all began to dig into the snow. One by one the candles were lit and the effect was enchanting. Little lantern like holes glowing warmly with candlelight, casting flickering light upon us all. It was beautiful!

At the end of the night, I was chilled to the bone and no closer to knowing the arrival of spring but I felt pleased to have been a part of something that felt so special. I’m certain that my three-year-old, bewitched by the effect of fire and ice in the dead of night, will have this experience imprinted in his memory forever. As for myself, I am determined to include this – or some variation of it – into my own collection of family traditions.

Cal lighting the candle

Cal lighting the candle

Regardless of its spiritual roots and intentions, there’s nothing quite like the beauty of candles flickering in the snow on a cold winter night to boost one’s spirits and help ignite the excitement of the coming spring.

Nude male models wanted. Anyone? Anyone?

My art is progressing nicely. I have nearly completed my first five nudes, and am eager to start a new series. I have canvass stretched and waiting, full pots of paints, clean brushes…the only thing missing is, well, a model.

I find myself in a bit of a conundrum: finding a willing subject is proving harder than I expected! I was fortunate enough to have a girlfriend of mine pose nude for me. I photographed her in my house (my husband kindly offered to help hold the lights for me, channelling his inner porn star, however, my death stare had him quickly retreating to another room) and these images found their way into my first series. As a model, she had no qualms about posing nude for me.

My second subject was (not) surprisingly willing to pose for me. An old friend who did some modelling years ago, he was happy to oblige me. When the kids came home from school and saw the 4×3 foot painting of a naked man in the art room there was a piercing scream from my middle daughter, and from the teenager, a disgusted “Really, Mom? Really?”

Edwina visiting the studio during the work in progress. I like to call this one "Chicken and Cock"

Edwina visiting the studio during the work in progress. I like to call this one
“Chicken and Cock”

They have come a long way over the course of a few months, bless their little hearts.

But in my quest for a variety of body shapes, I’m now out of models. I have no problem finding volunteers of the female persuasion; it’s the men who are less-than-willing, for some reason. A neighbour (who, incidentally, refused to pose) suggested I turn to the Internet for some pictures. My response to him was a resounding no, since the images have to belong to me. But in my desperation I checked it out. I typed “naked men images” into Google, and now, let’s just say I am slightly traumatized!

I realize we all come in different shapes and sizes, but these guys all had a shape and a size in common. And, I am afraid – very afraid. If I’d seen photos like those before I approached my own sexual awakening, I would likely be celibate somewhere, doing good deeds for the less fortunate.

So, Googling random images is not going to cut it.

The trick is finding a man who is willing to pose for me without any nonsense. I have a lot of male friends in the modeling industry that would do it for me, but I’m not looking for their body type. I need less “perfection.” It’s not a request I can put up on the bulletin board at the local post office (although that would be a fun social experiment…) and my circle of male friends in my new community is limited, so now what?

It will be fascinating to see how this unfolds. And my goal of having an exhibition of the finished works will be equally interesting. Somehow, I don’t think I will be invited to partake in the local annual artist studio tour – but I will keep you posted.

Entitlement

Dear Santa,

Please send me a bag full of hundred dollar bills. I’ve got children who think they deserve everything.

What ever happened to the good old days when the Christmas wish list contained items that were actually affordable? I may have cringed at the content (ANOTHER Barbie?!) but back then, everything listed was well within the $100 mark. Now, with items like a new Mac computer finding their way onto the list, I think it’s time to re-evaluate the true meaning of Christmas.

Yesterday did not end well for me. Definitely another “I should not be a parent” moment. My three-year-old bystander actually asked me not to get rid of his sisters.

It started with this comment from my teenager:

“OK, you can just get me an iPad, it’s cheaper.”

She said it, like she was doing me a favour. How thoughtful! (She had really wanted a new Mac laptop).

I had asked the kids to write out their Christmas wish lists. When I started reading them, I became slightly alarmed.

“I NEED it for school,” she insisted.

She needs it. Really? So apparently the school board has now added new Macintosh computers and iPads as required materials for school?

“EVERYONE has one but me,” she insisted, assuming I was a complete idiot.

Sweet Jesus, give me strength.

I then hear myself saying stuff like, “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you too?” channelling my own mother’s voice, like an idiot, which it turns out I am after all.

And finally, as a casual afterthought, she gives me this:

“Oh ya, and I want a shopping spree.”

A shopping spree? A spree? Does she even understand what that means? I haven’t had a shopping spree since I was in my twenties and I didn’t understand the senselessness of spending thousands of dollars on clothes!

“A SPREEEEEEEEYYYY?” I shrieked, the EEYY stretching shockingly high on the OMG, mom has lost her mind-scale . It was definitely the last straw. In my hysteria (screaming things like “WHY DON’T YOU ADD A NEW CAR AND A DIAMOND RING TO YOUR LIST WHILE YOU’RE AT IT?!), I managed to get it across to her that the things she was asking for had no place on a Christmas wish list.

At what point do kids feel that they are entitled to such high-end gifts? And as parents, we become the assholes because we won’t dish out.  What is happening? How did it go from Barbie to this?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against spending on your kids. God knows I’ve spent my fair share over the years. And I certainly don’t expect them to fall for the “I just want love and world peace for Christmas” guilt that some righteous people (usually non-parents) like to espouse. However, I need to convey to them, somehow, that these “gifts” are not their birth right.

Even if I had all the money in world, they should not expect so much. Though the “I just want love and world peace for Christmas” is a bit over the top, we need to pause for a moment and remind our children what Christmas really is about. Whether you are religious, or prefer the pagan approach, Christmas is not just about the gifts: Want, want, want. Need, need, need. Get, get, get.

This needs to stop!

As a parent I have definitely played a role in this whole thing. The very act of asking them to write out a list of everything they “want” every year has only perpetuated it. The question is, how do I bring balance back?

Instead of cancelling Christmas this year, or stuffing their stockings with coal, I need to approach this rationally. It must be a teachable moment rather than a punishment. I have many ideas circling in my head, but one that stands out. Next year, (we’re already screwed this year) I want to have my girls sponsor a family in need. I want them to feel the satisfaction that comes from giving, particularly to a family who is less fortunate. Charity begins at home, and if I can, I will redirect this entitlement and turn it into something beautiful.

I’ll give the last word to a true inspiration at this festive time of year, the Grinch.

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?It came with out ribbons! It came without tags!It came without packages, boxes or bags!”And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

The_Grinch_(That_Stole_Christmas)

Kid Art

I recently heard a radio program on the topic of dealing with your children’s artwork. Many parents share in this dilemma. With so much art being produced by kids these days, it can be overwhelming. What should you keep? What gets thrown away?

There were many ideas offered: some great ones like photographing the works and turning them into books, and others not-so-great like plastering them as wallpaper all over your walls. (seriously?!)

I’ve kept absolutely everything over the years, believing that someday I would, somehow, deal with it.  Since our move, we’ve had a lot of clearing out and organizing to do and, with less space than we’re used to, that “someday” has arrived.

The multiple bins that contained literally hundreds (possibly thousands!) of pieces of art from the girls had to be dealt with. It was simple enough: two piles, one to keep and the other throw away.

Who knew that something so simple could be so painful?

Opening the bins brought back a flood of memories. Each piece of construction paper I held in my hands took me away. How could I choose to throw these treasures out? The early fat crayon scribbles, slowly evolving into circles, which over time became amoeba-like faces with long legs and arms. I remember vividly sitting at the kitchen tables of our past, my babies on my lap or in their high chairs, watching them struggle to hold their crayons in their chubby little fingers. Little tongues poking out. A look of intense concentration on their faces…Me stooping repeatedly to pick up the crayons that would roll to the floor.

Av's art circa 2006

Av’s art circa 2006

These scribbles are not just lines on paper. They are a direct link to my old self; a time that already seems like a lifetime ago. A young mother getting through her days, cold cups of coffee on the counter….

Then there are the drawings of mother and child holding hands. Big hearts, butterflies, rainbows, cats…Daddy and child, “I love you” scrawled across the page in sloppy letters. Sunshine and flowers. Their names printed with a letter or two backwards… “Look, Mommy! I did it!”

Envelopes roughly put together with masking tape, letters to Santa, school art, cards, glitter and glue…all of them – every single one – a masterpiece.

Memories keep flooding through me. Holding hands to cross the street, cool morning walks to school. Hot, sweaty summer days at the park, sand in their shoes. Picnics, tantrums, little wet bodies in warm baths. Dirty faces turned upwards for me to wipe. Days so full of happiness that I could burst, and days so difficult with self judgment and resentment that I wanted to curl up and die.

But always, the love.

In the end, I did manage to throw away a lot of art. But, the pages were photographed and stored as bits of digital data. As for the throw-away pile, my husband unceremoniously took them to the back of the barn and burned them in an old oil drum. I imagine, though we never talked about it, that he had his own memories to deal with as he placed them one by one into the flames. It must not have been easy.

Our little artists are big girls now. I no longer need to hold their hands or wipe their faces. Those days are gone. But what does remain is their love of drawing. And even though they don’t write “I love you” across the top of every page anymore, the act of showing me their work, and awaiting my praise is just another way of showing it.

Cal's art

Cal’s art

I still have a baby in my life. My son is three and rapidly accumulating an art collection of his own. I am acutely aware of how precious my time is with him, having seen how quickly time flies and kids grow up. I take the time to sit and appreciate the many moments we have together. His drawings are in the “long legs and arms jutting out of the big head” stage right now. Soon, his name will find its way onto the pages. And then, the Mommy and child, the “Daddy I love you” and the flowers and rainbows.

And with every masterpiece he creates, another memory is safeguarded for years to come.

Image of the week

IMG_6250

Country living has found us adding many miles on our vehicles. The old ‘inner city walk to the corner store’ has become just wishful thinking! Now, shopping requires a lot of forethought, as running out of milk means a ten minute drive. Play dates, trips to the library, parent- teacher interviews and after school activities all require car time. But, it’s not all bad. Check out my blog from April entitiled Gravel Roads for a more romantic take.