Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Charnel House

This past summer, when my travellin’ buds and I were on our summer excursion to Newfoundland,

 we took a little side trip to the French island of St. Pierre, just 20 kms off the Burin Peninsula.  
It was an incredibly interesting and wonderful adventure on so many levels.

My personal pick for the most intriguing and memorable adventure was our visit to the cemetery.
 I am drawn to cemeteries at any time, but this one was particularly fascinating and remarkable.

We were told there were about 10,000 people there and only 5,500 alive on the island. Indeed, it was a heavily populated piece of property.

It was like a city unto itself, with the new and modern popping up amongst the ancient and decaying.

The newer graves are pristine marble, set up like a table laden with plaques and photos and flowers, tokens of love and remembrance.

Next door could be a sad and disintegrating concrete tomb,
 with not a name or a date to be found. 

It was such a contrast, not only to each other, but to graves that we have here in our little cemetery on the corner, where even the ones that have the names worn away, 
are well cared for and adorned with flowers on Decoration Day.  
If I lived in St. Pierre, I would adopt all those people and tidy up their space.

For one such as me, who has an attraction to the old and worn – to rusty iron and weathered wood, to little fragments that have fallen away … it was a wellspring of musing.

The intriguing thing was that these graves, while bearing no indication of who rested there, most often had a crucifix, or the remnants of one, hanging on by a wire or a nail, or half buried beneath the rubble. 
 There was such an amazing diversity in style and design
 for an island that would never have had many places to acquire such a thing.

They had haunting and strikingly pensive presence, especially combined
 with the moody fog that lay suspended over the cemetery.

It became a most indelible treasure hunt for me, spotting the crucifix … finding Jesus.

Just today, I sent my first book of the year to publication:

And I wrote this poem ...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sleepless in Avonbank

Last spring, Jaime got a dozen day old chicks. I think it may have been something to do with the fact that one of her sisters accused her of raising ‘city kids in the country’ … having no exposure to animals.

Starting as ‘house chickens’, they spent their first few weeks in an aquarium, going outside at regular intervals for ‘chicken recess’.  When they went away, the fowl filled aquarium went with them, riding between the children. All summer, there was a 'sea' of chickens following human feet everywhere.

As they got older, Jae single handedly built them a very cool apartment. Letting them out and tucking them in became part of the daily routine, with Spencer yelling ‘Here shit-shit-shittins.’  On the night of Alyssa’s wedding, there was a momentary panic when Brian asked Jaime: “Who’s putting the chickens away tonight?”  Her aunt kindly agreed to swing around on the way home, and assumed that she’d find the chicken coop in the backyard. So there she was, in her going-to-a-wedding attire, roaming all over the property at midnight with a flashlight, finally finding the abode nestled in the trees on the front lawn. Crisis averted.
Fast forward to the fall, when it suddenly dawned on them that the chickens could not live in their coop for the winter. Perhaps it wasn’t suddenly – perhaps it was known all along by the chicken owners that the brood would be going to Nana & Poppa’s for an extended holiday.

Poor Spencer. At two and a half he couldn’t accept that his beloved ‘chittins’ had to stay here. The first few time he cried – ‘I want to take my chittins home. I MISS my chittins!  Since summer his 's'es have become 'c's, although the initial label is quite accurate. When he goes in the barn, you can hear his excitement echoing right back to the house.  You’d think he’d won the lottery as he’s yelling: “My chittins! My chittins!!!! MY CHITTINS~!!!"

The chittins have been a bit of a challenge for us for the simple fact that they didn’t realize they were. Chickens that is.  Keeping them out of the house took some skillful manoeuvring. They spent much of their time as a ‘guard chickens’, lined up on the bench on the back porch.  Or knocking on the front door, hoping to be invited in.

When I'd drive in, the whole hen herd would run to greet me, with little chicken fingers crossed that I would leave the door open for a half second too long. If visitors made the mistake of leaving their car door ajar, they would find the girls happily hoovering up any crumbs and tidbits. I have often looked out to see Brian getting the chickens off of the tow truck, or out of the delivery guy’s car, or acting as crossing guard to keep the chickens safe as people drove in or out. The sign at the end of our driveway 'Go Gently, Kids & Critters Everywhere' has become relevant once again.

We’ve had many entertaining moments with that poultry posse, and they’ve seemed to enjoy their farm vacation. And I must say, an unexpected bonus was the fresh eggs daily, even though there was a unfounded hesitancy to begin with. It gives me great pleasure to be able to walk right by the egg section in the grocery store. I’ve made more quiche than I ever have, and don't begrudge the 'four egg' recipes. Even Dan said the other day that they were the best eggs he’d ever eaten.

The first few nights of rounding them up was a test of our chicken catching skills, which definitely would have been better twenty years ago. But they soon settled into their routine, happy to be released in the morning. Chickens never rest. They never sit down. They pick and they peck and they scratch with wild abandon. Or they look for trouble to get into. As dusk approached they would head to their condo and settle in for the night, anxious
for some rest I suppose. All but Gerry, who has doesn't associate much with the other five; she prefers a personal escort. It's a well set habit that is working fairly well.

Last night when I went to tuck them in, there were only two in the stall. I called and called, and searched the barn and field before I broke the concerning news to Brian.  He spent an hour with a huge flashlight, scouring the grounds.  We looked in the trees,  and all the little hidey places – the playhouse, the silo, the haymow. And then he took the car and drove all over the lawn, shining the lights over every square inch.

We were both heartsick about it;  feeling so badly for the poor ol’ girls – at the very least, frigid with the cold wind and falling snow. If they had hopped into someone’s car, surely they would have brought them back when they noticed four big red hens. An unexpected ride to town has indeed happened in the past. The only thing we could think was that something came and snatched them away – a very brazen and surprising thing to do in broad daylight. We did see a fox the daytime shortly after they arrived and we worried that he had come back. It was hard to imagine something carting them off, one after the other. Would they not have squawked or scattered? There was no other explanation. 

I slept a total of 45 minutes last night, and even that was restless. The vision of the chickens running happily to greet me, kept going through my head. I finally got up at 4 am, lit some candles, and tried to get my head around how I would gently break the news to Jaime. Poor Spencer.

When daylight came Brian went on another search. No tracks, no cadavers; not a single feather … but they were definitely gone. 

I couldn’t tell Jae such tragic news over the phone, so I drove over to her house. She had company so I carried on to town and put some time in. I passed a poultry truck and thought: ‘There are thousands of chickens killed every single day – why am I so emotional about four plain old ordinary hens?’ Well … because they aren’t plain-old-ordinary. When things move into our family, they become something else.

 When I came back, she still had company. I weighed breaking it to her in front of people versus a phone call. Or I could be a chicken and send an email. No, that just wouldn't be right.

I was waiting while she said goodbye to her guests when the phone rang. It was Brian, wondering if I had been there. I heard her say ‘She’s here right now.’  And then I watched her eyes grow big as she said ‘WHAT?! My chickens were missing?! WHAT??!! She had no idea what he was talking about. As she handed the phone to me I could hear Brian laughing with relief.

Crisis averted … this time.’ he said. Apparently, a visitor had gone back to his ‘museum’ where he keeps the old cars – a place where we never go between November and April.  The quad squad had followed them in, and then settled down there for the night – either oblivious to our calling or choosing to ignore us because it was roosting time.

With no food, water or warmth, they were fairly happy to see their rescuer. And their friends, who were not impressed with being jail birds, as we had to keep them safe with a predator lurking about, ... were chicken delighted to see them as well.

Yes, crisis averted again. I shall sleep tonight.
And I'll enjoy nice fresh eggs for breakfast.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

200 Days and Counting

A milestone is a marker; the end of one thing, the beginning of another.
 I am approaching a big one and working on embracing it.

I didn’t mind at all turning forty. Fifty, to be honest, bothered me. Suddenly 49 sounded young and 50 – old. A half century. That IS old.  It was just the months ahead of it that were troubling. By the time it hit, I had filed it under ‘Oh well, it beats the alternative.’ It took another five years until I was ready to actually celebrate it … and that I did. I also settled very comfortably into it.

I enjoyed the entire “F Series” – forties & fifties. I loved them. I reclaimed Me. Actually, I found Me. I had no time for that at all in the T Series – Teens, Twenties, Thirties … three decades of getting established, of ‘becoming’. You would hope that would be quite enough time for that.

 By the ‘F’s’ – I was. I am.  Still growing, still becoming – that never ends. But it’s with a different perspective – a cultivated and nurtured wisdom in knowing some of the things I have been blessed to have been allowed to stay here long enough to garner.

And now, I approach the ‘S series’. All too quickly.Yes, ALL too quickly. I remember my Dad on his 74th birthday saying to me: “You won’t believe how fast it goes.” I was twenty six. Years were longer then, and although I heard him, I didn't appreciate how true his words were.

I have been less than enthusiastic about the approach of Sixty.  My friends that I went to high school with are still teenagers in my mind; my college friends the same. In my head I am the same age as somehow my children have gotten to be. Although my body would beg to differ. Sixty sounds old. Although, I am sure on my 70th birthday it will sound young, just as 50 does to me now.

Sixty is getting too close to the edge, to the end. Brian’s Dad left us at 60; my Mom was 62; Brian’s Mom was 69. The sixties haven’t been very kind to our family.  I thought too of my siblings who never got to see 50, or 20 – or some of them even 10. Life sometimes has not been very kind to our family.

 Then I thought of my Dad, who bought a farm at 62 and started a whole new life. And his sister Ruth, who celebrates her 96th birthday the day after tomorrow – not only with excellent health, but with a vibrantly rich and full life. We're having a pajama party for her birthday. She would think that 60 is still a child.

I have switched gears. I am going to EMBRACE 60. I’m excited about 60. If I say that often enough, I will convince myself.

What I have determined to do is to unload some stuff that I have been dragging along with me through my Ts & Fs. The Ss are going to call for a lighter load.

I have numbered the calendar.
 I have 200 days to unpack.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


I'm having an issue with Clarity. Mine and Victoria's.

On the first day, I noticed she just wasn't right. I've had enough babies to know when something is off. In all the babies that we've had - probably more than 60, we've never had a newborn that needed special attention, nor have we ever had to call a vet.

I didn't know if I was a little puck shy after Samantha's baby or particularly paranoid with her being our last baby, but we called our wonderful vet who has been with us for decades. He was there within ten minutes, and agreed with me that something was up. He called on Saturday to see how she was, and stopped in yesterday to check on her, saying he was concerned for the wee thing. I was glad to see him as I'm still concerned.

She's nursing lots, but for some reason isn't thriving. I've been supplementing her with foal milk, which she is not enjoying one little bit. She refuses to suck, so I have to squirt the milk in, little by little. A very time consuming activity, the bonus being that I am getting to spend lots of time with her. 

He had me blanket her up the first day - something I wouldn't have thought about as we've never had a winter baby before. Made perfect sense - she was losing energy with being cold.

Needing it quickly, I fashioned a cozy robe with layers of flannel, covered by a thick terry towel - complete with a neck warmer. Today I made her new attire ... a little miniature horse blanket just like the ones our horses used to have. It's double thick and hopefully will keep out the drafts.

Each morning I go out, I hope to see her running in circles and kicking her feet up, like all our other babies have done within hours of their birth. Perhaps tomorrow.

I wish I had some clarity on what the problem is ... we just can't put our finger on it.
Clara T. is giving me a challenge indeed.  

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy New Ears!

Brian called me from the barn tonight and said 'I think Victoria is close.'  We've been watching closely to see if she was standing off or bagging up. Knowing that she wouldn't give birth when the other donkeys were in the barn, I worried that she might have it out in the snow. I was particularly concerned as we lost our last baby the night of Hurricane Sandy, when Samantha went outside and foaled.

Even without signs, I've had a premonition this past week that the time was drawing near. So when Brian phoned rather than just reporting her 'closeness' when he came in, I knew that something was up. 'Should I come out?' I questioned. Before he could reply, I added 'She's a littler closer than CLOSE, right?' 'Ahhhh... yeah.' he admitted.

Sure enough, while everyone else was outside enjoying this cold winter day, Victoria was safe in the barn, giving birth to her little girl. It was very gracious of them to respect her privacy. And good planning on her part to schedule it during the day.

I have loved having donkey babes ... they are a joy. After almost thirty years, this is my last.  Chip, the Stud Muffin moved to a new home this fall. My girls are geriatric and the time has come to give them a rest. Baby days are over.

And so tonight, I sat with my little furry treasure and held her close.
 I breathed in her newness. I buried my head in her soft fur.

 I stroked her sweet ears and held her tiny hooves. 

As I sang to her, she fell fast asleep in my arms.

 I held her for a long time, remembering my babies past and feeling a little sad for both myself and Victoria, 
not getting to have this blessed experience again.
 But you can't feel sad for long when you're cradling a sweet little miracle.

My word for this year is "Clarity", so that is what I've named her - 
'Clara T.'  Clara T (The) Donk E. 
That's something else I am going to miss - picking their names.

It's a wonderful way to start 2013.

 A safe delivery. A heathy baby.
A New Ears Blessing!

My Advice

It is my reality and I know it.  I've always joked about it, and have even made it into a card and poster.

I can, and do offer great reams of advice to anyone who is silly enough to invite me to share my opinion.  I rarely do it unsolicited, but heaven help someone if they open a conversation with 'What do you think I should do about ..."  or "How would I .... "  I have no shortage of ideas or tactics that I am willingly and enthusiastically ready to share.

After all, I have lived a pretty long time and gathered up a fair bit of experience within multitude of general areas.

On occasion, I have heard myself offer someone advice, and thought ... 'Hmmm ... I should actually listen to myself once in awhile.  I could and should be doing that myself.'  It's sort of like raising children - you always know what to do with someone's kids.

On New Years Day I  was engaging in my annual 'End of the Year Reflection/Beginning of the Year Plan', or in other terms  'Where The Heck Did Last Year Go' and ... this is the absolute truth: 'Why Do I Have The Same Exact Things On My Goal List For The Past Quarter Century'.

I was feeling a little discouraged that I actually don't achieve what I want to, a little overwhelmed that I have too many directions to go in, and a little panicky that my time is zipping away and I still have three lifetimes worth of stuff to accomplish.  Another truth is that I seem to be losing my edge a bit. I've definitely re-adjusted my priorities, but there are still things that are very essential to me that are not getting done. Drive is still there, but I seem to have slipped into neutral.
What to do? 
What would I tell someone else to do?

So that's what I did ... pretended that Someone Else had asked me.

I interviewed Me - objectively and honestly.

I took Me to a quiet corner, got out the fresh, happy journal that my GIT Sista gave me for Christmas and wrote out all the questions that I would have asked Someone Else.

They were questions directed to my priorities, my specific needs, my wants, my intentions.

I spent three cups of tea on sifting through a jumble of thoughts that generally tire me out enough that I give up on them and fool around with Someone Else's issues.

After the questions, we worked on the Plan of Attack. We're far from finished, but we got a good start.

We filled up a third of the journal in one sitting.

We dealt with personal and business and wellness.  We worked together - getting excited about it all, instead of overwhelmed. We were energized and keen.

It's not that I haven't done this whole exercise year after year after year. It's all the same stuff. .

And it's not like I don't talk to myself ... I do that all the time. I think the difference is that I am always 'talking' - I wasn't asking the right questions, and I wasn't listening.

I have January Momentum going. The trick will be to take it into February.

The real trick will be to actually TAKE MY OWN ADVICE.