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Posts Tagged ‘farms’

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Waking up in spare bedroom on the farm in Manitoba on the morning of my ninth day there, I realized I had just one more night before my trip came to a close. Looking around the cozy room my mind captured a mental picture to place in my memory book. I would remember the cheerful curtains decorated with cherries, the antique rocking chair in the corner with the colorful afghan Chris had given me as a welcome gift tossed over one arm, the photo gallery of family pictures lining one wall, and the birds singing happily in the boughs of the huge oak tree just beyond the window.

Dressing in capris and a tee instead of my usual work attire, I headed towards the kitchen. As usual the family was gathered there. Eva and Dawn were talking excitedly about our road trip. Bob J. was answering their barrage of questions about where we were going and what we were going to do while I loaded another unbelievable Chris breakfast onto my plate. Lake Winnepeg was to be our destination he was telling the girls. Sounded wonderful. For me any place with a body of water was probably a good place to be.

The girls were excused from the table to go with their mom to get dressed for the day. Bob J. filled in the details on our Lake Winnepeg destination. Specifically we were going to Grand Beach Park. Lake Winnepeg, he went on to say, was one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. Grand Beach Park, though a bit touristy for his tastes, offered everything to do outdoors from swimming, boating, fishing, hiking to an amusement park. The latter he told me was what had the girls all a twitter when I’d arrived on the scene. Let me insert here when I was a kid I loved amusement parks. No matter how high the roller coaster, how stomach turning the ride, I would be first in line to hop on board. As I crested and rolled over forty this became less of a draw for me. In particular I am not fond of rides that jerk you about like a writhing hose on full water power or flip you upside down like a pancake on a grill. Nope, not for me.

Chris, characteristically, had packed us a huge wicker basket filled with sandwiches, snacks, icy cold bottles of water, lemonade and fruit for us to nosh on during our trip. There were times when I really considered proposing to the woman but didn’t get the feeling she would be inclined to leave Ray to move to California with me. It would be a marriage of convenience, mostly tipping the scale on my side. As much as I enjoy cooking, and I do, it would be lovely to have someone else man the fire from time to time particularly with as practiced a hand as hers.

The weather cooperated offering up a gorgeous day with only enough of a breeze to cool us off paired with a gloriously blue blue sky interrupted only by white fluffy clouds occasionally floating by. The girls amused themselves picking out animals and shapes from the passing clouds while Bob J. kept me entertained with history of the areas we drove through and Manitoba itself. The massive array of books in his library apparently were not just for show because he had an impressive knowledge of what he was speaking to which added another layer to my admiration of the man.

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Often I speak of my “near perfect moments”. That day held many of them. Driving along with the windows down, the girls chattering, Bob J. weaving his stories, and the countryside fully dressed for spring with wildflowers covering every hillside was definitely bordering on the nearly perfect.

We arrived at the beach around noon. What a lovely expanse of sand it was, a long line of grassy dunes marking its border. Bright beach umbrellas protruded out of the sand here and there and just out of reach of the incoming waves a group of children were busy building a sand castle. “Ahhhhhh”, my soul murmured. “Home.” Removing my sandals I dug my toes deep into the warm sand. Bob J. carried the heavy picnic basket and umbrella while I tagged along behind loaded down with towels, buckets and shovels, a bag of sunscreen and changes or clothes for the girls, and my backpack. Walking in the sand will quickly point out what parts of you are out of shape. In this case after walking what felt like five miles there were so many places to point to I couldn’t narrow it down to a particular area of my body. Once the blankets were spread out and lunch consumed the girls wriggled out of their shorts and tops their bathing suits already on underneath. Grabbing buckets and shovels they ran down towards the water to play. Watching the children plop down oblivious to the sand sticking their skin and begin to dig reminded me of the basic joys of being a child. For most children, not all certainly, childhood is a place of infinite possibilities where dragons breathed fire, unicorns pranced in glittering rainbows, and life, so complicated as we get older, was defined by far simpler terms.

Bob J. dozing in and out in his beach chair didn’t offer much by way of conversation. Left to my own devices I reflected on what an interesting and enjoyable time I’d had on the farm. I would miss them all each in their own way. They had welcomed me as though I was family and I had come to consider them as part of mine. Leaving would be bittersweet. Home was beginning to whisper my name, but knowing I most probably never see my Manitoba clan again left me feeling a bit melancholy.

The day passed quickly. Bob J. and I played frisbee after his nap. With a long drive still in front of us we packed up our gear and retraced our steps to the truck. Exhausted from sun and fun, both girls napped in the back seat most of the ride home. For me leaving the ocean behind always left me sad. Though home has always been where I have hung my hat at the time, the coast has always felt the most like a permanent home to me. Growing up in Nova Scotia with the sea at my back yard left an indelible fingerprint on me that has remained throughout my lifetime.

That night Chris outdid herself. Grilled lobster with drawn butter was the star of the show accompanied by sweet ears of corn, savory garlic bread, and an enormous tossed salad packed with vegetables from her garden. We finished it off with a slice of rhubarb and strawberry pie. The girls browned and exhausted went to bed without a murmur as did Bob J. and I. My plane was leaving just after lunch the following day so it would be time to say my goodbyes. Why is it times you get so much joy from seem to pass in an instant and those you wish would go quickly by drag on like an insurance seminar? Always I will remember that trip as the years tear off the calendar. Some experiences are just rich and this would be one I would count as such.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My seventh day in Northern Manitoba with my farm family was to be spent with Chris and the children. What a lovely day it was. On this particular day I was pulled into service in the kitchen, a job not unfamiliar to me. That evening there was to be a party in my honor which was such a lovely gesture on their part. Chris, as usual, would be doing the catering.  In her typical efficient way, she had printed menus for her guests. One was handed to me before we began dicing and chopping to provide a glimpse of what we were to be preparing. Breakfast that morning was self serve. Cold and hot cereal with a large bowl of fresh fruit and a plate with a variety of Chris’s homemade breads were set up on the dining room table for anyone to help themselves. Three golden crusted pies were lined up on the sideboard by the open dining room window to cool with strict instructions from the cook not to be touched.

Reading the menu I could see it would be a busy day. The cocktail hour was to begin at 5:00 out by the patio. Icy margaritas, wine and beer would be served for the adults enjoying a cocktail, and lemonade and sweet tea for those too young to imbibe or not inclined towards adult beverages. The appetizers, mostly comprised of ingredients from Chris’s impressive garden, were to include pastry wrapped asparagus with mustard sauce, sausage stuffed mushrooms, and deviled eggs as well as whatever contributions the guests provided. For someone who had spent little time in the city Chris had a very sophisticated palette. I noticed her reading material included magazines such such as Bon Appetit and Food and Wine, magazines I also enjoyed.

Eva and I were dispatched to Chris’s garden to gather some of the necessary ingredients. What an amazing touch the woman had with growing things.  Some of the vegetables in the massive garden area I had never actually seen on the vine before. I was fascinated to peer inside one enormous leaf only to find a cauliflower tucked under the wing of one fold. Up until then I had only seen cauliflowers in the vegetable section at the market. Carrying the baskets provided by our hostess for our harvest, Eva and I filled each to the brim with huge beefsteak tomatoes, green onions, sweet peppers, bouquets of basil, springs of mint, summer squash, cucumbers, and whatever else was on our list.

The main course was to be lamb. I was pleased no lambs were included in the cast of barnyard characters on the farm so it was not to be a family member served to the guests. Chris explained they got their lamb locally which didn’t surprise me. During my stay I had seen several large flocks grazing in the area. Though I had not mentioned it, coincidentally lamb happens to be one of my favorite meats. Growing up it was often the main course at my grandmother’s table alongside a bowl of mint jelly or creamy mint sauce. I assumed, since mint had been included on our shopping list, one or the other might be showing up that night as well. This was not to be lamb as I had ever prepared it before, however. Several whole lambs were going to cooked outdoors on a spit. Sounded wonderful. When I was living in Alabama I attended a huge backyard party where a whole cow was cooked on a spit. Watching that spit revolve all afternoon was too much for my delicate nature bringing out in me the urge to rescue the poor thing and run away with it. Brings to mind a quote from Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,”He took the Who’s feast, he took the Who pudding, he took the roast beast.” I vowed to avoid the spit area later in this day and simply enjoy my dinner.

Back in the kitchen the aromas were beginning to titillate my nostrils. The lamb was to be served alongside a cheesy, creamy zucchini gratin, crispy Greek lemon potatoes, several salad selections including a fully loaded garden salad and Chris’s simply amazing yeast rolls. Oh yummy for my tummy. I was put in charge of the Caprese Salad, creating several eye catching plates of ripe ruby red tomatoes alternated with slices of mozzarella cheese. This was finished off with fresh basil, and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If an organ could do a happy dance my stomach would have been in the middle of the macarena.

After a quick lunch, the girls were relieved of their aprons and left to play outside allowing Chris and I to to concentrate of the tasks at hand. There is something immensely satisfying to me in the preparation of food. Perhaps it’s the colors, or the aromas, or just the immense gratification you get when someone puts a bite of a dish you’ve prepared in their mouths and says “yum”.  A meal, to my mind, should be party for our senses. We eat with our eyes, our noses, our mouths and even our ears. There’s nothing as tantalizing as the sound of a good piece of meat when it hits a hot grill. Good food arranged artfully on a pretty plate is just appealing. No matter how mouth watering your food may be, if you just throw it on the plate and hand it to someone to eat, the full enjoyment of eating the meal is somehow diminished. As good as the meat and potatoes on the left might taste, a person might not feel as enthusiastic about taking a bite of it as they might what is displayed on the plate to the right.

The Caprese salad plated and wrapped, I asked where to store it. The kitchen had one large side by side refrigerator and every inch of storage space was already accounted for. Chris directed me to the sunroom. The sunroom was at the back of the house. It was a large shotgun style room with a bank of windows running along both ends and the yard side. During the warmer months Bob P. said the screens kept the air flowing in and the bugs out making it a lovely place to sit and let your bones dry out after a long day of work. On the inside wall there was a side by side refrigerator and though I had not seen it Ray had mentioned a large walk-in freezer in the barn where they stored butchered meats.

Setting the Caprese dishes on a shelf in the refrigerator I remembered Chris asking me to grab several jars of pickled green beans which she said I would find in the cupboard next to the fridge. Having been told the Mason jars were in alphabetical order (of course) I easily located the appropriate jars under the sign marked “G”. Like many farmer’s wives, Chris said she canned and preserved several times a year for off season months. Looking at the amount of jars, it seemed an excessive amount of food for five people but at harvest time it was my understanding there were plenty of mouths to feed, and if not I believe most preserved items enjoy a fairly long shelf life.

Mid afternoon with everything done and tucked away we separated to catch a shower and clean up for the evening ahead. I had not thought to pack a dress for a week on a farm, so Chris, about the same size as myself, offered me a choice of several light summer dresses from her closet.

Always I have gotten butterflies when having to integrate with a large group of strangers. It’s not that I’m an introvert, I actually love interacting with other human beings, but too many of them at once I find a little overpowering. Once dressed I wandered out in the garden to find Bob J. already dressed and seated in the shade in a lawn chair. After surveying me with his gaze as if checking for weapons he commented that I cleaned up very well. In the world of Bob J. I believe this was a compliment, so I took it as such. In turn I thought he “cleaned up well”. Face free of stubble, hair combed, a freshly pressed shirt tucked into a well fitting pair of clean jeans, most attractive. We sat next to each other for a while enjoying the lull before the storm. He shared he was glad I’d come and that his family had been pleased with how I’d rolled up my sleeves and got dirty along with the rest of them. I thanked him knowing it was high praise from someone who did not relieve himself of praise easily. The moment hanging between us was broken by a truck driving through the gate allowing the energy to dissipate. Excusing myself, I went inside to let Chris know our first guest had arrived and to see what I could do to help.

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About forty people ended up filling the chairs out back, some filtering inside after the sun set and the bugs made their nightly appearance. The margaritas were as promised icy cold and tart and if possible each course served was better than the one preceding it. The lamb, well I don’t have words. Ray had cooked it to perfection. It was tender and juicy and, yes, served with mint jelly and sprigs of fresh mint. The tables were set up eight to a table with a smaller table for the children of which there were exactly ten. Twinkling lanterns were strung from tree to tree to provide illumination. Each table was beautifully decorated with long trails of wildflowers. A young man I recognized from church the day before sat on a bale of hay entertaining us with country music and playing his guitar. Desserts were served with a lovely after dinner wine. Chris’s triple berry pie, a recipe I use to this day, was the star sitting alongside a glass bowl of trifle, an assortment of cakes and plate after plate of cookies and bars. About nine, people starting peeling off and heading towards their vehicles as the next day was a work day.

What a wonderful night that was. Everyone pitched in. Once the last guest’s taillights had disappeared down the road we all carried something into the kitchen. Eva and Dawn, running on a sugar high, had to be carried sniffling into bed. Chris and I stayed up late and washed dishes putting leftovers in containers to be stored in the fridge. When finally I walked down the hall towards my room I realized I would really miss this new family of mine. It was a night I shall always keep with me, and of course the blueberry pie recipe.

Chris’s Triple Berry Pie

Double Crust Pie Shell

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Tsp. salt
2/3 cup shortening
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
4-5 Tbsp. milk

Combine flour and salt in small bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture looks like course crumbs. Sprinkle with vinegar. Gradually add milk tossing with a fork until a ball forms. Cover and refrigerate for 30 mins.

Divide pastry in half leaving one ball slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger of the two to fit 9″-10″ pie plate. Transfer pastry to pie plate. Trim to rim. Brush bottom of shell with 1 Tbsp. water whisked with 1 egg white. Reserve the rest.

Roll out second shell to fit over top of the first. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Filling

2 1/2 cups blueberries, sorted and any stems removed
3/4 cup raspberries
3/4 cups blackberries
3/4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg white
2 tbsp. water

Place berries in large mixing bowl. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over berries. Using your hands gently turn until well coated. Pour into prepared shell.

Lay top pastry over berry mix. Press and seal edges with bottom shell. Trim as needed. Cut four slits in center to vent. Brush top with remaining egg white/water mixture.

Bake for 50 mins. or until browned and bubbly.

Cook on wire rack.

 

 

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By day six on the farm I had fallen into the rythm, sort of the heartbeat, of life there. It isn’t like working in the city, where you are hired for a specific skill and for the most part and you get up every morning and go apply that skill on your job.  On the farm there are jobs to be done by each participant in addition to providing help wherever else you are needed on any given day. If you have nothing to do, someone will find you something to fill your time. Nobody is standing around waiting for the world to hand them an agenda. All hands are needed to keep the process moving forward. It was nice to be a part of that, if only for a short time. I can see where being born into a farm family you take this strenuous schedule in stride accepting it as routine. You work until the work is done. The only exception was Sunday. Sunday, thankfully, was for the most part a day of rest and I was looking forward to getting in on some of that on my sixth day there which happened to fall on a Sunday.

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I attended church services with them in the morning. The little girls reminded me of myself at their age. Both were fidgeting in their seats dressed in their glossy Mary Jane’s with their little bodies confined by frilly dresses they would happily exchange for bare feet, shorts, and an old tee shirt. Other than our two little princesses, the dress was generally casual. Church really isn’t a place to show off your new duds anymore. As a child I remember going into church with my grandmother. Never did I see her without a hat, gloves, nylons, heels, and a suit or a dress at Sunday services.  In the cooler months I can remember the addition of her much prized fox stole, flung over one shoulder the poor fox still attached. These days people show up in whatever they grab out of the closet. Jeans are acceptable attire as are shorts in the summer and ski jackets in the colder months. The last time I went to church in California the kid in front of me was wearing his pajama bottoms. For me it’s all fine. I’m pretty sure, though I’ve never actually gotten the final directive from up above, the Lord doesn’t put much stake in what our clothes look like. I believe he focuses more in the direction of what we are thinking or what we are doing, rather than what shoes we are wearing.

The church structure was so charming with white siding and a tall steeple. A bell showed through a tower window. Though the siding was clean and well cared for the building appeared to be quite old. I was told later it had been around many years and held some historic significance in the area, marked by a gold plaque hanging in the vestibule. The sermon was invigorating enough to keep me from lowering my chin to my chest which is always a blessing in itself. A group of young singers took the stage after the minister had spoken and soon had everyone clapping and stomping their feet. Following the service the “flock” met in the great room for a mouth watering smorgasbord of homemade cakes, pies and other goodies washed down with freshly brewed coffee and lemonade. I found the people for the most part extremely friendly and welcoming. Several times I was drawn into conversations with local ladies about how I came to find myself in their midst. They seemed fascinated anyone would sign up for such a trip without knowing who they were going to see or what might befall them once they reached their destination. I couldn’t argue with their logic. Ninety percent of my family and friends were on the same train going down the same track. Sometimes I’m fascinated by it myself when I reflect on my time there. At the time it seemed to have worked out well so I was simply enjoying doing exactly what I was doing.

At the end of the food line there was a small craft sale of sorts comprised of what looked to be mostly homemade items set up on a folding table . I admired a tea cozy someone had crocheted mentioning I could knit but had never mastered crocheting. The two women standing next to me seemed perplexed I could even knit. Apparently their image of women from California was of ladies oozing glamour and money looking ready to step out of the pages of Elle or Cosmopolitan. Pampered females with maids to maintain their fabulous homes and “people” who cleaned their pools and manicured their impressive yards. I hadn’t applied so much as a hint of blush since my arrival. At the time I traveled there I was renting a room in a condominium, doing my laundry at the nearby laundromat, and my “yard” consisted of a small patio with a table top fountain and a well faded patio umbrella. I probably dashed their illusions to pieces by not showing up in a haute couture gown wearing a tiara perched on my head with my lashes heavily laden with mascara. Had I know I was representing I would have at least used a curling iron on my hair. Interesting about preconceived notions. They often hit so far off the mark.

After church, it was decided we would go into town and enjoy breakfast at the diner. I had not seen the town as yet so was excited for a chance to explore. One parcel of acreage seemed to blend into the next as we drove along. Horses grazed in white fenced pastures here and there and tractors chugged along barely visible in clouds of dust in open fields. Chris sat in the front seat with a sleeping Dawn on her lap. Bob P. had elected to stay at the church to play cards with a group of friends. That left Ray at the wheel and Bob J., Eva, and I to take up the back seat. Eva was chattering at warp speed as we drove along switching subjects so quickly it was impossible for me to keep up.  Bob J., being his usual introspective self, gazed out the window so frequently you’d have thought the answers to the major unanswered questions plaguing mankind hung there on a suspended flash card for him to review. One thing I had learned about the man is he didn’t speak often, but when he did at least he had something interesting to say. I liked that. There is an old saying about many an important thing can be said in silence. Can’t remember the exact quote but you get where I’m going here. At times in my life I’d dated men who had said a lot, but not much of it had substance. This was a refreshing change of pace.

Alerting me we were approaching the town, Ray made a joke about it being so small the town council could have saved money by having the “Welcome to” and “You Are Now Leaving” notifications printed on the front and the back of the same sign. We pulled into the bustling parking lot of The Country Cottage Diner and found a spot far in the back. Chairs had been lined up under the eaves and people were seated chatting among themselves. A sign on a podium outside the front door said sign in and be seated. Adding his name to the waiting list Bob J. suggested he and I take a brief tour of the downtown area while waiting for a table to open up. The General Store was directly across the street, yup the sign really read General Store. Bob J. said the large brick building also housed the post office and a small branch of the Ministry of Transportation which I understand is the DMV’s Canadian cousin.  Further down the block was a gas station, and across from that was a hardware store and bait shop, a video rental place, and several specialty shops. The commercial area of the town was followed by a bank of beautiful old homes with inviting porches lining both sides of the main drag (I had a feeling it might be the only drag). All and all the tour took about five minutes. Walking back we saw Ray signalling our table was ready.

Inside the diner to the left was a long line of stools and a counter. The stools were mostly occupied by older gentlemen either reading an open paper or feeding their faces. Behind the counter the cooks could be seen through a hole in the wall busily filling orders. My stomach was happy to know breakfast was in the offing. To the right of the counter was a mishmash of tables followed by a long series of booths next to the windows. We sat at the larger circular booth in the corner with one child in between each parent for management. I ordered Eggs Benedict, my favorite. It was absolutely delicious served with crispy homestyle potatoes, spicy sausage links, and a heaping bowl of fresh fruit. Each table started out with a basket of assorted muffins which were served with local honey. People stopped by our booth often to say hello to the family exchanging bits of local gossip or information pertaining to farm business.  I was, I’m sure, a bit of a curiosity. Chris told me they usually didn’t entertain that much traffic when eating there by themselves.

Back at the ranch, so to speak. Chris and Ray went off with the girls to tend to the animals who after all didn’t know the difference between Sunday or Monday when it came to their stomachs. Bob J. and I sat on the fence and watched the horses in the coral. Hopping down he asked if I’d be interested in a ride. I accepted the invitation with the assurance he would put me on the horse with the mildest disposition. It had been years since I’d ridden and didn’t want to end up on the ground or worse making (pardon) a horse’s ass of myself. Hoisted up on the saddle I was pleased I remembered how to hold the reins and that I hadn’t fallen off before we reached the path that led out of the compound. We rode about an hour and a half sometimes just walking along slowly and other times loping along next to each other. It was starting to cool off for the day and the bugs had begun searching for new meat so reluctantly we turned our horses heads back in the direction we had come. We rode in complete silence for a while, neither of us feeling the need to fill the void with words. It was lovely.

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Writing this reminds me again how I do love horses and have great respect for them. Majestic animals who allow us to slap leather contraptions on them and hop on their backs with mostly quiet acceptance.  The most wonderful experience I ever had on the back of a horse was while vacationing in Rosarita Beach, Mexico. Rosarita Beach is a lovely little tourist mecca on the Baja Peninsula. In my early twenties my first husband and I often camped on the beach there with the children. On this trip we had come with a rather large group of his family members. Our tents were lined up in a row along the tree line right on the beach.  A group of locals approached us one afternoon with five or six horses in tow asking us if we wanted to ride. There were no saddles, only colorful blankets thrown across their backs. It was necessary to stand on a rock to get on board. Without a saddle there were no stirrups available to help you on hop up. The beach stretched out before us and my horse seemed eager to run. Holding tight to the reins I clinched the sides of the horse with my knees. My legs felt every contraction of the animal’s muscles as he galloped along through the glistening surf. Truly that was such a lovely sensation I have difficulty finding the words to describe it. Freedom I suppose is would cover it nicely. A complete communion with another species might also say it well.

So I close the page on Day Six of my farm adventure. The end is now closer than the beginning and I remember feeling melancholy at the thought of leaving my adopted family and their lovely farm behind.

 

 

 

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Sitting outside watching the grass grow this morning I found myself reflecting on my trip to Manitoba in 1999.  Often when I mention to someone I hail from Nova Scotia I am greeted by a puzzled look so for those of you wearing a similar expression with regards to Manitoba I will further describe it by saying Manitoba is a Canadian prairie province situated between Ontario and Saskatchewan above North Dakota.

I still find it surprising after living in the U.S. all these many years Americans seem to have so little information about their nearest neighbor to the north. On arriving here in the middle of my fourth grade year it became clear to me almost immediately American geography teachers didn’t spend much time discussing the ins and outs of my native country. Our first stop in America was Southern California. After a few weeks of acclimating ourselves to the incredible difference in climate and culture my stepfather and mother purchased a home in Fullerton, California close to where his new office was located. Once settled in, I was enrolled in an elementary school close by to resume my education.  Curious about the new arrival from the far north, my new classmates bombarded me with questions asking if I had lived in an igloo or hung about with polar bears which I found incredibly uninformed trains of thought. The fact I knew so much about their country coming from Canadian schools and they knew so little about mine struck me as odd even at that tender age. Still does. However, I digress.

In 1999 I was single. Over the span of the previous year I had developed a solid long distance friendship with a widowed farmer named Bob from Manitoba who I had met on line. Emphasis on the friendship here. Neither of us were looking for a relationship at the time. For my part I was already casually involved with someone and had a busy job demanding most of my attention and for his he and his family ran a working farm that left little time for much else. This made our friendship both comfortable and tangle free. We had spoken often by phone and even more often on the computer finding we had not only our country but many other interests in common.  Bob was a middle aged widower with two grown children and several young grandchildren. The entire family, including his elderly father, lived and worked the farm in Northern Manitoba. The crops and cattle raised on his acreage served to both put food on their table and provide income for their family. During the summer months extra hands were hired to work the fields and help with the cattle.

For whatever reason the idea of farm life has always fascinated me. So, when Bob suggested he send me a ticket and I fly up and work the farm for a couple of weeks and get acquainted I jumped at the opportunity. Now, mind you, I believe family and friends thought I had slipped a cog. In truth, Bob, as genuine as he appeared to be with what I’d gathered of him, could well have been a serial killer or madman for all I knew. In my defense I did run a background check on him before boarding the plane and other than some driving infractions couldn’t find anything damning in the report. However, though I returned to the bosom of my family unscathed, I would caution you not to try this without considerable more research. Often in my life I have been a prime example of the verity of the old adage, God takes care of drunks and fools.

Foolhardy or not I boarded a plane in San Francisco for a ten day stay in Manitoba. The Air Canada flight landed late evening in Winnipeg, the capital of the province, where Bob and his entire brood waited at the gate to greet me. What a lovely family. Though entertaining some active butterflies before landing, after meeting everyone who appeared on the surface at least to be a normal family unit helped to settle things down to a manageable flutter. Our destination, I was told, was a three hour drive north from the airport. Whew. After a long flight I could have probably dozed off in the back seat if not for the animated conversation coming my way from Bob’s daughter-in-law, Chris, and her two small children riding up front to keep me entertained. At last we pulled into the long driveway leading to the ranch compound just as my eyes were preparing to do a forced closing. Once my gear was unloaded I was shown to my room and how to locate a guest bathroom in the main house (there were three houses on the property) and left to my own devices. I woke up the next morning to the tantalizing aromas of brewed coffee and bacon doing a dance in my nostrils. Throwing on shorts and a tee shirt I followed my nose to the kitchen.

The front yard neatly framed by the large bay windows in the living room seemed to extend forever ending at a fence barely visible in the distance. Tall grass waved in a brisk spring breeze and abundant sunshine poured in across the carpet. Lovely. Since I seemed to still have all my viable body parts and hadn’t been murdered in my bed I relaxed into my adventure excited about what lay ahead of me.

The kitchen was a generous comfortable room which included an eating area furnished with a long well loved table and eight mismatched chairs. Behind the table a stone fireplace took up about a third of one wall and next to that was a door I would learn later led to a mud room leading out to the back yard. The large island dominating the cooking area was where breakfast was being served. A tall stack of steaming hot griddle cakes rested next to a Spode blue china plate piled high with sausages and crispy bacon. Maple syrup, real Canadian maple syrup (yes there is a difference), sat in a pool of it’s own making in a glass pitcher at the end of the counter next to dishes of sunny side up eggs and fried potatoes. My people. Breakfast is by far my favorite meal of the day and these people knew how to bring it to the table, so to speak. The eggs, I was told as well as the breakfast meats were farm fresh. I tried not to picture the piggy who had given up so much for my enjoyment and concentrate on how amazingly delicious everything was. Chris had even made the jam sitting in colorful pots in the center of the table out of berries from her garden. Being a person who seems to recall everything she’s ever done by the food she ate, I had a feeling this was to be a memorable vacation. Bob said to expect generous meals during my stay, which was happy news to my stomach which was already feeling celebratory. Working on a farm, he went on to add, requires long hours and plenty of hard work so keeping my strength up was important. Okey dokey.

After filling myself nearly to the top with Chris’s delicious meal, it was suggested I change into more appropriate work clothes such as jeans and closed toed shoes to keep the insects at bay before meeting Bob and his son-in-law, Ray out by the barn. While waiting for instructions with Ray while Bob was in the barn, I asked him why I had heard him refer to his father-in-law as Bob J. Ray told me the family referred to the younger man as such since he shared the same first name as his dad making things less confusing when calling one of them out in the fields. Bob emerged from the side door of the barn wearing knee high boots and paint stained coveralls looking a bit like a Jackson Pollock painting. A crooked finger over one shoulder indicated we should follow in the direction he was headed. Walking in silence through the yard gave me a moment to take in the scenery around me. To the left was a tall open structure apparently used to shelter an enormous stack of round hay bales that reminded me of the shredded wheat my grandmother used to serve for breakfast. A forklift was parked at an angle next to the storage area and behind that a tractor and a variety of well rusted farm equipment. Beyond the white fences was a long pasture where cows were grazing. Four or five plump chickens were chucking around the ground by the fence scratching and picking at the dirt. I found myself wondering if they were for eggs or would I find one in stew for dinner during my stay.

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Heading to a wooden corral towards the back of the barn I was handed a pair of coveralls an told to pull them on over my clothing. K. Four or five cows wandered about in the paddock area which Ray informed me we were going to move to one of the outer pastures. From what I gathered from the conversation between the two men the cows had needed some sort of attention before rejoining the herd. What I know about cows you could put on the head of a pin and have room left over so my learning curve was to begin at the zero mark while participating in this process. An old work truck hitched to an equally well used trailer was backed up to a chute. Bob J. said this was what we would use to get the animals onto the trailer. We? What do you mean we kemosabe? He went on to say cattle could be resistant to this procedure. Oh goody. The coveralls, it appeared, were there for my protection because when cows get excited their digestive systems join in and send a delivery out the rear which may come in my direction. Let me preface this by saying I have always had a sort of a poop issue. When babysitting as a teen I would get a total gag reflex going when changing a dirty diaper. I remember when pregnant with my daughter someone told me “when it is your child, it won’t bother you at all”. Hmmmm. My stomach didn’t read that chapter in the Baby Book. There were days when I thought I was going to have to hire someone to complete the process. At any rate, I wasn’t going to admit this to these two men so, “damn the torpedoes full speed ahead”. For what seemed like the next four hours the three of us gently muscled five cows up the ramp. At one point Ray and I were at the rear portal of one animal literally shoulders pushed to its flanks shoving it in the right direction. At the same time the cow was yelling what appeared to be obscenities and pushing fecal matter out at a rate I had yet to have seen prior to that day or since. Ewwwww. Not quite what I’d read in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

Once the cows were loaded we all hopped in the cab of the truck and headed out of the yard. The countryside around me was absolutely breathtaking. Wildflowers bloomed prolifically in every direction alongside the dirt road. Overhead a bright blue sky entertained a few puffy white clouds as well as several birds flying lazily above the trees. We passed growing fields I was told were planted with hay and alfalfa. Next we came to a long row of what was obviously corn even to my uninformed eyes and then the fields opened up to long verdant pastures. Arriving at our destination Bob J. hopped out and opened a gate allowing us access to the expanse of grassy area where some of his cattle were grazing. It was so much easier convincing the cows to exit the trailer than it had been getting them in there thankfully. Once they were unloaded we drove along the parameters of the pastures. Feeding and watering were next on the list. Ray explained they supplemented the cows diet with a mixture of hay grown on the farm plus vitamins and minerals.

By noon the sun was high in the sky and I was starting to get both hot and tired. Water containers were loaded in the truck bed for our use but it was decided to head back to the house for lunch. I couldn’t believe I was even considering food after the amount I’d eaten earlier in the day but I bellied up to the bar as they say and managed to put away my second meal of the day. At that point I thought a nap might be in order but it seemed our day was just getting started. For the next five hours I worked helping load hay in another work truck, cleaning out the barn and then I drove the fence line with Bob J. while he repaired several areas of the fence threatening to allow the cattle to escape.

At one point he lifted his shirt up. My mind immediately went “whoa neighbor”. Turned out he wanted me to check his back for ticks and sure enough one was evident. Handing me a cotton ball soaked with rubbing alcohol he asked me to dab the little bugger until he backed out. Okay poop and ticks simply too much for one 24 hour day. Sure enough it worked. Feeling I’d had enough learning for one day I was dropped off by the men at the house to get cleaned up and get ready for yet another meal. Sleep came quickly that night with my alarm set for 5 a.m. to begin work again. Check please.

Thought I’d write this trip in segments as each day brought something new. Never for a moment have I regretted this experience, though as I mentioned I probably could have done more research before heading out. Have a great day. Day two coming next.

 

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