The trick about treating

Let the games begin!

I am very ambivalent about Hallowe’en, have been since I was about ten.

As a parent, when our eldest was 3, we were being pressured by family and friends (seriously), to take her trick or treating.  Let me get this straight, I thought at the time.  My child who is normally in bed and fast asleep by 7pm is supposed to be dressed up in something cute, walked up and down a subdivision road so she can beg at doors of strangers for candy…which I wouldn’t normally ever give her.  This makes a lot of sense, not.

I had to admit, however, that I’d enjoyed trick or treating, dressing up and begging for candy from strangers just fine when I was 5 or 6, quite a lot actually, so I felt guilty denying her the opportunity.  Hubby took her out with my sister-in-law and our wee nephew.  After 4 houses, she was too tired to keep walking, at which point he picked her up and carried her house to house, so she would have enough candy.  !!!! is basically what I said when they got home.

She did of course go out trick or treating every year after that with great enthusiasm, joined after a couple of years by her sister and my nephew’s little sister.  We don’t live in a trick or treat area – houses spaced far apart down long driveways, no streetlights, etc.  So we took them to my sister-in-law’s parents home on a cul de sac in the village, where we all enjoyed hot dogs first and my sister-in-laws parents seeded their treat bags with candy before sending us out the door.  I enjoyed the family time of those years, a chance for the young cousins to all be together, and yes, a few chocolate bars for myself.

But I hated the temper tantrums about costumes, the whiny voices as greed trumped tiredness – just one more house, we haaaave to, the firecrackers.  The year that the school no longer handed out UNICEF boxes for the kids to collect pennies was the year I felt most “done” with the whole thing.  Or maybe the year that one kid dipped into the other kid’s stash of goodies, and was caught, but took the line that her sister got more, it wasn’t fair.  Grrr.

Goth fairy-my great grandmothers dress, thrift store everything else

So after a chat with my husband in which we did not see eye to eye (and still don’t on this one), but in which he generously allowed me to put my foot down, I announced some years ago that once the girls reached high school (grade 9, age 14) they would no longer be going trick or treating.  I thought I’d already heard whining, but I was in for much, much more.  I repeated my reasons over and over:  teens taller than the homeowner begging with pillowcases at the door are intimidating.  Teens out after dark in unsupervised groups look like trouble, might in fact BE trouble, and are likely to be treated as such.  There are other ways to enjoy junk food and the company of friends, and you’re old enough to organize them.  I am happy to help with that, if you want.

Teen 1 solved the problem nicely by offering to take her sister and younger cousins around when she was 14, while we enjoyed adult time indoors.  When she was 15, she offered to help a friend who lives on a busy trick or treat street to hand out candy at the door.  And the last two years, she’s been invited to a party organized by a friend just down the road, whose parents have similar views to my own, meaning the party is over by 9pm, has adult supervision and corny games, which they hugely enjoy.

Nickelback (do you have to be Canadian to get this one?)

Teen 2 reached her non-trick-or-treat age this year.  She stressed about it for most of the summer:  cajoled, whined (not really), made snide comments, the works, to no avail. I waited it out.  About three weeks ago, she announced that she wanted to organize a traditional Hallowe’en party.   Pumpkin carving, apple bobbing, etc.    So we did.  She planned her menu (home made pizza, veggies and dip, candy corn parfaits and junk food), her activities – pumpkins, apple bobbing, cookies on a string and a monster mash dance off.  She decorated the house (our black cat got tangled in fake cobweb, and did not appreciate my laughing at her).  She and her friends shopped for their costumes at thrift stores.

cookie on a string, with a less than helpful partner

Among others we had a goth fairy, Batgirl, a character from Hallowe’eentown, a donkey, Miss Scarlett in the library with a knife (my personal fave), a pussycat, and Nickelback.  No off the shoulder costumes, no street walker look alikes.  No commercially made costumes, except the pussycat ears.

Candy Corn Parfait

My end of the deal was the pizza fixings and the candy (lots please) for the prizes.  She made the candy corn parfaits from a recipe she found online.  It is mostly pudding, with chocolate cereal for crunch.  I have never bought chocolate cereal in my life, and wasn’t about to begin, so we compromised with chocolate cookie crumbs which I sometimes use to bake with.  I haven’t bought instant pudding mix in years either, having found out how to make it from scratch, but in the interests of independence and quantity, we bought the packets.

The party was a lot of fun.  For all of us.  There was plenty of candy for each kid, plus some leftovers.  Being 21st century kids, they used their phones to video each other apple bobbing, but apart from that, they could have been kids from 100 years ago.  A simpler time.  And not any less fun for all that.

Late edit:  maybe not 100 years ago – instant pudding, pizza, and Nickelback didn’t exist, lol.

Future Farmers

Joel Salatin & Michael Ableman

For some time now, I’ve had simmering in the back of my mind a comment Michael Ableman made when he was introducing Joel Salatin in the workshop I attended in June. I didn’t write down his exact words, but the gist of it was:

You always hear that if you want kids to grow up to be farmers, you have to raise them in town.

Michael’s adult son, who grew up on the farm, has gone on to do other things with his life, and his younger son is only 10, so it’s hard to say what he’ll do.  One of the things that Michael found most interesting when he heard about Joel Salatin and Polyface Farm is that Joel’s son Daniel grew up on the farm – and stayed there.  Daniel now runs the daily operations of the farm and is as passionate about holistic farming as his Dad.

Michael disguised it with a grin and a laugh, but I think there was a tinge of envy and wistfulness in this remark.

And it’s made me wonder ever since:  how true is the truism? My own children have no desire to farm.  They”ve lived here most of their lives.  They enjoy country life to an extent, they can see themselves having veggie patches in their backyards when they’re adults.  But not chickens or livestock.  No anxieties about crops getting rained on or parched dry.  No fence mending.  Definitely no mucking out.  They want to be able to go camping spontaneously, travel without worry.  No egg washing or late night chicken butchering.

And yet…an old schoolmate of mine is a third generation farmer, and his son is just back from Ag college, full of plans for local grain harvesting and raising turkeys on the side.  Fourth generation farmer at the age of 19.  Cool.  A classmate of my older daughter (17) lives on a 40 acre sheep farm with his family and owns part of the flock with a view to building his own farming enterprise.  Another classmate, in the poultry 4-H club for years, has begun a breeding business, raising quail and partridges, and is “raking it in” as his buddy told me at the feed store the other day.  The son (age 25) of a friend of mine is a third generation farmer, and is leasing 2 acres to grow organic raspberries and raising a half dozen hogs, while helping his mum with her berry farm.

So why these kids and not Michael Ableman’s son?  Why are my kids not interested, but yours are?  I know there are a number of factors at play, not least among them farming practices, finances, the high value placed on post secondary education, and of course parenting styles.  There’s also the whole nurture vs nature thing – some kids are just not wired to want to grow food, some kids are.

Am I disappointed my own children are not interested in farming?  Not with them.  Truthfully, we did a lot of things in terms of modelling and training and exposure that pretty much guaranteed that they would lean in a different direction.  A little disappointed in us as parents, perhaps, that we didn’t get on the same page about this kind of thing early enough.  That’s more about us than them.  And it’s OK, really.  They understand what goes into creating food, what it takes to grow good meat, and that’s important.  It will make them the kind of consumer that supports farmers.  And maybe they’re wired to for something else entirely anyway.  Besides, my brother grew up yearning for an urban life and now owns a John Deere, has twice the number of layers than me, and is president of the local Agricultural Society. Seeds can lie dormant for a long time and sprout when you least expect them to.  Whatever path my children end up taking, I hope that they find fulfillment and challenge and satisfaction in it.  And if, like my brother, they come back to the land later, well, that’s good too.

I think it really comes down to vocation.  Many of us, in my generation at least, were encouraged to quell any sense of vocation and instead pursue “practical” paths – most of us were pushed in the direction of post secondary education or trade school, our ticket to financial security.  Something our parents didn’t have available to them.  It’s natural to want a better life for your kids.  But I think it’s wrong to view vocation as unimportant.  I think it’s our job as parents to give kids permission to listen for their calling.  Of course we cannot but help shape their experiences by our own lifestyle choices, but within that, we must give them room to discover passions and interests, to explore what makes them eager to get out of bed every day, what makes them feel like they really accomplished something good.  We have to watch for those little sparks, those lights in their eyes, when they suddenly switch on.  It doesn’t take 10 different sports or clubs to find those glimpses of interest and passion.  No, it’s true, your child growing up in the woods may not discover his or her innate talent for surfing.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I mean the thing they’re going to do out in the world that is their contribution, their part of the greater whole, how they make their way.

Even if we’re the best kind of parent raising kids on the best kind of farm, they might not be hearing anything that calls them to nurture the land specifically; instead they might be hearing something that tells them they love to build, or heal animals, cook good food, manage a forest, fix machinery, paint pictures, care for people.  Or not.  They might really feel a call to grow plants for food, raise animals, improve soil…you know, farm.

Life Lesson

“How’s it going?’ I asked my older daughter the other day.  We were standing in the kitchen where she is house sitting.

She moved in there a week ago, excited and happy to be able to prove how capable and ready she is to cope in the real world.  In addition to keeping the house standing and intact, she is responsible for an anti-social cat with anxiety issues and a 5 year old German Pointer with very high energy and a low boredom threshold.  Perks include a wall of DVDs in the TV room for her to work her way through, and an above ground pool in the backyard.  She could sense freedom.

There is a slight flaw in this otherwise close to perfect situation: she has a summer job very close to our home, not so close to where she is house sitting.  The bus goes almost once an hour, and takes 45 minutes to wend it’s way through the back roads, whereas the direct route is not quite 10 minutes by car.  Our daughter does not have her driver’s license yet, so her options are the slow bus, walking (slower still) or riding a bike.  Not her bike, which she outgrew about 5 years ago, and which she didn’t want replaced because she didn’t like biking.

From our point of view, we thought this would be a good experience for her.  She’s graduating next year, and has been coping with cooking and chores at home for years, so we didn’t doubt she could survive in that regard.  Because the house is only 10 minutes from us, we can be there quickly if she needs us.  We saw the transportation issue as a good lesson in problem solving, and we figured things like grocery shopping, meal planning, time management (like getting up without me yelling) were all part of the experience, so we said go for it.  And she did.  She’s really coping very well, and we’re immensely proud.

We were standing in her kitchen about 5 days after she moved there.  She’d invited us over for dinner (could you bring it with you?  I don’t have enough food for 4 people), and a swim in her pool.  We accepted, gladly.  Younger daughter and I cooked, while my husband did the dog walk with the older daughter and the pointer.  Over dinner, she told funny stories about the dog, the nice garbage men who came and got the garbage can from the garage because she didn’t know it was garbage day, how early the cat woke her up, how many hills there were for biking (she borrowed a bike in the end) between there and work.  She showed off the stereo and huge TV, and  the garden she was taking good care of.  We all jumped in the pool later and froze within 5 minutes (we’ve had good weather for about a week, unlike the Midwest, so the water wasn’t terribly warm).  Back in the house, kitchen clean, our swim stuff packed, we were ready to go, back to chicken chores and our own dog.  Did we want a cup of tea first?  Maybe watch a movie?  We sensed loneliness…and stayed.

While my husband and younger daughter went down and chose a movie, I helped our older daughter with tea making, and asked my question.

Arms wrapped tightly around me, my grown up 17 year old whispered, “Oh, Mum, this is so hard”.

Yes, my honey, it is.

Thimble Summer

This may be my all time favourite book for summer reading.

I was given a copy when I was 8, just before we moved to this farm.  It was an old book then, and years later as a parent I was worried my kids wouldn’t relate to it well.  However, we did it as a read aloud a few years ago, and though they were about 10 and 13 at the time, they loved it as much as I did.  I still re-read it occasionally.  With all the heat most of  southern Canada and the US are experiencing right now,  I was reminded me of the opening to the book.  The heroine, Garnet,  is about 9 or 10 in rural Wisconsin in the ’30’s.  The story follows her life on the family farm over a summer.   Here are some excerpts from the first chapter:

Garnet thought this must be the hottest day that had ever been in the world….It was like being inside of a drum.  The sky like a bright skin was stretched tight above the valley, and the earth too, was tight and hard with heat.  Later, when it was dark, there would be a noise of thunder, as though a great hand beat upon the drum….After supper each night her father came out of the house and looked up at the sky, then down at his fields of corn and oats.  “No, ” he would say, shaking his head, “no rain tonight.”


Citronella Hauser came down the steps of her house flapping a dish towel like a fan.  She was a fat little girl, with red cheeks and thick yellow bangs.  “Land!” she called to Garnet.  “Isn’t it hot!” Where you going?”

“For the mail,” said Garnet.  “We might go swimming,” she added thoughtfully.

But no. Citronella had to help her mother with the ironing.  “A fine thing to have to do on a day like this,” she said rather crossly.  “I bet you I’ll melt all over the kitchen floor like a pound and a half of butter.”

Garnet giggled at this picture and started on her way….

“Days like this,” remarked Citronella, “make me wish I could find a waterfall somewhere.  One that poured lemonade instead of water.  I’d sit under it all day with my mouth open.”


After she had helped with the dishes, Garnet and Jay put on their bathing suits and went down to the river.  They had to go down a road, through a pasture, and across half a dozen sand bars before they came to a place that was deep enough to swim in.  This was a dark, quiet pool by a little island; trees hung over it and roots trailed in it.  Three turtles slid from a log as the children approached, making three slowly widening circles on the still surface.

“It looks like tea,” said Garnet, up to her neck in brownish lukewarm water.

“Feels like it too,” said Jay.


Garnet said goodnight and tiptoed up the stairs to her room under the eaves.  It was so hot there that the candle in its holder had swooned till it was bent double…It was too hot even for a sheet.  She lay there, wet with perspiration, feeling the heat like heavy blankets and listening to the soft thunder, the empty  thunder, that brought no rain….Late in the night Garnet woke up with a strange feeling that something was about to happen.  She lay quite still, listening….slowly, one by one, as if someone were dropping pennies on the roof, came the raindrops.  Garnet held her breath:  the sound paused.  “Don’t stop!” she whispered.  A noise of wind stirred in the leaves, and then the rain burst strong and loud upon the world…

Doesn’t that whet your whistle?   Thimble Summer is by Elizabeth Enright, first published in 1938, and a Newbery Medal winner.  After this opening, the story gets better and better – this kid has adventures, the kind that just happen to a person: she climbs trees, gets dirty, gets stuck places, flies into such a temper with her brother that she runs away.  At the same time, she is responsible (well, for a nine year old), helpful, more or less obedient, loyal  and loving.  Threaded throughout the fabric of the tale is the flow of farm life which provides fascinating glimpses into farming practices of the 1930’s, something I didn’t notice as a child reader, but find most interesting now.  Go find the book at your local library (it probably has air conditioning by the way), or buy it online, and give it a go.  Even if you don’t have kids.

I know there’s not a lot of spare time for reading at this time of year, but I think most of us fit in a chapter or two with a cup of tea or before bed.  So what pages are you turning this summer?

The Local Parade

National Green Party Leader, M.P. for my area, how perfect that she used a horse drawn wagon instead of a Caddy…

Because what Canada Day parade would be complete without a Mountie? This one coaches track and field for kids in his spare time.

She’s in 4-H, raises a steer and a lamb every year, and I just really liked her smile! She gave us candy, too!

My 14 yr old thought this one was “creepy” – I would have said funky. Whatever, it’s advertising one of my favourite places to eat on the whole Island.

I haven’t watched our small town Canada Day parade for a couple of years, so when my 14 year old said she’d be “ok” with going (that’s teen speak for “I”ll be so disappointed if we don’t see it”, or that’s how I interpreted it anyway), off we went – coffee and hot chocolate in hand – because you can see that it’s not raining, but not exactly warm either.  This parade starts with the town crier and ends with the fire department.  The only bands are the fiddle orchestra, the local concert band, the air cadets and the pipe band – you have to have a pipe band in a parade, or it’s not a parade.  Oh, and this year we had a band called “Black Rum”, waving their Newfoundland flag and belting out some classic Maritime tunes – my teen put space between us in case I did something silly like sing along .  It’s the kind of parade where everyone watching knows at least someone in it – and that is really what makes it such great fun – although my teen tells me that the candy is the whole reason for going.  I must say, the one on one time with my girl was pretty great too.  So what kind of parade does your town put on?

Little Chicks Growing up

I’m knee deep in chicks these days – broilers and layers a week apart. I find myself comparing how differently they grow. The broilers will be fully grown and in the freezer two months from now, averaging 5 lbs. In two months the layers will be looking like teenagers – gangly, wings that don’t work yet, etc. In another two months after that, probably in October, they will be adults, laying their first eggs. I’ve seen all this in chicks many times, and while I marvel at the rate of change, it no longer catches me by surprise.

Last night our younger daughter got ready for her grade 8 farewell dinner/dance. She normally appears in black jeans, a baggy hoody and scuffed running shoes, using her thick long hair to hide as much face as possible. So last night came as a shock – she looked casual yet elegant in a summer dress of black with a floral pattern, with flats to match. The hair was brushed smooth and thrown back out of her face. She looked faintly embarrassed to be not her usual self, but defiantly proud at the same time.  When I dropped her off at the school, I suddenly ached to hop out too, to go hang at the gym door and watch all these fledglings test their newly feathered wings.  I had not fully stopped the car, when the door was thrown open, and “omygoshthereshilarygottagoloveyou” came back on the breeze left swirling as she jumped out and raced to catch up to a tall vision of beauty (THAT was Hilary? Who I saw last week in flip flops and sweats?)  And they were gone.

I’m comforted, a little. Today she’s in her black jeans again. The dress is probably in a puddle on the floor upstairs (I haven’t looked, why spoil the day before it’s even started). The braces on her teeth remind me that she’s still my little girl for a while longer.

Random photographer writes her final French Immersion exam today. She has arranged an appointment with a counsellor regarding her options after she graduates next year. She’s doing this stuff without me.  Beauty radiates out of her generous soul.  She has developed grace since her grade 8 farewell days.  She is so self sufficient.  I trust her judgement in so many things, respect her wisdom.  Yet she’s still my little girl too.

We have been working all these years to help them grow up, so why am I not ready for this?