We’ve been staying in the Eastern Townships of rural Quebec for the last 3 weeks in our final housesit. It’s a several acre farm about 90 minutes east of Montreal. We are taking care of three dogs. The original plan included two horses in the mix, but the family hadn’t purchased them before they left on holiday (bummer). The dogs are really sweet, if a bit lively. There’s Mustang, the sweet, chill, and also fiercely protective Bernese Mountain-Lab mix. Koby is a hyperactive and sincerely lovable Husky-Lab mix. And Dilly, who’s continually trying to prove herself in the pack, is a Poodle-Bichon mix.
They’re all rescues, and it fits really well in the mantra of this family. Elizabeth and Jim are two retirees with hearts of gold. She’s a self-professed hippie who was a social worker for decades. He was in a biker gang a long time ago, then spent a lot of years helping felons with drug and alcohol convictions re-enter society in a halfway house/farm. The idea was that if he gave the men a job working with the various horses, goats, dogs and cats they had on the farm, it gave them dignity and purpose. I can tell they really believe in the therapy of animals, and so these dogs are part of the responsibility of the five boys that Elizabeth and Jim foster. They’ve fostered boys from adolescence to age 18 (the least desirable age group for many) for the last two decades and have had many boys call this place home. It’s really encouraging to see them as parents. Elizabeth has raised children of her own, and these boys receive a firm and structured but also loving hand. All of the boys have chores around the farm including chopping and hauling firewood, taking care of the dogs, and other farm tasks. But they also get the training and autonomy to use their ATVs, dirt bikes, snowmobiles and a full wood shop. They love their shop projects, skiing and snowboarding in the wintertime on the nearby slopes (all of them are extremely good at both), and taking the ATVs out exploring in the woods behind the house.
She said that they tend to arrive sullen and overweight from difficult home lives, and within a few short months seem to be more relaxed, leaner, tanner and with more muscles. Last year they took the kids through Mongolia and China, and this year they took all five boys to Cuba where they go snorkeling, exploring and visit with families they’ve befriended on earlier trips and bring them clothes and other household necessities. I have a lot of respect for this couple and it’s been fun to get to know them during the 3 days we stayed with them prior to their departure. They’ve let us use their car while they’re gone, making it possible to actually stay here (since the nearest grocery store is miles away). It’s a manual, but learning how to drive manual in the Canadian winter is a sink or swim operation and I’ve done alright!
Matt has enjoyed the use of the tractor to plow snow off the driveway. When Jim was showing him the ropes before they left, he said that Matt had a huge grin on his face the entire time.
I wish I could say that I’ve been reviving my French skills, but to be quite honest, I can’t understand 75% of what these people say. It’d be like learning English in America only to try to practice it in Scotland (fellow Frenchies, one store clerk asked me if I had checked the sport department for an item and pronounced it ‘spar’).
We celebrated American Thanksgiving here. Matt’s family was driving up to see us but due to unforeseen circumstances they had to turn around. We were all pretty bummed out but thankfully we’ll see them soon and spend Christmas together. We did have quite a bit of food, but I was able to put some of the leftovers to use for a church potluck. The pastor’s wife here is from Philly and has an American Thanksgiving meal every November for the small congregation. When I told her I could bring Texas/Party/Funeral potatoes (depends on where you’re from) and green bean casserole she was ecstatic. The Canadians were intrigued and appreciative of these foreign dishes 😀
We’ll leave here in a couple days for Montreal. Elizabeth picked us up from the airport and is driving us there on Friday, something incredibly generous. I’m excited to spend a few days exploring and trying all of the legendary ethnic food. We’ve missed the city so much. And then not much longer before we go home!