Garden beginnings in Illinois

Our vegetable garden is very delayed this year–and still mostly to be determined–thanks to Ellie. So I’m living vicariously through other people’s gardens. Sarah has made it through the early uncooperative weather that delayed her garden start. Planting has officially happened in Illinois and she’s sharing the details today.

If you read my last post, I mentioned that we finally made our way out of winter. Which means we had to jump quickly into planting the garden. We were about 4 weeks behind our normal planting time. As an example, we usually try to plant potatoes on Good Friday (this year March 30) and we were not able to get them into the ground until April 29.

Another problem that we are facing is that we seem to have jumped directly from winter to summer. We went from cold days and many nights of frost to 85F (29C) every day.

This is hardest on some of the colder weather crops like lettuce, kale, radish and possibly carrots. I went ahead and planted them but, they aren’t looking very hopeful.

Here are some of the other vegetables that we planted:

Broccoli

Tomatoes

Bell peppers, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, tomatillos, zucchini, pepperoncini peppers and
cucumbers.

And even though they got such a late start, I think the potatoes are going to make it.

Another issue we are having is that it has been very dry. So every day after work I fill two 5 gallon buckets twice and carry them out to the garden and water each individual plant.

There has been some discussion between Steve and I on running a water line out there. If that happens, I will be sure to document it!

Have you started planting anything where you live? Are you having any struggles with your vegetables? Temperatures? Rainfall? Do you get a workout by hauling water to your garden?

That’s a lot of water lugging, Sarah! I definitely vote for a water line, but in our experience running the line is probably as much work as hauling water all season. Perhaps rent a small backhoe if you decide to put one in. We transplanted a tree this weekend, so we’ve been hauling buckets, as there’s no way a hose will reach the spot I chose. That seems to be the extent of our gardening so far, so I will continue to enjoy your updates. Good job with all of your planting!

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What I got for Mother’s Day

Chainsaw in the woods

Wood is the traditional gift for fifth wedding anniversaries and, apparently, first Mother’s Days. Last Sunday, Matt and his Dad spent hours working to clear the trails in our back woods. I love walking the trails on our own property, but I’ve written before about how they’re a bit overgrown. An ice storm and wind storm this spring made the trails nearly impassable. For my walks with Ellie and Baxter, this situation was far from ideal.

Tree fallen across the trail

Firewood blocking the trail

Imagine if you will a woman walking in the woods. She is wearing a baby in a carrier on her chest and she has a dog leashed around her waist. They come to a stream crossing. The catwalk has washed out and a tree limb has fallen, blocking the trail.

She forges ahead, contorting herself to slither around the tree without dumping the baby out of the carrier and into the water.

The dog chooses a different route and the leash ends up wrapped around various trees.

The woman temporarily loses her balance and adjusts her footing–right into a deep part of the stream. Her boot fills with water.

Hiking with Ellie and Baxter

After emptying out my boot, wringing out my sock and untangling Baxter–all while still balancing Ellie in the carrier–I decided the trails were out of bounds until we did some work.

So I was thrilled to receive a Mother’s Day present involving chainsaws, wheelbarrows, multiple loads of firewood and clear(er) passage on the trails.

Matt and his Dad wheeling firewood out of the woods

My FIL and Baxter cutting wood in the forest

Loading firewood from the forest

Matt unloading firewood
You may recall that Matt and I had done this chore previously, so I know exactly how much work this was. I’m over the moon happy to have access to our trails and incredibly grateful for Matt and his Dad working so hard.

I’m also still holding out for a brigade of forest rangers equipped with ATVs, wood chippers, weed whackers and chainsaws (these trails could seriously use a whole season of work from a whole crew). Perhaps next Mother’s Day?

Behind the scenes

Just because I can’t keep all the cuteness to myself…

Ellie and Matt assembling our new wheelbarrow.

Matt and Ellie assembling the wheelbarrow

Quality control testing.

Matt holding Ellie in the wheelbarrow

Ellie, Baxter and I helpfully supervising on Mother’s Day.

Carrying Ellie

Blackout window treatments for the nursery and how to pleat Ikea curtains

Blackout window treatments in the nursery

When it came to window treatments for Ellie’s room my first priority was making the room completely dark.

Both of my sisters at various points struggled with getting their babies to sleep and eventually resorted to taping black garbage bags over the windows. For my one nephew, the smallest strip of light was enough to hold his attention and keep him awake.

Fortunately, Ellie has been a really good sleeper so far (and please may it continue for all time), but I have found that a dark quiet room is very helpful to ensure she sleeps as soundly as possible.

My first step in making sure I could get the room as dark as possible was the layered window treatments that I used in our own bedroom. Blackout blind, hidden behind bamboo blind (which really acts as just a valance) and then full-length curtain panels for the finishing touch and an extra layer of darkness.

Blackout window treatments in the nursery

While I still like the dropcloth curtains that I made for the guest room and our room, for Ellie’s room I really wanted white curtains. Some sales around Black Friday netted me four Ritva panels from Ikea. At first when the curtains arrived they looked super creamy to me, but once I tried them in the baby’s room they were white (or white enough for me). They also have a bit of a texture, which I initially wasn’t planning on, but now I like that the fabric isn’t completely flat and boring.

Texture on Ikea Ritva curtains

I elected to get four curtains (two packages), so that I could do two panels per side, ensuring that the fabric covers the full width of the window, and also that the curtains look nice and full whether they’re open or closed.

My first step was to wash all four curtain panels to preshrink them. Then, I sewed two panels together so that my four curtains became two, one for each side.

Now, on their own, the Ritva curtains are not blackout–in fact far from it. Since it was important to me that these curtains block the light as well as add style to the room, I added a blackout lining that I bought at the fabric store. Tip: Wait for a sale. The amount of fabric needed is not small, and this lining is not cheap. A discount makes a huge difference.

I cut the lining so that it was just a bit shorter and narrower than my finished curtains were going to be. The fabric didn’t fray or ravel, so I didn’t bother hemming the edges. I sewed the lining to the curtains, just underneath the curtain tape that runs along the top edge of the Ritvas.

I will say that the curtains were absolute beasts to sew. They were huge and I had metres and metres and layers and layers of fabric that I was trying to slide around. It was very awkward, even though I was only sewing straight lines.

But once the curtains and lining were all together, the next step was pleating the curtains.

The curtain tape that comes with the Ritvas is the neatest thing for me about these Ikea curtains. This tape has little pockets at regular intervals and allows you to form pleats in the top of your curtain by inserting special hooks. (When I made our dropcloth curtains, the tape was something I had to buy and sew on separately).

How to pinch pleat Ikea curtains

Ikea sells hooks that you can use to pleat your curtains. However, I wanted to replicate the really full, traditional pleats that I made for our other two bedrooms, and the Ikea hooks didn’t do that. I bought four-pronged hooks at my local fabric store (again, on sale) and went to work to figure out how to make my non-Ikea hooks work with my Ikea curtains.

Hooks for pleating curtains

The thing with the curtain tape I’ve used in the past is that each pocket is set up at exactly the right interval to make perfect pleats. The Ikea curtains aren’t quite the same. They’re set up so that you can get as many different looks out of one curtain as possible. There are lots and lots of pockets and then, in the event that you don’t want to pleat your curtains, there are also loops that slide directly over your curtain rod.

So figuring out how to place my hooks took a bit of time… and trial and error… and measuring… and math. For my pinch pleats, I left about 4 sleeves in between the prong of each hook. The spacing varied ever so slightly because those pesky loops threw off my count every other hook. The joint where I’d sewn the two panels was another spot where I had to fudge the hook placement. Between each hook, I left 12 or 13 sleeves.

Once I was happy with the spacing, I went along the back with a marker and made a little dot on each sleeve that was going to receive a prong. I used a permanent marker so that when I wash the curtains, I can reinsert the hooks without repeating the whole trial and error process.

How to pinch pleat Ikea curtains

The panels for the other side of the window went much quicker, because I was able to use the first curtains as my pattern. However, I made sure to mirror the spacing, so that each panel is symmetrical.

The hooks simply slide into the sleeves, and it can take some smooshing to make sure that one prong stays in place while you’re inserting the others. My fingertips were a bit tender by the time I finished.

How to pinch pleat Ikea curtains

Once the hook is in place, turn over the curtain, and the pleats are nice and even.

How to pleat Ikea curtains

As soon as I hung the curtains, I was super impressed by how effective this blackout lining is. But I took one more step to ensure the room will be as dark as possible. Because we have a double rod with the back rod supporting the bamboo valance, I was able to loop the curtains around and hang a few rings on the back rod. This means that the curtain is right up against the wall, and there is less gap to let light in.

How to make blackout window treatments

The final touches were hemming the curtains to the right length and adding a wand to the edge of each curtain so that we can pull the curtains open and closed without pulling the fabric–a surefire way to get our white curtains grimy over time.

Wand for pulling curtains closed

My plan for bedtime or nap time was to simply pull down the blind, and let the curtains block the light around the edges of the window and look pretty. But after the time change this spring, I noticed Ellie was waking up earlier and earlier in the mornings. I pulled the curtains shut over the blind, and morning sleep-ins returned–love that blackout lining.

Blackout window treatments in the nursery

If you want to make your own blackout window treatments like these, here are the materials I used.

Materials

What is your go-to window treatment? Do you like the look of traditional pleated curtains or are you more modern? Can you sleep in the light, or are you on the dark side? Any tips to help babies sleep?

Spring comes to Illinois

One of my rituals every spring is walking around the property to see what plants survived the winter. It’s always a win to see buds, leaves and blossoms appearing on bushes and trees–particularly the young ones. Sarah has been doing the same at her home in Illinois. She’s sharing her wins, losses and new additions in her post today.

Spring! It’s finally here. This honestly felt like the longest winter we have ever had. As soon as the weather was warm enough to work outside, Steve and I jumped in on several of the projects that we have been waiting patiently to tackle.

Last year you might remember that we planted some fruit trees. This year we noticed that the cherry tree didn’t make it through the winter.

I knew that I needed to add another tree anyway for them to bear fruit, so Steve and I picked up a couple new sweet cherry trees.

The other trees that we planted last year look like they are doing okay. The peach tree even started to bloom.

Unfortunately none of my blueberry bushes made it through the winter. I wasn’t too surprised however because they really didn’t look very good last fall. I had purchased bare root blueberries last year, and I just don’t think I have very good luck with bare root plants. So this year we bought nice healthy bushes. I feel like these have a much better chance of making it.

I am watering them faithfully. Remember the watering rule that my mom taught me?

Water every day for a week, every week for a month and every month for a year.

Things are becoming very busy around here and I love it. This is the best time of year.

What is the weather like where you are? Do you have any fruit trees? Do you have any luck with bare root plants?

Mmmmm… you have me thinking ahead to summer fruit, Sarah. I added blueberry bushes last year as well. They were not bare root, but they too were not looking super spunky by the end of the season. This spring has taken so long to arrive that I’m still at the fingers crossed stage for our grapes, blueberries and blackberries. I’m really hoping I see buds soon.

Solar panels four years later

Solar panel array

Four years ago on April 25, 2014, we powered up our solar panels and began feeding electricity back to the provincial grid.

Every spring, I like to look at our numbers and compare how we’ve done with past years. Here are our previous annual summaries:

We don’t track how many kilowatts we generate, so all of my calculations are financial.

Over four years, we’ve made a total of $17,469.28.

Our initial investment in the panels was $40,727.16, so I guess you could say we still have awhile before we’re truly ahead (based on this year’s numbers, our total payback period will be just under 8 1/2 years).

However, we already feel like we’re ahead every year because we consistently generate more power than we consume.

Last year, we paid $2,594.40 for electricity, and we earned $4,855.15–$2,260.75 in “profit.”

The amount of power we produce is very much determined by the weather, so we see a lot of fluctuation month-by-month and year-by-year. Last year we made more than $300 more than the year before. Here is the comparison over the last four years.

Solar panel income over the last four years

Obviously solar panels are a big investment. Knowing that we’re going to be at the farm for a long time, it’s a choice that made financial sense for us.

And now that we have Ellie, I feel even more strongly about the environmental reasons that we chose to install our solar panels. I want to do my part of create a healthy world for her and set an example of taking personal responsibility for the planet.

For all of the details on our solar panels, you can see previous posts about Going Solar here.

Creating a new family heirloom

Turquoise gender neutral nursery

The words “new” and “heirloom” don’t really go together. Is it possible to create an heirloom?

I love the dresser that we chose for Ellie’s room. You know I’m all about sentimental family pieces. This is a brand new piece of furniture, and I chose it specifically because I hope that it becomes a special heirloom for her.

It’s a solid wood, handcrafted gift from Grandma and Grandpa. I think it will last for many years and can have a long life beyond a baby’s room.

But whoa, it felt like a saga to get here.

Dovetailed drawer

Both sets of grandparents of course wanted to help us by buying some things for the new baby. When Matt’s parents redecorated his old bedroom, they had a Mennonite crafted dresser made.

Pine dresser

It’s country pine which is perfect for the farm, lots of drawers for storage, seemingly a good change table height (#firsttimemom #whatdoiknow). I thought something like it would be a really nice piece for the nursery–and I liked the heritage potential.

Matt’s parents were on board, so I met them at the furniture shop, and we picked out a dresser that was the same as theirs. But then the salesman told me the price. For a person who has furnished her home with mostly hand-me-downs or thrifted furniture, the sticker shock was immense. I wanted to walk out of the store and find a different dresser, but Matt’s Dad was sold.

We compromised by me paying the deposit, and they covered the balance.

Then I had to pick the finish.

Originally, I had planned to pick the same country pine finish that Matt’s parents have. But then I started to think about the rest of the furniture in the room. White crib and bookcase, grey chair. Would the addition of pine look too much like a garage sale?

The shop had a grey finish that still showed the grain of the wood, and I decided to go with that.

Usually I’m pretty decisive, but I started to doubt myself as soon as we walked out of the store. I quizzed my sisters, my Mom, my friends. Should I have gone with the pine? Or stick with the grey?

I saw this picture from Dina Holland and that sealed it for me. I loved how the grey dresser looked in the room that she designed, and I decided I’d made the right choice . (You can–and should–check out all of the rooms that Dina did in this house. They are colourful and fun and sophisticated and different from so much of what I see in decor these days).

As it turned out, I would have had plenty of time to change my mind. While the production time on the dresser was supposed to be two months, it took closer to three. Matt started to question whether the baby would arrive before the dresser.

But finally, everything came together (with free delivery to compensate for the delay). The dresser arrived and it was perfect. The size was right for the room (18 inches deep by 36 inches high by 54 inches long). The storage was abundant. The height is good for diaper changes. The grey finish still has a country style. And the quality of this piece means that it will be with us–and Ellie–for a long time.

I added simple wood dividers inside the drawers to help keep us organized (I cannot be bothered to fold baby clothes). Then I tied wooden labels to each of the knobs so that no matter who is dressing baby (including sleep deprived Mama), they know where to find things. The top is set up with the change pad and other diapering essentials.

Dividers inside a dresser drawer

Wood tags to label dresser drawers

Wood tags to label dresser drawers

In the future, I know this is a piece that will grow with Ellie and have a life beyond a change table and a nursery. I like thinking of it being in Ellie’s own home some day.

Turquoise gender neutral nurseryTurquoise gender neutral nursery

Do you have any furniture that you hope becomes an heirloom one day? How do you organize baby clothes at your house? What finish would you have chosen for the dresser? Anyone else suffer from sticker shock when furniture shopping?

Using a gardening calendar to track annual progress

Spring seems to be taking its time coming this year. A late-season ice storm meant that less than a week ago, the farm was still covered in snow. Conditions in Illinois are the same. Sarah in Illinois uses a calendar to track her annual progress in the garden, and she knows exactly how delayed the season is this year compared to last. She’s sharing her calendar–and lack of progress–today.

For someone who loves spending time out in the garden, this spring has been pretty frustrating.

On April 9 we woke up to this:

I keep a gardening calendar. Every year I write notes on it when I plant certain things, when I till the garden, when I see my first hummingbird, etc. Then each year when I get a new calendar I transfer all of my notes to the new calendar. Here is an example for April:

It is really handy to use as reference for anything outdoor related. However, this year it is really frustrating because I can constantly see how behind I am. Look closely:

Two years ago I tilled the garden on April 16 and last year I tilled it for the SECOND time on April 15. This year weather has prevented us from stepping one foot in the garden.

Now obviously I can’t do a thing about the weather, so I try not to let it upset me very much. Plus there are sure signs that the weather will warm up.

Remember the picture I posted above? Here is that very same tree 11 days later:

Has spring arrived where you live? Do you keep a gardening calendar or something similar? Have you been able to start working in your garden?

Oh Sarah, I feel your pain. We had sunshine over the weekend, and things not only melted, they finally started to dry out. I’m not sure that spring is officially here, but it seems like it might come someday… probably… hopefully.

DIY Moroccan pouf and other footstools you can make yourself

DIY Moroccan pouf free sewing pattern

One of my must-haves for the nursery was a spot to put up my feet. I knew a footstool of some kind would make nursing, cuddling, storytime and all the rest of baby time much more comfortable.

I love the look of the Moroccan poufs, so I was excited to find a free pattern to sew my own from Better Homes and Gardens.

Free DIY pouf sewing pattern from BHG

I made a few modifications to my pouf. First, I lengthened the pattern just slightly. I extended the side pieces by about an inch to make my pouf a bit taller.

Another change was my fabric. Rather than using the burlap and muslin that the BHG team used in their sample, I went with a white vinyl. Wipeable, durable, good for a nursery. However, I will say that vinyl is not the easiest to sew, and as the pouf got bigger it was much more challenging to manipulate. I’m sure the burlap would be easy-peasy.

I also chose to do my top stitching by machine, rather than going with the decorative hand embroidery BHG showed. Vinyl does not fold and cannot be ironed, so the top stitching helps my seams to lay properly.

DIY Moroccan pouf

The final change was I added a zipper. Even though the vinyl is wipeable, I liked the idea of being able to remove the cover if I ever need to. So at the very bottom of the pouf, I put in a 20-inch zipper. Stitching a zipper in vinyl, especially where all the seams came together, was not my funnest sewing moment. (Again, in another fabric it would be NBD.)

Zipper in the bottom of a homemade Moroccan pouf

To stuff the pillow, BHG recommends towels and fibre fill. I happen to have a large stash of pillows (anyone else find the search for the perfect bed pillow challenging?), so I mined that to stuff the pouf. This thing held seven full size bed pillows. Honestly, I’d love to fit an eighth in there, but I’m afraid the seams might not hold. Getting the pillows to lay smoothly inside, so that the pouf doesn’t look overly lumpy took a bit of effort.

DIY Moroccan pouf free sewing pattern

As soon as the pouf was finished and I set it in the nursery, I was thrilled. It’s the perfect height with the chair, and the white goes well with the other elements in the room. Now that we’ve been using it for more than a month, I also have to say that I’m glad the pouf is light weight enough that I can kick it out of the way when I am trying to oh so carefully put Ellie back in her crib without waking her up.

Turquoise gender neutral nursery

I’m also really proud that I made this myself.

In my experience, poufs, ottomans and footstools are pretty easy to make. Even high-end poufs that I see online get my creative juices flowing as I think how I could make them myself.

Here’s a round-up if you’re looking for inspiration.

DIY Poufs

Ready-made poufs that you could DIY

If you’re looking for a Moroccan pouf similar to the one I made.

I think these buffalo check cubes were originally at Target and seem to now be discontinued, but they’d be super easy to DIY (a cube is really easy to sew). And wouldn’t the check fabric and the leather handles be perfect for a farm?

It might take a bit of searching to find a textural fabric like this, but once you do, it would be a snap to whip up this large ottoman.

Other footstools I considered

I truly love this Ikea cowhide footstool for its fit with our farm theme, but it appears to only be sold at Ikea in the US… and my DIY option was much less expen$ive.

My original nursery plan called for a lot of colourful accessories, like this beanbag ottoman.

A storage ottoman is a favourite for obvious reasons–it’s dual purpose, providing a spot to sit or rest your feet as well as a spot to stash blankets, toys or other nursery stuffs.

In the end, I’m very happy with my pouf. The price was right and so is the style.

What’s your favourite style of footstool? Have you ever made a pouf?

Our favourite children’s books plus the nursery bookcase

Bookcase in the nursery

One of the earliest things Matt and I did when we found out we were having a baby was buy our favourite children’s books. We each enjoy reading and we love the large book collection we have, so we want the same for our child.

Our two favourite children's books

For Matt, his book was A Woggle of Witches. He didn’t have this book growing up, but he checked it out of the library nearly every week. For him, he’s all about the pictures in this book, and he couldn’t really remember the story–or even the title until his Mom helped him.

A Woggle of Witches

The witches are afraid of the trick or treaters, even the cute little ghost dog.

For me, my book was an old anthology of Little Golden Book stories. I remember being read so many stories in this book. By far, my favourite is Jill’s Jack, the story of a young girl and her extremely friendly boxer puppy (it could easily be titled Julia and Bax IMO).

Children's story Jill's Jack

Children's story Jill's Jack

This particular anthology was published in 1951, so I was not optimistic that we’d be able to find a copy. But Matt found one on eBay and bought it for me for my birthday.

Beyond our two favourites, we’ve been gifted a lot of beautiful books, and we’ve built a great library for Ellie.

To hold the library I found an Ikea Hemnes bookcase on Kijiji for half what we would have paid new. Since the old backing was falling apart, I bought a piece of beadboard and installed that instead, and then I painted everything a nice clean white.

The bookcase fits perfectly in the corner beside the window and actually helps to balance our crazy off-centre window. Children’s books are not very thick, so we have plenty of space to tuck in some toys, mementos and extra storage. Plus I like that the bookcase will grow with Ellie as her library expands.

Turquoise gender neutral nursery

Ellie is now at the stage that she’s enjoying stories, and I’m loving working our way through her collection with a few books everyday.

Do you have a favourite book that you read your children (or perhaps was read to you)? I’d love to get more recommendations. How do you store children’s books at your house?

Early mornings in Illinois

I would not call myself a morning person, but there is something magical about those early moments in the day. Time to be alone and enjoy the quiet of the farm. Time to be productive and tackle a little bit of work. Sarah in Illinois–also not a morning person–has come to appreciate her morning routine. She is here today, sharing a bit about how she starts her day.

Having chickens requires me to get up a little earlier every morning to tend to them. This isn’t the easiest for someone who readily admits she is not a “morning person.” However, I do enjoy the fact that everything is a little more peaceful just as the sun rises. It also allows me to spend a little one on one time with Blitz. We like to play ball and visit with Ruff the barn cat.

These two have comically become good friends.

I think because it is early morning, and they both are still a little groggy from sleep.

When I leave the barn I usually pat Ruff on the head and her head is always soaked in Blitz’s slobbers.

I have begun to really enjoy this quiet time in the morning. It helps remind me to slow down and look around.

Are you a morning person? What do you enjoy about the start of the day? Do you have a pair of unlikely buddies around your house?

Aww. It’s great to meet your Ruff, Sarah. I wonder how she and Ralph would get along. Baxter and Ralph’s relationship is definitely not as buddy-buddy as Blitz and Ruff’s. I would say Ralph tolerates Baxter. She definitely does not allow him to slobber on her. It’s great that Ruff and Blitz have become such good friends.