Odds & sods

Hello from COVID-19 quarantine at the farm. The farm is not a bad place at all to hunker down, and I feel fortunate that we have this spot.

We play outside and inside. I’ve broken out my old Cabbage Patch doll (for her) and jigsaw puzzles (for me). Ellie loves her new play area in the basement, though I so wish I had a playground or swing set for her outside. It’s in the plans. I just haven’t got there yet.

Ellie playing with a cabbage patch doll

We look for snail shells at the pond, sit on the tractor in the barn, practice rolling down the hill behind the house (which is a tandem event, since the toddler doesn’t understand physics yet), and I trade wheelbarrow rides for just a few minutes to rake this next section of flower garden.

I do a bit of work online and am daily so grateful that I am here with Ellie and don’t have to answer to a boss–aside from keeping clients happy.

Matt, who was our lead grocery shopper, always kept us stocked as though the apocalypse was about to arrive. So our pantry, freezer, battery stash, toiletries, cleaning supplies are all full–even though I’ve been on a mission over the last few months to eat the freezer (in hindsight, not great timing). I of course have to go to the grocery store, but I’ve been buying enough for two weeks at a time, so I can minimize my outings.

I’m finding quarantine brings out grief in different ways and I’m missing Matt in new ways. He would love this time off work and being home with us at the farm. He voluntarily self-isolated before it was government mandated. We would be really good at this.

But, Ellie and I are a dynamic duo. There are lots of things for us to do, so it’s not too hard to stay home and do our part to flatten the curve.

Twinning

I had an epiphany last week when I was taking some items to the post office. What if I am somehow a carrier of the virus? It could be on the package, which is then handled by the post office staff and any number of people as it travels from my house to someone else’s. I cannot carry the responsibility of infecting anyone. Never mind our families and our daughter and people like Matt. So we are staying home.

I hope that you are staying safe and doing everything you can to help stop this virus.

Here is this month’s odds & sods round-up, quarantine edition:

We’re keeping connected with family and friends through text, online chats, phone calls, Facetime and emails. I’ve taken food to a friend who works at the hospital and a neighbour who is overdue with her third baby–two people who need easy meals after long, tough days. I’ve also set a goal of reaching out to at least one more remote connection everyday, whether it’s a coworker, neighbour, cousin. How are you staying connected?

We got a new stove! In case you missed my previous update, the team at Tasco exhibited the care and compassion I was hoping for, and arranged for us to return our malfunctioning stove. Our new stove arrived just about 10 days ago, and it is lovely. I felt pressure to pick the right one this time and walked into the store with a spreadsheet of ovens with all of their features and reviews. I ended up going with KitchenAid. The double ovens are exactly what I was looking for. Food cooks as expected in the amount of time expected. I made homemade mushroom soup for the first time (so easy and so good) and my favourite bread–apparently it’s the thing to do during quarantine.

No knead bread baking in the oven

Just discovered this artist. Love this one, this one and this one so much.

What dog owners should do during COVID-19 and 10 ways to help an animal shelter during COVID-19.

The terms social distancing and self isolation bug me. Why invent new words that people have to learn? Especially in a crisis? As a communicator, my mission is to always be as clear as possible. That means keeping things simple and direct.

Social distancing graphic

We’re wrapping up March by… what else… staying home. I’m hoping the month ends lamb-like, so we can be outside and maybe even finish clearing the gardens so the spring flowers are ready to bloom.

 

How are you getting through COVID-19? I hope that you are well and safe. Take good care, everyone.

 

My writing elsewhere:

Bright moments in dark times

Last week was Matt’s birthday. We pulled together as a family–by phone, Facetime and a few of us in person–to remember him, talk about him and celebrate him.

We had a particularly special celebration to take care of as well.

Matt and I had been given a bottle of champagne when we moved to the farm. We had been saving it for when we paid off the mortgage, and that is what I did a couple months ago. So Matt’s Dad opened the bottle, and we had a toast.

Glass of champagne on the patio

This is obviously not at all how we wanted to pay off the farm. While this milestone is usually a great accomplishment, for us it felt tragic. Today, I’m sharing something I wrote when I got home from making that last payment.

I hope you’ll read it because while there is great tragedy, there was also great beauty, and I think there are some lessons we can all take in these challenging days of COVID19.

The music was driving me crazy.

I was sitting at the credit union feeling like I was holding it together by the finest of threads. I was there to pay off the mortgage.

I had been anxious about this appointment for weeks.

Paying off the mortgage was super important to Matt and me. Especially Matt. We’d worked really hard and paid about half of it down in the 7 1/2 years we’d owned the farm.

Before he died, Matt and I talked about his life insurance. I said, “Well, I was thinking of paying off the mortgage.”

For Matt there was no question. “You’d better pay off the mortgage!”

Now I was here, and I was paying off the mortgage. We were achieving something we’d worked so hard for and dreamed about for so long. But I was alone. Matt was paying it off, but in the worst way possible.

I was trying not to cry, not to scream, not to lose my mind. And the music was about to send me off a cliff.

A speaker in the ceiling of the office was playing a local radio station.

I haven’t been able to listen to music for a long time, and this felt so noisy.

Then the words started to make it through.

I’ll be there for the highs and lows… By your side, when you’re all alone. I will be there. (Walk Off The Earth)

 

Then the next song.

I’ll carry the weight. I’ll do anything for you. My bones may break. But I’ll never be untrue. (Serena Ryder)

 

Tears were rolling down my face. I looked up at the ceiling at that terrible speaker and said, “Thank you for being here. I love you.”

That afternoon, I came home to the farm. I let Baxter out and we walked out over the fields. I talked to Matt. “We finally did it. You did it. You worked so hard for this. Thank you. It’s ours.”

I know a lot of people are facing really hard situations right now and there is a lot of fear about COVID-19. Reach out to family and friends. Look around you for those moments of love and joy–like a song on the radio that you don’t hear at first. Know that you are not alone. Even in the hardest hard there is good. You will get through this.

Making a playhouse out of a grain silo

How about a bit of fun for this Monday?

I feel like we need it after last week’s post about our malfunctioning stove, plus everything else that’s going on in the world. (P.S. Tasco agreed to take back the stove, so I bought a new one at the end of last week. Thank goodness. I’ll share more about the new stove once it arrives.)

Let’s think about a playhouse for Ellie, shall we?

Ellie, Bax and Ralph by the silo

When we were growing up, we loved playing outside when we went to visit our grandma’s house. She had a super deep, super steep backyard that sloped down to a ravine. Halfway down the hill tucked into some trees and bushes was a little tiny house with white pealing paint. It wasn’t big enough for an adult to stand up in, and by the time we came along it only housed abandoned lawn furniture. But we were told it had been my Mom’s playhouse when she was growing up. It always seemed like the coolest little spot to me. It was so hidden and private and obviously kids only.

We had a great backyard growing up and tons of things to do and lots of freedom. But we didn’t have a playhouse. We would occasionally build forts, and it was always a thrill to have a place of our own.

I’d like to give Ellie that experience, and fortunately I have a great start with our grain silo beside the barn.

Wouldn’t this make an awesome playhouse?

Ellie running past the metal grain silo

It’s big, so there are lots of possibilities of what we can do.

My plan is to make it two stories. It’s tall enough that a floor halfway up would still make two really usable spaces–an adult could probably even stand up (though I probably won’t be invited).

Metal grain silo

A ship’s ladder would be a simple way to get up and down.

It’ll need a few windows for light, and maybe a better door.

Ellie trying to get in the metal grain silo

Beyond that, Ellie could make it what she wants.

This spread from the May issue of Country Living gives some ideas, although this is much more extravagant than what I have in mind.

Grain silo conversion in Country Living May 2019

I think this would be a great secret space for her. I can even see sleepovers out here once she’s bigger.

Plus, if we truly are in the apocalypse, the silo would be a place to house all of the friends who have told me they’re coming to the farm when the world ends.

Did you have a playhouse growing up? What do you think Ellie needs in her playhouse? What would you do with this grain silo?

 

Don’t buy a Samsung stove with flex duo oven

Update: Tasco worked with Samsung and I got the okay to return the stove. I have picked out a new stove, which should be delivered shortly. I am so, so thankful to have this resolution. The team at Tasco exhibited the care and compassion I was hoping for. Fingers crossed I picked a better stove this time around!

On Oct. 22, our oven died. We had had a long day at the hospital for a chemo treatment, but it seemed like we were going to make it home for dinner with Ellie and be able to put her to bed at her regular time.

I had prepped the food before we left, so we called my Mom who was watching Ellie and told her to start the oven. When we got home, dinner was still sitting on the counter because the oven was not heating. I whipped up some eggs, we all ate and Ellie went to bed late.

The next day, Matt and I went out and bought a new stove.

A different company, Tasco, was in the building where our go-to appliance store had been. We went in and found a Samsung stove with a flex duo oven–a feature that we really like. We bought it on the spot, and Tasco delivered it the next day.

Yes, we rushed, but Matt could only be out for so long and I needed to be able to feed him and Ellie.

Samsung flex duo stove

The first time I cooked with the new stove, it didn’t seem right. Everything took a long time, and the oven didn’t seem hot enough.

But on Nov. 2, Matt went into the hospital and on Nov. 9 he died, so the stove was the least of my problems.

However, the problems with the stove continued. Despite setting the oven hotter and cooking things longer, food was still coming out cold.

I cranked the oven to 500 to make pizza with my friends. After 10 minutes in the oven–my normal cooking time–the pizzas were still raw. When I reset the oven, the temperature reading was down to 300. Eventually, we ate our very unevenly cooked pizzas.

I baked a cake that came out dark brown on top and crunchy around the edges, but soggy and fallen in the middle. Macaroni was burnt on top but still cold in the centre.

Unevenly cooked cake from Samsung oven

Burnt macaroni from malfunctioning Samsung oven

By December, I was finally ready to deal with this stove. I called our salesperson at Tasco, and he referred me to their service department, which I called on Dec. 18. They said they would reach out to Samsung to arrange a service call.

Christmas came and went, and no one called me back.

I called Tasco again on Jan. 3. Then again on the 13th and again on the 20th.

I asked to return the stove, but Tasco had a 30-day return window and that deadline passed during the week of Matt’s memorial, and there didn’t seem to be any willingness to make an exception due to our circumstances.

Finally I was able to figure out that there was confusion because the name I gave over the phone was different than the name on the invoice–I had taken Matt’s last name because I wanted to carry that part of him with me. Rather than call me back to sort out the confusion, Samsung had done nothing.

On Jan. 24, a technician finally came to look at the stove.

He took readings and replaced one part, but said everything seemed to be working fine.

I gave the stove another try, and still had the same issues of food not being hot or cooking unevenly.

On Feb. 4 I called Samsung again. A few days later Samsung sent an email telling me that my stove was working properly. I reached out to my salesperson at Tasco, and he arranged a second service call for Feb. 20. Again, the tech who came to the house said that according to his measurements, the stove was working properly–I begged to differ–and on Feb. 25 I received another message from Samsung that my service ticket was closed.

I followed up again with Tasco. A representative called me back right away and was very understanding. She asked me to follow up again with Samsung.

The telephone call with Samsung did not go well. The person on the phone said that my stove was working properly and they have to “trust their technicians.” I said that felt like a lack of respect and trust for their customers and a lack of integrity in standing behind their products.

The next day I received another email that said, “unit is working fine.”

I followed up with my salesperson at Tasco again, asking “Can you please just take it back, so that I can buy a stove that works?”

So far I have not received an answer.

I am writing this post today because I am so disappointed and beyond frustrated. I am hoping that I may get some accommodation from Tasco or Samsung by sharing my story publicly.

I have tried to follow their procedures and work within their policies, and I have gotten nowhere.

I realize it is not their problem that my husband died and I missed the return deadline. But I hope that even large companies can be understanding and flexible and compassionate and act with integrity when there are problems with their products.

How to find your dream farm – Farm-iversary 8

Today is marks eight years since farm became ours. This year, our farm-iversary obviously feels different because Matt is not here in person. It’s really because of him that we are here in this place that means so much to us both.

Finding our perfect farm took a lot of work, persistence, patience and guts–most of which I credit to Matt.

How to find your dream farm

I know a lot of people share our dream of country living, so today I thought I’d share my advice for how to find your dream country property. Fittingly, there are eight.

1. Make this a shared dream

Fortunately, Matt and I were on the same page right from the start about moving to the country. We perhaps had different reasons for wanting a farm, but we were working towards the same goal. This teamwork is very important. The search for your dream country property and then the actual living there are both hard. Fun and wonderful, but hard. If you’re a couple or a family, this decision needs to be made jointly.

I am more aware than ever that not everyone is a couple. You may be single and want the country lifestyle–and you absolutely can achieve it. Find a friend, family member (children count), someone who can encourage you and believes in your dream.

Matt and Ellie on the tractor

Even though Matt and I don’t get to do this together anymore, I’m so happy that I get to do it with Ellie. She loves the animals, the barns, the tractor, the outdoors, and her joy makes me happy.

2. Know what you’re looking for

It’s great to talk about moving to the country, but to actually make it happen and find the perfect property, you need to know what matters most to you. Farms come in all different shapes and sizes.

Think carefully about what you want and be as specific as possible.

Things like property size, style of house and any features on the property like woods or water all influence how you live on a farm. If you’re planning to work the land or raise animals, those are also important factors to consider.

Maple sapling alongside the driveway

For us, I was happy with anything over 10 acres. Matt wanted at least 50. I wanted water, and initially thought either a creek or pond would work. As our search progressed, I realized the pond was really important to me, so our criteria became more specific.

We wanted a fixer-upper house, and we certainly go that. While major renovations are not everyone’s choice, I will say that you can change a lot about a house, but the property is harder to change.

As you develop your wish list, balance being narrow and broad. You want to be specific about what you want, but open-minded enough that you can actually find a farm that works for you. For both our house and property, we had 17 items on our wish list. Here are our lists for the property and the house.

3. Pick your area

Search area is part of knowing what you want. This will determine the type of land you buy–whether it’s rolling hills, flat fields, woods, marshy. It will also determine the price you pay. Prices vary greatly depending on where you look. If you’re willing to move, you might find a more affordable property.

Big field

For us, we wanted to stay close to our families, so we decided that our search area would be within 45 minutes of our hometowns.

4. Get pre-approved for your mortgage

While moving to the country and buying a farm usually begin as emotional decisions, there are a lot of practical considerations, like your finances. You likely will need a mortgage to buy a farm (and if you don’t, good for you). Visit a few banks or credit unions or other lenders before you begin your search to get pre-approved for a mortgage.

This process will help to guide your search as it may set the budget for you. As well, it can make things easier and quicker once you find your dream farm to have financing already set up… though be prepared that financing a farm will still be more complicated than a regular house. Here are my tips for financing a farm.

The house on June 1, 2017

5. Run your numbers

While the bank is a good start, it shouldn’t be the only step in your financial planning process. Try to project your monthly expenses on a farm. Consider mortgage payments, utilities (which may be higher in the country), property taxes (which may be lower because you pay a rural rate) and other costs of living. Also consider vehicle costs, as you will likely be driving more once you move to the country.

Figuring out how much you are comfortable spending will help to determine the budget for your dream country property. It might also help you to avoid sticker shock once you get your first country electricity bill.

Fieldstone fireplace with barn beam mantel

 

 

6. Be prepared to stretch your budget

I completely agree with the strategy of buying less house than you can afford in most circumstances. But for the farm of your dreams, I’ve learned that it can work out if you stretch your budget.

I’m not saying spend beyond your means. All of the work you went through in #4 and #5 still apply. But you may end up going to the max of what you can afford.

For Matt and me, once we saw this farm, our budget jumped by nearly $100,000. That’s a huge leap (even though we were still within what we could afford), and one that caused me a sleepless night before we put in our offer.

If you’ve run your numbers, understand your finances, know what you can comfortably spend and have your mortgage approval, there isn’t a huge risk to upping your budget. It may make you uncomfortable, but you can do it.

7. DIY property search

We worked with a realtor throughout our search for the perfect farm. I think realtors are a helpful resource for finding, evaluating and buying properties. However, we–mainly Matt–also looked. All. The. Time.

We developed a technique of find a property on MLS (or one our realtor sent to us), look it up on Google Earth and Google Street View, look up the municipal or tax record to see the actual property boundaries. Then, if it was still ticking our boxes, we would do a drive-by. Only then would we book a viewing with our realtor.

This is obviously a lot of work, but it saved us from seeing farms that didn’t meet our criteria.

Matt and I in front of the farm

For this farm, Matt found it online on Jan. 1. It had just been listed and we were able to jump on it quickly because we were looking when a lot of other people–including our realtor–weren’t.

8. Persist

Our search for the perfect farm took a year and a half. Over that time, we saw a lot of farms. We even put in a few offers, which were outbid. We got frustrated. We argued. We debated settling for something less than what we wanted. We despaired that we would never find the right farm.

If you know what you want, don’t settle (too much). Keep searching. Keep working. Keep thinking and talking about your dream to encourage yourself to keep going. Eventually, you will find what works for you and hopefully it will be everything you dream and more.

Country living is not for everyone. But when it’s a dream you’ve held for a long time, as with Matt and me, it can be the absolute perfect fit for you.

When Matt and I moved to the farm, I immediately saw a huge change in him. He seemed more relaxed and comfortable. He loved it here. I am so, so glad that we made this move and that he got the time here that he did.

Matt mans the wheel of the Kioti CS2410

Matt is still a huge presence at the farm, and I feel him here every day.

I am grateful for all of the work that he did to get us here and set us up so well, and that Ellie and I get to continue to live this dream.

Odds & sods

Thank you everyone for your kind welcome back this month and patience as I work to find my voice. All of you who are reading, commenting, emailing, thinking of us and wishing us well mean so much. You make a difference. It is a comfort.

We had a very, very special day yesterday–Ellie’s second birthday. Our families came for a simple celebration with balloons, presents, pizza and cake. Just for fun, Ellie and I recreated her tractor photo from her first year (in case anyone wants a cuteness flashback). She can almost reach the pedals.

Ellie on the tractor on her 2nd birthday

This month’s posts have been pretty personal with my word of the year and sharing some about Matt’s illness. That felt like where I needed to start, but I’m looking forward to writing more about the house and the farm–like Ellie’s new play area that you saw last week–soon.

I’m also going to be continuing my month-end wrap-up posts, trying to share things that have inspired me or interested me and might do the same for you.

Here are some of the things I came across in February:

View this post on Instagram

There are still a few tweaks and a fun art project to do before I can technically check the DIY nursery closet redesign off the list, but we’ve already been enjoying it in a way I never foresaw. The little girl doesn’t have a ton of clothes – and the ones she has are still so tiny – so there’s an entire section meant for hanging clothes that can be used for something else. I stuck a big pillow from my college dorm room in the corner, brought in a small basket of books and a bright quilt, and now we have a book nook! Since she doesn’t go to her little ‘preschool’ on Friday, we stay in our pjs until after the morning nap, and we’ve started to hang out in this nook in her beautiful new (and incredibly organized!) closet. It’s such a fun way to start our weekend! It feels so good to sit and enjoy this almost-complete space (that’s been in my head for nearly 2 years!) with our tiny person. This is my motivation to always keep her clothing collection small so we never lose this cozy little corner 📚

A post shared by Laura (@homespunbylaura) on

I’ve been enjoying following along with Laura’s closet makeover. It’s organized, totally my colour (dark blue teal) and there’s even a cozy reading nook.

“You choose to wake up happy or choose to wake up sad… And then, from that point on, you… just continue trying to figure it out… It’s about the journey and the discovery and understanding what that is.” Ear Hustle.

“We live in hope–that life will get better, and more importantly that it will go on, that love will survive even though we will not.” The Anthropocene Reviewed

Love this song. Love this moment. Wish I could sing.
* There’s some commentary about this being set up rather than impromptu. First, why do we have to be so cynical? Second, if it was set up, good on her (or him) for a savvy strategy and achieving a tough goal… going viral.

For gift giving for Ellie, I try to follow the wear, read, want, need formula. So her birthday gifts were  a party dress (which I made from one of Matt’s flannel pyjama pants), the sequel to one of her favourite books, a new pack of Play-Doh (we’re terrible at putting the lids back on) and some teeny-tiny hairclips (her hair is finally growing!). Of course, her aunties, uncles, grandmas and grandpa were also very generous to her.

Did you mark any special occasions in February? Do you have a gift giving strategy for your kids? Or any birthday traditions?

Colourful and cozy toddler play area

Thank you everyone for your kind comments on the last few posts. It has felt like a big step to return to blogging and find my voice again, and I appreciate your warm welcome and patience very much.

Keeping busy has helped me get through the last few months, and one of my projects is a new play zone for Ellie. I think I love it just as much as she does.

Colourful toddler playzone

We had already amassed what felt like a large collection of toys. Then Christmas arrived and I felt overwhelmed by all of the new additions every time I walked into the living room.

Baby, you’re movin’ to the basement.

It was time to get organized.

Bring on the bins!

Colourful toddler playzone

Well, before I could get to the bins, I first had to find the shelf to store them. I reused a shelf that I had built for the office in our first house. It had a brief life in the main area of our basement here, but has been tucked away for a few years.

I hauled it out and gave it a fresh coat of white paint. A trip to the dollar store found bins that fit pretty much perfectly (they’re a bit long, but that makes them easier to grab). Initially, I was not in love with their bright green colour and planned to spray paint them, but once they were in place, the colour worked with the our DIY refurbished ding pong table and felt fun and fitting for our basement.

I’ve organized toys by category: cars, stuffed animals, farm, food, lego, balls & blocks, music. I may label the bins with pictures at some point, but for now I do the clean-up most of the time so labels aren’t needed.

Colourful toddler playzone

The top of the shelf holds some of Ellie’s extensive tractor collection and a few books and everything is within Ellie’s reach.

By far Ellie’s favourite thing to play with are books, so I knew I had to have a library of some kind. I’ve loved the idea of book ledges, so off to Ikea we went for some spice racks. I picked a small selection of books from the main bookshelf in her room and tucked in some small stuffed animals for extra fun.

Toddler reading nook with spice rack bookshelves

A collection of pillows under the shelves make a cozy spot to read.

Toddler reading nook with spice rack bookshelves

Purple is the one pop of colour that we’ve not used elsewhere in the basement. I’ve been trying to incorporate it for awhile, but I’ve never found the right spot. When I decided that the pink and purple ape would be a regular resident of Ellie’s play space, I knew it was time for the purple.

This ape was a class mascot that came home from school with Matt years ago. He has been wearing a T-shirt that had a nerdy saying about history on it and sitting in a corner of the basement all this time. When I took off the T-shirt, I was shocked to see that Matt’s students had written “Merry Christmas” and then all signed their names on the ape’s belly. This will be something nice for Ellie to see when she’s a little older and help her understand how special her Dad is.

Colourful toddler playzone

The ape is lounging on some purple pillows. I already had the purple upholstery fabric, pillow forms and even zippers, so these were a quick project. But when I spotted a rare Purple People Eater pelt at a local fabric store, I knew some faux fur was just what this little nook needed.

While the shelf and the nook and the books are the main play area, the rest of this room is also very much about Ellie. Bigger toys line up along the wall, her growth chart hangs in here. There’s even a spot for Baxter, who likes to keep an eye on his little sister.

Colourful toddler playzone

 

Colourful toddler playzone

And at the far end of the room, I added a special gallery of photos.

Colourful toddler playzone

Matt’s brother made these photo collages for Matt’s memorial. Ellie loves looking at pictures of Daddy, and it’s important to me that he has as much of a presence in her life as possible. So hanging these photos where Ellie can see them easily was an easy decision.

Ellie looking at photos of Daddy

Having a little DIY, organizing, decorating project felt really good. It was a distraction, but also a reconnection to who I am and a reminder of what I like to do.

I also feel really good every time Ellie asks to go downstairs to play, which is often now.

The greatest gift

“You know what’s really wonderful about those fireflies?” he said finally, as if they had been having a whole other conversation. “Sure they live for just a few weeks. Not much at all in the grand scheme of things. But while they’re there, the beauty of them, well, it takes your breath away.” He ran a thumb over the ridge of her knuckles. “You get to see the world in a whole new way. And then you have that beautiful picture burned onto the inside of your head. To carry it wherever you go. And never forget it.”

 

Before he even said the next words Alice felt the tear begin to slide down her cheek.

 

“I worked it out sitting here. Maybe that’s the thing we need to understand, Alice. That some things are a gift, even if you don’t get to keep them.”

 

My Mom gave me The Giver of Stars for Christmas, and it helped me to read a beautiful story over the holidays and think of Matt.

Matt sitting on a fence at the farm

Matt did not want to live his cancer journey publicly. I shared a little bit here, but then I stopped.

I don’t want to open that up very much today.

But I want to share some of what happened and say that he is special and strong in ways that I could never imagine.

Matt and I in front of the farm

We had two clear scans following his uveal melanoma treatment. Then, sitting in a hospital room with our three-month old daughter, we found out that the melanoma had metastasized to his liver.

We went through immunotherapy, liver-directed therapy, chemotherapy and all of their side effects. We were evaluated for clinical trials. We spent weeks and days in hospitals and away from our baby, our dog and our farm.

Matt, Ellie and Baxter snuggling on the bed

We found hope in butterflies and birds and animals that we saw around the farm and songs that we heard on the radio.

We tried for normalcy by going to work, mowing the grass, shopping for groceries, walking the dog and playing with the baby. We ate vegetarian. Then we ate keto. Searching for something that helped.

We laughed and cried and were scared all the time.

Matt with Baxter

The Magnolia Journal that I mentioned last post connected with me in a lot of ways. There were two stories of people who had died from cancer.

Reading Dennis Fullman’s words felt like all of the situations Matt and I faced and all of the things we said to each other. Making jokes about needing your spouse to get well because he’s the one who takes care of a specific chore around the house and goodness knows you don’t want to have to do it. Living your days with tunnel vision and making the choice to be intentional every day.

“We’ve chosen not to look too far ahead, not to get too overjoyed or stuck in sorry. We stay focused on the present day. We steady ourselves in the middle, committed to each other, living this life as well as we can, resolute in our desire to finish well, no matter how many days I have left on this earth.”

 

As time went on, the tumors grew, the treatments took their toll, and Matt suffered more and more. When I finally relented–fearful that any hospital visit would mean he would never come home–and took him to the urgent care clinic, I asked for a sleeping pill and some cough medicine. They put us in an ambulance and transferred us to the cancer hospital.

The tumors in his liver were so large that they had collapsed his lung.

Matt and me shingling the roof

We worked for a week to convince the doctors to let him come home. During that week there is nothing that Matt and I did not say to each other. And still, there is nothing we had to say to each other.

We know everything. We have absolutely no doubts about the love we have.

Matt came home on Friday afternoon. Our families were here and everyone got to sit with him. Ellie ran back and forth down the hall to see “Daddy!”

Matt and Ellie with the hay

In the middle of the night, Matt asked to be moved to the living room. The nurse and I walked him down the hall. He managed to make it to the couch, right in the middle of the living room, surrounded by windows looking out on the farm. There, on Saturday morning, as Ellie and I played on the floor beside him, he died.

Gabe Grunwald, also in Magnolia, mirrored Matt in so many ways. Young. Determined. Rare cancer. Metastatic liver failure. Fighting so, so hard. And then knowing it is the end. I know what her last days look like. I know what it means to bring the person you love home to die.

“While there is glory in the resolve to never give up, there is also glory to be found in the grace to surrender. To know when you have run the race well and fought the good fight. The grace and grit she demonstrated in her final days lives on as her parting gift–showing us all that amid even the heaviest of life’s tasks and the most uncertain of circumstances, there is never a situation so dark that light cannot shine through, never a scenario so bleak that hope has no place.”

 

Matt’s last moments were in the place he loves most, with the people he loves most. Ellie was laughing. The greatest gift he gave us was time. He hung on as long as he could and made it home. The gift we could give him was letting him go that November morning. We hold him with us in many ways and know that he will always be with us.

Resolve

I’m not sure what to say. Where do I start? (This question drives me most days.)

I am sad. So, so sad. But working hard to not let sadness prevail.

The saying is that time heals all wounds. Right now, as time passes, a lot of things get harder.

Matt’s absence feels stronger.

But there is still great love and still great joy. I have resolved to choose love and to choose joy.

Writing is hard–which is really hard. Writing is how I think, and the words aren’t coming right now. My fingers make mistakes as I try to hit the right keys. Familiar words look foreign.

I can’t write about Matt yet. I feel like once I do, I will succumb to this abyss that lurks behind me all the time. An abyss of sadness and loss and grief and no love or joy.

So I put on this mask of resolve. Of a capable, dedicated, hard-working woman. I take care of Ellie and Bax and Ralph and the farm. I go for walks and breathe the farm air. I lean on my family and friends. I knit and sew and organize.

And today, I write.

This writing, this blog, this imperfect, potentially inarticulate, writing is important. Even if right now its importance is in the role of a distraction.

Matt and I have a lot of plans for this farm, and I am resolved to carry them on. This farm is us, and sharing this part of us makes the journey more special. I am not sure what’s going to happen and how plans are going unfold, but I will share them as we go.

I am not planning on turning this into a grief blog–I can’t do this publicly. Or a Mommy blog for that matter. I will talk about Matt and Ellie because they are still my life. But I will be talking about renovations and projects and gardens and animals and farm life and working every day to find love and joy.

A friend gave me the winter edition of Magnolia Journal for Christmas. In her letter from the editor, Joanna talked about the word resolve.

“The meaning of resolve is often interpreted in duality, as being both/and. Resolve can manifest as both grit and contentment: I will resolve to set my own course and I am resolved in the lot I’ve been given… Resolve can catalyze a beginning and determine an ending…

 

“Making our own way in this world requires our resolve to always be weaving together the old and the new, the parts of who we’ve been with who we are still becoming. To choose that way of living–one based on all that we are and all that we could be rather than the things we’re not–begins and ends with resolve.”

 

For the past few years, I’ve chosen a word of the year every January. This year, I wanted a word to guide me and shape me. I felt like I needed it. But I’m so lost that I couldn’t find it. I was thinking and reading and searching, and when I read these words, they connected so deeply. This is me, right now.

I am resolved.

With love and joy

Matt and Ellie

On Nov. 9, my partner and husband, Ellie’s daddy, Matt died.

Our lives were filled with love and joy, even throughout this terrible journey that we’ve been on for the last two years. Our lives are still filled with love and joy.

All of the best things in my life happened because of Matt. Ellie. This farm. The fact that he asked me to go out on a date 21+ years ago. He has given me the most incredible gifts, and we have built a wonderful life together. He has an amazing legacy, and we are carrying that on.

In keeping with Matt’s wishes that “everything is for Ellie,” our family has set up a Go Fund Me campaign for her. People’s generosity has amazed me, and reading everyone’s comments has been very comforting.

All of the support and prayers that we have received over the last two years has meant so much. Thank you to everyone who has been part of that.