Chickens by the numbers

It’s been more than a year and half since Sarah in Illinois welcomed her first chickens. She is here today with an update on her flock.

7 – Number of chickens still happy and healthy.

2 – Number of breeds of chickens still on my wish list (Leghorns and Ameraucana).

4 – Number of chickens my stepdaughter put charm bracelets on.

5 – Average number of eggs I still collect every day.

3 – Number of weeks a 50 pound bag of feed lasts.

1 – Number of wheelbarrows of corn I still have left to crack

0 – Number of chickens that will leave the coop if there is any snow on the ground.

100 percent – How happy I am that I decided to take on this adventure.

Between their bracelets, disdain for snow and hand-cracked corn, I think you have some pampered hens, Sarah. (Although I think aversion to snow is fairly common in chickens.) It’s great that you’ve been able to keep them healthy and happy and keep receiving eggs from them. Your enjoyment of them is obvious.

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5 ways to decorate with family photos

Today we’re enjoying Family Day here in Ontario, so I thought I’d mark the occasion by sharing some of the ways we feature our family when we’re decorating the house. (Happy President’s Day to my American readers.)

I recently updated the display of family photos on the sofa table in our living room. My brother and sister-in-law gifted us with a new family picture from their fall wedding, so that went in the centre. Then there was a pair of photos of my Mom and me when we were both six years old. I finally printed my favourite photo of our newest nephew. And best of all I dug out this blond cutie in a mini RCMP uniform (Matt was the ring bearer at his uncle’s wedding, who is a Mountie).

How to decorate with family photos

You all know that when it comes to decorating, I’m all about keeping it personal and affordable. One of the best ways to do both of those things is with family photos.

Here are five ways to decorate with family photos, including some favourites from our house.

1. Go for quantity – Don’t limit yourself to just a few pictures. You have lots of memories–and possibly lots of family members. Pick out your favourite photos and print them all. Get a variety of frames–thrift stores, the dollar store or Ikea are good sources–and display all of your photos at once. Display the photos in a gallery wall, on picture ledges, or set them on a table, as I did on the sideboard behind our couch.

Family photo display

2. Go back in time – Family photo displays don’t have to be limited to the current generation. Dig through your family archives to find pictures of your ancestors. In our guestroom, I have two photos that I love: one of my great grandfather driving a team of horses pulling a sleigh full of huge logs, the other of Matt’s great grandfather with his own team of horses in front of a wagon loaded with hay. They fit in perfectly with our farm setting, celebrate our ancestors, and–with scanning at home, printing at Walmart and framing from Ikea–they’re super affordable as well. So dig out those old albums and see what treasures await you.

Vintage family photos displayed in the guest room

3. Go big – The family photo shoot has come a long way since the stiff studio portraits. (Did anyone else get dressed up and pose with their parents and siblings?) How you display your photos should be upgraded as well. Technology means that pretty much any image can be printed on canvas or you can run off a large scale print at your local copy centre. A large picture makes a great statement and celebrates your family at the same time.

4. Go beyond the frame – Just like photo shoots have come a long way, so have albums. Customized, personalized photobooks are the upgraded version of albums . These can be great art on your coffee table, or propped on a bookshelf–like our wedding album–can be a photo display on their own. There’s something really special about flipping through a book of photos, rather than clicking through a hard drive.

Custom photobook

5. Go offline – Instagram has taken off as the place where we “publish” our digital photos. Part of the beauty of those Instagram shots is that they capture everything from special occasions to everyday life (sometimes… let’s not get into perfectly curated feeds that are more about branding than they are about life). Don’t limit those great memories to just online. There are lots of services for printing Instagrams–even Walmart is in the game. Print them as mini-prints and use washi tape to affix them to the wall. Or string a piece of twine between some pushpins and use mini paperclips or clothespins to attach your pics. Or check out one of the many online services that offer cute magnets and stickers (and lots of other options).

Family photos are one of my favourite go-tos when I’m looking for special art. How about you? Do you display family photos around your house? What’s your favourite way to decorate? How do you balance between digital and print?

Growing fruit in a cold climate

Apples frozen on an ice covered tree in the winter

While our gardens may be buried in snow–and after freezing rain yesterday, ice–many of us are still planning, dreaming and thinking about what we’ll be growing this coming season (see Sarah in Illinois’ plans that she shared last week).

I recently wrote an article for The Canadian Organic Grower, sharing some tips for growing fruit in cold climates.

As hard as the snow, cold, ice and wind can be on humans, the climate can be equally harsh for plants.

Despite the challenges, many Canadian gardeners want to grow and enjoy fresh tender fruit right in their own backyards. Fortunately, a growing number of nurseries, breeders and researchers are cultivating trees, vines and bushes that can thrive in Canada.

Frost covered raspberry cane

In our own garden, I am excited by the prospect of hopefully picking our first crop of grapes this year and seeing our blueberries and blackberries return. These fruits are all cold hardy varieties that I specifically selected to ensure they survive (and hopefully thrive) at our farm.

You can read the whole article here.

For my fellow cold climate dwellers, do you have any recommendations of particular varieties that you grow at your garden? Or tips to help plants survive cold weather? What climate and growing challenges do you face in your garden?

Seed starting plan from Sarah in Illinois

Sarah in Illinois is being very methodical in her garden planning this year. She’s here today sharing how she’s mapping out what she’s going to grow and when she’s going to start planting.

We’d love to hear your tips for starting your garden. What works for you? How do you  plan what you do when?

We still have below freezing temperatures down here, but it hasn’t stopped me from daydreaming about being out in the garden. One way to fill that void is to make a to-do list or game plan for the spring. Here are a few things that I have planned for the upcoming weeks.

1. Make a list of what I want to grow in the garden this year and divide them up into 3 categories: start indoors from seed, sow seed directly into the garden and purchase as established plant.

2. Place order for any seeds purchased through mail order.

3. For seeds started indoors, plan what day I should start them.

To do that I searched online for last frost date for my zip code. One source said April 17 and another said April 14. I decided to just use April 15 since it is an easy date to remember (tax day for us Americans). So for example I want to start my Black Krim tomato seeds indoors. The packet says to start 6-8 weeks before planting outdoors. So I should start it indoors sometime in between Feb. 18 and March 4.

4. Set up indoor seed starting area.

I have mentioned before that I have a lot of trouble starting seeds indoors and transferring them to the garden. So this year I am going to take it more seriously than just throwing some seeds in the dirt. I purchased a seedling heat mat and I am going to set up a grow light. I plan to post about it as I go along both to help others and to get advice.

Do you place seed orders through mail order? Or do you have another source for your seeds and plants? Do you start your seeds indoors? Do you have any advice for me on transferring them outside?

You seem very organized, Sarah. Well done. It’s been great to see your garden evolve through the years. I love how you learn and adjust each season and keep working to improve your approach. I’ll be interested to hear how your plan works out this year.

Two gender neutral nursery designs

There are just a few finishing touches left before the baby’s room is finished and ready to share with all of you. Before the official reveal, I thought I’d share two alternate nursery plans that I considered–one colourful and one neutral.

There were a couple of things that both plans had in common.

We knew we weren’t finding out if we were having a boy or a girl, so no matter what the room looked like it needed to be gender neutral. (Sorry, no gender reveal post coming until baby arrives.)

The second thing was that I wanted an Ikea Strandmon wing chair and Animal Print Shop photos in the room. The Strandmon is a super comfortable chair. I knew the high back, wings, arms and generous seat would be good support for a tired nursing Mama. The Animal Print Shop images are super fun and would be a friendly addition to a baby’s space.

I’ve really enjoyed pulling the baby’s room together and thinking about what feel I wanted and what made the most sense for us and our baby.

Here are the two ideas that I started with.

Neutral

The neutral design came when I considered using the guest room as the nursery. This room has faux wood paneling on the walls, which I thought would look great in white. The dropcloth curtains that I made for the guest room were a soft non-colour that would contrast just enough with the walls. The rest would be wood, leather and natural tones like brown, white and grey. Something like this room from Cheetah is the New Black or this one from design dump.

I’ve learned that light colours are very calming for me, so I felt like this would be a zen space, even if I’m not always feeling zen.

I also felt like this scheme would work really well with our farm–all of the natural materials and neutral colours would be a fit for the country setting.

Here’s a moodboard with some of the items I was considering.

Colourful

The colourful scheme was the one that had been in my head the longest. I had originally planned on using my office for a baby’s room. The walls were turquoise, and I liked the idea of that inspiring, high energy colour for a baby. This pillow from Anthropologie (which is no longer available) inspired the rest of the decor.

Lindi Fringe Euro Sham from Anthropologie

I felt like white would be important to temper the turquoise. At the same time, I liked the colourful tassels, and they inspired me to think about other colours that would mix with the turquoise.

Here’s the moodboard for the colourful nursery.

The final space ended up being a bit of a combination of the two plans, and I’m excited to show it to you.

What design appeals to you most?

How to prepare your dog for a baby

#2018 onesieAs you can imagine, lots of baby prep is happening here at 129 Acres. We’re finishing off the baby’s room, figuring out how to unfold and then collapse the stroller (seriously, I feel like I should have studied engineering), installing the car seat, freezing meals and a whole bunch of other things.

One of the most important parts of our preparation is working with Baxter to get him ready for the changes that are coming.

Baxter and me in the baby's room

We have a great trainer, and she’s been very encouraging and helpful. As well, we have a great, easy-going, relaxed, lazy dog, so I think we’re starting from a very good place.

I’m going to be documenting our baby prep strategies for Baxter on ThatMutt.com. The series kicked off yesterday and new posts will be added every other week for the next several months.

I encourage you to hop over to That Mutt and check them out. I also welcome feedback, advice and more questions. I may not know the answer yet (#firsttimemom), but I’m happy to figure it out.

Baxter is a really important part of our family, so we want to make sure he’s as comfortable as possible when the new addition arrives.

Baxter up close

I’m still going to be your baby, right?

How to make a shovel scraper

It may still be winter outside, but Sarah in Illinois is already looking ahead to gardening season–or at least her Mom is. Today, Sarah’s sharing how to make a simple tool that can help keep your other gardening tools in good shape.

It’s been two weeks since I posted that we were having such low temperatures and, as I write this, it is the first day that we have made it above freezing. My wood shop is not heated but thankfully I had a super easy, super fast project that I could finish before my fingers got frostbite.

The idea for this project came from the magazine Mary Jane’s Farm. I highly recommend this magazine if you have any interest in farm life, recipes and simple living. My mom showed me this picture from the October-November 2014 issue and said that she would really like a shovel scraper.

It’s a simple concept. Just a pointed block of wood used to scrape the bulk of mud off of your shovel before you put it away. I will give the dimensions that I used, but every single measurement is adaptable to your own needs. Feel free to adjust them as you see fit.

I started with a scrap piece of 2×4 lumber. After taking out old staples I cut the board to 12 inches in length.

I set my miter saw to cut the end of the board at 22.5 degrees. Again, this is just the angle I chose based on what looked appropriate for my use.

I then drew a guideline of where I would cut my handle. Note my crudely drawn measurements.

I then cut along these lines with my jigsaw.

I drilled a hole at the end of the handle to make it easy to hang up and all I had left to do was sand down the corners to make the handle more comfortable and to prevent my mom from getting splinters.

Remember my post back in October where I was longing for a new sander? Well, when my dad told me that he didn’t know what to get me for Christmas I had the perfect suggestion!

I’ve only used it this one time so far, but I am very happy with it. I don’t know if my old sander was really worn out or this Hitachi is that much stronger, but it feels like it has twice the power of my old sander. You can see we went with the hook and loop attachment. I just have to get used to the fact that this is pretty much what the industry is going to.

Back to the project, it didn’t take long to sand down the edges and make the scraper quite comfortable to hold.

I decided this morning after looking at it again, that I am going to coat it with a light coat of linseed oil to protect it just a bit, but other than that, it is ready for my mom.

Have you ever used a shovel scraper? Do you have a quick and easy wood project to try? More importantly, is your project area heated?

Thanks for this tutorial, Sarah. I’ve never heard of a shovel scraper. I think my Dad would appreciate me making one of these for myself. When he taught me how to sharpen my shovels, he grimaced as he looked at the dried mud on my shovels and began the lesson with a lecture on taking care of my tools.

Word of the year for 2018

I enjoy setting annual goals for projects that we want to accomplish around the house and the property. As you can guess, I have a long list bouncing around in my brain, and the process of picking out a few areas to focus on usually starts a few months before the end of the year.

However, 2018 is going to be a very different year for us with the arrival of bébé.

Part of my philosophy with pregnancy and birth and our transition to parenthood and everything else that’s ahead is to try to take things as they come and not place a lot of expectations on myself.

My favourite tree at sunset in the fall

So that’s changed the way I’m thinking about Home Goals for the coming year.

A lot of people start the year by choosing a word to guide them over the next 12 months. So rather than setting Home Goals for things that I’m not sure I’m going to have time to do, I’m going to go with a word this year.

Balance

Balance seems to be a very over-used word these days, but for me I feel it best describes what I’m looking for in the coming year.

I’m looking for balance between my new life as Mama and my old life as I-do-what-I-want-when-I-want. This is one of my huge anxieties about having a child. I love who I am and I love my life. I don’t want to lose that. So finding my balance in our new reality is really important to me.

I’m looking for balance in working around the farm and relaxing at the farm. I still have projects I want to do and ambitions for this house and property (like the indoor pool room). I’m not sure yet how we’ll do them with a baby and also with the changes in our income as I’ve moved to working for myself, but I want to make sure that I’m living at the farm as I want to–which means working as well as relaxing. I enjoy both equally, so I want to make sure that the load doesn’t tip too far in one direction over another.

Matt in the indoor pool

I’m looking for balance in my marriage between Matt and me as we take care of the farm, the house, the baby and each other. We’re celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary this week, and this month marks 20 years since we began dating. I want to make sure we have time for cuddles on the couch and kisses in the kitchen and space for each other to be Matt and Julia (individually and together) and not just Daddy and Mama.

Matt and I on our wedding day

Going through Matt’s tumor treatment and tests (which will continue for awhile) has made me really savour all of the small moments, and I don’t want to take them for granted.

At the same time, Matt has reminded me that it’s important to embrace the normal. When every single moment becomes laden with meaning–and, if I’m being honest, fear–it’s a hard way to live. I’m continuing to work to find my balance between appreciation and complacency.

I’m looking for balance financially. Leaving my job has made me very conscious of our spending. Matt’s carrying all of our household bills, and I’m very grateful that he’s willing and able to do that. However, it’s been an adjustment for us both and sometimes I feel like I’m not contributing to our household. Plus, as I’m building my business, I don’t have the same funds coming in reliably every other week. I built up a reserve of savings before I began my leave, but I want to see that grow again, and I want to contribute to our household expenses and help build our savings for renos, education funds, retirement and other financial goals that we have.

Rainbow over green fields

For me, I often find that balance is about choices. Some choices are easy to make and some are hard. I often feel guilty when I choose not to do something, whether it’s as little as letting the weeds take over the garden or as big as spending time with extended family.

So as I’m working to maintain my balance this year, I’m working to remember what’s important to me and make choices based on what is best for me and my own family.

How are you approaching 2018? Have you ever chosen a word of the year?

Looking back at Home Goals 2017

Thanks everyone for your good wishes on our new addition. We’re excited–and I will admit I’m still a bit nervous about this whole baby thing too. We had our pre-natal class this weekend, which was informative and encouraging, and I have (yet another) ultrasound this morning (this baby is going to have supersonic hearing after all of our scans). Overall, we’re feeling pretty good about where we’re at.

As you can see, 2017 was quite a year for us. Today I’m taking a minute to look back at the year that was from a personal, professional and farm point of view.

After thinking and planning for quite awhile, I took a leave of absence from my communications job at the end of August to spend some extra time with family and see if I could build my own communications consulting company. I love working from home and love working for myself. I’m still working on building my client base, but I’m so grateful to have this opportunity.

The timing for my leave turned out to be very fortunate, as at the start of July we found out we were going to have a baby and at the end of September Matt was diagnosed with an ocular melanoma. It’s been so helpful to have a more flexible schedule for appointments and most importantly to have the mental space to process and reflect on all of the changes in our lives.

Along with all of that, we’ve replaced both our cars–my 14-year-old girl finally died and Matt’s year-old car was written off after he was hit by a driver who ran a red light. Matt ended up with a broken arm courtesy of the airbag, which derailed some of my plans for projects around the farm, but was a small hardship when he could have been much more seriously hurt.

Amongst all of these changes and challenges, the farm has been our constant and our refuge. 2017 marked five years at the farm, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. It gives both of us peace to be here, and also gives us an outlet when we need to distract ourselves with tractor therapy, digging in the dirt, painting something or just walking the property.

I have a feeling we’re going to be saying, “What a year!” for the next while (perhaps the rest of our lives?) as we watch this baby grow, adjust to our new family reality and continue with life on the farm.

As many of us do at the start of the year, I like to take a moment to look back and reflect on the year past. Beyond all of the personal changes in our lives, I also started 2017 with my usual list of Home Goals I wanted to accomplish at the farm over the year.

Looking back, we didn’t do too bad.

My office

Turquoise craft room

I was very happy to finish the final bedroom at the farm and finally unpack all of our moving boxes–only five years after moving in. Reupholstering my grandmother’s vintage slipper chair is a project I’m still very proud of. What I called my office ended up being more of a craft room and it was such a great space for creativity.

I say “was” because my office ended up seeing another makeover just a few months later when I decided to turn it into the baby’s room. I’m finding other spaces to be creative around the house, and I love how the baby’s room is coming together. I’ll be sharing all of those details soon.

Clean up the pond shore

Red sky over the pond at sunset

The pond shore was my one and only outdoor land clearing goal for the year (and we have plenty of spaces that I want to clear). Mid-year, I gave up on it happening, but then an enthusiastic nephew and a generous husband went to work over a few weekends, and we made more progress than I ever expected.

There’s still more to go, which might be difficult as I don’t think the baby will be as helpful as our teenage nephew, but Matt and I may be able to divide and conquer on this one. And regardless, every time I look out the kitchen window or walk past the pond with Baxter (which happens at least once a day), I’m grateful for the improved view and access to the water.

While I had planned to focus just on the pond shore, I did give the area right behind the house a bit of attention, and cleaned up (most of) the jungle that’s been there since we moved in.

New lawn

Vegetable garden

Green tomatoes growing in the garden

At the start of last year, I said I was going to add rhubarb (check), a second row of berries (check–ended up being blackberries) and maybe some more grapes (check). I also put in four blueberry plants to try. As usual, I’m crossing my fingers that everyone survives the winter and bears fruit this year.

My biggest goal was keeping the weeds under control. I can’t say I was successful in that. I tried to find some old hay bales for a deep mulch but didn’t have any success. And in terms of weeding by hand, most of the season, I didn’t feel like weeding, and I gave into that feeling… a lot.

We capped off the year by covering two of the quadrants with tarps, and my tentative plan for the coming year is to leave the tarps in place. This will decrease the garden size by not quite half, which might just be manageable in our new reality.

Flower gardens

Garden in bloom in June

The flower gardens got some half-hearted attention this year. I can’t say I met my goal of keeping them weeded and filled with beautiful flowers, but I did get in them a few times and they didn’t look too scraggly most of the time (I don’t think).

Basement

Uh, yeah. I still have empty picture frames leaning against the basement walls waiting for art. I didn’t get to this in the first half of the year, and, since I left my job, I’ve been careful about spending money on extras, even inexpensive posters. So we go yet another year with some unfinished areas in the basement.

However, I did finally share the transformation of the basement TV area and all of the details on how we decorated it. I love this space so much and am so proud of us for doing it ourselves.

Basement TV area

New barn cat

Our barncat Ralph

After talking to a few people, we decided not to add a new barn cat to our family. Ralph has things under control and she’s content. She doesn’t need company, and I’m not confident that expecting her to train a young cat would work. So Ralphie gets to be mistress of the barn. She can live out her years in peace, and we will take our chances with adopting a new cat when we need it and hope that the newbie lives up to Ralph’s high standard.

Extras

As always, a few extra projects sneak into every year. I can call another room completely finished–the guest room–after refinishing a vintage metal bedframe. Spoiler alert, the guest room has since seen a few more changes as it’s become guest room/sewing room as I’ve given my office over to baby.

Antique brass metal bed frame

The living room also saw a few tweaks with a new mirror on the mantel and new pillows on the couch. I’ll be sharing our new coffee table soon too.

How to mix and match throw pillows

So around the house, 2017 was a mix. Which is okay and pretty normal for us.

We had enough abnormal in the year that I’m grateful that projects and the farm are such a refuge for us.

How was 2017 for you? What was your big accomplishment for the year?

Inspiration and a mantra for 2018

Happy New Year from Sarah in Illinois. I’m very happy to have Sarah continuing as a contributor this year, sharing news of what’s happening at her farm in Illinois. Like us here in Ontario, she’s starting off the year in a cold snap, but she’s looking ahead with optimism. She’s sharing some of her inspiration for 2018 today.

Happy New Year!

Our new year in Illinois has been great, but very, very cold. We have not made it above freezing temperatures in about two weeks. Last night we dropped to -6F (-21C) actual temperature. Keeping water available to the chickens has been my biggest struggle, even with a heated water bowl.

There is one more inconvenience that I am dealing with. Frozen eggs!

I gather them in the morning before work, but by the time I get home and there has been 10 hours of single digit temperatures, I usually find this:

However, relief is on the way. The forecast for the upcoming week shows that we are going to rise above freezing every day and I am looking forward to it.

I am also looking forward to the upcoming year. A new year always feels like a blank slate. For us, 2017 had some good points but a lot of struggles and the promise of a fresh new start is invigorating.

If you remember my posts last year or the year before I used the website My One Word to find an inspirational word for the year.

I decided this year that I want to use a phrase as a sort of mantra for my upcoming year and I wrote it in the front of my new planner.

I am not sure where this phrase originated. I found a version attributed to Roy T. Bennett in The Light in the Heart: “Do what is right, not what is easy nor what is popular.”

I found this quote by David Cottrell: “Doing the right thing isn’t always easy – in fact, sometimes it’s real hard – but just remember that doing the right thing is always right.”

And if you are a fan of Harry Potter then I am sure you remember Albus Dumbledore saying, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

No matter who first said it, I think it can be applied to every aspect of my life from what I choose to eat, to getting chores done around the house and barn.

So what about you? Do you have a word or a mantra to start your new year? Or do you write out resolutions? Do you feel like I do and think of the new year as a clean, blank slate?

This is a great mantra for the year, Sarah. I like how it can apply to big things as well as the little everyday tasks. I’m doing a word of the year for the first time this year, and I’ll be sharing my choice in an upcoming post.

I’m curious to here how others are starting the new year. Leave a comment and let us know your resolutions or words or mantras.