Odds & sods

Nov. 9 marked 2 years since Matt died. I didn’t mention the date or write a post because I don’t want to commemorate that day. If we’re focused on joy, there are lots of other occasions that I can acknowledge and remember him.

I love collecting quotes. Growing up, I would write quotes in the back of my journals. This month, I finally read Little Fires Everywhere. There were a few quotes that stuck with me, but this one feels like how I think about sharing Matt with Ellie.

“She told Pearl the outline of everything, though they both knew all the details would be a long time in coming. They would trickle out in dribs and drabs, memories surfacing suddenly, prompted by the merest thread, the way memories often do… Everything, [Pearl] had come to understand was something like infinity. They might never come close, but they could approach a point where, for all intents and purposes she knew all that she needed to know.”

I struggle that Ellie will never truly know her Daddy. He is everything. He is infinite. I tell her as much as I can hoping that she will approach a point where she knows him.

Here are some other things that I’ve been reading, doing and thinking about this month.

What is a conscious closet and how do you build it?

Letters to a young farmer

We made salt dough Christmas ornaments, including a paw print for Ralph.

I did a major clean up on my Instagram, turned off my data regularly and left my phone behind a few times this month. Focusing less on social media–from quitting completely to taking breaks–can actually improve your communications work.

Ellie loves shrimp and this is a super simple, delicious way to cook them.

Children’s book of the month. This one surprised me. I expected it to be scary, but it was so sweet and beautiful.

One more favourite quote from LFE:

To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, … a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for existed all at once.”

As November wraps up this week, we are enjoying the beauty of our second snowfall at the farm–and struggling with our second cold of the month. Heading into December I’m thinking about holiday baking and presents. Thanks to a blitz over the weekend, I’m nearly done shopping, aside from stocking stuffers. I’ve never been this far ahead this early. Now I have more time for baking. Yum. Please share any favourite holiday recipes.

How did November go for you? Does anyone else collect quotes? How are your holiday preparations going?

Five tips to tackle a new DIY

This week I am going to spray paint the mudroom. Honestly, I’m a bit intimidated. I’ve never used a paint sprayer before, and painting a whole room seems like a big place to start. Plus I’m really proud of the mudroom and I don’t want to mess it up.

But I feel like a sprayer will give me the best finish (provided I do it well) and be fast. If it ends up not going well, I’m reminding myself that most of the walls will eventually be hidden behind coats, cabinets, a bench, mirror and more.

As I prepare to tackle this new-to-me DIY, I thought I’d share some of the ways I make a project like this less intimidating. I’d love to hear your tips as well.

Research

Take some time to figure out the best way to approach your project. I started by investigating the options for painting the V-groove panelling. Was there a really fluffy roller that would work? (Answer: Maybe, but the finish might end up a bit goopy. And I’d still have to do a lot of cutting in that would take a lot of time and also maybe not give me the finish I’m looking for.)

Once I settled on spraying, I called the rental store and booked the sprayer. I have since watched a lot of YouTube videos for the exact sprayer model that I will be using as well as other paint sprayers. I want to understand how they work and the proper technique.

YouTube, online tutorials, a manual, professional advice–there are lots of resources to help you tackle whatever you’re looking to do. You’re not in this alone.

Take your time

I am not a fan of jumping right into a project. I like to plan and think things through. I gave myself a week to reserve the sprayer, prep the mudroom, gather materials (more on this below) and learn as much as I can about paint spraying.

For spray-day, I’ve also tried to give myself as much time as possible. I’m picking the sprayer up first thing in the morning, and my Mom is booked to pick Ellie up from preschool, so I don’t have the pressure of a ticking clock when I’m painting.

Taking your time may mean booking time off work or having childcare lined up. Clearing your schedule means you can focus on your project and feel less stress.

Gather your tools and materials

When you’re taking on a new project, you may not know exactly how everything is going to go and exactly what you’ll need. Having your tools and materials ready can make things go more smoothly and ensure you’re prepared for the unexpected.

Maybe you’re going to try some plumbing. Have a bucket and extra towels, along with your full toolbox and any specific plumbing tools (wrenches in multiple sizes, a roll of teflon tape, etc).

I have my paint ready to go. I also have extra buckets, rolls of masking tape, sheets of paper and plastic and PPE.

Enlist help

Two heads are better than one. Many hands make light work. There’s truth in these sayings. Even if your helper doesn’t know what they’re doing either, sometimes it’s easier to figure things out together.

One of my friends suggested meeting up this week. I invited her to help me mask the mudroom–yes, I’m that kind of a friend. As she is also that kind of a friend, she said yes. A second pair of hands will make putting up the plastic to protect the cedar ceiling much easier.

Friend, family, neighbour, partner–lots of people are willing to help. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Focus on the reward

I am so excited to have the mudroom painted. Not for the painting itself, but for what comes next. Storage, hooks, decorating–all of the fun stuff. The thought of getting to the fun stuff motivates me to get through the painting.

Plus, if the spraying works out, I’ll have a new skill to add to my DIY repertoire.

Other rewards of DIY are saving money, finishing a space, fixing a problem, beautifying your home.

DIY can be intimidating. But like anything there’s a learning curve. Each project I tackle builds my confidence for the next one and the one after that.

If you’re thinking of trying something at your house, go for it. With a bit of preparation, you can make it happen.

How do you prepare for a new-to-you project? What’s a DIY skill you’ve learned? Is there a project that you’re nervous about tackling? Any tips for spray painting?

Mudroom door in Knoxville Gray

We had our first snowfall. We’ve had flurries, but yesterday there was finally enough snow to stick on the ground for a few hours. The time for outdoor work is coming to an end, and I’m glad that I crossed painting the mudroom door off my list a few weeks ago.

I chose a grey-turquoise, Knoxville Gray from Benjamin Moore. In pictures it looked like a nice, dark, saturated, not too bright turquoise. On the BM website, it looks grey. (And on a dim snowy day it looks quite blue.)

As I started to paint, I was questioning my choice. It was grey.

I had nice weather. It was a preschool day, so I had time.

I. Was. Painting. The. Door.

I envisioned speeding into town to get the can retinted to more blue, more green, more colour.

And then it started to dry. And it wasn’t grey. It wasn’t blue. It wasn’t green. It was the perfect nice, dark, saturated, not too bright turquoise.

Phew.

Next up, painting the rest of the mudroom (an inside job that will hopefully begin this week).

Who else has questioned their colour choice mid-paint job? Do you have any outdoor projects you’re trying to finish? Have you had any snow yet?

New compost bin

Every farm has a junk pile. For us, our junk pile was along the tree line beside the garden. As we cleaned up other areas around the property, this was the spot we stashed things that we didn’t want to deal with.

Past owners had piled concrete blocks, bricks, old windows and barn doors. We added a basketball net (left behind by those same past owners), planters (past owners), composters (past owners), wood fence posts, two big hay bales, and more barn doors. This is also the spot I chose to dump clippings and weeds from the gardens. It was unmowable, unruly and unattractive.

This year, I decided it was time to tackle the junk pile.

The old windows (all of which had broken) went to the dump. The barn doors (which had mostly rotted) were burned. The hay bales went into the garden. Matt’s Dad trimmed low hanging branches so the tractor could drive through. Bricks were restacked, and then we added more with the brick that we removed for the garage renovation. So the junk pile hasn’t gone away. But it’s tidier than it was.

All year I’ve slowly pushed the junk back closer to the tree line and mowed farther and farther from the garden.

The last thing I wanted to tackle was the garden dump pile. It was years of raspberry canes, flowers, shrubs, vegetables, plants and weeds. All just dumped on the ground in an ever expanding blob.

My solution to contain the blob was a new compost bin. Matt’s Dad collected some skids for me. I used leftover deck blocks and 4x4s from the treehouse (of random lengths), and I made a large three-sided bin. I only made three sides, as I want to be able to dump the wheelbarrow into it easily. I also figure with this design the pile might be fairly easy to turn.

Skids are a common material these days for compost bins, but most bins are four-sided. I’ll see how our three-sided bin works and adjust if I need to.

I built the bin and then used the tractor to push the existing pile of garden waste into its new home. Then I dismantled the composter behind the house and added its contents to the new bin. The composter, though convenient to the kitchen, had come apart and the plastic had warped so much that I wasn’t able to put it back together.

My new solution for kitchen waste is a five gallon pail with a lid in the garage. I dump the kitchen compost into the pail and once a week or so carry the pail over to the garden and dump it in the big compost bin. I think this will give us a better mix of brown and green materials and I like the simplicity of having all of our compost in one spot.

I did the final vegetable garden clean out last week and added this year’s clippings to the new bin. We now have a wide swath beside the garden that we’ll be able to mow next year.

Let’s have a spring to fall before and after, shall we? Then I am crossing the last big junk pile off my Home Goals 2021 list.

Do you have a junk pile at your house? Who else is trying to finish off outdoor projects before the weather changes? What kind of compost bin do you have? Any compost tips to share?

The treehouse playground is done

The treehouse is done.

It went from a spark of an idea to a quick sketch to reality.

And I am thrilled.

It is such a fun place to play. Ellie and I spend a lot of time here. We read books, act out Frozen, eat pretend and real food (her outdoor play kitchen lives next door to the treehouse), play with dolls and stuffed animals. Everyone is welcome in the treehouse–even my Mom has climbed up.

I’m also really proud. It’s been a long time since I’ve built something like this. I had help at various points, but I did a lot on my own. It took figuring and muscle and time. But it was all worth it. It is solid and safe and fun and matches the picture in my mind.

I’m also excited because Ellie loves it. She’s mastered the tire ladder and keeps sliding down the firepole (with help). One day, she did circuits, sliding down the slide, running around to the tires and climbing back up, over and over again.

Want a tour?

I have always wanted a tire ladder. The playground at my elementary school had a tire ladder, and the memory of climbing up has stuck with me. Plus we have a large quantity of tires lying around the farm, and this was a way to use some of them up.

The tires are bolted to the wood frame of the treehouse and then to each other. To make the tires easier to climb, I realized I needed to convince them to slope, rather than hang vertical. I ended up digging a hole at the base of the ladder and sinking a couple of concrete blocks under the ground. I wired the bottom tires to the blocks and buried the whole thing.

Even with the slope, the tire ladder is not that easy to climb, especially if you’re really little or really big. So I added a regular ladder too. I built a simple sloped ladder out of 2×6 that is easy for little ones, Mamas and Grandmas to climb.

The slide was a kijiji find after I decided the slide I picked out of someone’s garbage was too broken. The kijiji slide still needed some fibreglass in a few spots, but it seems to be solid now.

The slide resulted in the biggest adjustment I had to make to the treehouse plans. I had built the deck at 5 feet high, which seemed to be the right height for our 10 foot slide.

At Krista’s treehouse, my inspiration, their deck had ended up too high, and they had to build a few steps down to lower the slide. I wanted to avoid that. But as soon as I propped the slide up onto our deck, it was obvious it was too high. Ellie bravely went down twice, but it was scary fast.

Rather than steps, I did a lower platform and attached the slide to that. Now the slide is fast, but not scary.

The firepole took a bit of figuring and sourcing. I ended up constructing it out of 1 1/2 inch metal electrical conduit. There is a joint, as we needed a bit more than the ten feet that was available at the store. But the joint is pretty low on the pole, so it’s unlikely anyone will have to slide over it. Just in case, I wrapped it in tape to make sure it doesn’t pinch or scrape anyone.

The base of the pole extends into the ground and is encased in concrete. At the top, the pole turns 90 degrees and is affixed to both the treehouse railing and the tree itself. It is solid. In fact, it’s my preferred way to get down.

The structure of the treehouse sits on 4×4 posts set on deck blocks. The joists are 2×6 and the beams are 2×8. The joists are also bolted to the tree.

I bought the main posts new, but most of the lumber is recycled. The joists, beams and 2x4s on the railings came from the deck in the old pool. The deck boards came from a local deck builder’s dumpster (with permission). The railing pickets I bought second hand off kijiji. I also raided our stash in the barn for extra pieces.

The platform is about 5 feet high at the tree, but because the tree is on a little mound, the edges of the platform are about 6 1/2 feet off the ground. The main platform is about 10 feet by 12 feet and the slide extension is about 2 feet wide.

We have a great view across the fields, and I can envision Ellie (or me) relaxing up there with a book someday.

This was a fun project to plan, build and now use. I’m glad that I was able to make it for Ellie.

Did you have a treehouse growing up? What would your dream treehouse have? What was your favourite part of a playground? Do you have a summer project that you’re particularly proud of?

Odds & sods

October was a beautiful month. Warm, sunny fall days. But also beautiful times together, playing, working and learning.

We got to spend time (cautiously) with family for Thanksgiving, which felt special after so many separate celebrations. And there is more excitement to come this week as we celebrate Hallowe’en.

Here are some of the other things that I came across this month.

A thought-provoking podcast about the challenges for Black parents who are trying to raise confident, empowered children

I love to cook, but I haven’t felt motivated in a long time. But I’ve found some new recipes, and I’m reinspired. This month there were two lemon recipes that we loved, one savoury and one sweet.

I started making green monster smoothies for lunch. Their colour was a little weird at first, but they’re tasty and I feel very healthy.

Garden inspiration – straw bales and no dig

Think like a monk

Photos are some of my favourite Christmas gifts to give. Here are a few special ways I’ve found to share them (start now if you want them under your Christmas tree): photo-a-day calendar, photo books, jigsaw puzzle.

I added more Indigenous authors to Ellie’s and my reading. Here are some books we’ve enjoyed recently (and would also make great gifts): Sweetest Kulu, I Sang You Down From The Stars, The Girl and the Wolf.

This week I’m hoping to finish off the treehouse and bring home a load of topsoil to grade around the garage. After a major sorting session last week, we have an unbelievable 13 boxes of baby stuff to donate (and renewed motivation to have less stuff). There’s also a pumpkin to carve and treats to share. There are more beautiful times together to come.

How did October go for you? What are you doing for Halloween? Any favourite recipes or books to share?

Vegetable garden 2021

This year in the garden we grew some stuff. Some of it we actually wanted to grow.

In my quest for low maintenance, we spread a bunch of cardboard and straw mulch around this spring. It did pretty well at keeping the weeds down… for a while. I have to realize that low maintenance does not mean no maintenance and every gardening method takes time and care.

The cardboard disintegrated (as it’s supposed to) and weeds came up. The weeds in our garden are obnoxious. Most of them are prickles, which are not fun to pull out. And since I didn’t pull any of them out, they grew big and then it became not fun to even walk in the garden.

Ellie and I did plant some things, though our seeds were old and we planted them late. Our yellow beans grew, but I didn’t notice because they were quickly consumed by our pumpkins. Our pumpkins were the bumper crop of the year. We got eight good sized white pumpkins. It was fun to grow these with Ellie and talk about the flowers and the fruit, watch them develop and then pick them together.

Sharing the garden with Ellie is the fun. She loves the raspberries and the grapes and eats them straight from the plants. Unfortunately, our raspberries weren’t super prolific and most of the grapes went to the birds.

A surprise late bloomer (literally) has been our blackberries. Our blackberries have never done very much, but this year we’ve had several pints. Our canes are finally multiplying and the weather has stayed mild long enough for the berries to ripen. The fruit is delicious. Very few berries make it to the house.

Someday we may have a lovely, productive, low maintenance (is there such a thing?) garden. I haven’t figured out how to make that happen yet. I pretty much accept that this is the season of life that we’re in right now. Instead, I enjoy the fun that we do have, from watching things grow to giving all of our families pumpkins to eating sun-warmed blackberries as big as my thumb.

How did your garden grow this year? What’s your favourite fresh-picked crop?

Remembering Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is Matt’s favourite holiday.

Last year, Thanksgiving knocked me sidewise.

I couldn’t remember Matt’s last Thanksgiving. It bugged me so much that I had this big hole of lost time with Matt. That I couldn’t remember him enjoying his favourite holiday. From what I’ve been able to piece together from our families, he was feeling pretty rough and may not have enjoyed it very much.

But what happened after Thanksgiving was too clear.

The day after Thanksgiving, we were at the hospital for an appointment with our oncologist. I hung back after the appointment and he told me that Matt would live for a few more weeks. I said, “Christmas?” He said, “No.”

I remember how it felt to come home to Ellie and hold her as I laid on the floor and sobbed. I remember not telling Matt what the oncologist had said.

From Thanksgiving to November 9 last year, I was living a flashback. I remember how rough Matt felt and I remember how hard we were holding on.

I’m worried that the flashbacks will happen again this year. I’m worried that Thanksgiving will lead to another spiral.

But I’m also choosing to remember before.

Thanksgiving is Matt’s favourite holiday.

There are lots of Thanksgivings before last year and the last one.

He loves the turkey–the bigger the better. He’s particular about his potatoes–and must mash them personally. He and his brothers have their own language when they are together (obscure movie quotes that are meaningless to everyone else).

Ellie and I have been working on finding the joy and the love and the gratitude–as we always do.

We’ve been writing what we’re thankful for on paper leaves and sticking them on our thankful tree. Ellie made a picture at preschool of her and Daddy “when they were turkeys.” I found a fortune laying on the ground behind our car that says, “Someone is looking out for you.”

It is so, so hard that Matt is not here in the way I wish he was. But I am thankful for every way he is with us.

Happy Thanksgiving. Whatever your situation, I hope that you can find happiness today.

Staining the mudroom stairs

The mudroom stairs are done, and I’m really happy with how they turned out.

For a refresher, we have a tile floor in the new mudroom. There are two stairs up to the landing that leads into the kitchen, and each step is also tile.

Our contractor and I debated how to finish the edge of the stairs. On its own, tile doesn’t have an attractive edge. I didn’t want a rubber or metal nosing–too industrial or institutional. We also had to contend with the risers, which I did not want tiled.

Our contractor suggested wood and had his stair guy fabricate risers and nosings out of maple. They are beautiful. But they needed some kind of finish to protect them from scuffs and dirt and marks–this is a mudroom after all.

I tested a variety of stains. I wanted something that was a similar tone to the cedar on the ceiling. I also tested a grey with the idea of making the wood blend with the tile.

A commenter on my last post advised that maple “does not take a stain well and the stain often looks un-even.” He was right. Most of the samples did not look good at all.

The grey wasn’t bad, but I felt like the maple deserved to be highlighted. I know the trend is to have continuous flooring, not broken up by other materials, but the nosings are such a beautiful wood. I didn’t want to hide it under a grey wash.

The “Natural” stain was pretty subtle, but added a bit of brightness to the wood. So that’s what I went with.

I gave the stairs a good sanding, as they had gotten a bit dirty over the last few months. I taped off the the tile and baseboards. And I applied the stain.

After letting the stain dry, I then covered it with four coats of varathane, sanding lightly between each coat. I want as much protection on these stairs as possible.

The finish turned out really well. The colour is not an exact match to the cedar, but it’s close and I think it highlights the maple nicely. The surface seems pretty durable and is holding up to being stepped on multiple times a day, sometimes with shoes on.

I also feel really good crossing this task off my mudroom to-do list. Progress may be small and slow, but it’s progress.

Have you been able to cross anything off your to-do list recently? Do you have mixed flooring at your house? How do you mix tile and wood?

Odds & sods

This month was unintentionally quiet on the blog. Things are happening. Progress is being made. But it’s small and slow. Not blog-worthy yet.

I’m trying to stay focused outside. The treehouse. The garden. A new compost area. I want to work (and, let’s be honest, play) outside while the weather is still decent.

However, I feel my attention being pulled indoors. I’m feeling very compelled to organize all the things. Go room by room. The shifting seasons make me want to prepare to hibernate.

But all of that has to wait. If I’m going to work inside, the new mudroom has to come first. I varathaned the stair nosings over the weekend. I need to finish patching the walls and trim so that I can put some paint on the walls. Then I can install hooks, hopefully before we need to hang up jackets.

So, there’s progress. Hopefully I will have more to show and share in October.

Looking back at this month, here are some of the things that caught my attention.

This amazing home in Idaho. The riverfront setting. The log construction. The M-A-S-S-I-V-E stone fireplaces. (Plus Jesse Pinkman!)

How to prepare for climate change. Detailed. Scary. Practical. Helpful. Recommended read.

Encouraging agriculture and sustainability. The corn harvesting workshops look really interesting, but we weren’t able to get a spot.

Inspiration for our new compost system

My screen time was down last week. Three rules to help you put down your phone

I have collected quotes for most of my life. This one stuck with me this month:

“Mona had always liked that daughter rhymed with water. Both of them elemental, necessary, and yet impossible to keep in your hands.”

The Brightside Sanctuary for Animals by Becky Mandelbaum

Are you focusing inside or outside these days? Anyone else trying to wrap up projects before the weather turns?