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:

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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.

Odds & sods

Happy last week of October. Are you all set for Hallowe’en at your house? Our Hallowe’en is pretty lowkey. We’ve done a few things with our little goblin, even though she doesn’t realize what’s going on. We’ve had a few Hallowe’en stories at bedtime (including a special one from Daddy), there is a jack o’lantern in our living room, and a Supergirl costume is set aside for Thursday.

Pumpkin carving with Ellie

Before I look too far ahead, I’m looking back at some of the things that inspired me this month:

“If you’re going to be good at something, it has to be your own something. It can’t be somebody else’s thing.” Michelle Obama came to town, and Matt gave me tickets to go. She was inspiring, funny, sincere, dedicated… everything you expect.

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turnHarriet Beecher Stowe Sometimes the universe sends you just what you need when you need it. This quote showed up in my Passion Planner during a particularly difficult week, and I’m still carrying it with me.

One Room Challenge is continuing. I am very behind on blog reading, but I’m popping in as much as I can to check out the progress some of my favourite bloggers are making. Are you following anyone that I should add to my list?

I finally started reading Harry Potter this month. The original craze somehow passed me by, and I don’t think I’m the target market anymore. I’ve finished the first two books and will likely finish the series, as I’m curious enough to see what happens. Are you a Harry Potter fan? I’m taking a little break this week and reading this book that my Mom passed along. A sewing inspired novel? That sounds good to me.

My writing elsewhere:

What’s inspiring you this month? How are you celebrating Hallowe’en this year? Any Harry Potter fans out there? Or other good books to recommend?

Three simple ways to refresh your home

The One Room Challenge continues this month, and I’ve been inspired to revisit some of my previous ORC rooms.

I still love all of the spaces that I did through the ORC. But with any space, time can take a toll. Maybe your needs change, things get worn, or you can add something to make the room new again.

Here are my tips on easy ways to freshen up a room.

Clean

The laundry room was my very first One Room Challenge. The black and white colour scheme and shaker cabinets still feel pretty current. The pipe drying rack and towel bar work really well. I love the style and the function of the whole space.

Black and white shaker cabinets with chrome hardware in the laundry room

But there’s some lint gathering on the floor, cobwebs in the corners and detergent drops on the counter. A good cleaning will make the room feel fresh and make me like it even more.

I’ll also be spending some time in the guest room (aka my sewing room 2.0). My original office/craft room was the ORC project, not the guest room where my sewing machine has lived since Ellie arrived. But I need an excuse to motivate me to sort the paperwork that’s been piled on top of the filing cabinet.

Repair

The master bedroom was my second One Room Challenge. The DIY headboard, wallpapered closet doors and repainted dresser have all held up really well. But a few fixes are needed.

Audubon print of a heron in my bedroom

The guide fell off of my nightstand drawer, so now every time I pull out the drawer, it drops and will crash to the floor if I don’t catch it. Hammering the guide back onto the drawer should be a very simple repair.

The second repair comes from not doing things properly the first time. When I hung the Audubon prints on either side of our beds, I skipped adding a picture wire across the back of the frame, and instead simply hung the frame itself from nails tapped into the wall. The picture frames have bent from the weight–it’s not a good look. I’ll be adding wires and rehanging the pictures, and hopefully the frames will return to their rectangular shape.

Also on the list? Rebalancing the washing machine and a paint touch-up in the laundry room,

Tweak

Sometimes after living with a space–even one you love–for awhile you realize there’s something missing. Our dining room is our most recent ORC, completed just this spring. I hoped to build doors for the upper section of our china cabinet during the makeover, but ran out of time.

White china cabinet in the dining room

The ORC goes so fast that there are often parts of a makeover that don’t get done. Even though I’m not participating in the ORC, watching everyone’s projects motivates me to return to the dining room and maybe finally build the doors.

I also have some other ideas for simple updates. In our bedroom, I’m going to freshen up our bedding with some new pillow cases. And in the laundry room, I’d like to sew a faux roman shade for the window.

One of the best parts of the One Room Challenge and other room makeovers is that you end up with a new beautiful space. These simple updates can ensure that you continue to enjoy your space for years to come.

Are you revisiting any room makeovers that you’ve done in the past? What tweaks do you want to make in your home?

 

Thankful

Today is Thanksgiving here in Canada. I’m thankful for many things. My husband, our daughter, our dog and our cat. Our families, this farm, good food.

The silo at sunrise in the fall

Most of all this year I’m thankful for time. We often feel that there’s not enough time. Or we wish we were doing something else with our time.

At the start of this year, I proclaimed my word of the year was “slow.”

I wrote:

“We have to do our absolute best to live a life that we are satisfied with. I want to feel good about what I do, who I am with and how I spend my time. And the word “spend” is important. Time is valuable. Time is precious.”

Over the past little while, I feel like I’ve found a balance of how I spend my time. I have time to work and create and relax. Time with my family and with myself. I treasure each of these moments and don’t take them for granted.

Every day is very full, and there is pressure. There are trade-offs and the balance doesn’t always look the same. But usually by the end of the day I feel at peace with what I’ve done and how I’ve spent my time.

I’m very thankful for that.

A few weeks ago I saw a sign on the side of the road that said, “You have what you need for this moment.”

This message was an affirmation that I have the strength, the skills, the energy, the ability, the support to face whatever comes. It’s also a reminder to live in the moment and not worry about what’s ahead.

Today is going to be full of moments with my amazing family at our lovely farm. I’m thankful for this time.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Imaginary One Room Challenge – Phase 1 bathroom makeover

The One Room Challenge kicked off last week. I’m not a regular participant in the challenge, but I wish I was. It’s such a good way to update a space and actually complete a project. I love the rooms that I’ve done in the past (check out the laundry room, master bedroom, my office and dining room). I also love following the ORC, seeing everyone else’s makeovers.

This fall, I will mostly be an observer rather than a participant (though I do have plans for a few updates this month that I’ll hopefully be sharing soon).

But I’ve been having fun doing an imaginary makeover.

I started thinking about the main bathroom and how I could update it in advance of our big gut makeover (which I’ve talked about before and is still a someday project).

Main bathroom

I’m not a big fan of phase 1 renos. I feel like they can be a lot of work and potentially a lot of money, only to be ripped out in a few years.

However, we’ve lived here for more than 7 years and the main bathroom still looks exactly the same as when we moved in. A few updates a few years ago could have made it a more enjoyable space. (Although we have added a baby to the tub, which gives a whole lot of joy.)

Baby in a bathtub

Here’s the bathroom as it looks now. It’s a big space with a nice window, lots of storage, counterspace and everything you need in a bathroom. However, it’s dated and some parts of it–tiles, caulking, faucets, even one of the sinks–are actually broken.

Main bathroom before

Main bathroom before

Bathroom Before Collage

To fix all of the issues, we will need to do a full gut. However, there are some simple updates that could make the bathroom look a lot better now. Here’s a moodboard with some of my ideas.

Moodboard for phase 1 bathroom makeover

Sources: Vanity | Mirror | | Floor tile

The biggest change would be simply painting the walls. They are fake paneling that was painted yellow who knows when. The yellow clashes with the purple-ish tile and the Care-Bear-esque countertop. Fresh white paint would help the tile and counter and would also make the paneling look more like on-trend vertical shiplap.

If I painted the walls, I’d want to take down the big sheet mirror. The silvering is deteriorating in a few spots and the mirror is very dated. I could frame it out, but I like the idea of injecting some wood tones and different shapes with a pair of arched top mirrors.

The makeover could easily stop here and I’d be happy. But if I was going to make this project worthy of the ORC, here’s what else I’d do.

Build wood shelves over the toilet. These could add some decor and storage. It would be nice to get the bins of Ellie’s bath toys, washcloths and soap off the counter.

To go with the wood shelves, I’d update the linen closet by facing the shelves with wood strips and covering the floral shelf paper with plain white.

The white cabinetry is looking a bit dingey. If the walls go white, the vanity might be a place to introduce some more contrast and make the colours of the tile and counter make more sense. (Aside: This photo shows how a frame can make a big mirror look more current.)

Grey bathroom vanity

Source: Juniper Home

The current floor introduces yet another colour to this room. Beigey taupe, which, of course, goes with nothing else. There are so many options out there today for simple peel-and-stick tiles, which could simply be laid over top of the existing vinyl. This could be a place to introduce some fun pattern, although I don’t want anything too busy to clash further with the counter and wall tile.

An alternative to new flooring would be a better rug. A nice runner that would cover more of the floor and serve the function of a bathmat could be a good option.

While I’m updating the floor I would also remove the terrible metal transition strip in the doorway. Not only is it ugly, it’s also not screwed down properly, so it rattles every time you step on it–every time for 7 years.

Alas, it’s likely going to be 7 years and counting for this bathroom. The dreaming is fun though and I know one day this room is going to be everything I imagine.

Are you participating in the One Room Challenge–for real? Or do you have an imaginary makeover happening as well? How do you feel about phase 1 makeovers?

Odds & sods

Happy last day of September. I’ve been hanging on to summer and the warm weather as much as possible, but yesterday morning, Baxter, Ellie and I went out for a walk and it felt very fall. The sun was shining and a cool breeze was blowing. But in the east field, it looked like spring as new seedlings have sprouted everywhere (just ignore the red tree on the edge of the field).

Baxter walking across the field

Grass seedlings

Getting this field ready for planting has been a full summer project, but over the last couple of weeks, our farmer did the final grading and even seeded. I’m pretty sure this is the start of hay for next year.

Living on the farm, I’m conscious that things are always changing and growing. Even as fall begins and we head to the quieter season of winter, life goes on.

Before I look too far ahead, here are some of the things that have grabbed my attention this month.

When I meet people they often call me Julie rather than Julia. I always feel awkward correcting them, so I usually just go along. At a party earlier this month Ellie was playing ball with a young girl who looked to be about 7 years old or so. I kept saying, “Throw the ball to Ella. It’s Ella’s turn.” After a few rounds of this, the girl said, “It’s Bella.” She was so confident and direct. I was impressed. It takes a lot to correct an adult when you’re a child, and this is something I struggle with even now. Next time I hear Julie, I’m going to try her simple approach.

More communications tips: how to talk to your kids using nonverbal techniques.

“Food should be grounded in people and place… Growing and cooking their own food, making their own history, building their own economy.” Eat Like A Fish by Bren Smith is an interesting, motivating and slightly scary look at fishing, food and climate change . It has me thinking about the choices I make and my expectations around food.

I haven’t knit in a really long time, but I started again this month, and it feels really good. A little sweater for Ellie is taking shape. And one project is sparking so much creativity. I whipped up a simple elastic waist skirt for myself during one of Ellie’s afternoon naps and started sewing a dress for me as well. I also have two more sweaters planned for her, a pair of mitts, maybe a hat.

Sarah Richardson just wrapped up a makeover on her own cottage. I loved watching the first renovation that she did many years ago, so it’s been interesting to see how she updated the spaces. A highlight for me was the bathroom where she made it look new even though most things stayed the same. She shows the benefit of choosing timeless materials that you love.

My writing elsewhere:

What season does it feel like where you are? Have you been doing any crafting? What’s your favourite creative outlet? Anyone else have a name that people often mishear? What was the highlight of September for you?