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?

What needs to be done to finish the mudroom and garage

As I mentioned in last week’s post, our missing door arrived for the mudroom, our contractor finished the trim and a bunch of other little tasks, we passed our final inspection and our contractors have left the building. Now, the garage and mudroom are my project. Which feels fun.

Mudroom

I always intended to be the one to finish off the mudroom, so I’m excited to get out my paint roller and complete this space. Here’s what’s on my list.

Sand ceiling. The cedar planked ceiling is going to be staying natural. I love the tone. The lumber mill said that as long as the boards don’t receive direct sunlight, they should hold their colour and not turn grey. But some of the boards were marked for their length with chalk. So I had to sand 7s off a couple of boards.

Finish stairs. The risers and nosing on the stairs are wood. It’s a beautiful maple, and it needs to be protected from dirt and footprints. I’d like them to have a similar tone to the cedar ceiling–I’d rather not introduce another colour to the mudroom. Though I am also going to test a grey that will blend with the floor tiles. I feel like the wood is so beautiful that it can be a bit of a feature.

Patch & caulk walls. The V-groove planks were not a true tongue and groove, so our contractors had to face nail the planks in a few (a lot of) places. I’m about halfway through patching all of the holes. I also have to caulk all of the corners and a few joints in the trim.

Paint. There is always so much prep to get to this point. The walls, trim and hookboards are all going to be painted the same colour as the rest of our main floor, Abalone from Benjamin Moore at 75%.

Paint the door. I’m going to make the door a pop of colour both in and out. I’ve chosen a grey-turquoise, and I’m excited to see how it looks.

What’s not happening yet. I am not planning on putting any built-in storage in the mudroom yet. I have an idea of what I want, but we’re going to live with the space for a little while and see what works best for us. I’ll be moving in some dressers, hooks, a bench, mirror and some art to decorate the space a bit and make it functional for now.

Garage

For the garage, there are a couple of things that I didn’t think about at the start of the project (like how much dirt would be dug up from the addition that then needed to be levelled and seeded). These are more the niggly little details that are a little less fun.

Spread top soil & seed. Ellie and I have spread a lot of grass seed already this year. However, we didn’t go right up to the edge of the garage, as work was still in progress. Now that the scaffolding and ladders have gone away, we have to finish it off.

Make a step. The step from the mudroom to the driveway is a bit high. It will eventually be corrected, but a simple step of some kind would be helpful in the meantime. It would also be easier to shovel snow off a patio slab than the gravel.

Restack firewood. Oh the woodpile. It took me two days to move the firewood out of the way for the addition. Now I need to restack it all.

What’s not happening yet. We will not be paving the driveway this year. I want to let the gravel settle for a while first. I also need to figure out a steps-patio-garden solution for the living room patio door, mudroom door and flowerbed around our well. I’ve placed a pair of benches and table there for now to see if I like a little seating area in this spot. I am going to be setting up a workbench and moving some tools from the driveshed to the garage. I’m enjoying thinking about a functional work space in the garage and what projects I’m going to tackle.

We’ve been using the mudroom and garage every day even though they’re not fully finished yet. We’re parking our car in the garage and going in and out through the mudroom. I’m loving having these two spaces, and I’m excited to finish them off.

How do you decide what you leave to professionals and what you take on yourself in a renovation? What finish would you choose for the mudroom stairs? What part of a home project is hardest for you to finish? What DIYs are fun or less fun for you?

Odds & sods

We had our final inspection for the garage and mudroom last week, and everything passed. (Yes, this means our missing door arrived.) Our contractors are done. That feels like a nice way to wrap up the month.

When I look back over August, this seems like a long month. Time is still flying in the weird pandemic time warp that we’re in. But a lot has happened–including a lot of tragedy around the world.

I’m working on being thoughtful in my own choices. Being kind and generous as much as I can. Finding simple joy in family, friends, the farm and Ellie.

Here are some of the things that have made me think or given us joy this month.

Canada is going to have a federal election on Sept. 20. After all of the outcry about residential schools just a couple of months ago, I’m disappointed to hear very little about Indigenous communities in the campaign so far. On the topic of making thoughtful choices, this election is important for me.

The Olympics seems like a long time ago. I didn’t watch a lot, but I’m glad I caught this inspirational story.

This series made me think about what I share of Ellie online

Matt’s Mom got these sticker mosaic puzzles for Ellie and they’ve been a huge hit.

How to reduce your carbon footprint

Ever wonder what happens to things thrift stores don’t sell? This book made me think about what I bring into our home and how to reduce the impact our “stuff” has on the world.

Some we love, some we hate, some we eat

Do you feel like you have a purpose? It can make you healthier and happier.

I’ve lost count of how many loaves of zucchini bread we’ve baked this year. This chocolate one is still Ellie’s favourite, but I think this lemon one is mine (I cut the icing in half).

Any favourite summer reads to share? Or summer bakes? What’s been thought-provoking for you recently? How are you balancing the weight of the world with finding joy?

We have door

I so wish I could say, “We have doors!” in this garage/mudroom update. But all I have to keep it singular. After waiting four months for the doors to arrive, we have to wait a bit more.

Our contractor came with the doors last week. But, the door between the mudroom and garage was wrong. Argh.

It swung the wrong way.

Going all the way back to my initial scribbles, I always had the door swinging into the garage and toward the back wall. Our official blueprints show this configuration. Our contractors and I also discussed the door swings a couple of times.

The door that showed up last week swung into the garage but toward the front. That meant that I’d have to walk around the door every time I wanted to go in or out of the garage.

I’m not willing to compromise, so our contractor scrambled to find a fix.

I’ve been told the right door should arrive this week. However, after a four-month wait for a 6-8 week order, I’m not entirely confident.

On the topic of doors we do have some things to celebrate though.

The garage doors are in (this happened a couple of weeks ago). I’m happy with the simple profile I chose, and best of all, I’m happy with how the colour looks with our board and batten siding. Phew. We are still waiting on the decorative handles and hinges to give them a carriage house look.

The person door that was correct is beautiful. This door leads from the mudroom directly outside. I chose to have a big window in this door, and I’m so glad that I did. The view through the glass and the light coming into the mudroom is better than I hoped.

I’m thinking it’s going to even more lovely once it’s a deep smokey blue-green.

The other high point of the week is that the contractor finished all of the trim in the mudroom (aside from the casing for the missing door).

I chose to use the same baseboard that we used in the basement. Ultimately, I’d like to change all of the baseboards upstairs to this trim.

Rather than going with the matching profile for the door casing, I decided to use a simple flat stock instead. With the panelled walls, I felt like trim would be too busy for me–even though the basement casing is very simple. I asked for a butt joint with a little overhang on the top piece, which appears a bit rustic to me.

Some more flatstock finished off the top of the walls where they meet the cedar plank ceiling.

The room is looking so much more finished. Just ignore the sheet of plywood over the one doorway.

What reno mix-ups have you experienced? Anyone else enjoy the power of trim? Who else is a fan of windows in doors?

Renovations and the art of compromise

I recently said to my Mom that I feel like I haven’t compromised on the garage and mudroom reno. I did exactly what I wanted, and it’s turned out great.

Not so great for the bank account, but it does feel great to get what I want.

Renovating our first house, I was always thinking about resale. It was our starter house. We weren’t going to be there that long. We didn’t want to spend very much money.

It was a very different experience to move to the farm and think only about ourselves and what we wanted for the long-term. We’re still thrifty, but it’s all for us.

(On the topic of thriftiness, when Chris Loves Julia shared their budgeting philosophy it was an ah-ha for me. Allocating a budget to a project gives you freedom to spend that budget. Splurge in some places. Save in others. For me, this releases me from the “renovate for the least amount of money possible” philosophy.)

When it came to the garage and mudroom, I decided that I didn’t want to have any regrets (and we’d saved the money to make it possible to approach the project like this). We’re only doing this once. It has to last for Ellie and me for a long time. It’s a space we’re going to use every day. I want to like it every day.

So we added on. The pool would have made a comfortable two car garage. Or a generous single car garage with a big mudroom. It wouldn’t do both. But I wanted a two-car garage, and I wanted it to be big. Extra space on the side for recycling bins. Ten foot doors, so I didn’t feel squeezed driving in.

I wanted a big mudroom with details–heated floors, paneled walls and ceiling. A wide opening to the kitchen that matched the one in the living room–meaning a beam to raise the header.

Of course, with any reno, I realized once I thought about it that there have been compromises.

I decided not to go with the expensive overlay garage doors. I still love that style, but our doors are just fine. I chose another tile rather than waiting for my back-ordered first choice.

Certain things that may seem like compromises are just how I do things, and I’m not sure they’d change even if I had a bigger budget.

I don’t like to spend a lot on light fixtures. In fact, when I was shopping I sorted the light fixtures by price from low to high and stopped looking when I hit $200. Fortunately, I had already found fixtures that I really liked (for less than that).

I patched the drywall in the living room and kitchen myself, and I’m handling all the painting myself. I like DIY.

I thrifted a mirror and have some hand-me-down dressers that I’m planning on refinishing for the mudroom. I like reusing and repurposing.

I’m not finishing the mudroom with built-ins and cabinetry yet. Nor am I paving the driveway this year. I always planned to phase this project slightly to give the budget a break–and figure out exactly what I want.

Renovations are about a lot of different things. Better function in your home. Prettier appearance. Budget. Resale. It’s important to think about what matters most to you. That helps to guide the decisions–and compromises–as you go through the project.

What compromises have you made when renovating? How do you budget for home improvements? Have you renovated for resale? Or for yourself?

Mudroom update

We’ve talked about tile for the mudroom. We’ve talked about paneling for the walls and ceiling. Do you want to see it in real life?

Here is the new mudroom in its current state.

We are two doors, some trim and paint away from being done with the mudroom and garage. Sooooclose.

(I feel like I’ve been saying that for a while).

But I can see it coming together, and it’s all looking so good.

I went with a mid-grey porcelain tile. You may recall my biggest criteria with the tile was maintenance. I will not be cleaning this floor every day, and the tile need to hide all of the dirt that comes with a farm. We also chose a dark grey grout for the same reason.

The tiles are 12×24 and installed in a brick, running-bond, offset pattern. This is my second choice tile. My first choice had more variation in tones and the veining, but it was back-ordered, and I didn’t want to wait. When I picked up my order, I was pleasantly surprised to find tiles were more varied than I expected, based on the single sample tile I selected from.

The floor in the main area of the mudroom (the lower level) is heated, so yay to warm boots.

The risers and nosings on the stairs are faced with beautiful maple. I didn’t want a metal or rubber or tile edge on the stairs, so our contractor worked with me to come up with a solution and then he had his stair supplier fabricate the pieces. They are absolutely lovely. I will be protecting them with a stain and varathane.

The walls are the V-groove panelling, which I also love. It adds so much character to this room. My contractors did not love the panelling so much. Strapping the walls so that they were perfectly level took a lot of shims and a lot of time. (The new walls that they built were fine. The original wall backing onto the living room was c-r-o-o-k-e-d.)

One surprise with this V-groove is it’s not a true tongue and groove. Each board has a very small overlap, so my contractors ended up having to face nail each piece in a few spots. Lots of tiny holes for me to patch.

The ceiling is a really, really special feature. This is cedar V-groove that I found at a local supplier. I will be leaving this natural, as I love the tone so much.

For the lights, I ended up going with three flush mounts. My original plan was for two barn style pendants in the main mudroom area and a flush mount on the landing, but my Mom convinced me to go with one type of light for the whole room.

I chose the exterior lights first, and then picked the matching flush mounts. They look a bit rustic, a bit industrial, fairly casual, and I’m really happy with them.

I feel like I could change the title of this post to the mudroom is lovely. I truly love everything so much.

Hopefully doors arrive this week. Once they’re in, trim can be installed. Then the contractors will be done, and I’ll paint and we can start to use this lovely room.