Patio progress

Around June 1 every year I try to take a photo of the front of the house. Everything is out in leaf and beautifully green. The farm is looking its best. And it’s really fun to look back and see the progress we’ve made on transforming the property. This year, the picture is all about progress, though you might have to walk around the side of the house to find it.

Last week work on our new patio started (note the yellow excavator in the background on the left), and I am thrilled.

Since finishing the garage and mudroom, the exterior of the south side of the house has been unfinished. This meant no stairs to the living room patio door. No step into the mudroom (aside from a rock I dragged there). And gravel, just gravel, everywhere.

The patio project is about defining this side of the house. We will have steps and a delineated space that’s separate from the driveway.

I decided to shrink the garden around the well slightly. This will give us two small sections of patio alongside the two entrances. I’m thinking one will be for eating and the other will be for lounging. Both are small, but I think we’ll have just enough room. They could also work for a barbecue or a potting bench.

My goal has always been to make the patio look like it fits with the farm. When I first met our contractor (RS Landscape & Construction for any locals), he said, “Can we pull rocks from the fields?” Out loud I said, “Absolutely.” In my head I was fist pumping and happy dancing. He got my vision right away and worked with me on the budget to make it happen.

We chose beautiful natural stone–huge slabs for steps and random flagstone for the patio (selected from a stone yard during an ice storm in December). For the gardens we took the machines on a literal field trip and found large boulders for the edging.

I’ve taken advantage of having the machines here to tackle a few additional jobs. The crew removed the old chicken coop foundation and regraded that corner of the barn. They also trenched a new outflow for our sump pump. They have been super accommodating, friendly, helpful and conscientious. I’m so impressed with their work.

The extra work means that the patio itself got off to a slow start. We also had a miscommunication about the width of the steps leading up to the patio door. I want them wider, which means we need more stone slabs, which were a bit hard to find. A new shipment arrived at the stone yard on Friday afternoon, so we should be back on track soon.

We ended last week with the old coop finally completely gone, the sump trench backfilled, the start of steps into the living room and a beautiful row of boulders (aka new stepping stones) around the well garden and under the dining room window.

Looking at the front of the house, I am amazed at what a difference the boulders make. They give the front so much more presence (and even make me dislike the angel stone a little bit less). The patio project builds on 11 years of slow transformation. I’m excited to see it all come together.

Do you have a patio at your house? Are you into dining or lounging outside? Are you undertaking any big projects at your house this year? Who else loves seeing heavy equipment at work?

Odds & sods

I’m looking back over May thinking what a full month.

We had a getaway with Matt’s family and celebrations for Mother’s Day, Matt’s Dad’s birthday, and several of Ellie’s friends. There was a quick work trip plus getting set up for a new contract I’m starting this fall.

We toured a local regenerative farm, and came home to our first cut of hay for the year. I sold Ellie’s little play set and received a load of mulch to go around her treehouse—all preludes to building her new swing set. We hauled home some rolls of fencing from the end of someone’s driveway, so that’s a prelude to the coop. We had our first asparagus harvest, our vegetable seedlings are growing so well, and I’m crossing my fingers that the garden is somewhat manageable this year.

There’s goodness and work and challenges and fun. I know I say it often, but we truly try to fill our lives with as much joy and love as possible. As May comes to an end, I feel like we’re doing that well.

Here are some timely links

Ticks have been bad for us this year. Cigo has been their main target. Here is an article I wrote about protecting your dog and yourself from ticks.

My favourite source for rhubarb recipes (and most recipes)

Required reading. This book shows how racism becomes so embedded in a culture.

I first used Oxiclean when I washed Ellie’s diapers. This month I used it to whiten a pair of pillowcases. It’s still magical. (The generic brand has always worked fine for me.)

My first weeding venture through the vegetable garden left me with a sore back–then a sore hip. These stretches helped.

I owe you an update on Ellie’s new room. Here’s a beautiful, thoughtful, fun room in the meantime.

We’re ending the month by starting a big project. Our patio kicks off today. I am so excited to see this space come together. I will be back next week with an update.

How was May for you? Do you have any exciting projects underway?

Nine years of solar panels

This month marks nine years since we plugged our solar panels into the grid and started generating power. Each year I like to look back at how much we’ve earned and compare our results to previous years.

Solar panels

Here is this year’s solar report.

If you need to get caught up, here are all of the previous updates and other details:

I had hoped that in this update I’d be able to say we had made as much money as the panels cost to install ($40,727.46). We are oh so close. Literally 99% of the way there. We have just $523.60 left. (To be clear, we paid for the panels in full when we had them installed. I just like to use this calculation to gauge our earnings over time.)

This past year the panels generated $3,873.00 in total. (We’re hooked into the grid, and the province pays us $0.396 per kWh). This is our lowest income yet, aside from 2014-15, which was a partial year as the panels were just getting going. The decrease is partially due to an accounting change I made two years ago, which removed HST from our payments. It could also be due to the panels gradually not producing as much as they age. Or a less sunny year.

Regardless, we made more than what we consumed. We spent $2,786.05 on electricity over the same time period, giving us a profit of just over $1,000.

Over the next couple of months, we will finally pay off the panels, and then I will be looking ahead to the rest of our 20 year contract.

My ultimate goal is to disconnect from the grid and have our panels generate our own power. Though we would likely need to upgrade our panels for that. Technology continues to advance, and I’m sure there are much better options available today than there were nine years ago. While I like that the panels are an income source for us, I like the idea of self-sufficiency and clean power more.

Regardless, every year when I do this analysis, I am proud of what we’ve accomplished and the choice that we made to go solar. It’s something that we can build on and grow for the future.

Does anyone else track their utility bills and compare each year? How are you “going green” at your house?

Vegetable garden 2023

This year’s vegetable garden is underway. You may recall that I ended 2022 on a high. Not because we’d had a successful gardening year. We didn’t. I was excited because I’d done a lot of clean up last fall and had high hopes for a successful garden this year.

I’m still optimistic–though I am remembering that I still have to put in the work.

After being neglected for so long, our weeds are very well established. I laid down cardboard last year, using the no dig method to try to smother them. However, I ran out of cardboard, so there are lots of weedy spots. Also, some weeds have broken through the cardboard. So I’m going to have to deal with them.

But, on the topic of putting in the work, I’ve done some weeding and am proud of the progress.

Our asparagus is up, and we are finally going to have a harvest. (This will be our first time picking any asparagus since I planted the seeds in 2016 and transplanted the plants in 2019.) It may not be much, but there are several stalks that pass the pencil test. I’m sure our asparagus will grow much better when it’s finally freed of the grass that’s trying to choke it.

The rhubarb is up too. It’s a bit spindly, so again, some attention there with weeding and compost will cheer it up.

We planted garlic for the first time last year, and it is very happy. I am too. Put it in in the fall. It pops up in the spring and is the first sign of green. Hopefully we all live happily ever after–or at least until harvest.

It looks like one of our grape vines has died, but the rest are alive. The pink buds that appear before the leaves unfurl are one of my favourite sights. The raspberries and blackberries are thriving, especially since I removed some of the weeds around them.

I’ve also mowed the garden once, in case it’s not clear that we still have a long, long way to go.

Inside the house is where we’re having our biggest garden success so far. Ellie and I went through our seeds and picked some to start indoors. We planted three kinds of tomatoes, watermelon, broccoli and cauliflower. All of our seeds are pretty old, so I wasn’t optimistic. This is a reset year where I’m just trying to get back in the gardening groove. Old seeds are sufficient for me right now.

I am amazed that it looks like every single seed sprouted, except for the cauliflower. We have so many seedlings and they seem really healthy. We repotted the tomatoes and watermelon over the weekend and brewed some compost tea for them.

We have lots of other seeds that we’ll sow directly into the garden.

Our garden start so far is ups and downs, which I’ve come to learn is pretty typical of vegetable gardening. Hopefully we can put in the work, find our groove and have at least some successful harvests.

Are you gardening at your house? How is your garden growing? Anyone else starting seeds? Battling weeds? Looking for your groove?

Community clean up

Every year, our local Optimist service club organizes a community clean up. We got the flyer and a garbage bag in our mailbox a few weeks ago and after asking, “Why did we get a garbage bag in the mailbox?” Ellie was keen to participate. So Saturday morning, we headed out to clean up the ditch along the front of the property.

It is so annoying to me how much litter people pitch onto the side of the road. I’ve done this clean up a few times and every year is the same. Coffee cups. Cans. Takeout bags. Wrappers.


This is my first time doing a clean up with Ellie, and I am so proud of her. She climbed up and down the ditch. Picked up trash. Pulled the wagon.

And she understood that littering is wrong. This is not the right way to treat the Earth.

We finished from our driveway to the corner–one small section of the 2km of roads that border the farm. We filled one bag of garbage and one bin of recycling.

It was progress. Not so much for our property or for the Earth as for Ellie… and me too. What she’s learning, the way she thinks and the person she is give me hope and motivate me to keep trying to improve the world.

Four tips for tackling an intimidating task

Remember when we bought a rotary cutter? (For those that need a refresher, it was in 2017.) We put it to work mowing the septic bed, meadow and pond shore. And then it got tucked into the driveshed and has been used rarely since.

Last year I cleared the septic bed and part of the meadow (again). But I didn’t use the cutter. The brush was too big by then, so I used my new-to-me reciprocating saw. Then Matt’s Dad came and used his chainsaw.

It was always my plan to use the rotary cutter too, but I never got to it last year.

Last week, I decided to give it a try.

I took advantage of nice weather, a free afternoon, and Ellie at school to hook up the mower. Tasks like this are always a bit intimidating for me. The cutter is huge and heavy. It’s a bit tricky to get everything connected properly. The tractor doesn’t always have great traction, and the ground I wanted to mow was hilly and bumpy–lots of chances to get stuck. (Like Cigo in the photo below, who is actually tangled up in a wild raspberry bramble.)

But in about twenty minutes, I had the cutter connected. Alright. Let’s try mowing. Success.

An hour after I first came outside, I was done. A task that had been on my list since last year (longer if you look back to when we bought the cutter) was done.

I was so proud of myself. Conquering something that feels hard is a big accomplishment. Here are my tips for tackling an intimidating task.

Start small

Break your task down into smaller steps. Focusing on one thing at a time can be less intimidating than looking at the whole big project that you have to do. My initial plan was to see if I could get the mower hooked up to the tractor. Even if that was all I accomplished, I was going to call it a win.

Just start

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where to begin. Or you feel you can’t start until everything is perfectly set up. With the mowing, at first I couldn’t figure out how to balance the mower. It was tilted way too far forward and the front edge dug into the ground if I lowered the hitch too far. Also, I couldn’t get the PTO to fully lock. But I started anyway. After my first pass, I figured out how to balance the mower. The PTO slipped off a few times, but I eventually got it to click. And in the meantime, I got some mowing done. Even if you don’t feel completely ready, start. You’ll already be accomplishing something.

Ask for help

There is no rule that says you have to do everything yourself. It can be hard to ask for help, but in my experience people are usually very willing to step up. With the mowing, I could have called our farmer, our tractor salesperson, or my cousin who helps mow our grass. They are all very kind, generous people who know exactly how to connect the cutter to the tractor and would be happy save me some anxiety–and muscle strains. Think about the task you’re tackling and who would be best to help.

Know when to quit

Intimidating tasks truly are hard. If things really aren’t working out, it’s okay to take a break and come back later. (Perhaps after exercising your phone a friend option, above.) Even if things are going well, it’s also okay to take a break. With the mowing, I’d cleared the areas I wanted to clear and I’d managed not to get stuck. (I’d also managed not to run out of fuel, but the gauge was very low.) There’s always more I can do, but sitting on the tractor eyeing additional overgrown areas, I said to myself, “You’re pushing your luck.” And I drove up the hill to the barn.

It feels really good to cross this task off my list–and to know that I can do it again if I need to.

I’m hoping to do at least a couple more mowings this year to keep the septic bed clear. Maintaining is much easier than starting from scratch (again).

It’s also easier knowing that I can do this–and it wasn’t that hard.

Do you have any accomplishments to share? Or any intimidating tasks that you need encouragement to tackle? What tips to do you have to tackle intimidating tasks? What outdoor work have you been doing at your place?

Odds & sods

Welcome to the last week of April. Ellie’s room makeover is almost done. She is so excited to start sleeping in her new room, and I am excited to share the finished product here soon.

A highlight of April for me was Easter. Easter is my favourite holiday, usually because it’s a bit quieter than Christmas or Thanksgiving. I think having a child changes that, and this year was definitely not quiet, but we still had a great time. We hosted dinners, including one with Matt’s aunts who have not been to the farm in several years. We celebrated my nephew’s second birthday. We had two egg hunts. And of course, Ellie soaked up every second and every sweet.

April is also my Dad’s birthday and my parent’s wedding anniversary. We got together and acknowledged those occasions as well.

I’ve learned over the years that it’s important to me to take every opportunity to be together. It’s worth it to invite everyone, cook all the food, share all the candy, remember those who aren’t with us and sometimes even cry a few tears. Sharing time with those around us–whoever can be there–means a lot to me.

Here are some other occasions and reminders from this month.

Speaking of occasions, our forsythia is blooming. When we first moved to the farm, the forsythia bloomed on April 2. It hasn’t been that early since–and some years it hasn’t flowered at all. This year, the branches are covered in blossoms by mid-April.

I want to try this adult Easter egg hunt next year.

A great update for an oak kitchen

My friends and I did a Half Baked Harvest dinner several weeks ago. I made this salad and it was a huge hit. (Everything everyone made was delicious.)

“Life can be cruel, as you know. But it can also be kind. Filled with wonders. You need to remember that. You have your own choice to make. What’re you going to focus on? What’s unfair, or all the wonderful things that happen? Both are true, both are real. Both need to be accepted. But which carries more weight with you? The terrible or the wonderful? The goodness or the cruelty? Your life will be decided by that choice.”

All The Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

I’m finishing off the month by putting the finishing touches on Ellie’s room. Pictures on the walls, sheets on the bed, clothes in the closet. In amongst some work and hopefully some outside time too, of course.

How was April for you? Did you celebrate Easter? What’s blooming where you are? Any favourite recipes to share? What are you doing to wrap up the month?

The middle

The part we all wait for in DIY is “look at the beautiful room/garden/furniture/shelfie/whatever I made!” The middle while you’re waiting is less beautiful, less photogenic, less interesting.

I’m in the middle.

I feel like I have little to report. But I like the regularity of writing a blog post for every Monday, so here I am. Schedules and deadlines–even when self-imposed–work well for me. In both blogs and renovations.

Ellie’s room makeover is on track. We’ve had paint week. Last week was window week (curtains are tedious, so I’m not giving you a whole blog post about the HALF A DAY I spent ironing or the wait at Ikea to return a too short curtain rod).

This week is bed week. I’ve washed the dusty bedframe, added beadboard to the headboard, bought a new can of primer and am ready to begin painting the headboard. The mattress is being delivered on Thursday.

We’re on track. In fact, we’re on track for lots of projects. As with Ellie’s room, there’s not much to share yet, but I’m going to mention them anyway.


I’m halfway through clearing the manure off the old coop foundation. Getting to this point involved detaching the the snowblower from the tractor and recharging the tractor battery, so there was progress on several fronts.


We had some lovely weather last week, so Ellie and I enjoyed breakfast and lunch on our currently-imaginary-but-hopefully-soon-to-be patio and confirmed that, yes, we would like a proper place to eat and sit. Cigo sprawled in the sun. We set up a small table and chairs and confirmed that they should fit on the new patio. Construction should start sometime in May (fingers crossed).


Garlic is up in the vegetable garden. Transplants to the new turnaround garden seem to have survived. I have bales of cardboard and piles of mulch (and a brand new pile of very old manure) ready to be spread around. May may be garden month.

We keep moving ahead. Progress may not always be as quick as I want (I still can’t believe it took me a whole morning to iron curtains), but I know I’m getting closer to that beautiful, photogenic, interesting moment.

What projects are you in the middle of? How do you schedule projects? What tips do you have for persevering through the middle?

How to paint a room with a 5 year old

Welcome to week 2 of Ellie’s room makeover. Last week was paint week, and Ellie was involved in every part.

I see blogs occasionally talk about how to DIY with kids or the challenges of home reno with children. So I thought I’d join the conversation and share how Ellie (5 years old) and I painted her room together. Fittingly, I have 5 tips.

Start small

Painting a whole room should not be a child’s first project, in my opinion. Ellie’s first real build was just before she turned one when we put together her play table and chairs. Simple tools. Quick project. Since then, she’s been part of all different kinds of DIY (and she no longer tries to eat the tools).

Baby playing with screwdriver and drill

For painting (beyond her craft paints and paper), she’s practiced on a bird feeder and shelves. We’ve built up her knowledge and comfort level over the years, so that she is interested in and capable of being involved in painting a whole room.

When it came to painting that room, we broke it up into smaller tasks. The first day, we worked for about an hour doing the edging. The second day, I finished the edging and started the rolling while she was at school, but left a section for her to roll. The third day, I did the second coat solo.

Step by step

There are multiple steps to painting a room, and Ellie was part of all of them. This is a good way to get your child involved and excited (and have them participate without actually painting, if you prefer).

Planning what colour to paint. Going to look at paint chips. Buying the paint (we got to watch the colours being added to the can and then the can being mixed in the shaker). Clearing the room. Patching any holes in the walls (spying holes is a good task for a child). Sanding and priming the patches.

For the actual painting, there is both the cutting in and the rolling. Cutting is great for children as it’s done with a brush. Just make sure to pick a spot where precision isn’t required (more on this below). Rolling is a bit more challenging. Ellie tried the roller all by herself, but decided she preferred when we held the roller together, so we did.

Gear up

As with any DIY project, the right equipment is key to success.

Ellie prides herself on having “work clothes”–pants and a shirt that got paint on them when she was working on an earlier project. Having clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty is one less thing to worry about.

Choose a small paint brush and pour some paint into a smaller cup. These will be easier for your child to handle and minimize the mess.

Tape off trim or anything that you don’t want painted, lay out newspaper or dropcloths to protect the floor, and have some rags handy. (The dog and his bed are optional, though not in our house.)

Talk it through

Painting is like any other skill. You have to teach your child how to do it. Take a bit of time at the start to demonstrate the proper technique. Be detailed: how deep to dip the brush in the paint, how to wipe it off on the rim, how wide to make their strokes.

I had instructed Ellie to paint as wide as her hand. That was not a concrete measurement for her, and I noticed her edges were growing wider and wider. I ended up swiping a line on the wall with my brush so that she knew how wide to go.

Pick your spot

Ellie is careful and responsible. But she’s also 5, and this was her first time painting a room. I didn’t expect her technique to be perfect, so I thought about where she could do the least damage. We started with edging around the outlets. They’re low to the floor so they’re easy to reach. They’re small, so she can finish one off quickly and feel a sense of accomplishment. If she gets any paint on them, I can easily scrape it off once it’s dry. For the most part, they’ll be behind furniture so an imperfect finish won’t be an issue. I also assigned her each of the corners, starting behind the door.

Ellie strayed from her assigned spots once and started working her way across the wall. I explained that we were rolling that section and didn’t want to see brushstrokes there. She understood and went back to her corner.

No matter how careful you are, how well you prepare, or how skilled your child is, it’s also absolutely fine to smooth out your child’s brushstrokes while the paint is still wet. Touch-ups are also fine. We had a few spots on the trim that needed to be covered, which was no big deal.

The result of our teamwork is a fully painted room, and a great feeling of pride for us both. I love seeing her grow and learn. I know that I’m teaching her so many valuable lessons. Ellie, who was once reluctant about moving rooms, is now excited. Everyone who visited us this weekend for Easter got a tour of her new room.

Ellie has been around DIY her whole life. She’s comfortable around tools and knows how to be safe. She knows projects take time and she has to be patient. DIYing together is not always perfect. I’m not always as productive as I want to be. But I know the skills she is learning are important. And the experiences of doing these projects together is priceless.

Up next, window week. Blinds and curtains here I come.

Do you DIY with kids? What are your tips for helping kids learn to be handy? Any painting disasters or triumphs to share?

Ellie’s room makeover

Ellie’s room makeover was the first project of the year. We got started in January, clearing out the old guest room and coming up with a plan for the space. And then we stalled.

This is a relatively simple project that could be done in a week. A different kind of blog would even do it as a weekend makeover. We are now at the beginning of April, which means Ellie’s room has been going on for three months.

It’s time to get moving.

Fortunately, something happened a few weeks ago that brought my motivation back. I found a headboard.

Dark wood headboard

Ellie’s directive was that she wanted the same bed that she had, just bigger. I had planned to construct a headboard with a built-in shelf. But while browsing a thrift store, I found a double headboard that had shelves and sliding door cubbies, just like her current bed. I’m going to give it a coat of paint, attach it to a metal bedframe that we already have, buy a new mattress and cross this task off my list.

Speaking of the list, here it is.

Empty room – We finally got (pretty much) everything out this weekend. The big furniture was dragged into the middle of the room.

Furniture grouped in the middle of the room

Paint walls – We patched the holes, primed the patches and picked up the paint. Hopefully it goes on the walls this week.

Window treatments – I ordered new curtain rods which have already arrived. Blinds are on order. I need to sew a blackout lining for the existing dropcloth curtains. Then install my layered window treatments.

Bed – The doors to the headboard’s cubbies are going to get a little makeover, then I will paint everything white. I need to buy a new mattress and box spring. I dug the metal bedframe out of the driveshed. It needs a good cleaning and then I can attach it to the headboard.

Decorate – We’ll need some pictures on the walls, some accessories, a mirror.

Move in – We’ll make the bed, hang her clothes in the closet, bring in her books, and hopefully our girl will like her new room.

My plan is to tackle one thing a week (painting week, window week, bed week, etc.) until we’re done. Painting is up first.

Child painting a wall while standing on a small ladder

The One Room Challenge, which kicks off this week, is providing a little extra motivation. While I’m not officially joining up, I love the ORC for how it helps me focus and gives me a deadline. So I’m making Ellie’s room my own personal One Room Challenge.

Stick with me. We’ll get this done… eventually.

Anyone else have a stalled home improvement in progress? How do you stay motivated during projects? Have you made any good thrifting scores recently?