As usual, we have made time to embrace fun. We started the month with another campout (our last one of the season). There have been lots of hikes, bonfires with my friends and my birthday celebration. Even school has been fun, as Ellie is loving it.
Fun is where we find the most love and joy, so that’s always most important in our lives. Finding my groove and being productive come much farther down the list.
In keeping with my current mood, this month’s links are a mix of dark and light. Some both at the same time.
A friend of a friend died in August of breast cancer. 34 years old. 4 little kids. While she was sick, she started @putakinddeedinyourfeed, and for her birthday earlier this month people did just that. A breast self exam could have saved her life, so make a point to feel yourself on the first.
I’ve followed Tim for a while, so seeing his condo on the cover of House & Home was fun. Also, his living room is beautiful.
Our mudroom is done–for now. This room was the first on my home goals list for this year. I had just five small tasks to do, and they are finally finished.
Today, I’m giving a tour of the space and highlighting some of my favourite features.
The secret behind the picture
Let’s start with the hidden (literally) gem. I’m particularly proud of how this secret cupboard turned out.
One weekend, I built a little box. When our contractors arrived, I asked one of them to install it in the wall next to the door. Then I attached hinges to a picture frame and installed it over the box. Inside the box, I screwed two rows of little cup hooks. Voila, hidden key cupboard.
I like having our keys hung up, rather than jumbled together in a basket in the drawer. Originally I’d planned to find a farmy painting for the door. But when I couldn’t find the right size, I decided to go with photos. I chose a picture of Matt in the pool during our home inspection, and then I selected another photo of Ellie and me in the pool during demolition. A literal snapshot of the history of the mudroom, and our little family together in this space we dreamed about.
Figure it out furniture
Someday the mudroom may have beautiful built-ins. But for now, we’re making it work with free hand-me-down dressers, our homemade bench and other DIYs. And honestly, they’re working great.
The dressers look fresh after a coat of paint to match the walls. Spraying the hardware to match the black hooks that we used in the room was the finishing touch. The dressers are likely not going to be here forever (the one on the landing is too small and the one by the door is too big), but they’re doing everything we need.
The upper one holds puzzles, colouring books and games for Ellie. Plus cards, flyers, coupons. It’s also our mail drop, wallet and phone charging station. The lower one holds sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, masks and some outdoor toys and tools. In the winter it stashes hats, mitts and scarves. Both dressers have empty drawers, so we have more than enough storage for now.
Matt’s nephew and I made the bench almost nine years ago. I’ve been surprised by how much I like having the free-standing shorter bench. It gives space for my longer coats to hang freely, instead of puddling on the seat. Ellie is still a bit short to reach too high, so having her hats or other gear in a dresser drawer or a bin on the floor works best for her, rather than putting them on a too high shelf.
Living with the space as it is now gives me an idea of what we need and what works best.
A little bit country
We live on a farm, but we don’t have a farmhouse. With every tweak we make, I try to inject more country character. The V-groove paneling on the walls, cedar on the ceiling and simple black hooks are all examples of that.
The mirror is another. It was a bit ornate when I found it in the thrift store. Removing the decorative top piece and the cherry-esque finish countrified it a lot. The factory finish was so hard and thick, but patience and a lot of sandpaper prevailed. Finding the right way to refinish it took a bit. Everything I put on the wood turned red. Finally, I went with simply varathane. That countrified it the rest of the way.
The mirror bounces a bit more light into the room (enhancing Cigo’s sunbeam), and its round shape contrasts with all of the straight lines from the paneling and other elements in the room.
Designed for us
Installing an LED nightlight cover plate on the landing (I was influenced by Young House Love) was probably the easiest task on my to-do list. It gives a perfect glow for the stairs. The location of this plug–and all of the other switches, outlets, light fixtures, heated floor control panel–was very carefully mapped out by me. The electrician and the tiler didn’t completely agree with my choices, but I’m the one that lives here, so I got my way.
The dimension and height of the landing, the way the doors swing, where the openings were located, and the height of the archway into the kitchen were other areas where I pushed for what I wanted. Sometimes I felt guilty asking for a change, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t make the mudroom exactly the way I wanted.
Now everything is so convenient and it works for how we live.
Make it personal
Like all spaces in our house, the mudroom is personal to us. Matt’s nephew and I made the bench and I made the umbrella stand for our last mudroom. My sister-in-law made the yellow crate for Ellie. My Dad made the wooden shoehorn that’s hanging from the hook and the large wood plate on the dresser that we use for mail. There’s even a box on the stairs to hold stones, sticks, pinecones, feathers and other treasures that Ellie collects.
Matt’s winter coat which I wear to take the dog out hangs beside the door. Having a whole section dedicated for Cigo has been a game-changer. In the old mudroom, towels were draped over the bench, leashes were piled on top of each other. Now we have ample hooks for everything. I even stash his nail clippers and a bottle of dog shampoo in the dresser by the door, for those moments when he smells a bit too farmy to allow in the house.
The painting on the wall is another special, personal touch. Like so much of the art in our house, this too was painted by Matt’s grandpa. When I shared art options for the mudroom a long-time reader had a brilliant suggestion: switch between paintings. So I had two framed. One summer scene (by Matt’s grandpa) and one winter (by my Mom’s friend). They’re roughly the same size, so they can hang on the same hook.
The mudroom has been a great addition–literally–to our house. This is a space that we live in every day, and that I enjoy every day. I am very proud that we dreamt it and we built it. It’s much more than a mudroom.
Do you have a room that’s more than a room? What is your must-have for an entry? Do you have any secret storage at your house? Who else switches art seasonally? Anyone else have a sunbathing dog?
Happy September. Does anyone else feel like the clock is ticking? Yesterday we had our first cool temperatures and even saw a flock of geese flying over.
Fall on the farm always comes with a bit of pressure (or at least an ambitious to-do list flitting around in my brain). I know it’s not fall yet, and I said in my last post that I’m holding onto summer as long as I can. I am. But there’s a window here. So I am declaring September garden month.
I have some very specific tasks that I’d like to tackle this month, so that I am prepped for winter. Really, I’m looking beyond winter and ahead to next summer.
You may recall that my Christmas gift from Matt’s Dad last year was a load of topsoil. We have put the dirt to good use, but we still have a large pile left. I know exactly where I’m going to use it, and if I have a day with the tractor, I think I can get it all spread. Toss on some grass seed, and we’ll have a smooth(er), green(er) lawn next year.
Clean up vegetable garden
We had more success in the vegetable garden this summer than in many years. It’s still a complete disaster, but we made an itty-bitty bit of progress. I’d like to build on that progress by cleaning up what worked this year (zucchini, cucumbers, peas, raspberries), and getting one quadrant ready for planting next year. That means pruning, paths, rows, mulch, cover crops.
Transplant well garden
Anticipating that we will be building the driveway/mudroom patio next year, I want to empty the flower garden that’s currently in this spot. This garden is well-established, and I don’t want to lose the plants when everything is under construction. I always envisioned the turnaround being a massive flower garden, so I my plan is to use these plants to begin to fill the other half, which is currently grass.
Working on these tasks this month will hopefully give seeds and plants time to get established before winter and set us up for smooth(er) sailing next year. At least, that’s the plan. Ellie starts school next week, so I will have more time for projects (at least that’s the plan). Garden month, here I come.
Do you have any projects you’re working on this month? Anyone else feeling the pressure of winter looming? Share what you’re working on in the comments, and we’ll cheer each other on.
At first, I was worried about the end of school, work, Ellie, the house, the farm. How was I going to fit it all in? Then I decided we were going to go all in on summer. Everything else would fit in where it could.
Now, at the end of August, I’m looking back at an amazing season. We said yes to pretty much every invitation that came our way. There have been big things like cottage getaways and backyard campouts in the tent. There have also been simple things like fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden, catching frogs at the pond and picnics at various playgrounds.
We have had so much fun.
To be honest, I’m not ready for it to stop. School resumes soon, and I have an ambitious to-do list as we head into the fall. But I’m feeling very nostalgic. Our days are filled with so much love and joy. Ellie is learning so much. We have such an amazing bond. I want to hold onto that.
Time marches on and once a day is done, it’s gone forever. I don’t want to stop time. Life is constantly changing and it’s mostly pretty wonderful. So as I look ahead to the fall, I’m reminding myself of that, and I’m determined to continue to find the love and joy in each day.
Here are some things I’ve read and done over the last little while.
“If you ask indigenous peoples… they have no word for wilderness… “What you call ‘wilderness’ we call our back yard.”” As I work out what my role in the environment of the farm should be, I’m learning more about humans working with nature, rather than nature working solely on her own.
As August winds down, I’m holding onto summer. We hosted a family barbecue over the weekend–the first time we’ve gotten together with extended family since the pandemic began. It was nice to celebrate with people. I’m thinking another campout this week might be a good way to finish off the month.
How has summer been for you? What’s been the highlight of your summer?
This summer, we participated in a bat study organized by the Toronto Zoo. Our contribution was installing an acoustic monitor for four nights to record the calls of bats here at the farm. (The two dark smudges in the sky in the photo above are some of the bats that were flying at the start of my bonfire on Friday night.)
The monitor recorded a total of 104 “acoustic observations” from five different species.
Big Brown Bat
Eastern Red Bat
Little Brown Myotis
Here’s a little bit more about our bats from the report:
The Big Brown bat is the most commonly observed bat in Southern Ontario. The Hoary bat is Ontario’s largest, weighing as much as three to five toonies (18-39 g).
The Little Brown Myotis was once Canada’s most common bat, but populations have been decimated by white-nose syndrome. This disease affects bat’s hibernation sleep and makes them wake up early. They then can’t find food and starve. The Zoo says, “The impact of the disease has decreased since its discovery, but since bats are slow to reproduce, population levels will not re-establish to pre white-nose syndrome levels in our lifetime.” Isn’t that terrible?
Little Brown Myotis can live up to 40 years and weigh about one to two toonies (4–11 g).
Our report showed that bat activity varied between nights. For example, the two Eastern Red bat calls were recorded on the same night. We don’t know whether the calls were from one bat or two. Each bat species has a unique echolocation call, so the scientists (and their software) can distinguish between species. However, the calls of individuals are difficult to distinguish between one another.
To identify the species, the scientists don’t listen to the recording. Instead they look at the spectogram–the graph produced by the sounds. Here’s what the calls look like for some of the different species.
Bats change the shape of their call based on the type of environment they are in (for example when a bat is flying in an open space, compared to flying in a forest). Their calls also vary whether they’re navigating, feeding or socializing.
We see bats all the time at the farm, so it’s been really special to learn more about them. These results are a sample of the bats here. Some bats are more easily recorded than others. For example, loud, low-frequency bats are easier to detect than quiet, high-frequency bats. Also, the bats had to fly within range of the monitor.
However, the results give us a general idea about the bats here and can help to indicate where we have good habitats. Participating in this study has also helped me to learn more about bats and what I can do to help them.
Two years ago, I met a woman whose grandparents had owned the farm in the early 1900s. Her name is Lorraine. Since then, Lorraine and I have stayed in touch, and she has visited the farm several times. Last fall, Lorraine arranged to have a tree planted in memory of man who worked on the farm with her father. I wrote an article about this for our community newsletter, and I’m sharing it here today.
In 1936, Harry Halworth came to Puslinch. He was 16 years old. At home in England, there were no jobs, so he signed up with a government program that brought young people to Canada to work on farms.
Harry’s experience in Puslinch forged a deep connection to Canada. This connection was commemorated in the fall with a special tree planting. Lorraine Stewart, the daughter of one of the farmers Harry worked for, arranged for a maple tree to be planted on her parents’ former farm.
“That tree is really like a memorial to Harry’s love for this country,” Lorraine explains.
A case of appendicitis brought Harry to the Stewart farm. The farmer Harry was working for could not pay Harry’s medical bills, and Harry was abandoned in the Galt hospital. Lorraine’s father, Allan Stewart, stepped in and Harry then came to work for the family.
Harry worked for the Stewarts and other farms in the community for three years. Then he decided to go home and bring his fiancée, Vina, to Canada.
Unfortunately, the year was 1939. When war broke out, Harry enlisted in the British Navy. He spent the next five years in submarines. When the war concluded, Harry stayed in England and went to work in the coal mines of Mexborough. He and Vina raised five children.
Harry never forgot his time in Canada, though, and in 1962 Allan received a telephone call. The Stewarts had left the farm in 1942 when Allan took a job in Hamilton. But a cousin who lived in Puslinch had seen a notice in the Galt paper. Harry Halworth was inquiring about Allan Stewart and some other people.
“My Dad wrote to him, and Harry ended up coming here,” says Lorraine. Harry and Vina would return to Canada many times for holidays, continuing to visit with Lorraine and her friend Greta after Allan’s death. Harry’s last trip was in 2010 when he was 90. He rode the train to Vancouver, enjoying the view of the Rockies from the glass dome railcar.
Shortly after Harry returned to England, his daughter phoned Lorraine to tell her Harry’s health was failing.
“That’s when I told him I was going to plant a maple tree in the northwest corner of the property,” says Lorraine. “He loved this country. I think he felt so badly that he had missed out in not getting here.”
The tree honours Harry, his work in Puslinch, and his love of Canada. It will be a beautiful legacy for generations to come.
Lorraine came to see Harry’s tree a few weeks ago. The tree is struggling due to the lack of rain, but we’re working to save it. I’m proud to commemorate Harry and also Lorraine with this tree. Living on this farm which has such a history and getting to know some of that history is very special.
This weekend marked six months since Cigo came home with us.
He has been a great fit for our family, and it’s hard to remember life without him. I feel like he’s always been here.
In honour of his six-months, here are six things about Cigo:
1. His head is heavy. One of the very first things we learned about Cigo is that his head weighs a lot and he frequently has to set it down. On the bed, on the couch, on the chair, on your lap. He does not have furniture privileges (though it appears he used to), and by resting his head on the couch and gazing up at us pathetically, he lets us know how terrible it is to have to stay on the floor.
This is his go-to sad puppy pose. He rested his head on the diving board at Matt’s parents’ house when he wasn’t allowed in the pool. Which brings us to number two…
2. He loves to swim. As soon as the ice thawed on the pond, Cigo was in the water. Now he runs there any time he wants to cool off. We went to a cottage last month, and he swam so much he had some withdrawal when we came home.
3. He’s a people person. Cigo is happiest when he’s with people, so the cottage week with my extended family was his definition of a good time. He even gave me a little space sometimes (he is very attached to me and doesn’t let me go far). I can’t complain too much. Having him beside me at night as I work is a good feeling. Plus it’s entertaining because…
4. He likes to sleep on his back. Seeing Cigo sprawled out all four feet in the air makes me laugh every time.
5. He’s great off leash. (Except for that one day that we won’t talk about.) Cigo has free run of the farm, which is exactly what I want for him. Baxter and I worked very hard at off leash, and he still wasn’t always reliable. But from the start Cigo has been great (we’re still working at making him great on leash). I’ve loved going hiking again, and it’s a great feeling to have confidence in my dog.
6. Kids are his superpower. Ellie was my biggest consideration when we adopted Cigo. The adoption coordinator at the SPCA picked him for us in part because of how good he was with her. Cigo is the most patient accommodating dog when it comes to children. He wears the necklaces she makes for him, admires the pictures she shows him, tolerates her sitting in his bed, and goes along with the games she plays.
Cigo goes pretty much everywhere with us, so that means lots of playgrounds. When kids come to see him, he continues laying where he was and lets them pet him. If kids are uncertain around dogs, he stays stoic and calm while they work themselves out. It’s magic to see.
I made the decision to adopt Cigo very quickly. But I was thoughtful about what was most important to us. I wanted a dog who could be part of our family–who would fit in with our life and what we like to do. Cigo has been that in more ways that I ever hoped.
I wrote some blog posts a long time ago for That Mutt that feel relevant to share:
The land this farm sits on is part of the traditional territory inhabited by the Attawandaron people. Other Indigenous peoples also lived in this area, including the Haudenosaunee, the Anishnaabe and The Métis nation.
This land is still home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
I have wanted to write a land acknowledgement for the farm for a while. “Land acknowledgements allow us to meaningfully reflect on physical space and the land we sit on by analyzing ourselves and our connection to the land.” (Source: On Canada Project)
I am a white woman. I am privileged. My ancestors were settlers. My presence on these Indigenous lands is part of that legacy.
The Attawandaron people who used to live in this area were also known as the Neutral nation. French explorers thought that the Attawandaron were neutral between neighbouring First Nation groups. The Canadian Encyclopedia tells me “The last reference to the Neutral as a nation in French records was in 1672. Today, no Neutral nation exists.”
This date astounds me–I know my reaction shows my lack of knowledge and my separation from Indigenous peoples’ experiences. Less than 200 years after colonization, an entire group of people were gone. Today, three and half centuries later, Attawandaron “descendants are believed to reside in present-day Haudenosaunee communities.”
The damage done to Indigenous peoples is phenomenal–and is still ongoing.
I am working to learn more about Indigenous peoples and their experiences and act to support them.
Living here at the farm, I want to honour the land and its original guardians. I am now responsible for how this land is used, how it is cared for, and how it is protected. I am learning about Indigenous land use, regenerative agriculture, and working to do the right things for this land.
My history and my status allow me to be here and live in this way. My ancestors faced hardships and worked hard. But their efforts were within a system that privileged people who looked like them, who lived like them, who believed what they believed. Their experience and mine is vastly different from Indigenous peoples who have faced generations of injustice. John Green wrote in The Anthropocene Reviewed, “If I don’t grapple with the reality that I owe much of my success to injustice, I’ll only further the hoarding of wealth and opportunity.”
I am trying to grapple with my reality and my place in the world and to take my own personal steps toward reconciliation.
Before writing this post, I felt like I was doing pretty well (spoiler alert: after writing the post I feel the same way). There was a moment in the spring when things felt doable. Then another moment when everything raced ahead–as always happens in spring–and I felt like I’d never catch up.
I’m still not caught up, but I’m comfortable with where we’re at. And in some ways I feel like we’re ahead of the last few years.
Here is some of what we’ve been up to so far in 2022.
The mudroom sees a lot of action everyday as we enter and exit the house. But it has not seen a lot of action on the finish-off-the-reno front. All of the niggly little details are why the One Room Challenge is such a good event. I had five tasks on my mudroom to-do list. I have crossed two of them off–refinishing and hanging a mirror and installing a nightlight cover plate. I have another six months to install the pulls on the dressers, finish the key cabinet and hang art.
As I wrote last month, our “big project of the year”–paving the driveway, adding a patio and some steps for the mudroom and living room–is not going to happen this year. Ellie and I have spread topsoil and grass seed all around the garage, so the DIY portion of this project is done. I’m still hunting for contractors with the goal to line up someone before the end of 2022 to finish the driveway and patio next year.
Plan for the worst
I’ve made a bit of progress on preparing for the worst, but not as much as I want to (as I noted at the start of the year, these are not fun tasks). I’ve updated our home insurance and closed extra bank accounts. Still on my to-do list: digitizing important documents, making a household inventory, packing a go bag, updating my will, and making some notes for my executor. The extreme weather we have now, especially the high winds, reinforce how important some of these tasks are.
Connecting with the history of this farm is very meaningful, so this goal is one that I really enjoy. I’ve kept in touch with the woman whose family first owned this farm. I’ve also spent some time with the owners who lived here from 1980-2000, and last month met a woman who lived here from the 1950s-70s. I found out the original farmhouse burned around 1974, and her father built the house that we live in.
I’m trying to learn more about the Indigenous people who lived in this area, and work to acknowledge them and honour them in how I care for this land. Growing my understanding of this place is ongoing and deepens my relationship with the farm.
I made some good progress in the spring clearing more area along the creek and even started a little bridge. The phragmites are doing their best to erase my work, but I’m battling back. I’m also on the hunt for used decking for the surface of our new bridge.
In January I wrote, “Hope springs eternal for the vegetable garden.” I still feel that way. Ellie and I planted zucchini, cucumbers, carrots and peas, and they’re all doing well. Ellie ate the first raspberries off our canes over the weekend. We have a loooooong way to go to return the garden to a productive, manageable vegetable garden, but we’re doing better than we’ve done the last few years. So hope continues.
I’ve not gotten a quote yet for eavestrough on the barn, though this is still my plan for this year. I’m also considering that I may try to start demolishing the old chicken coop (is that phrasing tentative enough?). I really, really want to have birds. If I do some prep this year, perhaps next year when I have machines here for the patio and driveway, they can clear away the last of the rubble. Then I’ll be ready to build the new coop next year. Home goals 2023, here I come?
I am feeling good about what we’ve accomplished so far. We of course have done many more things than are listed here and have more plans for the rest of the year, including some beyond these goals. I’ll be sharing more as we go through the rest of the year.
But for the rest of this month, I’m putting the blog on vacation. I will focusing on enjoying summer–playing with Ellie, spending time with family, and of course working around the farm.
How is 2022 going for you so far? Do you have any home goals? What is your big project for the year?
Summer has arrived here on the farm. We watched the hay being cut and baled. We picked strawberries. We caught frogs and minnows at the pond and had bonfires. We laid in the hammock and read in the treehouse. Every day is full of special, simple moments. I do not take this life for granted.
The world is a heavy place. I see extremists with power imposing their vision on society–regardless of the beliefs citizens hold. Whether it’s Russia with the Ukraine, the US with guns and abortion, Canada with Indigenous peoples, or pretty much every society with climate change, people who hold power are using old and extremely narrow thinking to make decisions for today.
Most people look to the future. What do I want to be? How can I do better? We must fight to make sure our countries do the same. Society must progress. We must recognize the wrongs that have been done and correct them. People’s and the planet’s welfare should be a priority. We must treat each other fairly.
This is the world I’m trying to build at the farm. My actions are reading, learning, listening, voting, writing and speaking about my values, being an example for Ellie, respecting and trying to repair the land where I live, and living each day with love and joy as much as I possibly can.
Here are some links from this month that made me laugh, made me think and made me remember.