Odds & sods

Thank you for the support on my last post. I appreciate the acceptance and kindness very much.

We started this month with a cottage get-away and we spent yesterday lakeside in cottage country as well. Those felt like pretty good ways to start and end the month.

In between, we’ve been enjoying Matt’s parents’ pool, picnics and playgrounds. Lots of time outside (we’re thisclose to 500 hours), a second cut of hay, and lots of fun.

We’ve reconnected a bit with our families, which has been nice after not seeing so many people for more than a year. I am finally fully vaccinated, but we’re still being pretty cautious about where we go.

And we moved Ralph outside. Ellie and I were both feeling a bit allergic at times, so it was time for Ralph to remember she’s an outdoor cat. We set her up in the new garage, and she’s adjusted very well.

Here are some of the other things I’ve been doing so far this summer.

The Weight of Ink was enlightening (somewhat over my head) and so compelling. I couldn’t put it down.

DYK tape measures weren’t a thing til the 1950s? And prior to that they cost the equivalent of about $300 in today’s money? I love the projects, information and advice in The Family Handyman magazine. The 70th anniversary issue was a lot of fun.

How to fall in love with your home in 30 days Chris Loves Julia’s summer school has been so inspiring. I’ve kept up with the challenges each week in my own small way.

7 questions you should ask before hiring a contractor (some I wish I’d asked our contractor before starting the garage)

I finished patching drywall in the living room and kitchen, and I referenced this tutorial this week as I was preparing to paint.

While it seems wonky to be having the Olympics during a pandemic, I am looking forward to watching some of the competition.

As July winds down, I’m working to wrap up some projects (treehouse railing, painting the living room, articles for the fall issue of a magazine I write for). I’m also crossing everything that the doors for the garage and mudroom finally come in this week. And I’m figuring out how we can get away at least a couple more times to soak up as much summer as possible.

What was July like for you? How has summer been for you? Anyone else doing summer school–official or not? What books or magazines are on your summer reading list?

Building for a life I don’t have

Sometimes I think I’m not doing grief right.

I feel like someone might think, “Grief? Why are you talking about grief? It’s been more than a year. Move on.” Or somebody else might think, “Your husband died. How are you able to function?”

I work very hard every day to be happy. I work at it. I choose it.

I work very hard to give Ellie as much joy as possible and as much connection to her Daddy as possible.

This farm helps.

Matt and I love this farm. Moving here transformed us in a wonderful way. It is incredibly special, and we had a vision for what this farm would be. I told Matt once shortly after we moved here (long before he was diagnosed), “I wouldn’t want to do this on my own.” Well, I’m doing it on my own. I’m working hard to make our vision come true.

So I go ahead and build a garage. The garage that we talked about and planned for and started saving for together. I’m proud that I did this on my own and that our plans for the garage have turned out so well.

But it also hurts.

Matt always wanted to park his car in a garage, and he never got to do that. I built a big two car garage, even though we only have one car. I built a big mudroom with open storage, so that he doesn’t have to open a closet to hang up his coat. The mudroom will have hooks for lots of kids to hang up backpacks and coats. Kids that we don’t get to have. It has a section for Baxter’s leashes and towels, which he doesn’t get to use. My Dad should have been our general contractor, but he doesn’t get to build anymore.

The losses pile up.

I keep busy. I feel most myself when I’m doing things. I also fear that if I stop, I’ll start thinking too much.

So I build a treehouse playground for our girl. I can’t give her her Daddy, but I can give her a fun playground. A place where we find joy.

Grief doesn’t come with rules. I can’t let go of Matt, my Dad, Baxter. I feel them here with me, supporting me through the garage and watching Ellie in her treehouse. I talk to them and keep them part of our life and the farm. I also can’t be crushed by this, not caring for our house, our farm, our girl.

I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m on my own. I’m not alone.

Matt and I had a vision for this farm. I want to make that vision come true for us both. I want it for myself, but I also want it for him. I am committed to him. He doesn’t get to do this. I can do it for both of us.

Halfway through Home Goals 2021

I really like setting goals for the farm every year. With a large property, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. Or pulled in a million different directions working on a million different projects.

This year has been feeling really good. I love being productive and making progress, and that’s what’s been happening so far.

At the start of the year, I identified seven projects or goals that I wanted to work on. (The original post has six because I wasn’t ready to talk about the garage yet, but it was definitely on my mind when I wrote the list.)

The goals were garage addition, playground expansion, pond shore clean-up, vegetable garden, the last big junk pile, bedroom refresh, and farm history.

Some of these goals are interconnected. The garage addition led to the playground expansion, as we used the wood from the old pool deck for the treehouse. The junk pile started to get organized (and downsized) because I needed a spot to stash the brick that were removed from the pool exterior. Part of organizing the junk pile involved tossing two old bales of hay into the garden for mulch.

With any home project, dominoes can happen really easily and it’s nice to be able to line them up intentionally. Here are some more details on how we’ve been doing with each goal.

Garage addition

The garage and mudroom are turning out so, so well. After thinking about this renovation for so long, I’m really pleased with the result. We are also so close to being done. (I owe you a look at the panelled and tiled mudroom.) We are waiting on doors. Person doors. Garage doors. We need doors. Once doors go in, trim can be finished and we can move in.

Playground expansion

I am almost as excited for Ellie’s treehouse/playground as I am for the garage. It’s big. It’s fun. And it’s something that I’ve done mostly by myself. It’s been a long time since I’ve built like this. I’d like things to be going a little faster, but bit by bit I keep making progress.

Pond shore

The barometer for the pond shore is can I mow it? Well, I’ve been mowing a little bit more shore this year. I clipped back brush and tiny trees. Matt’s Dad cut some more trees that had sprouted out of an old stump. Ellie and I carried everything to the firepit and had an epic blaze. We’re not ready to build our new bridge yet, but we have the beginning of a little path between two pines as I’ve always envisioned and we can access the waterfall more easily.

Vegetable garden

Ellie and I finally unrolled two old bales of hay and spread them over one quadrant of the garden. The hay (along with the cardboard I put underneath it) is doing a good job of keeping the weeds down for us. (Though everywhere else they’re as prolific as ever.) I haven’t managed to build any raised rows, but we have planted some tomatoes and a few other seeds. We were late and the seeds were old, but we have a few things growing in the garden for the first time in several years.

The last big junk pile

We’ve done dump runs, dragged brush to the burn pile, dug things out of the ground, picked glass out of the dirt and finally started mowing a little bit of the area beside the garden. In addition to being the dumping ground for who knows what, this spot is also my compost pile for weeds and other cuttings from the gardens. I’ve dealt with most of the who knows what. What’s left is piles of brush and leaves and weeds. Then the plan is to build a new compost bin that will contain the mess.

Bedroom refresh

The inspiration to refresh our bedroom was the new TRUBBTÅG duvet cover from Ikea. Which appeared to be out of stock for the first half of this year. It’s finally here, and now I’m wondering what else I want to do for this room?

History

Connecting with the woman whose family first owned this farm was a very meaningful experience last year for me. Due to lockdowns, we’ve not seen each other very much, and she’s not been out to the farm yet this year. We have kept in touch and I am looking forward to learning more about this special place.

Black and white photo of two children sitting on top of a wood gate

Progress is the theme for our Home Goals so far. Nothing is done yet. I’m not sure we’ll be completely finished any of them by the end of the year. But we’re making progress, and that makes me very happy.

It felt good to set goals at the beginning of the year. It felt like I was coming back into this part of myself that has been pushed to the background since I got pregnant, since Ellie was born, since Matt was sick.

It’s also felt good to work on these goals this year. Every day is a juggle of Ellie, work, farm, life. But the juggle has felt like a balance–of sorts–so far. I feel like I’ve made more progress this year than we have in a long time, and I’m excited to see what we accomplish over the rest of the year.

What have you been up to this year? How to you prioritize projects at your house? Are you feeling in balance? Productive? Motivated?

Garage update

When the wall of the pool was removed to frame up the openings for the new garage doors, I had a few regrets about turning the pool into a garage. I had a great view from the kitchen island out the side of the house, across the lawn all the way to the barn.

Not regrets in terms of, “Stop the project! I don’t need a wall on the side of my house!” But more, “Wow that’s a lot of light and what a nice view.”

Well, the view is no more. The mudroom wall has been filled with insulation, covered in vapour barrier and sheathed with plywood (on the garage side). I don’t even have a view out the mudroom door, as that opening has been covered in plastic (we will, once the door arrives).

But the regrets are easing. We are inching ever close to the mudroom actually being part of the house, which feels like a pretty big win.

Two beams are sitting in the new garage. This week they should be installed in the archway between the kitchen and the mudroom and the patio door will be removed (good riddance).

Framing in the opening means that tile can be laid and paneling can be installed on the ceiling and walls.

Outside, the roof is shingled and new board and batten siding is almost done. I feel like both of these items are a journey in colour.

For the roof, I knew what shingles we used on the rest of the house, so our contractor was able to get an exact match. Exact except that the other shingles are 9 years old and apparently pretty dirty. I had expected the old shingles to be sun faded and lighter. But instead they’re darker. Massive pine trees, dirt from fields, dust from the road, air pollution? Who knows what all is on them? But the new shingles are already starting to blend (or my eye is just getting used to them).

For the siding, I was trying to complement our existing red brick and the new garage doors. And I was referencing tiny sample chips, just a couple of inches wide. I called my contractor’s stain supplier and asked for a sample can, and they offered me a gallon. So I held my garage door sample up to the brochure, picked a light, warm neutral shade and crossed my fingers that it would work.

Right now, I love it. It looks good with the brick and is such a light, clean sight out the kitchen window. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it works with the garage doors (ETA unknown). Please don’t let them clash.

Also, please appreciate the precision of the spacing on the siding so that the light is exactly centred on the board. My contractors’ care and attention to detail consistently impress me. All of the lights across the front of the garage are each centred on their own board. The windows on the end gable wall have the same spacing all the way around so that trim is even. The battens are prenailed like this so that all of the nails line up perfectly.

Doors may end up being our speed bump (literally) on this project. I got word last week that the person doors are another 4 to 6 weeks out–even though they’ve been on order for nearly 2 months. I’ve had no word on the garage doors. So that view out across the lawn is going to be a while yet.

But, tile and panelling are on-site and ready to go. We’re also ready for soffit, fascia and trough, which will nearly finish off the outside.

It feels a bit like we are moving onto the finishing stage. Not necessarily finishing–although that is getting closer, doors notwithstanding. But installing the finishes like siding, paneling and tile feels like a good milestone.

Who else is a cross-your-fingers-paint-picker? When do you feel like you’re nearing the end of a project?

Odds & sods

And just like that it’s the last day of May. This is always one of my favourite times at the farm. The property is so green and everything is beautiful. A little shaggy as we still haven’t gotten into a regular mowing schedule, but I can see the possibilities.

The past month felt full. The garage and treehouse are two fun projects at home. I started a couple more new projects for work. We had Matt’s Dad’s birthday, Mother’s Day and Victoria Day. I also got my first dose of vaccine.

Most days are a juggle, but I am so grateful to be able to be here with Ellie. We work hard and have lots of fun.

Here are some of the things I wanted to share in this month’s round-up.

A mass grave of 215 children was discovered at a residential school in Kamloops. (See those photos above? Some of the children were Ellie’s age.) Treatment of Indigenous peoples is a shameful part of Canada. I hope that the current sentiments lead to some true reconciliation.

Our favourite library book this month

Battle against the gypsy moths continues. So far we’ve scraped egg masses, squished caterpillars by hand and wrapped the tree trunks with sticky tape. Here’s another trap I’m going to try.

Rose quartz and brass cabinet hardware. My Mom’s planning on painting her bathroom pink. How about switching the hardware too, Mom?

An amazing vegan spaghetti sauce (don’t scrimp on the fennel)

How was May for you?

Treehouse playground

One year ago, as I was driving home with parts of Ellie’s new-to-us playset in my car, I spotted a slide at the end of someone’s driveway. It was cracked, but I couldn’t resist so I loaded it into the car.

As soon as Matt’s Dad and I set up Ellie’s playground, I started dreaming about expansion plans.

I quickly realized that a playground was not super complicated to construct, I had better quality lumber stored in the barn than what her playground was constructed of, I didn’t really fit in the playground, and Ellie was going to quickly outgrow the set.

When I saw this treehouse playground, everything clicked in my mind. We had a big pine tree near her current playset that would be perfect. We also had an old deck worth of lumber in the pool. Oh, and we had that extra slide.

Construction on the playground began after a timely text from a cousin. He asked if I needed help with anything, so I replied, “How do you feel about building a treehouse?” A week later, he helped me build the underlying structure of posts, beams and joists.

We made it as big as our lumber allowed. Roughly 10 feet by 12 feet. The platform is 5 feet up from the base of the tree, which was recommended for a 10 foot slide. It feels high enough. The tree is on a little mound, so the edge of the platform is 6 to 7 feet off the ground.

It’s big and tall and open to so many possibilities.

I contacted a local deck company, and they let me (and Matt’s Dad) dive through their dumpster to get boards for the decking. I’ve been slowly working my way through the decking for the last couple of weeks, and yesterday I finally finished it.

We have a collection of tires here at the farm, thanks to previous owners. I picked out 8 that are roughly the same size and have begun bolting them together to make a ladder.

I’m still on the hunt for a firepole (one of Ellie’s favourite activities at any playground).

And obviously we need a railing.

This very sophisticated crayon rendering might help you to visualize the final playground.

So far, we’re having a lot of fun building—and already playing on—the treehouse.

Did you have a treehouse as a kid? Where was your favourite place to play? What’s your favourite activity at a playground?

Plans for planking the mudroom

On Saturday morning, Ellie and I hooked up the trailer and headed to a local lumber yard to buy the ceiling for the mudroom. 140 square feet of the most beautiful cedar came home with us. (Side note: this barn smelled fabulous.)

The inspiration to plank the ceiling came from Matt’s Dad. As we were taking down the ceiling in the pool (which was sheets of cedar designed to look like tongue and groove), he suggested reusing them. (You can get a little glimpse of them in this shot from our home inspection.)

Unfortunately, once the sheets were down and I pulled all the nails, the sheets were a bit too patchy and beat up for the mudroom. (I have saved them in the barn in case I can use them for another project in the future.) But we have new cedar T&G planks to put in their place.

I like that the ceiling will be a reference to the pool and what this space was originally. Natural wood is also a common element in other rooms of our home and it feels farmy to me.

I’m also planning to put vertical planks on the mudroom walls. The walls will be painted, so I’m on the hunt for some MDF V-groove. Pandemic shortages (and price increases) are not my friend right now.

I’ve chosen to go vertical to emphasize the height of the room. I also want to avoid a shiplap look. My reaction to some decorating trends is to actively avoid them, and shiplap is getting that treatment. V-groove feels more casual than beadboard to me, but more polished than shiplap and appropriate for our farm. (Remodelista has an explanation of V-groove versus shiplap versus beadboard and here is V-groove in action in The Grit and Polish’s kitchen.)

Source

The conundrum with the mudroom is the wall height–around 9 and a half feet. I found a few companies that make 4×10 sheets of V-groove, which would be ideal. They’re exactly the size I need and installing sheets would take much less time than planks. But the lead time to order them is 6 to 8 (or even 10) weeks–thanks pandemic.

So I turned my attention to planks. But the planks come in 8 or 16 foot lengths. My vision was for one continuous plank from floor to ceiling. The longer planks would give me that, but I’d be left with more than 6 feet of waste. Some late night sketching and texting with my contractor gave me a solution that allows me to use the 8 foot planks without having to splice them together.

Baseboard at the bottom gives us about 5 1/2 inches (we’ll have to put some backing to lift the planks up from the floor). Then a hook board mid-way up the wall gives us another 7 1/2. The hook board will be wood and feels like a really practical addition as it will be a sturdy surface to affix hooks or support a shelf. Then, any remaining gap at the top will be covered with a small 1×2 or 1×3 board. I think it will look good.

It’s fun to be focusing on the finishing details now, even if it might still be a while before they’re installed.

The framing is done, so the mudroom has been carved out of the garage and we have a new landing off the kitchen. The roof where the old sunroom was has been patched and the garage roof has been extended over the addition. Having the one continuous roof makes such a huge difference to how that side of the house looks. The garage floor has been poured. Electrical is roughed in. This week, tile should arrive and siding install should begin.

It’s exciting to see it coming together.

Do you have panelling anywhere in your house? Are you team beadboard, V-groove or shiplap? Are you pro-wood or paint it out? How do you react to decorating trends? Where would you use panelling?

How to fight gypsy moths

Gypsy moths are an invasive species that is very destructive to trees. Caterpillars “feed gregariously.” If there are enough caterpillars, they may eat all of the leaves off a tree. “Severe defoliation can reduce tree growth and predispose trees to attack from other insects and diseases.” (Source)

We prize our trees here at the farm, and we’ve had some caterpillar damage the last few years. So last week, Ellie and I spent a morning scraping gypsy moth eggs off our trees.

Child standing on a ladder scraping gypsy moth eggs off a tree

I had noticed some pale patches on various trees and after a close look assumed they were egg deposits of some kind. Then, articles in a couple of magazines confirmed they were from gypsy moths. A very detailed article in our community newsletter advised scraping them into a bucket of hot water mixed with bleach. And to do it by May before the caterpillars hatched.

We were already into the first week of May, so Ellie and I got busy right away. We carefully examined our trees and scraped off any masses we found. A few had already hatched, though the caterpillars were still small and hadn’t crawled away yet. I was very glad to remove them before they moved onto the trees.

Gypsy moth egg mass with newly hatched caterpillars
Gypsy moth egg masses on a maple tree

We used a ladder to get as high as we could. We were careful to scrape as many of the eggs off as possible and catch them in the bucket, rather than letting them fall to the ground.

Gypsy moth egg masses and caterpillars in a bucket of water

We found the eggs on many of our maple trees. I’m sure there are a few we missed, and some that were out of reach. I’m hoping that we removed enough to prevent the trees from being severely damaged.

Our community newsletter also recommended wrapping sticky tape around the bottom of the trees to catch the caterpillars, so I’m planning on doing that as well.

The article concluded, “The more people that are aware and actively working to reduce gypsy moth populations, the better overall control we will have over this invasive pest.” I hope that this post encourages you to check your property for signs of gypsy moths.

Do you have any pests on your property? Are gypsy moths a problem in your area?

Quest for weed control in the vegetable garden

Our vegetable garden has been more of a miss than a hit the last few years, but I’m trying to get back in the game this year.

My first step has been prep. Years of neglect mean weeds are well-established throughout the garden. I’m not prepared to tackle the whole garden, but I’m going to try to reclaim a few areas. Rather than dig up all the weeds or till them under, I’m trying to suffocate them with mulch.

I first wrote about deep mulch gardening back in 2016. So this has been on my mind for a while.

I picked one quadrant (the others will not be planted and will be mowed or tarped), and laid down a whole bunch of cardboard.

We’ve had two bales of hay sitting beside the garden for a couple of years. I had intended to use them for mulch, but then gardening didn’t happen for a while. When the excavator was here a few weeks ago for the garage, I had him throw the bales over the fence (they had gotten too squishy for me to pick up with our tractor).

Ellie and I broke up the bales and spread the hay in a deep layer over all of the cardboard.

Between the raspberry rows, I laid more cardboard and then layers of bark that Matt’s Dad picked up when he was cleaning up some dead trees in the fenceline between the fields. They’re like really big woodchips.

It’s going to take a lot of work to get the garden back. If I’m going to have any success, I have to figure out a way to manage at least some of the weeds, and mulch is this year’s experiment. I feel like I’m already behind for this year, but I’m trying to remind myself that gardening is a multi-year undertaking.

The asparagus and rhubarb are up, though fluctuating temperatures seem to have slowed them down over the last couple of weeks (and weeds may be choking them). The grapes are alive, and I really need to figure out how I’m supposed to prune them. The raspberries look happy, including some new canes I took from Matt’s Dad last fall.

I have to dig out the weeds around the raspberries, asparagus, grapes and rhubarb. Then I’m going to try to put down more cardboard and more mulch wherever I can.

In the mulched quadrant, I’m going to plant annuals. What ones, I’m not exactly sure yet. I’m also not sure how I’m going to plant in the mulch. I may try to add soil and/or compost on top of the hay to make a raised row garden, or I may just scrape the hay back, punch through the cardboard and plant in the soil underneath.

There’s still lots to figure out, and we’re a looong way from having a thriving vegetable garden (unless you’re a weed… or a bee wearing pollen pants).

But it does feel good to be back in the dirt. And I’m glad to be trying out some of the techniques I’ve read about and thought about for a long time.

Are you planting a vegetable garden this year? Any tips for dealing with weeds? Or reclaiming a neglected garden?

Odds & sods

When we first moved to the farm, a row of forsythia bushes beside the driveshed were covered in blooms at the beginning of April. Since then, I’ve measured the progress of spring by the forsythia.

The forsythia flowers arrived last week–the most flowers we’ve had in years. Unfortunately, right after they arrived, snow returned. So I’m not sure that forsythia is my best measure of spring this year.

Here are some other things that caught my attention this month.

Have house prices gone crazy where you are too? Farmhouse sells for $1,115,000 over asking

I haven’t been able to listen to music since before Matt died. The other week I found this song. I still cry, but I love it.

Mesmerizing

I went waaaay back in my recipe archives to make this pasta last week, and it was so good. (I omitted the pepper and added tomatoes, artichokes and spinach to up the veggie quotient).

Mudroom inspiration for coloured cabinets and large-scale rough stone tiles.

Sources: Hali MacDonald in House & Home (left), Jeffrey Dungan (right)

We’re finishing off April by picking the mudroom tile and paying taxes (worse than snow in the spring). We have a bunch of outdoor projects underway here, so I’m hoping that warm, sunny days return soon.

How was April for you? What signs of spring have you been seeing? Are you cooking any retro recipes?