Six months with Cigo

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:

Land acknowledgement

Hay growing in a field

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.

Bee in the wildflowers

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.

Creek running over mossy stones

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.

This acknowledgement is part of that.

With thanks to the On Canada Project for their blog post about How to think about land acknowledgement meaningfully.

Home Goals 2022 mid-year report

We are halfway through 2022, so today I’m looking at this year’s home goals and seeing how I’m doing.

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.

Mudroom

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.

Garage landscaping

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.

History

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.

Black and white picture of a two story farmhouse

Pond shore

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.

Source: Atlanta Trails

Vegetable garden

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.

Barn

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?

Odds & sods

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.

“We tend to disconnect the digital world from the physical world… But the surveillance that you don’t notice tends to be far more insidious than the one that you do.” Making the case for better digital privacy

I’ve waterskied since I could walk, and it’s a highlight of my summer. This video brought back good memories and made me laugh.

“You better come quick ’cause there’s a hippo in the bathtub. And it’s going down the drain, oh no it’s gone.” Anne Murray. Sharon, Lois & Bram. Raffi. I downloaded my childhood soundtrack for Ellie.

An illuminating, personal look into Julia Child

“The less you disturb the top layer of your soil, the fewer weeds you will have.” Some encouragement and advice for the battle against garden weeds

“One day, you’ll leave this world behind so live a life you will remember.” My father told me.

This week is 4 years since my Dad died. I was having a hard time on Sunday, and The Nights came on at exactly the right time. Life is precious. Don’t let it slip away.

How are you looking to the future? What are you doing to share your values? Where is your refuge? What was the highlight of your month?

Garage landscaping update

A year ago the south side of the house looked like this.

Now, it looks like this. Not a huge improvement. But we do have doors, lights and a place to sit.

Last year, the garage and mudroom was our big renovation. As I mentioned in my Home Goals post at the start of this year, landscaping around the garage was to be this year’s big project. However, it is not going to happen.

I have had absolutely no luck finding a landscaper. Four different companies came to look at the project. Two companies were not a fit. They do much bigger jobs and their view was much more extravagant than mine. Two other companies took measurements, promised designs and then I never heard from them again.

The upside of all of these meetings is that I have refined my vision of what I want for the side of the house. I want no pergola, no wall, no gable over the mudroom entrance, no built-in seating (thank you companies #1 and #2). I want a natural stone patio from the mudroom door to the edge of the stone wall. The patio will be one step up from the driveway. I want big stone steps leading up to the patio door. I want a simple asphalt driveway.

Initially, I wasn’t sure what I wanted for this spot. I put the benches and coffee table in place as a test to see if we’d use them, and we have (and yes, they’re currently crowding the patio door). We sit here all the time for snacks and even lunch. This side of the house gets lots of sun and is a nice warm (sometimes hot) place to sit. A proper patio with a bit of furniture would be ideal for us.

The size of the patio should give us a comfortable area to go in and out of the house without landing right on the driveway. It should also give us just enough space to squeeze in a comfy lounge seat along with a small dining table. We don’t currently have another place for eating outside.

I’m hoping that knowing what I’m looking for will help me to manage expectations for the next companies that I consult. And I’m hoping that one of them will be willing to take on the project for 2023.

In the meantime, I have resigned myself to plowing a gravel driveway for another winter and made a few upgrades to tide us over.

To fulfill a bit of my wish for natural stone, I added a (relatively) flat rock outside the mudroom to the make the step a little more manageable. I dragged an old mounting block from the barn to the patio door, so that we can actually come out that way if we want to.

Ellie and I also spread the topsoil that Matt’s Dad got for me all around the garage and seeded. Getting the pile of dirt off the driveway felt like progress.

Not as much progress as I was hoping for but some.

What’s your big project for the year at your house? Have you had to put any projects on hold this year? Who else is working on landscaping (big of small)?

Gonna make this garden grow

Inch by inch. Row by row.
Gonna make this garden grow.

Garden Song Written by David Mallet. Sung by Raffi.

Row by row is the best way to characterize the vegetable garden right now.

I had ambitions to make May garden month. As in get the vegetable garden in shape. Be ready to go by the start of June as soon as the risk of frost had passed.

That didn’t happen.

But my ambitions and Ellie’s enthusiasm for the garden have not diminished.

June (or the second half of June) is now garden month. We’re planting and weeding and mulching and building as we go. It’s not my preferred thoughtful, methodical approach. But inch by inch, we’re making progress.

Pullin’ weeds and picking stones, we are made of dreams and bones

My aim is to do a no-dig garden with mulched pathways between the wide rows. This has been my goal for years now, but maybe this year we get a little closer.

We have a mountain of woodchips piled outside the gate of the garden, thanks to a local tree company. We have piles of cardboard in the driveshed that I’ve been collecting since last year. We also have the mower, which has been my weapon against the grass and weeds that clog much of the garden.

I’m keeping my focus small. One quadrant. We have sowed cucumbers, carrots, zucchini and peas. If the plants get established and we’re on top of the weeds, perhaps the raspberries, asparagus or grapes may get some attention.

Plant your rows straight and long, season them with prayer and song
Mother earth will make you strong, if you give her love and care

Just like my current soundtrack, the vegetable garden is determined by Ellie. She is very excited for the garden this year. Her excitement doesn’t involve prep like weeding or laying out beautiful raised rows, but she does make it fun.

Inch by inch. Row by row.
Gonna make this garden grow

How is your garden growing?

How we’re helping to save endangered bats

On Friday night I had my first bonfire of the season. They’ve become a Friday night tradition since COVID. A way to visit with my friends safely and stay connected. They’re also a chance to watch the bats that fly around the farm.

This week, we have a new addition at the farm to help us keep an eye–or in this case an ear–on the bats. An Anabat Swift acoustic monitor.

What is that you ask?

It’s a recorder that monitors bats.

I signed up for a community science project with the Native Bat Conservation Program at the Toronto Zoo.

For the next few nights, the monitor will be recording the calls of the bats flying around the farm.

Bats are very important ecologically. They pollinate plants, disperse seeds and help control pests like mosquitoes. They are key to a healthy ecosystem. But bat populations have declined dramatically over the last several years. There are 8 species of bats in Ontario and 4 of them are endangered.

Bats are hard animals to study, so scientists are sometimes limited in how much information they have on bats in a particular area. Bats are nocturnal, their roosts can be hard to find, they can be challenging to handle, and their behaviour varies by species and season.

Acoustic monitoring is a way to track and analyse bats.

Throughout the summer, volunteers like us are installing the monitors all over Ontario. The monitor records the bats for 4-5 nights, and then we pass it on to the next volunteer.

The team at the Zoo will analyse the recordings and determine what bats are found in a particular area (each species has its own specific call). Over the fall and winter, they will manually identify all of the calls one by one–thousands and thousands of calls.

The recordings will help the Native Bat Conservation Program to assess what species are found where, what time bats are active, and identify any sites where there are species at risk. The information will be contributed to the North American bat database and help to inform conservation efforts.

We will also receive a personalized report of what species and how many calls were heard at the farm.

I love seeing bats flying around at dusk, and I’m excited to learn more about the bats in our area and how we can help them.

Do you see bats where you live? Have you every participated in a community science project? Are you keeping an eye on any endangered species? Have you had a summer bonfire yet?

Odds & sods

I took an unexpected blogging break this month. Between spring on the farm, work projects and a little getaway, a lot of things were taking my attention.

I am still here.

One of the books I read this month was What Comes From Spirit by Richard Wagamese. This quote spoke to me:

“The Creator meant for me to write. Not to think about it, not to plan for it, not to wait for inspiration, but to write to honour the gift I was given. So I come here every day and I write something.”

Even though I haven’t been writing here on the blog, I have been writing.

It is nice to be back here, sharing my thoughts and some of what we’ve been up to.

The highlight of the month was a getaway with Matt’s family to Manitoulin Island. If you’re looking for a peaceful, private spot surrounded by nature, I highly recommend Rainbow Lodge. Fun fact: it had a previous life in a CBC show.

This chocolate cake was yummy, despite its weird ingredient list.

This book was heart-warming and fairly light. I had to hide it so I could actually do some work, or else I would have read it all at once.

The number of farms in Canada decreased 2% in the last five years. The new Census of Agriculture has lots of data about farming. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture breaks down some of the numbers.

It was lovely to have our little holiday away. However, there is no place like home.

“Long after the final i-gadget has been discovered, we’ll still yearn for hugs, kisses, and personal conversations. When we’ve traveled to the last exotic place and finished participating in the last recreational or entertainment venue on our list, we will want a haven and we will call it home.”

Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin

This week I’m hoping to take some time to catch up on projects around the farm and with some family and friends. It’s also election week in Ontario, so I will be voting. If you live in Ontario, I hope you will too. I’m considering winding up the week with our first bonfire of the year–a big part of my summers for the last two years.

How was May for you? What’s keeping you busy these days? Have you read any good books? What’s the weirdest dessert you’ve ever made? What are you focusing on this week?

Eight years of solar panels

One of the most significant environmental steps we took when we moved to the farm was adding solar panels to the barn. Last week marked eight years since the solar panels started to feed their power back into the grid.

Solar panels on the barn roof

Here is this year’s solar report.

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

This year the panels generated $4,196.79. (We’re hooked into the grid, and the province pays us $0.396 per kWh). This is a lower total than previous years. The decrease is due to an accounting change, not a panel change. Our previous payments had included HST (a tax that we then remitted to the government). I cancelled our HST number for the solar panels, as it was below the threshold that required us to file, and it seemed simpler to not have to deal with it.

We still came out ahead in terms of what we spent on electricity, as we do every year. This year, we spent a total of $2,713.70, which translates to $1,483.09 in profit.

In my original estimates, I had predicted that year 8 would be the year that we paid off the panels. We may get there. We’ve earned almost 90% of what it cost to install the panels–just $4,366.60 left. (To be clear, we paid for the panels in full 8 years ago.)

I’m proud that we made the decision to install the panels. While my analysis is all financial, the environmental angle is extremely important to me. I would love someday to be truly off-grid and self-sufficient. Panel and battery technology have come a long way in the past 8 years, and I feel like that will give us the opportunity to do more in the future.

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

My Mother’s Day present to myself (plus a tool wishlist)

When it comes to gifts, I like to tell people what I want. For the past few years, I’ve taken it a step further when it comes to Mother’s Day, and I’ve bought myself a present.

The first time I did it, I bought Bluetooth earmuffs. They felt like a bit of a nice-to-have, but I knew I’d enjoy listening to podcasts when I was driving the tractor. The “nice-to-have” factor is hard for me. I try to be pretty practical and frugal most of the time. (I did buy used ones, so I felt better about having a bit of a discount.)

This year I bought a new-to-me cordless reciprocating saw (secondhand on kijiji). This has been on my wishlist for a while. We have so much scrub and brush around the farm. I thought a reciprocating saw was my best bet for pruning and trimming. It can get down in the dirt easier than a chainsaw (and is much lighter), so that I can mow right over the stump. Plus, not being limited by an extension cord was key. The pond shore needed more clean-up, and I was not stringing extension cords together until I could reach.

Note that I said “needed” more clean-up. The saw has been put to work, and I am loving it. I have cleared the pond shore, the septic bed (and then Matt’s Dad came and helped with a few bigger trees), one side of the pond trail and along the treeline at the edge of the front field.

The piles of brush are enormous, which leads to the next thing on my tool wishlist: a wood chipper. (For now I’m borrowing our farmer’s.)

Also on the list, a box trailer (so I don’t have to borrow Matt’s Dad’s) and a battery powered nailer (I am converted to battery tools).

Working around the farm makes me happy. Having the tools to do it is like a gift that keeps on giving.

Do you buy presents for yourself? How to you justify nice-to-have versus need-to-have? What’s on your tool wishlist?