Musing about kitchen floors

The scene plays out most nights at our house. After dinner, I go to the sink, turn on the water, squirt in the soap and start washing the dishes. Ellie comes running. “Ellie help! Ellie do dishes!”

She collects various play cups, we drag her step stool over to the sink and we switch the faucet back and forth between her sink and mine as we do the dishes. I feel like the “we” and “do this dishes” each deserve their own quotation marks there.

Every few minutes, I swipe the counter, the floor, the toddler with the towel and try to stem the flood.

And I think to myself, we can never have wood floors in the kitchen.

Now I realize I will not always have a two year old who loves to play in the water. But I still don’t think wood floors in the kitchen are for me. I am not that tidy of a cook or diligent of a housekeeper.

I feel lucky to have wood floors in our living, dining and bed rooms and plan to extend them through much of the main floor someday. But I don’t think I’ll be extending them into the kitchen.

A rule of interior design seems to be have one consistent flooring throughout your house (or at least the main floor). It makes your house seem larger, and, especially in an open concept plan, it allows spaces to flow together. And wood is the go-to flooring choice.

But when we (someday) renovate the kitchen, I’m going to be looking for something other than wood that works with wood elsewhere. And I’m going to have to figure out how to transition from wood to whatever floor I use in the kitchen.

I took a little tour around the internet to get some ideas, so I thought I’d share some of them with you today. I’d also appreciate your advice. Have you seen any flooring transitions that you like? How do you mix flooring? What flooring do you like best for a kitchen?

Stops and starts

Room boundaries are the most common points where flooring changes. Right now our wood stops and our tile starts at the large archway between the kitchen and the living room.

This house is open concept, but you can see they’ve defined the kitchen and dining area with different flooring.

This kitchen uses the boundary between the living area and kitchen as a rough guide, but it plays up the division in an artistic, creative way. I’m looking for something more subtle, but I feel like this look works in this cool, colourful kitchen.

I felt like I’d had a major breakthrough the other week when I realized I could choose another landmark other than the “line” between the living room and the kitchen. A landmark like the island. What if I made the island the boundary of the kitchen and used my durable, non-wood flooring on the kitchen side of the island and wood everywhere else?

Sarah Richardson kind of did this in her farmhouse. She put a tile section in the main work area between the sink and the stove. The rest of the kitchen (and the main floor) is wood.

You can see in this picture that the tile is barely visible from the other side of the island, so the feeling of consistency and openness is maintained.

Now I’m mulling over what kind of floor would work. I know there are wood look-a-likes out there, but given the real wood we have elsewhere, I don’t want to mix. And I’d like to stay away from tile or stone, as I find it too hard to stand on during long cooking sessions.

The kitchen reno is a long way off, likely, but thinking about it is part of the fun for me. Want to join me in a little day-dreaming?

What would you do?

 

Odds & sods

The end of July always feels like the halfway point of summer for me. We snuck away from the farm last week for a family cottage holiday. It was lovely to have a change of routine and time with family after so much isolation over the last several months.

Morning at the cottage

Last week also marked 2 months until my 40th birthday. I’m not hung up on the number, though I definitely don’t feel 40 yet. And I’m not seeing this as a major milestone. But it is an occasion, and I don’t want to ignore it.

I’ve started feeling more ready to look ahead–though some days I’m absolutely still focused on just getting through–and I started to mull an idea over. I share my birthday with Nicole Balch of Making it Lovely (we’re the same age). When she turned 30, she inspired me with her 30 before 30 list.

I’ve decided to do a 40 for 40 list. Not before 40. I only have 2 months. But between now and the end of the year, I’ve come up with 40 things that I’d like to do. Some of them are chores (getting a handle on our investments), some of them are fun (rewatch Jurassic Park), some of them are things I’ve always wanted to do (like knit this sweater).

I feel like it’s a way to mark my 40th year.

But before I get too ahead of myself, I wanted to share some things that I came across this month that were particularly meaningful, inspiring and interesting:

A goodbye letter for Baxter

How to raise a monarch butterfly (we had to find a sitter for our 10! caterpillars while we were away)

Monarch caterpillars hanging upside down

Lots of life lessons learned after spending a month with the toughest man on the planet

A semi-scientific exploration of how to be more happy (reading this book, I realized I am pretty happy)

More inspiration for Ellie’s playground expansion

Want to move to the country? 15 things to consider

More real talk about country living and the busy-ness of modern life

How has your summer been going? Have you been able to get away? What are you doing to change up your routine or connect with family? Do you have any goals between now and the end of the year?

Child’s art display in the playroom

I am someone who loves bulletin boards. I fill them with inspirational pictures and sayings, family photos, reminders, notes, calendars–anything and everything.

When Matt and I moved into our first house, one of the bedrooms had a built in desk with upper shelves. I took a roll of cork and pasted it to the wall between the two shelves. When I switched jobs, I covered the utilitarian grey bulletin board in my new office with pretty floral fabric. In Ellie’s room, when it used to be my office, I built a custom tall, narrow cork board (and again covered it in pretty floral fabric) for the weird niche that’s just inside the door.

I had the idea to add a cork board to Ellie’s new basement play area awhile ago. There was a big blank wall above the shelves that was perfect for some art. Or lots of art.

Cork board art display in our toddler's playroom

Our girl loves drawing and painting and making. And when I started putting her creations up on the fridge, she was thrilled. It was so touching to see how proud she was to have her art on display.

I wanted to give her a designated spot to hang her pictures, and adding a bulletin board to her play zone was the perfect solution.

Cork board art display in our toddler's playroom

But I wanted a large bulletin board and every where I looked they were expen$ive.

I finally decided that I spend very, very little on art. I spent very little setting up her play area. I had been thinking about a bulletin board for a few months. Ellie’s art collection is only going to grow.

I could afford to splurge on the bulletin board.

So I found the most affordable source I could and ordered it.

It fills the wall perfectly (I chose a 6 foot by 4 foot board), and it’s a fun addition to her play room.

Cork board art display in our toddler's playroom

I feel like this cork board is an example of how I like to think beyond pictures when it comes to art and wall decor.

Elsewhere in the basement we have our oversize wood scrabble tiles, DIY posters, photo collages of Matt (hung at Ellie’s height), and even some enamel basins in the laundry room. Wall art is all about adding interest to your space and there are so many ways to do that beyond pictures. A bulletin board may not seem artsy, but it soon will be filled with art. And it will be a meaningful, personal display for Ellie’s play area.

Are you a bulletin board person? Do you call it a bulletin board or a cork board? Is there a difference? How do you display your kid’s art? Have you made a decor or organizing splurge? What unconventional “art” do you have at your house?

Garden update

Back in April, I said that my garden philosophy this year was to “see how it goes.” Wanna see how it’s going?

Weedy garden

Okay. That looks a bit dire. I have been mowing a few sections of the vegetable garden for the past several years. I let it go for a few weeks and it went a bit wild. But it has been reclaimed. Or at least cut down again.

Mowing the vegetable garden

I’ve weeded half the raspberries a couple of times, but I feel like I’m not making very much progress on keeping them weeded. My mission is to be able to easily pick raspberries this year. Hence the mowing. The berries are small, but a few are starting to ripen.

First ripe raspberry

Ellie picking raspberries in the garden

 

 

We have had suuuuuuper hot weather–exactly what summer should be, in my opinion. But we have had no rain. So everything is suuuuuuper dry. I’m sure the berries would be happier with some moisture, but I’ve not watered them yet.

There is only one more thing I’m paying attention to in the garden. The grapes. Look at all of these bunches of baby grapes! Aren’t they amazing? I am so thrilled there are so many grapes. I am hoping that they grow big and juicy and we’re able to get a good harvest this year, despite all of the neglect.

Unripe grapes

Also on the to-do list along with watering? Pick off the Japanese beetles. Ugh. So gross.

Japanese beetles on grape vines

The other highlights of the garden are things that have received no attention at all.

One hollyhock has returned. Yay! And a fair-size patch of milkweed has sprouted. I guess some good things come from neglect.

Pink hollyhock

Milkweed in the vegetable garden

The rest of our garden is not in the garden. Matt’s Dad bought us some tomato seedlings back in the spring, and rather than try to clear a spot in the garden, I decided to stick them in pots. So I moved a couple big pots to the front door and set up a little container garden.

Growing tomatoes in pots

There’s a hibiscus, some herbs and the tomatoes. They’re staked and suckered and string trained and everything. Since they’re at the front door, they’re also getting watered regularly because I can’t ignore them.

One pot is doing better than the other, but all the plants have some blossoms, so I’m hoping we see some fruit this year.

Overall, I would say the garden is going. It’s definitely not my ideal garden, but it’s working for me right now.

How is your garden growing? What are you picking? Are you doing any container gardening? Anyone else mowing their garden?

Solar panels turn six

Barn with solar panels at sunset

Six years ago, at the end of April 2014 (wow, that feels so long ago), we turned on our solar panels and started generating power. Every spring since then, I’ve written a post sharing how our little power station is doing (you can see the panels on the right side of the lower barn roof in the photo above). This year, our solar-versary beamed right by without me noticing. (Can’t imagine what else would have been on my mind.)

So today I’m getting caught up.

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

Solar panels on the barn roof

Over the last year we spent $2,683.97 on electricity (this is our lights, pump, heat, fridge, stove, etc.). And we made $4,349.94 from the solar panels (we’re hooked into the grid, and the province pays us $0.396 per kWh). Yay to coming out ahead.

Annual income from solar panels

Last year we finally crossed the halfway point in making our investment back–over the previous 5 years we had made 56% of what we invested in installing the panels ($40,727.46). Now we’re passed the two-thirds mark–$27,127.69 or 67%.

Monthly income from solar panels

More than ever, I am grateful that we invested in these solar panels. Our finances have obviously changed since Matt’s death. Having the money from the solar panels and knowing it will cover our hydro costs is a comfort.

And even though I focus on the financials in this update, I strongly feel solar panels are the right choice for the environment, and I’m glad that we were able to take this step.

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

 

Odds & sods

I work very hard to be a positive person and put goodness out into the world. So I feel like this isn’t what I want to say, but I have no other description than this past month felt heavy.

I miss Baxter. My Dad. Matt.

Father’s Day, the anniversary of my Dad’s death and a few other occasions weighed on me.

Matt’s Dad is part of the Optimist Club, a service organization in Matt’s hometown. The Club bought us a tree to plant at the farm. I chose a sugar maple, to honour Matt’s love of making maple syrup, and selected a spot near Ellie’s playground overlooking the fields.

Standing by Matt's tree

It was lovely and special and generous and kind. But it was also sad and harder than I expected.

The last class of kids that Matt was able to teach graduated last week, and the school organized a scholarship in his honour. Lovely and special and generous and kind. But also sad and hard.

Obviously, the world is grappling with some very, very difficult issues, and we felt the impacts of that here at the farm.

Slowly pandemic restrictions are lifting (sometimes it still feels too fast). We have been getting together more with family and friends, but still staying outside and still being cautious about going out very much.

I have been thinking about race and biases and racism and what part I can play, both for myself and for Ellie.

And in the realm of first world problems, we had no internet for about two weeks, which sent work, connecting with family, my Zoom grief counselling group skidding sideways. I’ve been working hard to get caught up.

But we had beautiful warm (sometimes sweltering hot) weather. Our fields had their first cut of hay, and we took Ellie’s annual picture with the bales. (You can see the flashback on my Instagram.) And last night as I walked up the driveway after closing the gate, thousands of fireflies were sparkling all around me as far as I could see.

Ellie standing on the hay bale

Every single day has good in it, and that is some of what I am sharing today in my monthly round-up.

“Two of the fundamental facts of being a person are 1. Whether we can walk or not, we must go on. And then also 2. None of us ever walks alone.”

My new favourite Instagram account (and an inspiring One Room Challenge transformation)

The One Room Challenge wrapped up last week and I’ve been having fun looking at some of the rooms

Expansion plans for Ellie’s playground

Three tips for how to make choices that will make you happy

Pandemic financial habits that are worth keeping

A thought-provoking comparison

I found my design inspiration for our main bathroom

How was June for you? What were your bright sides this month?

 

Like dandelions in the wind

A couple of weeks ago, our two oldest nephews came up to the farm to help with the grass. The oldest one got the tractor and started mowing. The youngest one got balls and toys and played with Ellie while I ran the push mower.

At one point I looked over to see him blowing dandelions with her. My breath caught. The last person to do that with her was her Dad. And now, one of her “big cousins” was doing it with her, and Matt will never do it with her again.

Matt and Ellie blowing dandelions

Today, Father’s Day, I am sad. So, so sad that we don’t get to celebrate Matt and my Dad in person.

It’s easy to let sadness be the only thing I feel today and to focus on everything that is missing.

But I’m choosing to be grateful. Grateful that her 18-year-old cousin is willing to blow dandelions with her, juggle balls and toss them in the air as high as he can, run up and down the barn ramp, collect pinecones to throw in the pond and spend a morning doing whatever a little two-year-old girl wants to do. Grateful for these two generous, helpful, kind young men. Grateful for the fathers and father figures in our lives.

Ellie has one Dad, and we celebrate and remember him every single day.

But today is Father’s Day, and we have many father figures. From cousins to uncles to friends to her Papa, Ellie is loved. And so am I. And that is what today is about for us: celebrating love of fathers and children in all their forms.

What ever this day means to you, Happy Father’s Day.

 

Bonfires at the pond

Bonfire beside the pond

The sun is going down. The air is warm. Frogs and birds are chirping. The water of the pond ripples as bugs, fish and beavers paddle around. Within a circle of stones, the flames of the bonfire dance in the gentle breeze.

This is the idyllic night by the pond that I have imagined since we moved here. And it has finally happened.

For many years, I have proclaimed that clearing the pond shore is my one and only outside project for the summer. And for many years, I have failed to fulfill my dream.

Overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

You might recall that earlier this year I burned the shore. This cleared all of last year’s brush and grass. In a couple of weeks, the grass had started to regrow, but it was small and and soft and green—very mowable.

Controlled burn beside the pond

Matt’s Dad went through with his heavy duty loppers and chainsaw. He did battle with saplings, suckers and the beaver lodge (not dismantling it, just climbing around on it). It was brutal for him, but more brutal for the brush.

Burning all of it took two more big fires.

I mowed, our nephew mowed, my cousin mowed. Ellie and I added benches and moved rocks to make the firepit.

Soon, Ellie and I were making daily visits to the beavers and then friends came for a (social distancing) bonfire. It was as wonderful as I imagined.

Last weekend, Matt’s Dad, his oldest brother and our two nephews waged another battle. This time with the stumps. Once we started mowing, we discovered a few stumps sticking up high enough to catch on the mower. With axes, pry bars and shovels, they dug them all out—another brutal job, but one I appreciate so, so much.

Digging out stumps by the pond

We celebrated on Saturday night by gathering for a bonfire. It was the first time we’ve all been together since Matt’s birthday in March. At the start of April, I wrote, “maybe, maybe in a few months the shore will be green, quarantine will be over, and we’ll be able to walk down and sit by the water.”

Though restrictions are lifting across Ontario, we are still being cautious. But the shore is green and we’re able to spend time together.

I often sit by the pond for a few minutes in the afternoons when Ellie naps or in the evenings after she goes to bed. We still visit the beavers at least once every day. And bonfires have become weekly events.

Evening at the pond

All of this gives me joy and peace, even more than I imagined.

Our backyard playground & tips for buying a used playset

Backyard playset

As winter waned this year, Ellie and I developed a habit of adding a playground visit to our daily outings. Then the pandemic arrived full force and by the first day of spring all of the playgrounds in our area were closed.

Ellie looked out the window as we drove past and said, “Pwaygound?” When I explained they were closed and we couldn’t use them, she cried.

When I told her that we might get our own playground at the farm, Ellie’s first question was if it would be closed. I was happy to assure her that her playground will never close.

Backyard playset

The idea of adding a playset was easy. It’s something I’ve planned since last year.

We received a lot of generous donations from the Go Fund Me campaign to honour Matt. And I felt like using some of that money for a playset for Ellie was something Matt would have enjoyed a lot.

But finding the playset was not easy.

Matt and I had visited a local builder that makes playgrounds last year. The quote for a small, old display model at the end of the season was $4,000. I was tempted, but Matt set me straight.

This spring, I started my search on kijiji (the Canadian Craig’s List). Playsets came up, but they disappeared within minutes–not hours, minutes. I think with all of the kids out of school, parents were looking for things to keep them busy at home. Competition was fierce.

But I finally managed to be first in line for one. It has everything I was looking for and is perfect for our girl. She loooooves it. It’s always open… except at bedtime. And it’s a lovely gift from her Dad.

Backyard playset

Here are my tips for buying a second-hand playset:

1. Search often. Search everywhere. It took me a few weeks to find our playset. I spread the word with friends and family, hoping that they might know someone who wanted to get rid of a playset or that they could keep an eye on various buy and sell groups they’re part of. My primary market was kijiji. New sets were listed everyday, but they sold within minutes. I learned that I had to check the site a few times and day and be prepared to act fast.

2. Know what you’re looking for. Our girl loved climbing and sliding when we went to the park. She was also getting more comfortable on swings. So I knew our set needed swings, a slide and some kind of climber. The size of the playset didn’t matter to me, but if you have a smaller yard, you may want to know what dimensions your set should be.

The playset didn’t need to be perfect. I was prepared to do a bit of work fixing it if necessary. Playsets have been outside for years. Kids have played on them. They may be weathered and worn. Think about what repairs you’re willing and able to make.

Building a backyard playset

Also, know what price you’re prepared to pay. Most of the playsets I saw were less than $500, though a few went up to $1,000–still big savings over the $4,000 we were quoted last year. Thinking in advance about what’s most important to you means you can quickly evaluate a listing and decide to buy it or not.

3. Arrange transportation. Playsets tend to be large and awkward. They’re not something you can throw in the back of your car easily. But prompt pick-up is important in a competitive market. I knew I’d need help bringing it home, so I had Matt’s Dad with his pick-up truck and trailer on standby. I also had other friends and family for back up if needed. I wanted to be able to act fast once I successfully found a playset.

4. Be prepared to disassemble. A lot of the playsets I saw online said, “You take it apart.” They were fully set up in people’s backyards. I’ve noticed this changed a bit as people became more sensitive about social distancing. Fortunately, the seller disassembled our set and carried out to the curb, where we picked it up. However, there were still a few pieces that we took apart to make transportation easier. Bring some tools to the pick up, so that you can take care of whatever is needed. A toolbox would be the most basic, but if you have to do a full disassembly I’d recommend a drill, wrenches, a socket set, pry bar, saw and sledge hammer.

5. Be prepared to reassemble. Once you get your new-to-you playset home, you’re going to have to put at least some of it together. For us, there was a fair bit of reassembly needed. Matt’s Dad and I spent about 4 hours building the playset. Or, as Ellie says, “Papa fix playground.”

Building a backyard playset

6. Find the manual. Perhaps the seller has kept the manual and passes it along to you. This was not the case for us, but he did supply the brand name for our playset, so I was able to find the manual online and print it off. We could not have put the playset back together properly without it. This is a case where you definitely should follow the directions.

Tips for building a backyard playset

7. Sort the pieces. If you’re like us, you’ll receive a big bag of bolts and screws from the seller. Inside the bag were more than 12 different sizes of bolts and screws, plus all of the nuts and washers. Each is meant to be used in a very specific place, and for strength and safety it’s important they’re installed correctly. Before we started putting anything back together, I sorted all of the hardware into labelled plastic cups . Then, it was a quick grab for the C3 screws, rather than a frustrating search. You can also sort the wood, but I found that was less critical. Note that the pieces of wood will likely be stamped with a part number somewhere (it took me awhile to notice this, and made life much easier once I did).

Building a backyard playset

8. Inspect. Once the playground is set up, check it over carefully. Make sure all of the screws and bolts are tight. Look for any damaged boards. Find any spots where bolts are missing. The upper deck was in one piece when we picked it up. But I discovered that some bolts underneath the platform weren’t installed. Also make sure to anchor the playset into the ground so that it never tips over.

9. Play! The playset has been a great addition to the farm. We spend time there pretty much everyday. We eat lunch on the built-in picnic bench, and swing and slide and climb. I put it right by the garden, and I’ve been able to do a bit of work while Ellie plays.

Backyard playset

Do you have a playset at your house? Are you a swinger or a slider or a climber? Have you added any new features to your property during quarantine?

 

Our golden boy

Baxter at sunset

Last week, on a warm sunny day, under the shade of a big maple tree in front of the house, Baxter died. I held him and told him what a good boy he is and how special he is and how well he had done at everything.

And I told him Matt was waiting for him and would be so, so happy to see him. I can see Baxter wagging his helicopter tail and singing his woo-woo howl when he sees Matt.

Baxter hadn’t felt up to singing or wagging for awhile, so it will be nice for him to return to himself finally.

Baxter's last walk with Ralph and Ellie

As soon as we moved to the farm, Matt and I knew we would add a dog to our family. Baxter was with us through so much. He tolerated renovations, followed the tractor around and lay in the sun as we worked outside. He went along with whatever we were doing and we were a unit.

When Ellie was born, Baxter was uncertain. But he watched over her and made sure she was taken care of, even through his early uneasiness. She became part of our unit, and he became rock solid for her.

Ellie and Baxter sitting on the grass

Ellie reading to Baxter

I am so grateful that he was in her life. Ellie’s love for animals and her gentleness with them is rooted with Baxter. She will carry the lessons he taught her through her life.

Ellie laying on the floor beside Baxter

Feeding Baxter

Matt and Bax had a special relationship. Their little routines or sayings are unique to them. As Matt’s illness progressed, there were many nights Baxter stayed with him. He stayed close to Matt and watched him carefully.

Matt with Baxter

And after Matt died, Baxter was there for me, asking for very, very little as we went through each day and giving patience and comfort through tearful late night conversations and cuddles.

There is another hole in our lives.

But, our lives were fuller because of him, and we hold him with us.

Our family