Happy Victoria Day

Ellie walking in the field

Happy Victoria Day.

We have been having a wonderful weekend so far. There has been tractor time, picnic lunches, animals, hikes, bonfires and lots of other fun.

Picnic lunch with the barn cat

And I want more.

So I decided to grant myself a three-day weekend and take today off. I’ll be back next week with a new blog post.

I hope you are doing well. Take good care.

A Mother’s Day tree

Planting a tree for Mother's Day

You know those fantasies you have as you’re growing up, where you envision your home and your family and your life someday when you’re an adult?

One of mine was very specific. I think this was when I was a teenager, even before I met Matt.

I would live on a farm. There would be a big house, a big barn, beautiful property and trees. Lots and lots of trees. We would grow our own Christmas trees. And every Mother’s Day, we would plant a few new Christmas trees.

I had forgotten about this plan, but it came back to me the other day. Ellie was playing outside and I was digging a hole in preparation for planting a tree. I had come up with the idea that I wanted to transplant a tree for Mother’s Day. That it would be a fun, life affirming, long-reaching thing for us to do together.

Planting a tree for Mother's Day

As I was digging away, the memory of my childhood vision came back to me. I am so grateful that I got to make it real yesterday with our girl–and our furry children as well.

Planting a tree for Mother's Day

Planting a tree for Mother's Day

Ellie swinging on her playset with Baxter and Ralph behind the new tree we planted for Mother's Day

Matt was forever teasing me about my “sticks.” If a maple tree shows up somewhere I don’t want it, you can bet I’m going to transplant it, rather than dig it out and throw it away. This has led to a lot of spindly trees, but they usually survive their relocation and hopefully someday this stick will be a big beautiful reminder of this special time with our little girl.

How did you mark Mother’s Day?

 

Upgrading our leaky hot water tanks to fibreglass

“So you find that ominous puddle of water beneath your hot water heater. As you thoughtfully mop up the floor, … you are faced with one of two courses of action. The first, and… most soul-satisfying action would be to tear the unit bodily from the fittings and heave it lustily into the trash heap. But as your arms flex under this thought stimulus, you question your physical ability to perform this feat with all the zest and spontaneity the occasion requires. After all you are not as young and husky as you once were.”

Alfred J. Taylor in Popular Home Craft, February 1945

I received a copy of this magazine over the weekend, and it contained the article “Make That Water Heater Last.” The article talks of the demands of the Second World War and the impossibility of finding a plumber or buying a new heater when the old one starts to leak. It gives practical advice about how to “fortify your resolve” and “fix it yourself and make do.”

But beyond all of that, it is so well-written. The sentences are beautiful and funny. I couldn’t resist borrowing some of Alfred J. Taylor’s words to start this blog post, even if we did not have to make do when our “faithful old tank[s]” started to leak last year.

I’ve scanned the whole article to share it with you, in case you want a glimpse into home repair circa 1945 (don’t miss the last line… or the last two paragraphs… you know what? Just read the whole thing).

When we moved to the farm, we upgraded pretty much every system in the house. As part of our new geothermal heating and cooling system, we got two new hot water tanks. But within a few months of installing them, our hot water got super stinky. We didn’t want to shower it was so bad.

After a bit of online research I was able to figure out that the anodes in the tanks had likely become home to some malodorous bacteria. We decided to have the anodes removed, and our odor problems went away.

But a new problem arose. Without the anodes, the tanks were more susceptible to rust and likely wouldn’t last as long.

Last summer, we noticed some seepage around the bottom of the tanks. They had lasted just over 7 years before rusting out.

Leaking hot water tank

We started investigating our options and getting quotes.

Ultimately, we decided to go with one of the options our geothermal company had offered when they were fixing our stinky water issues: two new anode-less fiberglass tanks.

Rheem Marathon hot water heaters

Not the cheapest solution, but hopefully the longest lasting one.

(For those asking, “What about tankless?” I don’t like tankless water heaters. I’ve used them a few places and the water never gets hot enough for me. I like my showers to be scalding. Also, our geo system generates some excess heat, which is captured by our dual tank system, so we feel like we’re pretty efficient and environmentally friendly right now.)

I often joke that we have a science experiment in our utility room between the water treatment system and the geothermal. Now we have two spacecraft as well with these capsule shaped tanks.

(And for Mr. Taylor, with his iron cement and assorted wrenches, thank you for your encouraging, educational and entertaining article.)

Odds & sods

Last week I talked about looking forward to joy in the garden. On Saturday we found it. Sunshine, warmer temperatures, some cooperative worms, a bit more progress on weeding and our happy girl.

Weeding the vegetable garden with Ellie

I think a lot of people are using this time to reconnect with what’s most important. Family, nature, making, growing. I hope that among the juggle and the difficult, you’re able to find the joy.

Here are some other things that have made me happy over the last little while:

“The ultimate day of running and fixing and making and being.” Lots of lessons for living, prioritizing, working, feeling, thinking and accomplishing. (Also LOL at 10:05)

I watch a fair bit of HGTV most weeks. A new favourite is Celebrity IOU. It feels genuine, generous… and of course there are some beautiful makeovers.

I’m noticing a bit more diversity on HGTV. A few episodes have highlighted accessibility needs for people with mobility challenges and they’re branching out beyond the nuclear family with multi-generational households.

Thinking of hiring a designer? I’ve followed Jen at Rambling Renovators for a long time. Her style is beautiful, and I’m so proud of her for taking this step. But more I love the positive hopeful attitude she’s promoting in launching her business now.

Cookies with no chocolate, no peanut butter, yet everyone I gave them to asked for the recipe (Tip: This makes a huuuuuge quantity of cookies. I cut the recipe in half and still had more than 50. Hence, the giveaways.)

How to brush a toddler’s teeth. I feel like we’re making some progress toward a truce in our nightly battles though we’re not yet as peaceful as this demonstration. I welcome any tips.

Shelf isolation

The royal wartime radio address updated and reimagined

My writing elsewhere:

I wish you joy and health. Take good care.

Gardening philosophy: See how it goes

Earth Day is this week, so it seems like a good time to talk about vegetable gardens. It also seems like a lot of people are planning gardens this year. Whether it’s a desire to be more self-sufficient, or looking for an activity to keep kids busy during quarantine, or the joy that comes from watching things grow, there are a lot of up sides to gardening.

I’m not sure what our garden plans are yet. I think the best description of my philosophy is “see how it goes.”

It’s hard to overstate the mess that was the vegetable garden last year. I had high hopes of weeding at least the outer raised beds, but only made it about a quarter of the way around in the spring before I gave up.

I blame the baby.

Ellie gardening at 1 year old

One year ago this week

We spend plenty of time outside–that’s our favourite place to be–and Ellie is pretty good at amusing herself while Mama works.

But the garden ground was too uneven for her a year ago when she was still unsteady on her feet. She spent most of her time in the garden frustrated. She took two steps and tripped. She fell down and couldn’t get back up. She got caught in weeds or plants. I felt like I was torturing the baby every time I tried to work.

We both found joy when the raspberries ripened. Ellie very quickly learned that any red berries were good to eat, and I loved seeing her reach for berries one after another. She still got tangled up, but she persisted because nothing comes between this girl and her fruit.

Red raspberries

In the fall, I really, really wanted to prune the raspberries. I didn’t do it the year before (again, blame the baby), and I knew we’d have a bigger crop and easier picking experience this year if I could get it done.

Between some early mornings, naptimes, and one baby-free day, I got the raspberries done. There were major weeds, many dead canes, multiple wheelbarrow loads, a lot of careful realignment of canes behind the wire trellises, and of course my favourite furry sidekick.

Baxter laying beside the pruned row of raspberries

But they got done and they’re looking great. Seeing the new leaves sprouting on the tidy rows brings me joy.

Some asparagus is starting to poke up–maybe this will be the year we finally pick some–and the rhubarb has emerged. A sandbox has also landed in the garden. Thanks to its arrival (and some temporary pet worms), the asparagus is already weeded.

Ellie playing in her sandbox in the garden

There’s more to do, but I’m adhering to my “see-how-it-goes” philosophy. No matter what, I’m anticipating more joy this summer with our girl.

Are you planning to grow any vegetables this year? Do you garden with your kids? Any tips for keeping toddlers occupied while working outside?

 

(For anyone looking for more garden tips, Amanda at Life at Cloverhill is doing an IGTV series where she answers reader’s vegetable garden questions.)

How to prevent leaks when you hook up your garden hose

I don’t think Matt and I ever bought a garden hose. We received hand-me-downs from our Dads. We found a few that past owners left behind. I even pulled one out of the field where it had been buried in the grass for a few years.

Unsurprisingly, none of our hoses are in great shape. But despite the kinked rubber and the bent fittings, our hoses don’t leak.

There is one thing that we have bought that helps to prevent leaks–teflon tape. I keep a roll in the driveshed, along with an adjustable wrench, so that they’re handy every time I’m hooking up a hose or a nozzle.

Using teflon tape and an adjustable wrench to prevent a leaky garden hose

Teflon tape, also known as plumbers’ tape, is a thin, white, non-sticky tape. Wind a couple of inches around the threads of a hose–or any plumbing connection–and it helps to make a tight joint that won’t leak.

The teflon acts as a lubricant, so that the two pieces of the connection can be screwed together more tightly–this is where the wrench is also helpful. After you finger-tighten the connection, turn it the rest of the way with your wrench.

How to avoid hose leaks

A consideration with using teflon tape is to wrap it so that when you screw on your hose (or nozzle or whatever you’re connecting) you wrap the tape further around the threads, as opposed to unwinding it.

Wrapping hose threads with teflon tape

You only need enough tape to wrap 2 or 3 layers over the hose, so don’t rip a huge long piece.

Our roll of tape lives in the driveshed, even staying there through the winter. The cold doesn’t seem to affect the tape, and we get a few years out of a roll.

Do you have any gardening tips to share? What gardening hand-me-downs do you use at your house?

How to prevent leaks when you hook up your garden hose

 

Burning the pond shore

On Saturday afternoon, I fulfilled a long-held dream. I lit the pond shore on fire.

Controlled burn beside the pond

No, quarantine is not making me crazy. Yes, we have interesting ways of passing the time here at the farm.

To recap:

  1. The pond is my absolute favourite place on this property.
  2. By mid-summer, we can’t get to the pond because the grass and brush is so overgrown.
  3. Every year I have plans to clear the pond shore.
  4. Every year I make very little progress.

That is the story of the pond that I have shared publicly.

Secretly I’ve been thinking for years about clearing the shore with fire.

There are the practical concerns, like not lighting the whole farm on fire. But nothing is as fast as fire for making a clean slate.

Controlled burn beside the pond

This burn took about an hour–one toddler naptime. And I did in fact manage to not light the whole farm on fire.

There’s still more to do. Saplings to clip. Rocks to pick. Firepit to finish. Dock to build… someday.

Firepit by the pond

But I should be able to mow a decent area once the grass starts to grow again. And 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.

I hope that you are all doing well and are keeping busy and staying safe. Take care.

Odds & sods

Hello from COVID-19 quarantine at the farm. The farm is not a bad place at all to hunker down, and I feel fortunate that we have this spot.

We play outside and inside. I’ve broken out my old Cabbage Patch doll (for her) and jigsaw puzzles (for me). Ellie loves her new play area in the basement, though I so wish I had a playground or swing set for her outside. It’s in the plans. I just haven’t got there yet.

Ellie playing with a cabbage patch doll

We look for snail shells at the pond, sit on the tractor in the barn, practice rolling down the hill behind the house (which is a tandem event, since the toddler doesn’t understand physics yet), and I trade wheelbarrow rides for just a few minutes to rake this next section of flower garden.

I do a bit of work online and am daily so grateful that I am here with Ellie and don’t have to answer to a boss–aside from keeping clients happy.

Matt, who was our lead grocery shopper, always kept us stocked as though the apocalypse was about to arrive. So our pantry, freezer, battery stash, toiletries, cleaning supplies are all full–even though I’ve been on a mission over the last few months to eat the freezer (in hindsight, not great timing). I of course have to go to the grocery store, but I’ve been buying enough for two weeks at a time, so I can minimize my outings.

I’m finding quarantine brings out grief in different ways and I’m missing Matt in new ways. He would love this time off work and being home with us at the farm. He voluntarily self-isolated before it was government mandated. We would be really good at this.

But, Ellie and I are a dynamic duo. There are lots of things for us to do, so it’s not too hard to stay home and do our part to flatten the curve.

Twinning

I had an epiphany last week when I was taking some items to the post office. What if I am somehow a carrier of the virus? It could be on the package, which is then handled by the post office staff and any number of people as it travels from my house to someone else’s. I cannot carry the responsibility of infecting anyone. Never mind our families and our daughter and people like Matt. So we are staying home.

I hope that you are staying safe and doing everything you can to help stop this virus.

Here is this month’s odds & sods round-up, quarantine edition:

We’re keeping connected with family and friends through text, online chats, phone calls, Facetime and emails. I’ve taken food to a friend who works at the hospital and a neighbour who is overdue with her third baby–two people who need easy meals after long, tough days. I’ve also set a goal of reaching out to at least one more remote connection everyday, whether it’s a coworker, neighbour, cousin. How are you staying connected?

We got a new stove! In case you missed my previous update, the team at Tasco exhibited the care and compassion I was hoping for, and arranged for us to return our malfunctioning stove. Our new stove arrived just about 10 days ago, and it is lovely. I felt pressure to pick the right one this time and walked into the store with a spreadsheet of ovens with all of their features and reviews. I ended up going with KitchenAid. The double ovens are exactly what I was looking for. Food cooks as expected in the amount of time expected. I made homemade mushroom soup for the first time (so easy and so good) and my favourite bread–apparently it’s the thing to do during quarantine.

No knead bread baking in the oven

Just discovered this artist. Love this one, this one and this one so much.

What dog owners should do during COVID-19 and 10 ways to help an animal shelter during COVID-19.

The terms social distancing and self isolation bug me. Why invent new words that people have to learn? Especially in a crisis? As a communicator, my mission is to always be as clear as possible. That means keeping things simple and direct.

Social distancing graphic

We’re wrapping up March by… what else… staying home. I’m hoping the month ends lamb-like, so we can be outside and maybe even finish clearing the gardens so the spring flowers are ready to bloom.

 

How are you getting through COVID-19? I hope that you are well and safe. Take good care, everyone.

 

My writing elsewhere:

Bright moments in dark times

Last week was Matt’s birthday. We pulled together as a family–by phone, Facetime and a few of us in person–to remember him, talk about him and celebrate him.

We had a particularly special celebration to take care of as well.

Matt and I had been given a bottle of champagne when we moved to the farm. We had been saving it for when we paid off the mortgage, and that is what I did a couple months ago. So Matt’s Dad opened the bottle, and we had a toast.

Glass of champagne on the patio

This is obviously not at all how we wanted to pay off the farm. While this milestone is usually a great accomplishment, for us it felt tragic. Today, I’m sharing something I wrote when I got home from making that last payment.

I hope you’ll read it because while there is great tragedy, there was also great beauty, and I think there are some lessons we can all take in these challenging days of COVID19.

The music was driving me crazy.

I was sitting at the credit union feeling like I was holding it together by the finest of threads. I was there to pay off the mortgage.

I had been anxious about this appointment for weeks.

Paying off the mortgage was super important to Matt and me. Especially Matt. We’d worked really hard and paid about half of it down in the 7 1/2 years we’d owned the farm.

Before he died, Matt and I talked about his life insurance. I said, “Well, I was thinking of paying off the mortgage.”

For Matt there was no question. “You’d better pay off the mortgage!”

Now I was here, and I was paying off the mortgage. We were achieving something we’d worked so hard for and dreamed about for so long. But I was alone. Matt was paying it off, but in the worst way possible.

I was trying not to cry, not to scream, not to lose my mind. And the music was about to send me off a cliff.

A speaker in the ceiling of the office was playing a local radio station.

I haven’t been able to listen to music for a long time, and this felt so noisy.

Then the words started to make it through.

I’ll be there for the highs and lows… By your side, when you’re all alone. I will be there. (Walk Off The Earth)

 

Then the next song.

I’ll carry the weight. I’ll do anything for you. My bones may break. But I’ll never be untrue. (Serena Ryder)

 

Tears were rolling down my face. I looked up at the ceiling at that terrible speaker and said, “Thank you for being here. I love you.”

That afternoon, I came home to the farm. I let Baxter out and we walked out over the fields. I talked to Matt. “We finally did it. You did it. You worked so hard for this. Thank you. It’s ours.”

I know a lot of people are facing really hard situations right now and there is a lot of fear about COVID-19. Reach out to family and friends. Look around you for those moments of love and joy–like a song on the radio that you don’t hear at first. Know that you are not alone. Even in the hardest hard there is good. You will get through this.

Making a playhouse out of a grain silo

How about a bit of fun for this Monday?

I feel like we need it after last week’s post about our malfunctioning stove, plus everything else that’s going on in the world. (P.S. Tasco agreed to take back the stove, so I bought a new one at the end of last week. Thank goodness. I’ll share more about the new stove once it arrives.)

Let’s think about a playhouse for Ellie, shall we?

Ellie, Bax and Ralph by the silo

When we were growing up, we loved playing outside when we went to visit our grandma’s house. She had a super deep, super steep backyard that sloped down to a ravine. Halfway down the hill tucked into some trees and bushes was a little tiny house with white pealing paint. It wasn’t big enough for an adult to stand up in, and by the time we came along it only housed abandoned lawn furniture. But we were told it had been my Mom’s playhouse when she was growing up. It always seemed like the coolest little spot to me. It was so hidden and private and obviously kids only.

We had a great backyard growing up and tons of things to do and lots of freedom. But we didn’t have a playhouse. We would occasionally build forts, and it was always a thrill to have a place of our own.

I’d like to give Ellie that experience, and fortunately I have a great start with our grain silo beside the barn.

Wouldn’t this make an awesome playhouse?

Ellie running past the metal grain silo

It’s big, so there are lots of possibilities of what we can do.

My plan is to make it two stories. It’s tall enough that a floor halfway up would still make two really usable spaces–an adult could probably even stand up (though I probably won’t be invited).

Metal grain silo

A ship’s ladder would be a simple way to get up and down.

It’ll need a few windows for light, and maybe a better door.

Ellie trying to get in the metal grain silo

Beyond that, Ellie could make it what she wants.

This spread from the May issue of Country Living gives some ideas, although this is much more extravagant than what I have in mind.

Grain silo conversion in Country Living May 2019

I think this would be a great secret space for her. I can even see sleepovers out here once she’s bigger.

Plus, if we truly are in the apocalypse, the silo would be a place to house all of the friends who have told me they’re coming to the farm when the world ends.

Did you have a playhouse growing up? What do you think Ellie needs in her playhouse? What would you do with this grain silo?