March felt tough. We marked Matt’s 43rd birthday–the third birthday without him here. Ralph died. Spring tiptoed in and out, and I’m really ready for it to come and stay. I’m tired, and the juggle has been feeling tough some days.
But there were ups in the month. There always are. We saw some more family members for the first time in a while and actually ate dinner together. Those connections are special. Cigo has very much settled into the farm and our family and we’re having a great time together. The snow has melted (though it returned yesterday). Ellie is learning to ride her bike. My mind is going to outdoor projects, though I will wait for the ground to dry and temperature to rise.
Here are some things that are motivating me today and as I look ahead.
Even if your life is 80% sunshine and 20% storm, it is so easy to let that 20% be the weather. Do your best to keep it in perspective.
I love being outside at the farm during a full moon. Being able to see my shadow at night feels like a bit of magic. Last week we had a maple moon–a full moon that coincided with the sap running in the maple trees.
Once again, we have tapped our trees. The annual sap run and syrup making has become a fun tradition.
Ellie loves sample the sap as it drips from the trees and then monitor the sap as it boils on the stove. (We scorched our first batch, so she keeps an extra close eye now.)
Enjoying our sweet homemade syrup is a sweet treat for the rest of the year (as long as it lasts) and a continual reminder of the magic of the farm.
After she died, Ellie and I went for a walk. As we came up the trail toward the barn, I was hit by the thought that Ralph wasn’t here.
It doesn’t feel right. Another hole in our family.
I call Ralph the #worldsbestbarncat. Because she was. She was tough and savvy. Gentle and affectionate.
Our first spring was particularly memorable for the four kittens she gave us–and the realization she was female.
Everyday she would wait for Matt to come home from work, knowing that he’d head straight to the barn to dish out her kibble. Her habit of waiting on the driveway and demanding food and attention led to her broken leg–and her temporary stint as an indoor cat.
She bonded with Ellie from the beginning and was an exceptional babysitter. If I sat Ellie on the ground, Ralph would wind around her. Ellie would laugh and try and try to reach and pet. Ellie’s gentleness and affection for animals is rooted in Ralph and Baxter.
We have no idea how old she was or what her life was like before we came here. She was blind in one eye, pretty much deaf, almost toothless and lame (mostly a joke, since her leg healed very well). She did not like dogs, though she did come to tolerate Baxter. Even in her last weeks as she was weak and ill, she had the energy to hiss and swipe at Cigo.
Maybe she waited until Cigo was here. We have another furry family member to watch over us now. Her time here was done. Now she is with Matt and Baxter.
She gave us 10 special years, and she will always be part of this farm and our family.
A decade. We’ve been here at the farm for a decade.
Ten years sounds like a lot. But it feels short to me. In the life of this property, 10 years is a blink.
When we came to the farm, we were told that the previous two or three owners had each lasted only a few years. I hoped that we would break that streak. Now I hope that someday the farm may become Ellie’s and generations of our family will be able to live here and be part of this special place.
Be part of.
In living at the farm, I’ve become conscious that it’s not really ours. The land is its own. We care for it. Tend it. Enjoy it. Use it. Benefit from it. But it is its own being that has a life far beyond us.
A friend gave me a book for Christmas, Braiding Sweetgrass, that discusses an Indigenous philosophy of land and nature. The author advocates for a “reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world.”
Since moving to the farm, my attitude a lot of the time has been that nature knows what she’s doing and works best without interference. A reciprocal relationship isn’t quite that. Reciprocity means tending the land so that it will tend to us. Sweetgrass thrives when it’s harvested–moderately, carefully and considerately.
I’ve always been conscious of the long history and future of the farm and wanted to do my best to honour that. Now I’m considering that honouring means being a bit more active. Cutting back brush and vines that are infiltrating the forests. Somehow clearing some of the phragmites from the pond and re-establishing cattails. Learning more about regenerative agriculture and working with our farmer to try some new (old) things.
Ten years at the farm is special. In part, 10 years feels short because living here still feels so novel. Each year, the impact this property has on me increases. And my desire to care for it–and ensure it cares for Ellie and those who may live here in the future–grows too.
I am ending February in gratitude. Gratitude for what we have. The world still feels full of turmoil and conflict. There is still illness, but I am grateful for the security and peace that we have at the farm and within our family.
Cigo is settling in and we are feeling comfortable in our new family. Being able to share our love and joy is very special.
We celebrated Valentine’s Day, Family Day and three birthdays, including Ellie’s. We didn’t see as many family members as we would have liked, but we celebrated.
We had snow, rain, wind and days where we could see glimpses of spring.
Life keeps going. We keep doing our best.
Here are some things I enjoyed this month:
A conversation and a prayer. “In a world that is struggling, a world that is swirling, a world that is tumbling, may we not lose hope… May we each trust that our acts of love and our acts of kindness no matter how small help the dawn of a new reality break upon this world.”
One of the functions the mudroom was designed for is being fulfilled. A row of hooks is now holding leashes, collars and old towels.
Last week, Ellie and I added Cigo to our family.
I was not looking for a dog. But something made me click onto the SPCA website. There I saw an easy-going 3 year old boxer lab. That all sounded very familiar, and we had an amazing experience last time.
Without giving myself time to think, I put in an application. A few days later we went to meet him. Ellie liked him and he was good with her–my most important criteria. The next day, we heard from the adoptions coordinator that we were approved and he could come home with us.
Cigo (See-Go) has been a nice addition to our family. We’re all still adjusting, and it’s definitely a juggle. But seeing Ellie with him is incredibly special and having him with me as I write at night is comforting.
His overall disposition is awesome. He’s good with people, children and dogs, and doesn’t bother with our food or Ellie’s toys. He doesn’t have a lot of training, so we’re working on basics like not pulling on the leash, stay and our house rules.
He loves the farm and likes rolling in the snow, checking out the smells when we go snowshoeing and running around the driveway with Ellie.
A week in, he’s starting relax and know what’s expected. And we’re getting to know him and what he needs. It feels good to share the love and joy of our family.
Matt’s death showed me how important it is to be prepared for your worst case scenario. There are absolutely critical things like a will to protect your family. Or everyday things like making sure someone knows where you bank, how you pay your bills, or even what your important passwords are.
Beyond illness or death, severe weather and natural disasters are other factors that have a tragic impact on people every year. And with climate change, these incidents are happening more frequently.
I want to ensure that I do everything possible to protect Ellie, myself and the farm. My plan is to focus on one “prep” task a month.
Here are some of the things on my list so far:
Last month we received our renewal notice for our home insurance, so I called our agent to make sure we have the coverage we need. Our conversation was a lot of “If we have a wildfire/electrical fire/flood/tree fall on the house/ice storm/power outage/tornado am I covered?”
Our insurance policy is very, very challenging to understand–I’ve tried to read it. Our agent was able to answer my questions and explain details of the coverage that gave me peace of mind. I also made sure the new garage and mudroom are included in our policy and that my freelance communications business doesn’t need any special coverage.
In addition to home insurance, life insurance is an important consideration for many families.
Our important documents are stored in a fireproof safe. They’re protected, but they may not be accessible in a disaster. I am going to make extra copies–both paper and digital–so that we have multiple options in case we ever need them.
A household inventory seems daunting. How do I list absolutely everything in my home? Chris Love Julia shared their experience after a fire at their cabin, and their advice is to take a yearly, personal inventory video. This is doable. I’m going to go one room at a time, open every drawer and every cupboard.
Having a bag packed and ready to go in case we ever need to evacuate seemed like something I didn’t need to worry about. We’re not in an area that is prone to floods or fires. But then I thought about the big pines beside our house. What if one of them fell on the house? Could I get what we needed quickly and easily? A few things in a bag in the hall closet seems like a helpful idea.
Matt and I made our wills when Ellie was born. When he died, our lawyer advised that I didn’t need to update my will, as everything was already set up to go to Ellie if I die. However, things feel a little different now that it’s just me–not as hypothetical. Most of what Matt and I decided together for Ellie still stands (her guardians, for example). But I want to make some adjustments to ensure that Ellie is as protected as possible.
I’ve made some changes to our finances over the last year. As a result I have some old accounts that need to be closed. Leaving them feels like clutter and could be confusing for my executor. I am also going to make a list of what accounts I have and give that to my executor.
My family is pretty open with each other, so we have talked about estate plans, end of life care and finances. I want to have this conversation again with my sister, who is my executor, to ensure that she knows what’s in place and what my wishes are. I’ll also be providing her with a copy of important documents and other critical information, just in case she ever needs it.
These are not fun tasks, but I know they will give me peace of mind. And, if worst comes to worst, hopefully they will help to protect Ellie, our home, the farm and me.
How have you prepared for the worst? Have you gone through a disaster or tragedy? What helped the most?
Saturday was a beautiful, sunny, cold day. We spent most of it at the pond. We shoveled, skated, slid, sledded, tromped, ran, played Frozen (I am Elsa, always), climbed the beaver tree, tried to light a fire, ate lunch on the ice and immersed ourselves in the magic of the farm.
I started the year motivated, inspired, optimistic and content. But as January went on, I felt more and more that the world is filled with cruelty, conflict, intolerance, tragedy and lack of care.
The farm is always a refuge, and I’m glad to be able to retreat here. But hiding out at the farm is not a solution. We also live in the world, and I want it to be a good, kind, safe and healthy place for Ellie.
I don’t have a solution.
One thing I can do is speak up. Honestly, I’m fearful to speak too loudly. The intolerance I see in the world is not disagreement. It’s cruel, personal attacks. Fear keeps me quiet, within the shelter and safety of the farm.
But, I can share others who are speaking up.
Usually at the end of the month, I share links to things that are funny, inspiring, thought-provoking, motivating, positive. This month, I’m sharing two posts about the protest that happened this weekend in Ottawa.
I say often that I choose a life of love and joy. Part of that is trying to be tolerant, caring, kind, helpful. I am not seeing that in the world right now.
We also added two dressers, which I painted last week.
They give us eight big drawers of storage, so I finally have a place to put my hats and mitts. As well as car keys, sunglasses, reusable bags, pens, notepads, phone charger, masks (who thought we’d need mask storage?) and so much more stuff.
One dresser is by the door–keys, outerwear, sunscreen, bug spray, etc. will live here. One dresser is on the landing by the kitchen. My vision is that it will become a kind of command centre for mail, papers, household stuff, and even some of Ellie’s toys.
Part of my goal with not adding built-ins right away is to discover exactly what kind of storage we need.
The dressers aren’t quite the style I’m looking for in our eventual built-ins and they’re not quite the right size for their spots, but they do the job for now. And the price was right. Matt’s Dad picked them up years ago and they lived first in his shed and then in our barn. After some repairs, a cleaning and a coat of paint, they are a great interim solution.
Here are some of the other things I’m planning to do in the mudroom.
Install dresser hardware
The dressers don’t have a lot of space to screw on drawer pulls. The centre recessed panel is actually glass, so I can’t drill through it. I’m likely going to reuse the old pulls, but I’m going to spray paint them black first.
I found a big oval mirror at a thrift store this fall. The rounded shape will be a nice contrast to all the straight lines in the room. I’m going to remove the decorative piece on the top and refinish the wood frame, aiming for a rustic finish that will go with our cedar ceiling.
Install nightlight cover plate
I remembered last week that I had one LED cover plate left from a three-pack I bought a few years ago (I was influenced by Young House Love). The mudroom would be a perfect place for a nightlight, so I dug it out. Bonus, the cover plate also has a USB port, so it will be going at my new phone charging station on the landing dresser.
Build key cupboard
During construction I had our contractors insert a little wood box that I made into the wall beside the door. This box is going to become a hidden key cupboard. A few rows of cup hooks will give us plenty of space to hang keys. For the cupboard door, I’m going to use a picture attached to hinges. Storage. ✓ Art. ✓ Function. ✓ Form. ✓
We don’t have a lot of wall space for pictures (and I don’t want to put too many holes in the paneling). I’m planning on hanging one painting. Matt’s Mom and my Mom have both sourced art for me. Matt’s Mom gave us a painting by Matt’s Grandpa. My Mom’s friend gave her two water colours that he painted. They’re all great farm scenes, and I really like how the blue and green tones contrast with the beige paneling. (Note that despite the photo differences below they’re all close to the same size.) Which would you pick?
We are definitely at the fun stage of the mudroom. These are pretty quick, inexpensive, easy projects. All of these little details make the room function the way we need it to and personalize the space for us.
What’s your first project of 2022? How do you handle storage at your entry? How many hooks is enough?
Last year I returned to annual home goals with some pretty big projects (garage, mudroom, treehouse). It was motivating and fun, and I’m looking forward to more this year (though some lower budget projects, as I’m also rebuilding our savings).
Here is what’s on my list for 2022.
The mudroom ended 2021 as pretty much a blank slate. It had a fresh coat of paint, but no decor and storage was pretty makeshift. Built-ins are still the plan for this room (the ones below would be perfect, thanks), but they’re down the road a little ways. For now, I’m looking for some make-it-work-but-less-makeshift storage and some pretty finishing touches for the room. First up, painting some dressers.
The garage landscaping will likely be our big project of the year. I’d like to pave the driveway and add a patio and some steps for the mudroom and living room (like the beautiful stone steps below). This project will require some professional help. The DIY portion will be spreading some topsoil and grass seed around the garage. Matt’s Dad bought me a load of topsoil for Christmas, so we’re ready to go as soon as the snow melts.
Plan for the worst
Natural disasters and personal tragedies throw people’s lives into chaos every year. I want to protect Ellie and me and the farm, as much as possible. Some of the things on my list for this year include digitizing important documents, making a household inventory, packing a go bag, updating my will, and streamlining our finances. (This book has tips to address all of these and more.) These are not fun tasks, but I know they will give me peace of mind.
It’s been very special to connect with the woman whose family first owned this farm, and I’m looking forward to learning more from her. I’d also like to go farther back in the farm’s history and learn more about the Indigenous people who lived in this area and do more to acknowledge their history. This beautiful book that I received for Christmas has been very inspiring.
The pond shore returns for its annual appearance on this list. This year, I’m hoping to continue to clear the shore toward the creek and finally build a little bridge across.
Hope springs eternal for the vegetable garden. Ellie has picked some things she’d like to grow this year, and I’m hoping that interest translates into more time in the garden. I feel like I learned a good lesson last year: the garden–even if I achieve a low maintenance level–needs attention. Fingers are crossed that I give it more of that attention this year.
Our beautiful big barn. I love this barn, and I want to preserve it. There are a few cracks in the foundation and a few leaky spots on back roof. I’ve had some people out to look at the foundation, and their assessment has been that the barn is in pretty good shape. Though they’ve also provided me quotes to restore the foundation, and the estimates are expen$$$$$ive in the extreme. One thing I can do is eavestrough. This will be a relatively inexpensive way help to ensure water runs away and protect the structure.
I am excited by what we have planned for this year, and I’m looking forward to sharing more with all of you.
What are you aiming to do at your house this year? Are you focused inside or out? What would your dream playground have? Any tips for low maintenance gardening? Is there such a thing?