So long, sunroom

On the very first day we owned the farm, we had no heat and no hot water. It was the beginning of March. In Canada. Not warm.

When it came time for lunch, we retreated to the one and only room that felt somewhat comfortable: the sunroom. Thanks to glass roof and walls, it was warm. Though that was about all it had going for it.

Inside the sunroom

The panes of glass in the roof looked shattered (it was just a film). The carpeted floor was filthy.

Shattered windows in the sunroom

Moss growing inside the sunroom

Over the past 8 years, the sunroom has deteriorated even further. The only times I used it were in cool weather when I needed a workshop. I didn’t care about making the room messy, and it kept the mess or fumes out of the house.

We never had plans to fix the sunroom. All along we’ve wanted to get rid of it. And last weekend, we finally did.

Demoing the sunroom

I had been prepping for a couple of weeks. A friend and her two kids had helped me empty the room, remove one of the patio doors, cut down the overgrown brush around the outside and take off the exterior siding. I had taken out the baseboard heaters and the interior paneling.

Demoing the sunroom

As each piece came out, I got to see just how disgusting the sunroom was. There were rot and ants and disintegrated insulation and mossy carpet. It. Was. Gross.

And now it is gone.

A bunch of cousins showed up last weekend, and we carefully took out all the glass. After a few cuts with the sawzall, the rafters and frames were gone too.

Demoing the sunroom

Demoing the sunroom

The glass is in the barn in case I want to build a greenhouse someday. The metal is in the trailer to go to the charity bin at a local special needs riding school. I burnt the wood over the weekend–one of our biggest fires ever. The wee bit of garbage all fit in the trunk of my car and went to the dump last week.

Demoing the sunroom

Demoing the sunroom

The roof needs some patching (I’ve bent some flashing to cover any openings for now) and I’d like to remove the concrete slab, but those are (hopefully) next year’s projects. For now, I’m thrilled to have the main eyesore gone.

Demoing the sunroom

Demoing the sunroom

In this year with so much change and uncertainty, it feels really, really good to complete one house project. Especially one that’s been on the list for so long. Matt and I have a vision for this house, and I’m working toward that, ever so slowly.

Odds & sods

As August comes to an end, I’m noticing how the sun is setting earlier and the nights are getting cooler. I’m doing my best to hang onto summer for as long as possible, although I did chicken out of a final swim in Matt’s parents’ pool on the weekend.

We’re working in the garden, playing on the playground, having bonfires by the pond and–as always–puttering away on a bunch of projects. One that you’ll see soon has something to do with the giant burn pile behind the tree.

Moonrise over the fields

To tide you over til then, here are some interesting and inspiring things that I came across this month:

How will our homes and design change in the age of COVID-19?

Mesmerizing… and an incredibly impressive feat of woodworking

Many years ago, I was hooked on an adventure race called Eco-Challenge. Amazon has done a reboot and I’m hoping I get to watch it. I remember the previous Fiji race as being brutal.

How they filmed the ‘World’s Toughest Race’

Share the land

Dude Perfect is not my usual style of entertainment. But the documentary about their journey was very compelling and shows that success comes from a lot of hard work.

It’s the time of year to prune raspberries

It’s the time of year for all the zucchini. Last week we made six loaves of chocolate zucchini bread–Ellie’s favourite (she didn’t eat them all, don’t worry). I also tried a new non-chocolate version from my go-to for all things cooking, Smitten Kitchen–and Matt’s Mom proclaimed it her favourite.

We had some suspicious noises in the walls for a few nights, so I reset all of our mousetraps. This is still the best mousetraps we’ve ever used.

Our library has reopened, so I’ve been ordering lots of new books for Ellie. This bear and this one are favourites.

My writing elsewhere:

Anyone else desperately hanging onto summer? Any favourite zucchini recipes to share? Or children’s books (with or without bears)? Have you watched any interesting shows or documentaries this month?

Goodbye grapes

Google reminded me the other day that this photo was taken a year ago.

Ellie picking grapes

First I went, “Aw. The cuteness!” And then I went, “Grapes? Really?”

I’ve been kind of casually watching our grapes, but not paying really close attention. I mostly felt that it would be awhile until they ripened.

But thanks to Google and another reminder from Instgram, I decided I should maybe go take a closer look.

When I did, I realized that even if I haven’t been paying attention, the birds have. Many of our grapes have been gobbled.

The blue Sovereign Coronations are gone. I found one and ate it myself. (Don’t tell Ellie.)

Grapes eaten by birds

The Somersets are still in the process of turning red, but it looks like as soon as one does, that grape is gobbled. I’m going to keep a closer eye, but I’m not sure how many I’ll be able to grab.

Ripening grapes

Ripening grapes

Japanese beetles are still doing a number on the leaves, though they’re wilier and fly away before I can flick them into my bucket of death.

I know netting grapes may  be an option, but that’s not something I’m prepared to do this year.

This year’s garden philosophy is see how it goes. In this instance, they’re almost gone.

But, the beauty of gardening is it comes back again next year and we get to try again.

How is your garden growing? Are you feeding any wildlife? Has harvest snuck up on any one else?

 

Looking for battery powered weed eater recommendations

I love how the farm looks after the grass is freshly mowed. Tidy. Cared for. Green.

Until you look closely.

We have never, in all of the years we’ve lived here, edged the lawn.

So we’re a bit ragged around the edges. (Maybe that’s appropriate as that’s how I feel some days, too. Something the farm and I have in common.)

Untrimmed grass around the flowerbed

We have a big heavy-duty gas-powered weed eater that’s been hanging in the driveshed since we moved. But it’s heavy. It’s finicky. I cannot be bothered to fight with it.

But I would like to tidy things up a bit more. And especially with the vegetable garden, the pond shore and Ellie’s playground, some trimming is required. (Matt’s Dad has been coming over with his weed eater to keep the grass cut around Ellie’s playground.)

So I’m on the hunt for a new weed eater. Or non-brand name, string trimmer.

I want it to be battery powered. Light weight. Not huge. Easy to use.

I don’t need a super long-lasting battery, because although we have a large property, my trimming is going to be pretty limited. I do not have more time to spend cutting the grass.

I’ve spent some time watching reviews on YouTube and EGO is coming out on top. I may have been sold as soon as I saw its self-winding string loader (another trauma from our old weed eater). But I’m not familiar with EGO. One of my brothers-in-law has Ryobi battery-powered lawn tools. Matt’s Dad’s weed eater is an ECHO. I’m most familiar with Stihl. So I’m still shopping around.

And as part of my shopping around, I want to ask, anyone out there have any recommendations for a battery powered weed eater? Any favourite brands? Any recommendations for features that I should be looking for? Thank you in advance for your input.

 

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?