Farm-iversary 5

This week marks five years since we’ve owned the farm.

Five years feels like a major milestone to me, even though we know this is our forever home. We’ve always looked at the farm as a long term commitment. And we knew the process of renovating the house and property would take awhile.

Sometimes, the “unfinished” parts of the house bug me a bit–I want a kitchen where the cabinets aren’t falling apart, a garage where I can park my car and walk right into the house, a bathroom that isn’t falling apart.

But I know those will come.

Mostly, I’m proud of what we’ve built here–what we’re building here–and how we’re doing it together. Over the past five years, we’ve accomplished a lot! We’ve put in a lot of work and money and time. With every project we’re making the farm our own and building the life that we want.

To mark five years, I’m looking back at some of the major projects we’ve completed:

The infrastructure

I don’t know what the exact title for this section should be. I think it’s clear that we bought a fixer-upper house. Before we got started on any of the more cosmetic renovations, we had to focus on the basic systems that run the house.

The basement

The basement was where our renovations started. One of the things that drew us to this house was its usable basement–many old farmhouses that we looked at had dirt cellars. But what initially appeared to be a nicely finished space turned out to be pretty much a disaster. So we gutted it back to the concrete and started fresh. It was still going to be usable. It was just going to take a little while–and an afternoon spent hauling a woodstove up the stairs by a rope attached to the back of my Dad’s truck.

We redid everything. We adjusted the floorplan slightly and then reframed, rewired, reinsulated, redrywalled, repainted, refloored, refurnished. Our first Christmas at the farm, the best gift was finally having carpet and a couch in the basement.

Matt and me after sanding drywall

Drywall was not the best of times either.

As I’ve mentioned, we still have a few finishing details that are hanging around, but I am so proud of the basement. The spaces that we created–new bathroom, laundry room, office, storage, family room, games area, reading nook and ping pong room–are so perfect for our family. And I feel like the way we organized the different spaces is the way the basement was meant to be.

Black and white shaker cabinets with chrome hardware in the laundry room

Main floor

The main floor has not seen quite the same level of transformation as the basement. Long term, it will be the focus of a major renovation. But in the meantime, we’re doing smaller fixes to make it ours.

Simple bright country mudroom

  • We painted the living room, built the wood-burning fireplace and added bookshelves. I have a plan to plank the ceiling in this room and dramatically improve the lighting someday.
  • The dining room is untouched except for our furniture.
  • The main bathroom is untouched except for a new toilet, exhaust fan and new/old light fixture.
  • The indoor pool room remains untouched except for removing solar blanket (why for an indoor pool?) and some garbage.

Fieldstone fireplace with barn beam mantel

Outside

I can’t think about the farm without thinking about the land. Our 129 acres with its forests, marshes, fields and trails is magical. We’re still figuring out how to take care of the property and how much we can handle.

We do not have a beautifully manicured farm–and honestly I’m not sure that’s the type of farm I want. However, there are enough weeds and brush and rocks and piles of junk that property clean up continues to be on our to-do list every year. We’re getting closer and closer to the maintenance point, rather than the clean-up point, I think.

  • We installed our low-tech security system, the gate, at the bottom of the driveway.
  • We planted trees along the driveway–talk about a long-term commitment. It’s a good thing this is our forever house, or else I would never see my vision of large branches arching over the driveway.
  • We are ever so slowly reclaiming the farm from the rocks, lumber, brush, trash and what have you that are strewn around. I cannot begin to think of how many loads of rocks we’ve hauled to the pile behind the barn.
  • The flower gardens we built around the front of the house are now fairly well-established. It’s been amazing to see them fill out every year.
  • Last year I feel like we finally crossed the line between having a vegetable patch and having a vegetable garden. I’m so excited to have this for the rest of our lives here at the farm.

Evolution of the turnaround flower garden

I think it’s clear that I love our life here. I love what we’re building together–from the home to the land to the gardens. It truly has become the best of times.

How to renew your mortgage

The saga of renewing our mortgage is over. Thank goodness. This is one of the less fun parts of farm ownership.

But, it’s important.

It’s because of careful financial planning that Matt and I were able to buy the farm in the first place. We stay on top of our finances and prioritize our mortgage to ensure we’re able to maintain the lifestyle that’s so important to us.

Farmhouse

Today I wanted to share a bit of our experience renewing our mortgage. Hopefully, there are a few lessons in here that might help others as well.

Start early

We were eligible to renew as of six months before the end of our mortgage term. It’s important to take advantage of this long lead time and not wait until the last minute.

Matt was watching the interest rate forecasts and suspected that the rates were going to go up, so he wanted to lock in as soon as possible. We also knew we would likely need time to negotiate the best deal.

Give yourself as much time as you can so that you’re not scrambling–and potentially paying more than you need to–at the end. I’ve also learned that rates are often lowest in the summer, so if you can work that into your timing you could have an advantage.

Organize your records

To renew, our lender needed up-to-date paperwork for our property taxes and insurance.

The credit union that holds our mortgage had gone through a merger in the last five years and changed its name as a result. We had to update our insurance to reflect their new name, which took time (much more time than it should have, but that’s just the one of the joys of home ownership).

Most cities will issue a tax certificate which shows the status of your property tax payments. Our city does this for a fee of about $60. For our credit union, our most recent tax bill showing it had been paid was sufficient.

If you’re going to transfer your mortgage to a different lender, you’ll likely need additional paperwork regarding your house, employment and income tax.

Negotiate for yourself

At our first renewal meeting at the credit union, they had little cards all around the office promoting a 2.69% interest rate. And then sitting in the meeting they offered us 2.99%. Ummm… what?

Even Baxter agreed that didn’t sound right.

Baxter at the bank

It turned out that the 2.69% was for new customers only. Matt, who knew I was about to lose my mind, was very careful not to look at me. Why do you not reward loyal, reliable customers?

After a conversation, our agent offered to put in a request to “head office” for 2.79%. I still wasn’t happy, but it was better than nothing.

Guess what rate was approved. 2.89%.

Matt’s reaction was, “Well, it’s better than what we’re paying now. And what if rates go up?”

I said, “Give me a week.”

I booked appointments at two other banks, gathered all of our paperwork (including extra paperwork about our personal financial situation) and went to work. In the end, I managed to secure two offers at 2.64%.

Because these companies weren’t familiar with the farm, we would have to go through an appraisal again. But both banks waived the fee.

Matt shared the emails with the new offers with the credit union—the written evidence was important. And… they matched the rate. Thank goodness.

Biggest lesson from this renewal process. Do not accept the first offer you receive. Work with your current lender. Engage a mortgage broker. Shop around to other lenders. Do everything you can to get the best deal for yourself.

While a quarter of a percent may not seem like a huge decrease, on hundreds of thousands of dollars over five years (or longer) every percent makes a difference.

Read your mortgage policy

Before you sign anything, read the paperwork—even the dense, legalese, policy parts. Understand what is expected of you and what flexibility exists for payments.

For Matt and me, being able to adjust our payments if needed and being able to make lump sum payments against the principle are important.

There have been some changes to our credit union’s policies, so it was important to understand how that would impact how we usually manage our mortgage.

Pay attention to your payments

Thanks to our lower interest rate, our new payments are much lower than they were before–or they could be. Matt and I have chosen to keep our payments at the same level, which means we’re putting more towards the principle than before–$63.80 every single week. That’s more than $3,300 extra that we’re taking off the principle every year, which means the farm will be completely ours that much sooner.

Consider your situation

Five years is a long time. Things may have changed since you first signed your mortgage. When renewing your mortgage think about where you’re at now in your life as well as what’s ahead and what you need.

Maybe interest rate isn’t most important to you. Maybe you want to change your payment amounts or timing. Maybe you’re ready to renovate and want to set aside money for that. Over the last five years, Matt and I have changed jobs, renovated, bought a new car. And who knows what’s ahead.

We’re confident that we’ve done our best to set up the new mortgage in the way that works the best for us and that we have the flexibility to adjust if we need to.

Anyone else have a mortgage story to share? What are your tips for negotiating with a financial institution? How do you balance lifestyle and finances?

Five years ago

Hello everyone. Happy New Year. I hope that you had a great Christmas.

Today marks five years since we saw the farm for the very first time.

By the start of 2012, we had been looking for our farm for nearly a year and a half. When Matt hopped online on Jan. 1, he saw a new listing. We made an appointment to see it with our realtor the next day. Jan. 2 was a freezing cold day. The farm was abandoned except for Ralph. The house was a mess.

Despite all that, the farm felt like ours, and soon it became ours for real.

It’s hard to believe it’s already been five years. At the same time, I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

Looking over the hayfield towards the barn

Living here has touched me in ways that are hard to describe. When people ask what made us want to buy a farm, I usually say something about peace and quiet, the idealistic idea of what country living is all about. All of that’s true, but it’s something deeper.

I find a lot of people have the dream of moving to the country. I feel very strongly that it’s a wonderful dream, and I’m so grateful that Matt and I have been able to make ours come true. However, I also feel that there’s no way to know if the dream is right for you until you live it. Country living is very hard to describe, and it’s not right for everyone.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned about country living.

1. A large property is a lot of work

This might sound like a negative, and I don’t mean it to. Even though we’re not farmers and don’t make our living off our land, choosing to live on a 129-acre property is a big deal.

Take a suburban home with trees, flowers, gardens, lawn, driveway, shed and multiply it by 129. That’s a lot of time, sweat, muscle and energy. For Matt and me, we’re usually okay with spending our time in this way. In fact, working outside is something I enjoy.

Pushing the wheelbarrow over the forest catwalk

2. Choose your farm wisely

Matt and I (mostly I) were very picky when we were looking for our farm. Despite spending less than an hour here before deciding to buy it, we made a good choice.

The property has pretty much everything that was on our original wishlist. Things like the pond, long driveway, woods, big barn and proximity to our families mean more to me than I realized they would. Things that weren’t on our original list, like having a second small barn with the driveshed, the layout of the property with the fields, meadow, marshes, different clumps of forest have all been huge bonuses.

Rainbow over a green hayfield

In real estate you often hear that you can’t change the property but you can change the house. I firmly believe this and was always looking for a fixer-upper that I could make what I wanted. We ran into a lot of issues with this house and have a lot more that we want to do. But fundamentally it’s a good house and the floorplan gives us lots of options.

3. We are capable of more than we realize

Going back to point #1 and our DIY lifestyle, there are lots of times where I think that I can’t or don’t know how to do something. Most of the time, I can hunker down, figure it out and muscle through.

I think that this is a good lesson for all of my life, whether it applies to the farm or not.

For me, I’m so thankful to be sharing my life with Matt. Most of the time, it’s easier when the two of us are hunkering down, figuring it out and muscling through. This farm is a dream that we share, and I’m not sure that I’d want to do it alone.

Matt and me after sanding drywall

4. Being connected with nature

I admit that my environmentalist side has influenced me with this farm. I am preserving 129 acres. We are generating electricity, using a low impact geothermal system, drawing water from our own well. I like that we are trying to minimize our impact on the environment.

Living so close to nature, I’m very aware of the cycles of the season and how we influence and change those patterns. Watching the crops grow in our fields, following the trails animals make through the forest, monitoring birds and bugs, keeping track of the weather–I feel like I’m more aware of the world around me since moving to the farm.

Pussy willow

5. This is where I’m meant to be

Country living is not for everyone, but it’s definitely for Matt and me.

Walking in the hayfield

The best words I can think of to describe this feeling are comfort, pride and gratitude.

I’m so grateful for the experience of the past five years. When I think about the 50 years–or hopefully longer–that are yet to come, gratitude is what I feel. I’m grateful to look ahead through my life and know that whatever comes, I will have the experience of being here at this farm.

Advice wanted: Mortgage renewal

Consumer mortgage application

Anyone have any tips for renewing a mortgage?

Most of the time, I feel like Matt and I have always lived here at the farm. However, we’re actually just coming up on five years–a fact that has been brought home to us ’cause our mortgage is almost at the end of its term, and it’s time to renew.

We’ve never gone through a mortgage renewal before (you may recall we were able to pay our first house off in 4 and a half years), so we’re a little uncertain about the process.

You also might remember that getting the mortgage the first time around was complicated because a farm is outside of the norm when it comes to financing.

I’m looking for any and all tips you have for getting the best deal during a mortgage renewal.

Interest rate is our most important consideration. We are working hard to pay off the farm quickly, so we want to pay as little interest as possible.

We’ve met with the credit union that currently holds our mortgage and with a bank. I have one more meeting lined up next week with a different bank. All of the rates we’ve been offered so far are lower than we’re currently paying, which is great, but I don’t feel like I’ve found the best deal yet.

Any advice to help us through our mortgage renewal?

 

 

Farm-iversary 4

As I write this the dog is asleep beside the fire. The cat is in the barn. The house is cozy. I look through the window and in the glow from the barn lights I can see the snow covering the ground. Beyond that there are trees, trails, fields, ponds, creeks. Together, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted when I thought of home.

Sunrise over the farm

Today is the fourth anniversary of the day the farm became ours.

Four years ago–actually long before that–we knew this is what we wanted. But the idea of a farm was abstract. We had no idea what it was to have a farm. Nor did we have any idea how much it was right for us.

So many people seem to share that dream of moving to the country. And it’s a beautiful dream.

The reality is also beautiful. In many ways it’s our dream come true. But in many ways it’s also more than we ever dreamed of.

While the reality is beautiful, it’s also hard–and we’re not farmers. This life, this type of property, this atmosphere isn’t for everyone. I think often that I’m so glad we’ve been able to hack it. We can handle the work. We can handle the drive to get anywhere. We can handle the winter… and the mosquitoes (summer) and the mud (spring) and the clean-up (fall). We can handle the complications and the scope and the challenges.

I don’t know how to describe quite what this farm means to me or what it’s like being here.

Matt and I in front of the farm

Matt and me on home inspection day 4 years ago

I’m grateful that Matt and I have been able to make this happen. That it’s turned out to be right for us. That we’ve made our dreams come true.

This is not the post I planned to write for our farm-iversary. And I want to add disclaimers about more work to do and renovations and landscaping. But tonight those don’t seem to matter. Four years ago, I started to live one of my dreams. It’s been a pretty amazing opportunity. Something I don’t take for granted and that is incredibly meaningful for me. And I guess I wanted to say that here.

Floorplan #3 – Master suite on the edge of the forest

This month, I’m sharing some of the floorplans I’ve worked through in the four years since we’ve owned the farm.

Just a reminder, here is our current layout.

Current floorplan

Last week you saw my second idea–adding a garage off the living room and turning the pool room into our master bedroom–which has been the plan for most of the time we’ve lived here. But all the way along, I struggled with losing the lawn on the south side of the house to the garage.

Matt has advocated pretty much since day 1 for the pool room becoming the garage. I could stomach the south lawn being a driveway better than I could handle it being garage. So that became the basis for floorplan #3.

Floorplan #3

Highlights:

  • The pool room becomes the garage. I’m pretty sure we’re going to need a mini-extension on the garage in order to fit two cars. Basically, the width of the mudroom gets tacked on the end.
  • Like in all of my plans, the current mudroom comes off and the front entrance shifts so that my office becomes the front foyer. Again, I think I can deal with the first view as you come into the house being the bathroom.
  • The back door in the kitchen is closed in, the window is expanded, and the wall pushes out about 5 feet.
  • The hallway is extended through the closets in the two bedrooms and the master suite (along with new closets) is added on the north side of the house. (And as I look at this, I realize it may make sense to switch the bathroom and closet… although I think this very not-to-scale floorplan is skewing the proportions).
  • The new mudroom and back door are still about 6 steps down from the kitchen.
  • We would still upgrade all of the doors and trim and add a metal roof.

Pros:

  • This reno could likely be done in phases.
  • The kitchen expansion gives us a bit more counter space, room for bigger appliances, more natural light and my coveted view down to the pond.
  • There is direct access from the mudroom to the outside, so we don’t have to walk through the garage.
  • Bedrooms 1 and 2 still have good closets, added along with the master.
  • The bedrooms are all together at the end of the house. The master bedroom is nestled up to the forest and still has a pretty good view of the pond.
  • We keep the lawn on the south side of the house.

Cons:

  • This is a bigger renovation with three separate additions: the garage, the kitchen and the master suite.
  • Running plumbing, electrical and HVAC to the master bedroom addition is a long way from the utility room under the living room fireplace.
  • This reno disrupts pretty much every room in the house.
  • Bedrooms 1 and 2 lose the windows they currently have on the north wall.
  • The pool room–one of the best rooms in the house in terms of size and windows–becomes the garage. Not a room you typically visit to enjoy the view.
  • We’ll lose a few trees, and we might have to fill in part of the small ravine on the edge of the north lawn.

Here’s the view of the north lawn. Pretty much this whole lawn would be taken over by the addition. The ground drops off right at the tree line on the right side of the picture. To be able to walk around the extended house on this side, we’d have to take out a few trees and level the ground a bit.

North lawn

Right now, this plan is the front-runner for me. I’m willing to sacrifice the north lawn as opposed to the south. I still get everything I want–better kitchen, front porch, master suite, attached garage, farmy-country appearance. Plus I get to keep the quality of the property around the house.

This is the last plan that I have to share. Going back to the home goals that I shared at the start of the week, my next step is to meet with a contractor or two and start to get some idea of costs of plans #2 and #3. The contractor I have in mind has experience with big renovations like this, and I think he might have some good suggestions for the best layout too.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your suggestions.

What do you think about this plan? Do you like all the bedrooms to be together? What adjustments would you make?

Floorplan #2 – Private master suite overlooking the pond

This month, I’m sharing some of the floorplans I’ve worked through in the four years since we’ve owned the farm.

Last week you saw my first idea, which I eventually realized was more house than we needed.

The second floorplan is the one that’s been in my head the longest. Really, this floorplan preceded my decision not to add a second storey. I realized I could get pretty much everything I wanted almost within the bounds of the current house.

And just a reminder, here’s the plan for the current house.

Current floorplan

Plan #2 was about the master suite, the attached garage and the front porch. So there are some similarities and some differences between this plan and the one you saw last week.

Floorplan #2

Highlights:

  • Like in the last plan, the current mudroom comes off and the front entrance shifts so that my office becomes the front foyer. Yes, this means the view as you come in is of the bathroom, but I think I can deal with that.
  • The back door in the kitchen is closed in, the window is expanded and the wall pushes out about 5 feet, just to give us a wee bit more space.
  • The mudroom and garage follow the same layout as Plan #1 on the south side of the house.
  • The bulk of the indoor pool area becomes the master suite.
  • A modest addition behind the garage houses our walk-in closet and ensuite bathroom.
  • The mudroom and master bedroom are still about 6 steps down from the kitchen.
  • We would still upgrade all of the doors and trim and add a metal roof.

Pros:

  • Most of the renovation is confined to one area of the house. The two bedrooms on the north side of the house are pretty much undisturbed.
  • The utility room is under the fireplace, making running HVAC, electrical and plumbing to the master bedroom easier–and likely less expensive.
  • The kitchen expansion gives us a bigger window for more natural light, a better view of the pond (I’m all about my view), a bit more counter space and room for bigger appliances.
  • We get our garage and the little nook I love at the person entrance (as opposed to the car entrance). It may sound silly, but the space behind the garage would also be good for the firewood pile, and I even love how the back door of the garage would be a convenient path to the (future) chicken coop.
  • I get my mudroom and the long uninterrupted wall up against the master bedroom gives lots of space for benches, cubbies and hooks.
  • The master bedroom would be a beautiful room with lots of windows and my favourite view down to the pond. The steps down to the doorway could be cute.

Cons:

  • The steps down to the master bedroom could be weird.
  • The master bedroom is separated from the other bedrooms, which I don’t love.
  • Like in plan #1, the garage would take over the lawn south of the house, one of the best lawn areas we have.

Losing the south lawn was a sticking point for me. With the way our property is configured, the garage would stretch nearly to the bank of the barn. Our largest southern exposure would be blocked by garage–not the best way to increase the sunlight that comes into our house. And our best lawn would be taken over.

Here’s a photo of the south side of the house taken last summer. The garage would extend from the same area as the sunroom. It would stretch to the tree that overhangs the left side of the picture. The driveway would be where the clump of bushes is in the middle ground. The weedy patio to the left of the sunroom would be the closet and bathroom.

South lawn

Here’s the view of what would be the back of the garage to give you an idea of how much space there is between the house and the barn. (The barn’s at the right edge of the photo. The driveshed is in the middle. The tree would have to come out as it’s inside the future garage.)

South lawn

I really didn’t like the idea of losing the lawn. So I continued to work on floorplans to come up with an option that preserved the lawn.

All along, Matt has advocated for the pool room becoming the garage. I could stomach the south lawn being a driveway better than I could handle it being garage. So that became the basis for floorplan #3, which is coming up next.

In the meantime, what do you think about plan #2? What would be your priority if the house was yours? Are you all about the garage, the master suite, the porch or something else entirely?

Floorplan #1 – Go big

This month, I’m going to be sharing some of the floorplans I’ve worked through in the four years since we’ve owned the farm.

To start, I have to share my original vision–the one that popped into my head right after we saw the farm.

My original vision was based largely on achieving the exterior that I wanted. Namely, something that looked like a farmhouse. That meant dormers. That meant wrap-around porch. That meant two stories.

Someday farmhouse

Source: FamilyHomePlans.com (I made a few edits)

Can’t you see how that country farmhouse could come from our little bungalow?

Our house

But the outside is obviously just part of the puzzle. The inside was where we would be spending at least half of our time, so it had to work too.

Let’s start with remembering the original (current) floorplan of the house.

Current floorplan

Because I was planning on adding a second storey–which would house all of the bedrooms–my plan was to blow out the main floor. There would be a huge kitchen, a dedicated library/office, a new main entrance, a large sewing/laundry/craft room, a big mudroom, my coveted attached garage, and of course the porch. (And just a reminder, this plan isn’t at all to scale).

Floorplan #1

Highlights:

  • Current unheated, flat-roofed mudroom at the front of the house comes off, improving the balance of the front facade.
  • Main entry moves to the middle of the house, and my office becomes a generous front foyer.
  • The garage is added on the south side of the house.
  • The pool room is about 6 steps lower than the rest of the house, hence the steps down into the mudroom.
  • We also upgrade the doors and trim throughout and put on a steel roof.

Pros:

  • Wrap-around porch. Do I need to say more? Alright, I will. From the porch you enter into a large front foyer. The entry we currently have at the top of the basement stairs is waaaaay too tight. And all kinds of farmy bits–pine needles, leaves, dirt–get tracked down the (carpeted) stairs.
  • Powder room right inside the side door, so if you’re outside and you have to pee, you can slip inside without tramping through the house with your boots on.
  • Main floor laundry room with plenty of space for a big sewing area. Windows on three sides and a great view to the pond would make this a beautiful bright room.
  • Big kitchen with lots of storage and prep space, plus a walk-in butler’s pantry. Oh, I really want a pantry. Plus I added a much bigger window along the back wall above the sink to improve our dim main floor.
  • Mudroom. Essential at a farm. Bonus, this one would be heated!
  • I love the little entry nook at the front of the garage. A bit of shelter as you’re coming in or going out.
  • The stairs to the second floor would be really cute with a turn and a landing at the top and a pretty railing all the way along.
  • On the second floor lots of bedrooms and a huge master suite with walk-in closet and private bathroom. (Although I never did get the layout of the second floor completely worked out in my mind).

Cons:

  • Adding a second storey would eliminate the vaulted ceiling in the living and dining rooms. At first, I didn’t see this as a big deal, but I’ve come to really like the tall angled ceilings.
  • Big kitchen means more cleaning.
  • We’d probably not use the library a whole lot… but it would sure look nice.
  • I’ve come to like my basement laundry room. We tend to watch TV downstairs, and it’s convenient to throw a load in while we’re relaxing in the evenings. Running up and down the stairs doesn’t sound like as much fun.
  • The garage would take over the lawn south of the house, which is one of the best lawn areas we have.
  • This reno would be expen$$$ive.
  • This is way more house than we need.

After living at the farm, I quickly realized that we did not need a second storey. If we ever win the lotto, this plan may come back on the table. I would not only need money to build the addition, but also to pay someone to clean it regularly.

But the reality is, our house at its current size is pretty close to enough space for us. I went back to the philosophies of the Not So Big House books and thought about what we actually need… and also what I want, ’cause I’m not pretending that’s not an important factor here. No one really needs a private master suite. But I sure want one.

So Floorplan #1 was a no-go. Onto plan B. Next week, I’ll share Floorplan #2.

For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Floorplan #1. What’s your favourite part? What could you live without? Are you a fan of vaulted ceilings? If you won the lotto, what would your dream house be?

Four years of floorplans

Hello. Happy New Year.

The start of the year is always special for us because it marks the anniversary of when we found the farm.

Four years ago today, we submitted our offer on the farm. Our search had lasted a year and a half. We’d seen lots of farms and a few that we actually liked.

With any farm that we thought might have potential, my usual routine was to return home and work up a floorplan of how I would reconfigure the house to make it my dream home.

The house was usually the least important factor when we were looking at a farm. Location, quality of property, whether there was a barn. Those mattered to us. The house, I figured I could work on that.

My floorplans were not to scale and usually more dream than reality, but they were a regular part of my process.

Except on this farm.

I never drew a floorplan. It wasn’t that the house was perfect. Lots of things were missing: master suite, garage, front porch. And there was a big thing that I wished was missing: it had an indoor pool, and there was no way I was keeping that.

Matt in the indoor pool

I definitely had the floorplan in my head.

However, I never sat down at my computer and mocked it up.

But now I have. In fact, I’ve mocked up three different plans.

I’m a big believer that living in a space helps me make the best decisions about how to renovate it. My vision for this house has changed over the past four years.

Before we get to the vision, let’s start with the reality. Here’s the main floor as it exists today (in fact, pretty much as it existed when we saw it four years ago).

Current floorplan

And here’s the front of the house as it looked last June.

Front of the house

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share some different floorplans with you, and you can see how my vision has progressed over the years.

There are still lots of questions to work out, and I hope that you’ll share your opinions as we go.

Farm-iversary

Ummm… hello? It’s March. How did that happen? I was going over the calendar planningwhat I was going to post on the blog in the coming weeks. All of a sudden I realized that March was imminent and it was the THIRD ANNIVERSARY OF WHEN WE BOUGHT THE FARM!!!

Sorry for shouting, but holy cow. We’ve been here for three years!

The farm has been pretty momentous for me. I love who I am here. I love the lifestyle that Matt and I have. I love the atmosphere I’m surrounded with every day. If I could spend all of my time here on the farm with Matt, Baxter and Ralph, I would be quite content… Not that I’m not happy already. It’s just the dang day job that pays for the farm keeps dragging me away from it.

But anyways… as Matt would say, “I digest.”

(Translation, “digress” … just in case you didn’t get it).

Anyways…

In celebration of the day I found myself, also known as the day the farm became ours, I like to look back at the past year and reflect a little bit.

My word for this year is “progress.”

Thanks to my Home Goals and a relatively strict monthly schedule, we made some significant progress on transforming the house into more of the home we want it to be.

We spent some time in the basement, which hadn’t received a lot of attention since year 1. We redid the doors, patched the foundation and finished off the last remaining untouched space: the laundry room.

Slab doors become barn doors

I loved participating in the One Room Challenge for the first time. It pushed me to think about all the details in the room and bring it all together in a limited amount of time. The result–a beautiful, fully-decorated, completely made-over laundry room–still thrills me.

Black and white shaker cabinets with chrome hardware in the laundry room

Also thrilling was the progress we made upstairs on the main floor. I took a baby step into making over my office by setting up a little command centre in a previously awkward nook. You’ve also seen recently that we’ve started on a master bedroom makeover.

Pretty home command centre

The space that saw the most progress over the past year was definitely the living room. This room basically got a complete makeover with fresh paint on all the walls and trim, remade bookshelves, additional furniture, a growing family photo display, some really special art and, of course, our beautiful fieldstone fireplace. It is so amazing to have the fireplace working finally. It’s a total show piece for the room–heck, for the whole main floor.

Family photo display

Outside, we were not quite as progressive–as usual. We’re three years in, and I’m still learning that landscaping the farm is a mammoth task. The area that saw the most progress this year is the one where I can claim no responsibility–the fields, which produced our first crop of soybeans.

Sprouting soybeans

The landscaping will continue to be a theme for years to come, I expect. Probably an infinite theme.

Another theme for my annual reflections is animals. We’ve had our usual sightings and hearings of birds, deer, coyotes, turkeys–and as much as they’re usual, they’re still novel. Like last year, we also experienced a few more losses. The robins, Harold and just last week the owl. Death is a part of life, a fact that is made even more real here at the farm.

On a more positive note, Ralph and Baxter continue to thrive. The best word to describe Ralph is constant. She presides over her barn and keeps everybody in line. You know that saying, “dogs have owners and cats have staff”? Ralph has hired all of us onto her crew–including Baxter.

Baxter and Ralph

Baxter, the most easy-going guy ever, takes life as it comes. We had an extra focus on training this year through classes with a really great trainer, a hiking group and ThatMutt’s #ActiveMutts challenges. As much as I can’t imagine my life without the farm, I also can’t imagine life without Baxter.

This year we branched out beyond the farm too, participating the #ALSIceBucketChallenge and weighing in on #Farm365.

Time is flying. As much as I can’t believe it’s already March, and already our third anniversary, I also have the feeling that we’ve always been here. Thanks for coming with me on this wonderful journey.