Odds & sods

Thank you so much for all of the kind thoughts on my last post. I appreciate your condolences and your stories of connecting with friends and having fun. It truly means a lot to read your messages.

I’m not really sure what to write to follow that post. I confess my head is a bit all over the place this week, and projects at the farm are somewhat the same.

This post will likely reflect that as I share some odds and sods of what’s been happening lately.

Ellie turned 5 months old a week ago. I’ve been sharing a photo every month on Instagram of her with her tractor. For the first time, she was stable enough to actually sit on the tractor (with a bit of help from Daddy).

Ellie sitting on her tractor at 5 months old

She’s rolling over all the time now. But only from back to front. She hasn’t figured out how to go the other way, and she doesn’t necessarily love laying on her tummy, so we spend a lot of time fixing the upside down baby–not a hardship during the day, but not so much fun in the middle of the night.

She’s still a gem, though, and takes it pretty easy on us usually.

Here’s some of what else has been going on:

  • I had a first animal sighting for me last week: a fawn. Six years into farm living, and deer are still special to see. But I had never seen a fawn. This one was way in the distance following its mom across the back field, but it was still incredibly special to get a glimpse. Butterflies and herons are holding special significance for Matt and me this year, and we’ve seen more of them than ever. We’ve also had a skunk a few days in a row, five mice (in the house… yuck), turkey vultures (Baxter’s nemesis) and an infestation you’ll hear more about in a future post.

Turkey vultures on the barn

Turkey vulture on the barn

  • A local farm went viral over the weekend. The farm where I buy our birdseed has fields and fields of sunflowers in bloom. They were allowing people to walk through the fields and take pictures (for a small fee). The response was surprising to me, but on Saturday it was unreal. An estimated 7,000 people showed up. I can’t imagine 7,000 people on our farm. The police were conducting traffic and the road that the farm is on had to be closed. I was caught in the jam and was blown away. When I got home, I found out that the police shut down the sunflower viewing for the season because of the overwhelming turnout. I’m happy for the family for what they achieved and disappointed that their season got cut short. I’m sure they could have made more income from sunflower walks than sunflower seeds. I am super proud to see a small, family business–and a farm–enjoying such success and hope they can come up with a solution for next year.

Field of sunflowers

  • I had another article published in the latest issue of The Canadian Organic Grower. (It’s a profile of potato growing at Calannire Organic Farms, and unfortunately isn’t available online yet.) I wrote this shortly after Ellie was born, and I still remember how good it felt to have this piece of my self–to be a writer for a few hours and not only Mama. Life is all about balance and finding what works for us.
  • I was first introduced to Pete Souza’s work through a PBS documentary about presidential photographers. Next I started following him on Instagram and then I checked his book, Obama: An Intimate Portrait, out of the library. The documentary is very interesting, the book is lovely and his political commentary on Instagram is cutting. I’m interested to see his new book Shade.
  • I’m currently reading Endurance, an account of astronaut Scott Kelly’s year in space. It’s a neat glimpse behind the scenes of the space program and the effects of space on people’s bodies and minds. I did not realize how truly international the International Space Station is.
  • I’ve been cooking mainly vegetarian for awhile now. Thug Kitchen has become one of my go-tos for tasty, easy recipes–and humour (as long as healthy vegan cooking with an abusive potty mouth appeals to you).
  • On Friday, I got my first haircut since Ellie was born. I now have a short little bob. Byebye pixie. I love having short hair, and I’ll likely go back to the pixie in a little while. My hair had basically already grown out–the hard part–and my hairdresser and I thought it was a good opportunity to change things for a little while.

Thanks to all of you for reading my posts and following along with our adventures and caring about what’s happening with us. Choosing to share some of our life through this blog has connected us with a lot of different people, and I truly feel those connections. I appreciate that you take some time out of your week to drop by and read what’s happening with us.

What’s happening at your house? Anyone else trying out a new haircut? Any special animal sightings or books or recipes to recommend?

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What I got for Mother’s Day

Chainsaw in the woods

Wood is the traditional gift for fifth wedding anniversaries and, apparently, first Mother’s Days. Last Sunday, Matt and his Dad spent hours working to clear the trails in our back woods. I love walking the trails on our own property, but I’ve written before about how they’re a bit overgrown. An ice storm and wind storm this spring made the trails nearly impassable. For my walks with Ellie and Baxter, this situation was far from ideal.

Tree fallen across the trail

Firewood blocking the trail

Imagine if you will a woman walking in the woods. She is wearing a baby in a carrier on her chest and she has a dog leashed around her waist. They come to a stream crossing. The catwalk has washed out and a tree limb has fallen, blocking the trail.

She forges ahead, contorting herself to slither around the tree without dumping the baby out of the carrier and into the water.

The dog chooses a different route and the leash ends up wrapped around various trees.

The woman temporarily loses her balance and adjusts her footing–right into a deep part of the stream. Her boot fills with water.

Hiking with Ellie and Baxter

After emptying out my boot, wringing out my sock and untangling Baxter–all while still balancing Ellie in the carrier–I decided the trails were out of bounds until we did some work.

So I was thrilled to receive a Mother’s Day present involving chainsaws, wheelbarrows, multiple loads of firewood and clear(er) passage on the trails.

Matt and his Dad wheeling firewood out of the woods

My FIL and Baxter cutting wood in the forest

Loading firewood from the forest

Matt unloading firewood
You may recall that Matt and I had done this chore previously, so I know exactly how much work this was. I’m over the moon happy to have access to our trails and incredibly grateful for Matt and his Dad working so hard.

I’m also still holding out for a brigade of forest rangers equipped with ATVs, wood chippers, weed whackers and chainsaws (these trails could seriously use a whole season of work from a whole crew). Perhaps next Mother’s Day?

Behind the scenes

Just because I can’t keep all the cuteness to myself…

Ellie and Matt assembling our new wheelbarrow.

Matt and Ellie assembling the wheelbarrow

Quality control testing.

Matt holding Ellie in the wheelbarrow

Ellie, Baxter and I helpfully supervising on Mother’s Day.

Carrying Ellie

Word of the year for 2018

I enjoy setting annual goals for projects that we want to accomplish around the house and the property. As you can guess, I have a long list bouncing around in my brain, and the process of picking out a few areas to focus on usually starts a few months before the end of the year.

However, 2018 is going to be a very different year for us with the arrival of bébé.

Part of my philosophy with pregnancy and birth and our transition to parenthood and everything else that’s ahead is to try to take things as they come and not place a lot of expectations on myself.

My favourite tree at sunset in the fall

So that’s changed the way I’m thinking about Home Goals for the coming year.

A lot of people start the year by choosing a word to guide them over the next 12 months. So rather than setting Home Goals for things that I’m not sure I’m going to have time to do, I’m going to go with a word this year.

Balance

Balance seems to be a very over-used word these days, but for me I feel it best describes what I’m looking for in the coming year.

I’m looking for balance between my new life as Mama and my old life as I-do-what-I-want-when-I-want. This is one of my huge anxieties about having a child. I love who I am and I love my life. I don’t want to lose that. So finding my balance in our new reality is really important to me.

I’m looking for balance in working around the farm and relaxing at the farm. I still have projects I want to do and ambitions for this house and property (like the indoor pool room). I’m not sure yet how we’ll do them with a baby and also with the changes in our income as I’ve moved to working for myself, but I want to make sure that I’m living at the farm as I want to–which means working as well as relaxing. I enjoy both equally, so I want to make sure that the load doesn’t tip too far in one direction over another.

Matt in the indoor pool

I’m looking for balance in my marriage between Matt and me as we take care of the farm, the house, the baby and each other. We’re celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary this week, and this month marks 20 years since we began dating. I want to make sure we have time for cuddles on the couch and kisses in the kitchen and space for each other to be Matt and Julia (individually and together) and not just Daddy and Mama.

Matt and I on our wedding day

Going through Matt’s tumor treatment and tests (which will continue for awhile) has made me really savour all of the small moments, and I don’t want to take them for granted.

At the same time, Matt has reminded me that it’s important to embrace the normal. When every single moment becomes laden with meaning–and, if I’m being honest, fear–it’s a hard way to live. I’m continuing to work to find my balance between appreciation and complacency.

I’m looking for balance financially. Leaving my job has made me very conscious of our spending. Matt’s carrying all of our household bills, and I’m very grateful that he’s willing and able to do that. However, it’s been an adjustment for us both and sometimes I feel like I’m not contributing to our household. Plus, as I’m building my business, I don’t have the same funds coming in reliably every other week. I built up a reserve of savings before I began my leave, but I want to see that grow again, and I want to contribute to our household expenses and help build our savings for renos, education funds, retirement and other financial goals that we have.

Rainbow over green fields

For me, I often find that balance is about choices. Some choices are easy to make and some are hard. I often feel guilty when I choose not to do something, whether it’s as little as letting the weeds take over the garden or as big as spending time with extended family.

So as I’m working to maintain my balance this year, I’m working to remember what’s important to me and make choices based on what is best for me and my own family.

How are you approaching 2018? Have you ever chosen a word of the year?

Inspiration and a mantra for 2018

Happy New Year from Sarah in Illinois. I’m very happy to have Sarah continuing as a contributor this year, sharing news of what’s happening at her farm in Illinois. Like us here in Ontario, she’s starting off the year in a cold snap, but she’s looking ahead with optimism. She’s sharing some of her inspiration for 2018 today.

Happy New Year!

Our new year in Illinois has been great, but very, very cold. We have not made it above freezing temperatures in about two weeks. Last night we dropped to -6F (-21C) actual temperature. Keeping water available to the chickens has been my biggest struggle, even with a heated water bowl.

There is one more inconvenience that I am dealing with. Frozen eggs!

I gather them in the morning before work, but by the time I get home and there has been 10 hours of single digit temperatures, I usually find this:

However, relief is on the way. The forecast for the upcoming week shows that we are going to rise above freezing every day and I am looking forward to it.

I am also looking forward to the upcoming year. A new year always feels like a blank slate. For us, 2017 had some good points but a lot of struggles and the promise of a fresh new start is invigorating.

If you remember my posts last year or the year before I used the website My One Word to find an inspirational word for the year.

I decided this year that I want to use a phrase as a sort of mantra for my upcoming year and I wrote it in the front of my new planner.

I am not sure where this phrase originated. I found a version attributed to Roy T. Bennett in The Light in the Heart: “Do what is right, not what is easy nor what is popular.”

I found this quote by David Cottrell: “Doing the right thing isn’t always easy – in fact, sometimes it’s real hard – but just remember that doing the right thing is always right.”

And if you are a fan of Harry Potter then I am sure you remember Albus Dumbledore saying, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

No matter who first said it, I think it can be applied to every aspect of my life from what I choose to eat, to getting chores done around the house and barn.

So what about you? Do you have a word or a mantra to start your new year? Or do you write out resolutions? Do you feel like I do and think of the new year as a clean, blank slate?

This is a great mantra for the year, Sarah. I like how it can apply to big things as well as the little everyday tasks. I’m doing a word of the year for the first time this year, and I’ll be sharing my choice in an upcoming post.

I’m curious to here how others are starting the new year. Leave a comment and let us know your resolutions or words or mantras.

Ready (enough) for winter

Cold temperatures and snow have arrived, forcing the end of outside work at the farm. While we’ve had a bit of a thaw this week, I’m hopeful that we may have a white Christmas, and either way I’m taking the official arrival of winter as an excuse to hibernate for the next little while.

Here’s my final report on how we did on my fall to-do list.

1. Clean out the vegetable garden

I read the phrase this week that “the gardens need a rest, as do [the people who tend them].” I love that perspective.

I didn’t clean out the whole garden, but as I shared in my last update, half of it is cleared and covered with tarps to further discourage weeds. I finished wrapping the grapes with burlap, which was one of my biggest concerns. After investing two years in establishing our vines, I want to protect them as much as possible.

Grape vines wrapped in burlap for the winter

2. Remove window screens

Like every year (except last year when I didn’t do this at all), this task goes down to the wire for me. Today’s supposed to be the warmest day of the week–and technically it’s still fall–so I think it’s a good window screen day.

3. Wash dining room and living room windows

Done.

4. Put away the birdbath and put out the feeder

Done. I love watching the birds as I work everyday. In fact, I didn’t even get up from the computer to take the photo below. Just grabbed the camera, zoomed and clicked. I feel very fortunate to get to spend every day at this farm.

Woodpecker and junco at the birdfeeder

5. Bush hog the meadow, septic and pond shore one more time

Didn’t happen this year, and now the meadow is covered with snow until next spring.

6. Clean gutters

Matt did this twice, so we’re set until things thaw in the spring.

7. Switch out the mudroom mats

Done.

8. Sweep the chimney

Done.

9. Vacuum my car

Did not get done. Maybe I’ll find one of those heated car washes someday this winter and make use of their vacuum.

10. Service the tractor

Done.

11. Build a new coffee table.

Thanks everyone for your input on the coffee table. The lumber and air compressor is piled in the living room. I think this will be a good Christmas holiday project. So it won’t be finished this fall, but maybe this year?

Lumber in the living room

12. Pick up the lumber pile beside the silo

Done.

13. Regrade back and side of house

Not done. Boo. Hopefully we’ll be able to do this in the spring.

This fall, like every season, has been a mix. Overall, I feel pretty pleased with what we’ve accomplished, and I feel like we’re ready for winter–and hibernation.

How did you do on your fall tasks? Who’s with me on the hibernation train?

Odds and sods

Whew. I feel like I could have slept all weekend. Of course, that was not what happened, but I did spend Sunday afternoon curled on the couch with Baxter. The fire was going, I was wrapped in a cozy sweater. It was a perfect low key few hours before we head into the final stretch of Christmas busyness.

Since I’m still feeling lazy, I’m starting this week simply, sharing a few tidbits of what we’ve been up to recently. And because I’m apparently feeling random, I’m throwing in a couple of favourite recipes. Also, dog pictures just because they’re cute.

Dogs hiking in the snow

  • Part of the reason for the couch afternoon was we spent the morning at the holiday dog hike our trainer organizes every year. There is something so special about watching dogs of all shapes and sizes running together–most of them off leash–and enjoying the outdoors.
  • This weekend included another treasured holiday tradition, a family potluck hosted by one of my (many) cousins. I took my favourite potluck dish, sweet cream cheese dip with green apples… or, as I sometimes call it, sugar on a plate (recipe below).
  • I started my holiday baking with a big batch of Matt’s favourite–peanut butter balls (recipe below). Up next, whipped shortbreads, which are one of my favourites.
  • Two new-to-me blogs that I’ve been enjoying: The Handmade Home and Arrows and Bow

Peanut butter balls

2 cups icing sugar

2 cups shredded coconut

1 1/2 cups peanut butter

(My grandmother’s recipe calls for equal parts PB, sugar and coconut, but I’ve been finding them way too sticky, so I’ve been cutting back the PB over the years. I fudged the quantities above a bit, as I make a much bigger batch. This year’s was 5 cups of icing sugar, 5 cups of coconut and 4 cups of PB, which resulted in approximately 140 balls.)

Mix sugar, coconut and peanut butter together. Roll into small balls (sticking the “dough” in the fridge for a few minutes helps to firm it up so it’s easier to roll). In a double boiler, melt chocolate chips with a bit of evaporated milk. Roll balls in chocolate and put on a tray to set.

I store mine in the fridge to keep them nice and firm.

Sweet Cream Cheese Dip with Green Apples

1 block of cream cheese

1 cup of brown sugar

Crushed Skor bars

Dulce de Leche (or caramel sauce)

Mix cream cheese and brown sugar together and spread on a large plate or platter. Sprinkle with Skor bits and drizzle with dulce de leche. Chop green apples into wedges. Scoop dip with apples and feel healthy ’cause you’re eating fruit.

And more dog pictures.

Our trainer giving instructions before we hike. (Don’t let Baxter fool you. He’s not actually listening. He just wants attention too.)

Dogs hiking in the snow

All the sniffs.

Dogs hiking in the snow

When you show up at the holiday party wearing the same outfit as someone else (although the little guy also had on pants and socks).

Dogs in matching plaid coats

The afternoon after a hike.

Baxter sleeping on the couch

Cold snap

December snowfall

Our first significant snowfall and cold snap arrived this week. As it happens, they coincided with a hiccup in our heating system.

When we woke up on Tuesday morning, the temperature inside was down to 13 degrees (55 fahrenheit). Outside it was -5. Brrr.

Thermostat showing 13 degrees

Definitely a day for breakfast in bed under the covers.

Baxter eating under his blanket in bed

Fortunately, a service tech from our geothermal company (Waterloo Energy Products) arrived by 8am and by 8:30 the heat pump was chugging again.

It turned out we needed a new capacitor (the cylinder in the centre of the photo below), which is apparently a fairly inexpensive part (we haven’t received the invoice yet).

Inside the geothermal heatpump

We’ve had our geothermal system for more than five years, and we’ve been really happy with our choice to go geo. While at first we knew next to nothing about geothermal, now we’re huge endorsers of this system.

While he was here the tech checked the rest of our setup and everything seemed to be in good shape. Which is good as the cold snap is continuing. Yesterday was -18 but felt like -27. Yipes.

Baxter has yet to take his turn at serving breakfast in bed.

Fall to do list – Report #2

We are officially in the month of winter now. (Happy first of December, BTW.) That means I have just 21 more days to finish my fall to-do list. And if I’m going by the weather rather than the calendar, who knows how long I have.

Anyone else feeling the pressure?

Here’s how we’re doing as we head into the final stretch.

1. Clean out the vegetable garden

I think I’m cutting my losses on the vegetable garden. Matt did a pass over one quadrant with the rototiller as he was running it out of gas. All of his work leveled out the dirt and uprooted the last of the weeds.

I’ve trimmed the asparagus and wrapped (most of) the grapes in burlap. Remember last year I did this in the snow? I was feeling pretty good about picking a mild Saturday before the snow arrived to get this done this year.

Then I ran out of burlap.

So this is almost done.

In keeping with the theme of cutting my losses, I bought two large tarps. My oldest nephew, who has been giving us lots of help at the farm, worked with me to spread them over half the garden. I’ve talked before about my love of tarps for killing weeds. So at least half the garden is tended.

Blue tarp spread over the vegetable garden

And lest there’s any confusion about what cutting my losses means, here’s the other half of the garden. Partially wrapped grapes, plants still in the ground, weeds, even the little sticks with the seed packets on top saying what’s in each row. Let’s just call this compost, shall we?

Messy garden in late fall

2. Remove window screens

The dining room is still the only window that is screenless. I will get to the others in the next 21 days.

3. Wash dining room and living room windows

Done at last update.

4. Put away the birdbath and put out the feeder

Done at last update. I’m loving watching the birds at the feeder as I’m working at the dining room table.

5. Bush hog the meadow, septic and pond shore one more time

This is another cutting my losses scenario. Not done. Won’t be done. Spring is soon enough.

6. Clean gutters

Matt’s done this once. Maybe one more to go?

7. Switch out the mudroom mats

Done just before our Christmas party. As in hours before. Great, except that I forgot the mat takes awhile to relax after being rolled up all summer. We had a variety of footwear and even a level and square spread around when guests arrived trying to flatten it out.

Here’s my post on how I DIYed a large mat for our mudroom.

8. Sweep the chimney

Done, as you saw in my post earlier this month.

Matt goofing around while cleaning the chimney

9. Vacuum my car

Still to come. Anyone want to arrange a detailing session for me?

10. Service the tractor

Matt and I took the mower deck off (as snow flurries flew around us). Then my cousin came over and changed the oil for us. Ralph and Bax supervised, until Bax decided he was bored and chased Ralph. He ended up in the house on a timeout, which may have been his plan all along. Dude’s work ethic is seriously questionable.

But my cousin’s is not. We’re very grateful for all of the help we get around the farm from our families.

Ralph and Baxter supervising the oil change on the tractor

11. Build a new coffee table.

Still to come.

12. Pick up the lumber pile beside the silo

Done, thanks to some more helpful cousins.

13. Regrade back and side of house

Another cut my losses. Boo. Add this to the spring list.

As fall progresses, I keep finding other things I need to do. Big things like putting away the hoses and turning off the outside water. Oops. That’s one not to forget (and now that I’ve remembered, it’s done).

I don’t like conceding defeat on these items. My mantra was, “Everything I do now is something I don’t have to do in the spring.” Because scaling up in the spring is as much effort as winding down in the fall. But c’est la vie. Everything is not going to be done.

But we’ll be done enough to be ready for winter.

At least my fingers are crossed that that’s the case.

How are you doing on winter prep at your house?