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 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


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


8. Sweep the chimney


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


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


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?

Musings and a frosty dawn

Frost covered fields at sunrise

Slowly winter is creeping in at the farm. This weekend will be filled with some more work outside as we try to get everything wrapped up before freezing temperatures are here to stay. Mixed in of course will be hot chocolate breaks and cozy nights in front of the fireplace.

I hope that you enjoy a wonderful weekend.

And to those of my readers still celebrating Thanksgiving, I wish you an especially wonderful holiday.

How we cleaned our chimney ourselves

Alternate title for this post “That time Matt’s Dad didn’t suffocate and fall off our roof.”

If you’ve been reading along here for any length of time, you know how much we enjoy our wood-burning fireplace and have fires nightly as soon as the weather turns cold.

It’s been three years since the fireplace was rebuilt and over that time we’ve never cleaned the chimney.

Before we fired anything up this year, I knew I wanted to address that.

Red brick chimney

Our go-to was Matt’s Dad. He heats his entire house with wood and cuts and splits all his own firewood. He’s our resource for all things fire.

He initially suggested dropping a heavy chain down the chimney and using it to knock off the soot. I was skeptical, but after a quick online search it seemed like that was a legit method of cleaning a chimney. However, consensus seemed to be that a brush was a more legit method.

Onto my Dad. I was pretty sure I remembered seeing a chimney brush and poles up in the rafters of the garage. After spending some time on a ladder peering around the garage, I found the poles but no brush.

So onto the store. I found a brush that I thought would probably fit our chimney and brought it to my parents’ house to try it on their poles. They didn’t fit together.

Back to the store, where I bought a handful of poles guessing at how many might be needed to reach the full length of the chimney.

Chimney brush in front of the hearth

Once we had the equipment, we needed to prep the inside of the house. I cleaned out the hearth, opened the damper and then covered the mouth of the fireplace to prevent dust from coming into the house.

Covering the fireplace to prevent dust during chimney sweeping

Covering the fireplace to prevent dust during chimney sweeping

Then it was onto Dick Van Dyke Matt and his Dad. (I asked for a Mary Poppins rooftop routine, but they were not in the mood. Although Matt did give me a strong man demonstration.)

Matt goofing around while cleaning the chimney

They popped the cap off the chimney and took a look.

Taking the cap off the top of the chimney

The chimney wasn’t too dirty. You can see the flakes of soot on the flue.

Soot on the inside of the chimney flue

They screwed the brush onto the first pole and got ready to sweep.

Chimney cleaning brush

Then this is where the suffocation comes in. Before he stuck the brush down the chimney, Matt’s Dad stuck his head in a large plastic bag–probably one that has a suffocation warning printed on it.

Cleaning the chimney

When he cleans his own chimney, my FIL does it from a ladder, which doesn’t give him much maneuverability. Therefore, there have been times where the wind has blown soot back in his face. The plastic helps to protect him from getting entirely dirty. On our roof, they could move around to avoid the wind if necessary.

The next stage was–to quote Matt–“dunk and scrub.” (My husband loves his movie references… although the line is actually “plunge and scrub,” but my darling husband maintains that “dunk” sounds better than “plunge”… or at least it does in his version of an Irish accent.)

My FIL dunked plunged the brush up and down in the chimney until the soot was removed. As he reached the end of one pole, he and Matt screwed on another section.

Attaching chimney sweeping poles together

Once they’d done the full length of the chimney, that was all there was to it. They put the cap back on top, came inside and pulled the plastic off the opening, swept the wee bit of dust out of the hearth, and we were ready for a fire.

Logs burning in the fireplace

Cleaning the chimney turned out to be pretty easy (so says the woman on the ground… but seriously, I know I could do it and you can too). I’m very grateful to Matt and his Dad for their work.

Here are my tips to clean your chimney yourself.

  1. Find a brush that fits your chimney. Our chimney has a 12 inch square flue. Most of the brushes I found in different stores were smaller and round. That works for my FIL’s woodstove, but not for our masonry chimney. Eventually, I found a brush that was an 8-inch by 12-inch rectangle. Even though it wasn’t the 12 by 12 that I originally had in mind, Matt’s Dad said that it worked very well.
  2. Buy extra poles. It turns out that two poles and a long arm (to quote Matt’s Dad) are enough to do our whole chimney. I bought five because I did not want to come up short. I’ll be returning the other three.
  3. Lubricate your poles. The poles screw together so that the handle of your brush gets progressively longer as you proceed down the chimney. Before he went up on the roof, Matt’s Dad gave the threads a shot of WD40 to ensure they’d easily screw and unscrew this year and for the years to come.
  4. Cover up inside. Tape a sheet of plastic over your fireplace opening. If you have doors on your fireplace, this step may not be necessary. With our open hearth, there was a good chance that soot and dust dislodged during cleaning would float into the living room. Covering the opening with plywood or plastic helps to contain the mess in the fireplace, where you can sweep it up later.
  5. Dunk and scrub (or plunge). Jostle your brush up and down inside the chimney. Be relatively vigorous–you want to knock off all the soot–but a bit gentle–you don’t want to damage your chimney.
  6. Watch which way the wind blows. It’s probably not necessary to don a plastic hood and face shield à la Matt’s Dad. However, chimney cleaning is a dirty job (another Mary Poppins clip, anyone?), so wear old clothes or coveralls, gloves and try to choose an angle where you won’t have soot blowing in your face.
  7. Do this yourself. Chimney cleaning is an easy DIY. It took about a half hour start to finish and in total our investment in the brush and the poles is less than $100. We’ll have the equipment for years. We didn’t get a professional quote on cleaning the chimney, but I’m certain that we would have spent more than $100 if we’d hired this out.

Now we can enjoy the fireplace, confident that it’s safe and clean.

How we cleaned our chimney ourselves