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?

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?

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?

 

Bonfires at the pond

Bonfire beside the pond

The sun is going down. The air is warm. Frogs and birds are chirping. The water of the pond ripples as bugs, fish and beavers paddle around. Within a circle of stones, the flames of the bonfire dance in the gentle breeze.

This is the idyllic night by the pond that I have imagined since we moved here. And it has finally happened.

For many years, I have proclaimed that clearing the pond shore is my one and only outside project for the summer. And for many years, I have failed to fulfill my dream.

Overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

You might recall that earlier this year I burned the shore. This cleared all of last year’s brush and grass. In a couple of weeks, the grass had started to regrow, but it was small and and soft and green—very mowable.

Controlled burn beside the pond

Matt’s Dad went through with his heavy duty loppers and chainsaw. He did battle with saplings, suckers and the beaver lodge (not dismantling it, just climbing around on it). It was brutal for him, but more brutal for the brush.

Burning all of it took two more big fires.

I mowed, our nephew mowed, my cousin mowed. Ellie and I added benches and moved rocks to make the firepit.

Soon, Ellie and I were making daily visits to the beavers and then friends came for a (social distancing) bonfire. It was as wonderful as I imagined.

Last weekend, Matt’s Dad, his oldest brother and our two nephews waged another battle. This time with the stumps. Once we started mowing, we discovered a few stumps sticking up high enough to catch on the mower. With axes, pry bars and shovels, they dug them all out—another brutal job, but one I appreciate so, so much.

Digging out stumps by the pond

We celebrated on Saturday night by gathering for a bonfire. It was the first time we’ve all been together since Matt’s birthday in March. At the start of April, I wrote, “maybe, maybe in a few months the shore will be green, quarantine will be over, and we’ll be able to walk down and sit by the water.”

Though restrictions are lifting across Ontario, we are still being cautious. But the shore is green and we’re able to spend time together.

I often sit by the pond for a few minutes in the afternoons when Ellie naps or in the evenings after she goes to bed. We still visit the beavers at least once every day. And bonfires have become weekly events.

Evening at the pond

All of this gives me joy and peace, even more than I imagined.

Our backyard playground & tips for buying a used playset

Backyard playset

As winter waned this year, Ellie and I developed a habit of adding a playground visit to our daily outings. Then the pandemic arrived full force and by the first day of spring all of the playgrounds in our area were closed.

Ellie looked out the window as we drove past and said, “Pwaygound?” When I explained they were closed and we couldn’t use them, she cried.

When I told her that we might get our own playground at the farm, Ellie’s first question was if it would be closed. I was happy to assure her that her playground will never close.

Backyard playset

The idea of adding a playset was easy. It’s something I’ve planned since last year.

We received a lot of generous donations from the Go Fund Me campaign to honour Matt. And I felt like using some of that money for a playset for Ellie was something Matt would have enjoyed a lot.

But finding the playset was not easy.

Matt and I had visited a local builder that makes playgrounds last year. The quote for a small, old display model at the end of the season was $4,000. I was tempted, but Matt set me straight.

This spring, I started my search on kijiji (the Canadian Craig’s List). Playsets came up, but they disappeared within minutes–not hours, minutes. I think with all of the kids out of school, parents were looking for things to keep them busy at home. Competition was fierce.

But I finally managed to be first in line for one. It has everything I was looking for and is perfect for our girl. She loooooves it. It’s always open… except at bedtime. And it’s a lovely gift from her Dad.

Backyard playset

Here are my tips for buying a second-hand playset:

1. Search often. Search everywhere. It took me a few weeks to find our playset. I spread the word with friends and family, hoping that they might know someone who wanted to get rid of a playset or that they could keep an eye on various buy and sell groups they’re part of. My primary market was kijiji. New sets were listed everyday, but they sold within minutes. I learned that I had to check the site a few times and day and be prepared to act fast.

2. Know what you’re looking for. Our girl loved climbing and sliding when we went to the park. She was also getting more comfortable on swings. So I knew our set needed swings, a slide and some kind of climber. The size of the playset didn’t matter to me, but if you have a smaller yard, you may want to know what dimensions your set should be.

The playset didn’t need to be perfect. I was prepared to do a bit of work fixing it if necessary. Playsets have been outside for years. Kids have played on them. They may be weathered and worn. Think about what repairs you’re willing and able to make.

Building a backyard playset

Also, know what price you’re prepared to pay. Most of the playsets I saw were less than $500, though a few went up to $1,000–still big savings over the $4,000 we were quoted last year. Thinking in advance about what’s most important to you means you can quickly evaluate a listing and decide to buy it or not.

3. Arrange transportation. Playsets tend to be large and awkward. They’re not something you can throw in the back of your car easily. But prompt pick-up is important in a competitive market. I knew I’d need help bringing it home, so I had Matt’s Dad with his pick-up truck and trailer on standby. I also had other friends and family for back up if needed. I wanted to be able to act fast once I successfully found a playset.

4. Be prepared to disassemble. A lot of the playsets I saw online said, “You take it apart.” They were fully set up in people’s backyards. I’ve noticed this changed a bit as people became more sensitive about social distancing. Fortunately, the seller disassembled our set and carried out to the curb, where we picked it up. However, there were still a few pieces that we took apart to make transportation easier. Bring some tools to the pick up, so that you can take care of whatever is needed. A toolbox would be the most basic, but if you have to do a full disassembly I’d recommend a drill, wrenches, a socket set, pry bar, saw and sledge hammer.

5. Be prepared to reassemble. Once you get your new-to-you playset home, you’re going to have to put at least some of it together. For us, there was a fair bit of reassembly needed. Matt’s Dad and I spent about 4 hours building the playset. Or, as Ellie says, “Papa fix playground.”

Building a backyard playset

6. Find the manual. Perhaps the seller has kept the manual and passes it along to you. This was not the case for us, but he did supply the brand name for our playset, so I was able to find the manual online and print it off. We could not have put the playset back together properly without it. This is a case where you definitely should follow the directions.

Tips for building a backyard playset

7. Sort the pieces. If you’re like us, you’ll receive a big bag of bolts and screws from the seller. Inside the bag were more than 12 different sizes of bolts and screws, plus all of the nuts and washers. Each is meant to be used in a very specific place, and for strength and safety it’s important they’re installed correctly. Before we started putting anything back together, I sorted all of the hardware into labelled plastic cups . Then, it was a quick grab for the C3 screws, rather than a frustrating search. You can also sort the wood, but I found that was less critical. Note that the pieces of wood will likely be stamped with a part number somewhere (it took me awhile to notice this, and made life much easier once I did).

Building a backyard playset

8. Inspect. Once the playground is set up, check it over carefully. Make sure all of the screws and bolts are tight. Look for any damaged boards. Find any spots where bolts are missing. The upper deck was in one piece when we picked it up. But I discovered that some bolts underneath the platform weren’t installed. Also make sure to anchor the playset into the ground so that it never tips over.

9. Play! The playset has been a great addition to the farm. We spend time there pretty much everyday. We eat lunch on the built-in picnic bench, and swing and slide and climb. I put it right by the garden, and I’ve been able to do a bit of work while Ellie plays.

Backyard playset

Do you have a playset at your house? Are you a swinger or a slider or a climber? Have you added any new features to your property during quarantine?

 

Happy Victoria Day

Ellie walking in the field

Happy Victoria Day.

We have been having a wonderful weekend so far. There has been tractor time, picnic lunches, animals, hikes, bonfires and lots of other fun.

Picnic lunch with the barn cat

And I want more.

So I decided to grant myself a three-day weekend and take today off. I’ll be back next week with a new blog post.

I hope you are doing well. Take good care.

Odds & sods

Last week I talked about looking forward to joy in the garden. On Saturday we found it. Sunshine, warmer temperatures, some cooperative worms, a bit more progress on weeding and our happy girl.

Weeding the vegetable garden with Ellie

I think a lot of people are using this time to reconnect with what’s most important. Family, nature, making, growing. I hope that among the juggle and the difficult, you’re able to find the joy.

Here are some other things that have made me happy over the last little while:

“The ultimate day of running and fixing and making and being.” Lots of lessons for living, prioritizing, working, feeling, thinking and accomplishing. (Also LOL at 10:05)

I watch a fair bit of HGTV most weeks. A new favourite is Celebrity IOU. It feels genuine, generous… and of course there are some beautiful makeovers.

I’m noticing a bit more diversity on HGTV. A few episodes have highlighted accessibility needs for people with mobility challenges and they’re branching out beyond the nuclear family with multi-generational households.

Thinking of hiring a designer? I’ve followed Jen at Rambling Renovators for a long time. Her style is beautiful, and I’m so proud of her for taking this step. But more I love the positive hopeful attitude she’s promoting in launching her business now.

Cookies with no chocolate, no peanut butter, yet everyone I gave them to asked for the recipe (Tip: This makes a huuuuuge quantity of cookies. I cut the recipe in half and still had more than 50. Hence, the giveaways.)

How to brush a toddler’s teeth. I feel like we’re making some progress toward a truce in our nightly battles though we’re not yet as peaceful as this demonstration. I welcome any tips.

Shelf isolation

The royal wartime radio address updated and reimagined

My writing elsewhere:

I wish you joy and health. Take good care.

Odds & sods

Hello from COVID-19 quarantine at the farm. The farm is not a bad place at all to hunker down, and I feel fortunate that we have this spot.

We play outside and inside. I’ve broken out my old Cabbage Patch doll (for her) and jigsaw puzzles (for me). Ellie loves her new play area in the basement, though I so wish I had a playground or swing set for her outside. It’s in the plans. I just haven’t got there yet.

Ellie playing with a cabbage patch doll

We look for snail shells at the pond, sit on the tractor in the barn, practice rolling down the hill behind the house (which is a tandem event, since the toddler doesn’t understand physics yet), and I trade wheelbarrow rides for just a few minutes to rake this next section of flower garden.

I do a bit of work online and am daily so grateful that I am here with Ellie and don’t have to answer to a boss–aside from keeping clients happy.

Matt, who was our lead grocery shopper, always kept us stocked as though the apocalypse was about to arrive. So our pantry, freezer, battery stash, toiletries, cleaning supplies are all full–even though I’ve been on a mission over the last few months to eat the freezer (in hindsight, not great timing). I of course have to go to the grocery store, but I’ve been buying enough for two weeks at a time, so I can minimize my outings.

I’m finding quarantine brings out grief in different ways and I’m missing Matt in new ways. He would love this time off work and being home with us at the farm. He voluntarily self-isolated before it was government mandated. We would be really good at this.

But, Ellie and I are a dynamic duo. There are lots of things for us to do, so it’s not too hard to stay home and do our part to flatten the curve.

Twinning

I had an epiphany last week when I was taking some items to the post office. What if I am somehow a carrier of the virus? It could be on the package, which is then handled by the post office staff and any number of people as it travels from my house to someone else’s. I cannot carry the responsibility of infecting anyone. Never mind our families and our daughter and people like Matt. So we are staying home.

I hope that you are staying safe and doing everything you can to help stop this virus.

Here is this month’s odds & sods round-up, quarantine edition:

We’re keeping connected with family and friends through text, online chats, phone calls, Facetime and emails. I’ve taken food to a friend who works at the hospital and a neighbour who is overdue with her third baby–two people who need easy meals after long, tough days. I’ve also set a goal of reaching out to at least one more remote connection everyday, whether it’s a coworker, neighbour, cousin. How are you staying connected?

We got a new stove! In case you missed my previous update, the team at Tasco exhibited the care and compassion I was hoping for, and arranged for us to return our malfunctioning stove. Our new stove arrived just about 10 days ago, and it is lovely. I felt pressure to pick the right one this time and walked into the store with a spreadsheet of ovens with all of their features and reviews. I ended up going with KitchenAid. The double ovens are exactly what I was looking for. Food cooks as expected in the amount of time expected. I made homemade mushroom soup for the first time (so easy and so good) and my favourite bread–apparently it’s the thing to do during quarantine.

No knead bread baking in the oven

Just discovered this artist. Love this one, this one and this one so much.

What dog owners should do during COVID-19 and 10 ways to help an animal shelter during COVID-19.

The terms social distancing and self isolation bug me. Why invent new words that people have to learn? Especially in a crisis? As a communicator, my mission is to always be as clear as possible. That means keeping things simple and direct.

Social distancing graphic

We’re wrapping up March by… what else… staying home. I’m hoping the month ends lamb-like, so we can be outside and maybe even finish clearing the gardens so the spring flowers are ready to bloom.

 

How are you getting through COVID-19? I hope that you are well and safe. Take good care, everyone.

 

My writing elsewhere:

Making a playhouse out of a grain silo

How about a bit of fun for this Monday?

I feel like we need it after last week’s post about our malfunctioning stove, plus everything else that’s going on in the world. (P.S. Tasco agreed to take back the stove, so I bought a new one at the end of last week. Thank goodness. I’ll share more about the new stove once it arrives.)

Let’s think about a playhouse for Ellie, shall we?

Ellie, Bax and Ralph by the silo

When we were growing up, we loved playing outside when we went to visit our grandma’s house. She had a super deep, super steep backyard that sloped down to a ravine. Halfway down the hill tucked into some trees and bushes was a little tiny house with white pealing paint. It wasn’t big enough for an adult to stand up in, and by the time we came along it only housed abandoned lawn furniture. But we were told it had been my Mom’s playhouse when she was growing up. It always seemed like the coolest little spot to me. It was so hidden and private and obviously kids only.

We had a great backyard growing up and tons of things to do and lots of freedom. But we didn’t have a playhouse. We would occasionally build forts, and it was always a thrill to have a place of our own.

I’d like to give Ellie that experience, and fortunately I have a great start with our grain silo beside the barn.

Wouldn’t this make an awesome playhouse?

Ellie running past the metal grain silo

It’s big, so there are lots of possibilities of what we can do.

My plan is to make it two stories. It’s tall enough that a floor halfway up would still make two really usable spaces–an adult could probably even stand up (though I probably won’t be invited).

Metal grain silo

A ship’s ladder would be a simple way to get up and down.

It’ll need a few windows for light, and maybe a better door.

Ellie trying to get in the metal grain silo

Beyond that, Ellie could make it what she wants.

This spread from the May issue of Country Living gives some ideas, although this is much more extravagant than what I have in mind.

Grain silo conversion in Country Living May 2019

I think this would be a great secret space for her. I can even see sleepovers out here once she’s bigger.

Plus, if we truly are in the apocalypse, the silo would be a place to house all of the friends who have told me they’re coming to the farm when the world ends.

Did you have a playhouse growing up? What do you think Ellie needs in her playhouse? What would you do with this grain silo?