Messages, signs and good news

Just about two weeks ago, Matt had an important check up for his eye tumor. We had had a month of anxiety leading up to this appointment. While his eye is healing very well, a biopsy had revealed the tumor had a mutation that meant it may spread to other parts of his body.

This was not at all the result we were hoping for and was quickly followed by a meeting with an oncologist and then appointments for an MRI, CT and blood work to see if the tumor had spread anywhere.

Two weeks ago we found out that all of his scans came back clean.

It’s hard to describe the feelings in that moment. Just as it’s hard to describe what we’ve been feeling ever since we received the biopsy results. This note I stuck in my planner was a reminder that we only need positivity in our lives.

There is no room for doubt, fear or guilt. Only good thoughts and love.

In times like this, all kinds of moments take on different meanings and I often feel like the universe is sending me messages.

We had left the hospital and been in the car for a few minutes, starting to make our way through the city traffic and back to the farm when at the same time we tuned in to the song that was playing on the radio.

“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone, I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright, bright, bright, bright sunshiney day.

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone. All of the bad feelings have disappeared. Here is the rainbow I’ve been praying for. It’s gonna be a bright, bright, bright, bright sunshiney day.”

Fortunately, traffic was moving very slowly because we were both in tears again.

Throughout the month while we were waiting for this appointment, there were other songs, Instagram posts, messages, blogs and emails that have come through at the right moment. Some of them have been scary.

A blog titled “On illness, loss and identity” showed up in my reader the morning of Matt’s appointment. After waking up well before the alarm, I was trying to fill time online. But there was no way I was reading that post. However, it kept appearing, even opening on my phone when we stopped for an errand on the way to the hospital.

Finally, I read it.

The second last paragraph said, “I suggest that you reject fear and insecurity as well as the structures we have put into place in our lives that seem powerful, but now only serve as iron cages of anxiety, stress and fear.”

Yup. That’s what I needed at that moment.

There have been lots of intentional messages too, of people actively connecting to support us. I admit that I’ve been surprised how much those mean to me. When someone says, “You’re in my thoughts, I’m praying for you, I’m thinking of you,” it’s not an empty platitude for us. We know we have a huge support network–even of people we don’t know very well, like some of you readers–who are pulling for us and wishing us well.

We now have a clean slate for the rest of the year. Matt will continue to go for scans for awhile yet, and I’m sure the fear will return. For now we’re enjoying looking ahead to the holidays and the new year in a way we haven’t been.

Thank you for all of your support. It truly does mean a lot.

Inspirational messages I want to remember instagram.com/p/Bb9sdDynPVj/, instagram.com/p/BXMJpRgBXvk/, Lisa’s email on results day, hearing “Heaven” after HR paperwork–“nothing can take you away from me”

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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

Traditions

Simple Christmas party table setting

Our annual Christmas party is tomorrow. It’s always special to be together with family and friends and over the years Matt and I have come to really enjoy hosting everyone.

I commented on one of Brooklyn Limestone’s Instagram posts last week where Stefanie shared the beautiful engravings that I used as place cards for our very first month before Christmas party at the farm.

Placecard inspired by Brooklyn Limestone

She was intrigued by our “month before Christmas” party, and our exchange got me thinking about the gatherings that Matt and I host every year.

It’s become a tradition that Matt and I host a few dinners on key occasions every year–the month before Christmas party for his Mom’s extended family and a Good Friday dinner for my Mom’s extended family.

I like having these set dates that everyone knows they’re coming to our house. We still send out invitations well in advance (a simple email reminder), but for the most part people have them in their calendar already.

Hosting a Christmas party (a bit more than) a month before Christmas can feel a little early, but we squeeze it in before schedules get too busy, so it’s easier for everyone to make it.

The guest list is extended family that we don’t get to see very often. As our families get bigger, we find it’s harder to see everyone, so this ensures that we’re connecting at least once a year.

The menus don’t change very much. Tomorrow Matt will be cooking a full Christmas dinner, and everyone will be bringing appetizers and sweets to share.

We try to keep it casual. The house will not be fully decorated for Christmas. Some reno projects are underway that have led to clutter. But the point–and the joy–is to have everyone together.

What holiday traditions do you have? Do you host parties at your house? What are the big occasions for your family? How do you keep your family connected?

Remembering

Light pink poppies

Tomorrow we will mark another Remembrance Day. I’ve written before about how meaningful this day is to me.

My grandfather served in World War II. Nov. 11 is also his birthday. Every year, the family would be together on Remembrance Day, and some of us still carry on that tradition, meeting at the cenotaph just before 11 o’clock on Nov. 11.

Growing up, my grandparents lived next door. One of the fixtures of my grandmother’s garden was her poppy plant. Now, whether through wind, seeds, transplanting or cuttings, my parents have the descendants of this poppy.

This fall, I collected a bunch of seeds from my Mom’s plants. I’m hoping that they will grow in our garden here at the farm, and give me more memories of my grandparents.

Thankful

Two and a half weeks ago Matt was diagnosed with an ocular melanoma–a tumor in his right eye.

Today, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for many things.

Holding hands in the hospital after surgery

I’m thankful for Matt’s worrywart tendencies that made him notice his peripheral vision was blurry. I’m thankful that he didn’t listen to me when I said, “You’re trying to look at an impossibly sharp angle. Of course it’s blurry. There’s nothing wrong.” I’m thankful that his parents happened to be at the optometrist and made him an appointment for the next afternoon.

The optometrist, who diagnosed a detached retina, took the situation seriously and referred him immediately to an emergency eye clinic at a local hospital. As the optometrist predicted that Matt would likely have surgery that night, he came home to get me, so that I could drive us to the hospital.

I’m grateful for the ophthalmologist who saw us, even though we arrived quite late after his shift had ended. Expecting to hear “detached retina” and “surgery” and hearing instead “tumor” and “melanoma” is still a blurry moment.

The ophthalmologist referred us to Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the leading cancer centres in Canada and experts in this type of eye tumor. Five days after Matt’s appointment with the optometrist, we were being seen by specialist after specialist at Princess Margaret.

I’m thankful that Princess Margaret is within driving distance of the farm. I’m thankful that the staff is so amazing and their processes make everything so easy. I’m thankful for Canada’s healthcare that gives us access to all of this. By the time we left the hospital we had a confirmed diagnosis, a treatment plan and a surgery scheduled in just two days.

Matt had a surgery that involved placing a small disc in his eye called a plaque. The radiologist described the plaque as like a bottle cap filled with radiation. It is placed over the tumour and stitched in place. The plaque stayed in his eye for six days and was removed on Wednesday in a second surgery.

Wearing an eye patch and oxygen mask after surgery

I’m grateful for medical science that has come up with this treatment that is usually very successful and that allows Matt to keep his eye. I’m grateful that in most cases this type of tumor doesn’t spread (although we’re going through tests to try to make sure this is the case).

I’m thankful that Matt’s recovery has been smooth and we have family and friends supporting us both. I’m thankful that I’m now working at home for myself so I can easily juggle things to be where I need to be. I’m thankful that Matt and I have the relationship where we can get through this together with generosity, kindness, sympathy, openness, fear and humour for each other.

I’m sharing this situation because I want to remember this moment in our lives. I want to articulate gratefulness and thankfulness.

I also want to encourage everyone to go and get your annual check ups. Dentist, doctor, optometrist–it doesn’t matter how you feel. Go to the doctor. Matt has never had problems with his vision. Has never had glasses. It seemed like there was no reason for him to go to the eye doctor.

Most of the time, nothing is wrong. Great. Check that box. You did your annual check up. But maybe sometimes there is something wrong. And they notice it and you get great treatment and your life goes back to normal.

And that’s one final wish I will add this Thanksgiving, if it’s not asking too much. Amongst all of this gratitude, I will be very thankful if this treatment works, the tumor fades and my husband and I move on in health.

I’m going to be taking the rest of this week off from the blog. I’ll be back with more posts next week.

How to make a light box for tracing

Hand up if you’ve ever found yourself standing at a window, trying to hold two pieces of paper steady while you traced a pattern. My hand’s definitely up. It’s awkward, right? For crafters, tracing is an important part of a lot of projects.

A light box is a handy tool that makes tracing much, much easier. Sarah in Illinois is sharing how she made a light box for her quilting mother. 

I hinted a few posts back that I was not making good progress on my “one project a month.” If you remember, my three projects for the second quarter of the year were

  1. Light box for my mom
  2. Grill lighting
  3. The garden

Starting from the bottom, the garden is doing well. Very well. Plants are growing, we’ve picked some veggies, had some setbacks, but overall it’s doing very well. I decided to write a separate post on the garden, so I will just say I am very happy with the progress so far.

The grill lighting is on hold. When we hung the decorative string lights on our awning this year we decided that they give off enough light to make sure our hamburgers aren’t burnt. And since we are not sure what we want in permanent lighting we decided to do more research before we make the money and time commitment. So not done, but on hold.

As for the light box, I can say it is done.

So what is a light box? Basically, it is box with a transparent top and a light source inside.

When you put a print and a blank piece of paper on top of the box, the light shines through and makes it easy to trace the original print. This is great for crafters wanting to copy patterns. In this case, my mom wanted one for making quilts.

I started by cutting 45 degree angles for the 4 sides of the box.

Then I got to play around with the router. Honestly, I had not used our router before. It is kind of Steve’s toy, but using some practice boards it was fairly easy to get the hang of. The reason for the router was to cut a groove in the sides of the box for the transparent top to sit in.

I also used the router to curve the edges of the boards to give it a nicer look.

So this was the point where I would have started assembling the pieces. Except I came home and found that Blitz had put his mark on two of the pieces, quite literally.

It aggravated me of course, but who could I blame but the person who left them where a 10 month old pup could reach them? In case that wasn’t clear, that person is me.

So after redoing half of my work I began putting the sides together. Simply put, it is like building a frame for a picture.

The finished dimensions are 13 inches by 15.25 inches with the “window” area being 12.5 inches by almost 14.75 inches. Obviously I didn’t work by any plans, I just wanted to make sure it was large enough to use a standard 8.5 by 11 piece of paper for tracing.

I pre-drilled my nail holes and put three sides together.

It was at this point that I put the first coat of white paint on all of the pieces. It has been extremely humid here which is not the best weather for paint to dry. I got several scratches and finger prints on the pieces that had to be touched up once I was done handling everything.

I slid the “window” into the channels that I routed and attached the fourth side.

For the window I used a piece of plexiglass that I cut with a razor blade and snapped to break. To hide the inside of the box and to dull the brightness of the intense lights that I chose, I sprayed the plexiglass with a frosted paint.

It was at this point that I turned the box over and installed the light source. I chose this LED tape at our local home improvement store. I wanted LED so that heat did not build up inside the box.

This tape is 6.5 feet long but came with instructions on how to cut it to the correct fit. I used both the adhesive back and the small mounting brackets that came with the tape. I cut a small hole near the bottom to run the cord out of.

I was pleasantly surprised that the light tape came with a switch so that it will be easy for Mom to turn on and off as needed.

And finally I screwed the back to the box. I chose to use screws so that I can remove the back if I ever need to make any adjustments or repairs.

I am happy with the results and can’t wait to give it to Mom for her to try out.

That light box looks great, Sarah. It’s super professional with the routed channel for the plexiglass and the LED strip. I’m sure your Mom will appreciate it. Maybe you’ll get a new quilt out of it. 🙂

My Grandma’s vintage knitting patterns

I really hoped to have an office update for you today, but it was not to be. Soooooo many boxes. So much unpacking. So much fabric and wool. I’m making progress, but it’s a little overwhelming to figure out how best to organize it all.

However, one thing that is unpacked and organized is all of my grandmother’s knitting patterns. In my last update, I promised you a peak at some of these, so that’s what I’m giving you today.

This collection is so special to me. My grandmother taught me to knit as a child, but I didn’t really make anything wearable until I was a teenager. She talked me through my first mitts, sweater, lace, cables and gave me the confidence to tackle pretty much anything. Now, I’ve taught a few other people to knit and have even started a knitting group at work.

Inheriting her patterns means a lot to me, and I’m working to take good care of them. Some of the oldest patterns date to the 1930s, I think. On the tattered bottom left corner of this book is “Canada 1936.” I’m choosing to read this as a date.

Vintage knitting patterns from the 1930s

Her patterns span the years, ages and styles. Not all have stood the test of time, but I’m not getting rid of any of them.

Vintage knitting patterns

There’s lots of clothing (she knit for all of her 14 grandchildren and 16 great-grands–we have two more greats and one great-great now), and there are other things as well like afghans or these lace patterns.

Vintage lace knitting patterns

These Mary Maxim patterns are a particular treasure. Grandma knit the sheep and sailboat sweaters for my cousins, and then they were handed down to my sisters, brother and me. My Mom eventually passed them on to my cousin’s kids.

Mary Maxim is a Canadian company started in the 1950s. Their patterned jackets–often featuring Canadian wildlife–are some of their signature designs. Check out that beaver and maple leaf jacket. Doesn’t get more Canada than that.

Mary Maxim knitting patterns

These Mary Maxim mitts are another Grandma signature. In our family, we had the birds when we were growing up, and then when my sister was a teen she convinced my Grandma to knit her a pair of crocodiles.

Mary Maxim crocodile and bird mitts

I’ve knit these a bunch of times in all sizes, even including a tiny thumbless Crocodilly for my nephew #3 when he was very wee–and apparently freaked out by Auntie and her camera.

Knitted crocodile hat and mitts

The other highlight for me is this Beatrix Potter knitting book. I remember when my Grandmother got this as a Christmas gift. In fact, the card from my Aunt is still tucked inside the front cover.

Beatrix Potter knitting patterns

The patterns in this book are all interpretations of Beatrix Potter’s stories and characters. Some are vedy, vedy British and a bit dated. Benjamin Bunny tams anyone?

Benjamin Button knitting outfits

But the graphs and the characters are timeless. I think this Jeremy Fisher with his dangling legs is super cute.

Jeremy Fisher sweater

My sister is about to add another great-grandbaby to the family in a month of so. I’m enjoying going through the patterns and picking out something for my new niece–and giving her a memento of her Great-Grandma.

Vintage blue leaf dishes

Blue leaf serving dishes

I love pretty dishes and special serving pieces. I do my best to pull them out regularly and not leave them shut up in a cupboard.

This set of blue leaf dishes is particularly special to me. They came–kind of–from my grandmother.

Blue leaf serving dishes

I say kind of because only one piece–the one in the centre–actually belonged to my grandmother.

My grandmother entertained regularly, but I only remember seeing her use the blue dish once. It is made up of four leaf bowls, one round bowl and a pair of leaf salt and pepper shakers. They all fit together and sit on a lazy Susan.

Blue leaf serving dishes

Blue leaf serving dishes

Despite only seeing it once, it made an impression on me. I love the colour and the form of the leaves and the way it all joins together.

When I was in university I went to an auction and all of a sudden a familiar looking blue leaf dish was on the block. It was three leaves joined together with a little handle. I bought it (probably for less than $20) and excitedly showed it to my grandmother.

My Grandma was a very organized, very practical woman. When she died, items throughout her house were labelled with the names of who should inherit them. My name was on the blue dishes and their lazy Susan.

A few years later, I found another dish at a flea market. This one was a pair of leaves with a little handle. I hesitated, but eventually made my way back to the vendor and bought the dish (again for less than $20).

I’m so glad I did because I haven’t seen one since. There’s not a maker’s name on the underside, though they’re obviously all made by the same manufacturer. My grandmother’s set has her name on a fabric sticker on the bottom of each piece, a throwback to when she would take the dishes to church suppers.

Blue leaf serving dishes

I love that I’ve been able to amass a little set on my own. And I love putting them to use. They are perfect for Mexican night, when each dish is filled with its own ingredient. Set on the lazy Susan in the middle of the table, the big piece spins around so people can build their own tacos without having to constantly pass bowls around the table.

The double leaf dish holds fried onions and peppers, while the trio holds salsa, sour cream and guacamole (or as my MIL called it when we had them in to dinner, Guatemala. Sorry, Audrey. It was too funny not to share.)

Blue leaf serving dishes

Blue leaf serving dishes

We’re making our own memories with these dishes. Even though only one of them officially belonged to my Grandma, they all make me think of her and feel more good memories.

Who else loves dishware? Do you have any sets that you’ve collected over time? Or do you have any special pieces you’ve inherited?

Vintage bar cart end table

Vintage bar cart used as an end table in the living room

I made a change in the living room the other weekend.

I switched out a small end table for my grandmother’s vintage bar cart. I’ve envisioned using this cart as an end table for as long as I’ve had it, and I love how it looks in the living room.

The top tray is the perfect height for a lamp, and the shelves give us more space for the phone, answering machine (we’re still old-school here in the country), some storage and display, and even some room left over for a drink and a snack.

Plus the brass, glass and wood is pretty.

Vintage bar cart used as an end table in the living room

Bar carts have become so popular. I think the reason is in part because they are such versatile furniture.

In my grandmother’s house, this cart lived in a corner of the dining room and held her silver tea set. As much as my grandmother enjoyed an adult beverage now and then, this cart was known as a tea cart.

When it came to our (first) house, it served the same purpose, sitting in our dining room and holding my silver tea set.

It did that for awhile here at the farm too. But I knew it could do more.

Vintage wood and brass tea cart

When we added the third part of our new-to-us china cabinet to the dining room, the tea cart got a chance to try something new and moved in to the living room.

It will be here for at least awhile. But I’m also envisioning it in a bedroom as a night table. So much potential…

Do you have a bar cart at your house? How do you use it? Are you a fan of bar carts? Have you ever heard of a tea cart?

In Flanders Fields

 

poppy5

I’m thinking today of my grandpa and other veterans.

I’m not sure how familiar people are with this poem. Here in Canada, it’s a fixture of Remembrance Day.

It was written during the First World War by Canadian John McCrae, who was born very near our farm. In part because of this poem, “the poppy was adopted as the Flower of Remembrance for the war dead of Britain, France, the United States, Canada and other Commonwealth countries” (Source)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

Particularly this week, I am thankful to be Canadian. I’m also grateful to the people like my grandfather who took a stand to defend people who needed help and preserve freedom.