What is taken and what is given

In the early days of this blog, my Dad was a regular presence. He showed up in photos and posts as we shared the various projects we were working on.

Matt, Dad and me tiling the basement bathroom

Over the years, his presence here has slowly dwindled as Parkinson’s Disease took more and more of his body and his mind.

A few weeks ago, Parkinson’s Disease took his life.

Way too soon.

We are mourning that he was taken from us. But we are also mourning everything that was taken from him. More time at the farm or the house he built with my Mom, helping my brother and sisters with their houses. Time with Ellie and his other grandchildren. Time with his garden, his lathe, his boat–all of the things and places and people that he loves.

Dad meeting Ellie for the first time

We grieve what has been taken. But we celebrate everything that he has given us.

A few years ago, I wrote about how I became a DIYer. I said, “When it comes to the renovation and home improvement side of my DIY personality, my biggest influence is my Dad.”

Working with my Dad and Grandpa

I see my Dad in so much of the farm.

When we first moved in, Dad was here every weekend, helping us put the basement back together. A contractor, he ran his own business and worked construction all week, and then he gave us his weekends, doing more.

Removing a window well

He supervised trades, leaving us notes to let us know how things went. He advised us, he supported us and he taught us.

Note from Dad

This note, left on the day we had our new well drilled, gives details on the well and pump and ends with “Drinks is on me. Love Dad.” He had filled the glasses outside with water from the new well.

He is the most selfless person I know and does everything for his family.

The major reason we felt ready to take on the farm and actually looked for a fixer-upper was that we knew Dad was there for us. He’d been with us through our first house and I’d worked many summers with him in his business.

Drilling post holes with an auger

He helped us to achieve this dream of having a farm and making it what we want. I feel him here, even as I miss working with him. Being at the farm gives me an amazing feeling of peace. I would not be here without him.

All my life, my Dad included me, taught me, gave me confidence and spent time with me.

My Dad took every chance to tell me how much he loves me, how proud he is of me, how happy he is to see who I have become. Especially as he neared the end of his life, he made sure we had no doubt how he feels about us.

I love the life that Matt and I have built together. I hope that we can give Ellie the love, guidance, work ethic, responsibility, kindness, strength and confidence that my Dad and Mom give me.

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Dad, I am so grateful for the life you have given me. Thank you. I love you so much.

We’ve been encouraging people to honour our Dad with a few suggestions that are in keeping with how he lived his life:

  • Get together with a friend or family member whom you haven’t seen in awhile

  • Donate blood at your next local blood donor clinic

  • Donate to Parkinson Canada or the Alzheimer Society of Canada

  • Help a child have a fun experience outdoors (take them yourself or donate to a children’s charity camp)

If you choose to do any of these things, it would mean a lot if you’d share it with me in the comments.

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Happy Canada Day

Happy Canada Day from the newest–and cutest–Canadian at the farm.

Ellie in a point stripe onesie

Ellie’s romper is the iconic multistripe of the Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket pattern, which was introduced at the end of the 18th century. 🍁 Read the full story of the point blanket here | Buy a similar point stripe onesie here

And to all my American readers, happy 4th of July too.

First Father’s Day

The moment Ellie was born, she let out a cry and the doctor placed her on my chest. Matt said, “It’s a girl.” And he was laughing. I was in an over-whelmed haze at that moment, but hearing that happiness, that emotion is something I will never forget.

So much joy that he had to laugh.

Matt and Ellie

A few hours later, our midwife asked for her name. I looked at Matt and he said her name for the first time. That act of him naming her is one of the best moments of my life.

Matt, Ellie and Baxter snuggling on the bed

We have some amazing examples of fathers in our lives. Men who are hard-working, kind, selfless and who do anything for their children.

These are qualities I have always seen in Matt, and they have reached another level as he has become a Dad.

Happy Father’s Day, from our family to yours.

Role model

Our nephew digging out rocks while Ellie sits in her stroller

When he first met Ellie, our oldest nephew was worried. He thought that we might not need his help anymore now that we had Ellie. She would work with us around the farm, or we wouldn’t be doing as many projects because we were busy with her.

We quickly clarified that we felt like we needed him more than ever. Ellie is a long way from being helpful and, yes, we are busy with her, but there is still lots we wanted to do.

Every time we saw him after that, he asked if we needed him to come to the farm. Finally, we set a date for him to come over and start the spring clean up, picking up branches that had fallen over the winter and piling them up to burn.

I set him up with the tractor, and he went to work. A month later he was back, digging out rocks, burning more brush and helping to pick up firewood.

Loading firewood into the tractor bucket

Over our six years at the farm, and especially since having Ellie, we have had lots of help from family and friends. We are extremely grateful that people are willing to give us their time and help make the farm what we envision.

Our nephew is 18 years old. I remember the first time I met him at the hospital the day he was born. It’s been so rewarding to watch him grow up, and I’m so proud of the responsible, caring, hard-working young man that he is now.

I hope that we can teach Ellie those same values and that she shares her big cousin’s enthusiasm for helping around the farm.

Our new addition

Ellie's birth announcement

Matt and I are very happy to introduce our daughter, Ellie, who joined our family on Feb. 23.

Ellie arrived one week before her due date and weighed 8 pounds even.

Ellie with pink tulips

Her full name is Elizabeth Audrey Julia. Elizabeth from my mother’s middle name and Audrey from Matt’s mother’s name.

We’ve been doing very well getting to know each other. Ellie is a good sleeper and eater so far, and we’re doing our best to keep meeting her needs.

Family picture

Baxter is maybe a little more watchful, but mostly he is his usual relaxed and lazy self. He chooses to interact with her every so often, sniffing or sharing his sunbeam or hanging out on the bed with us. He’s not bothered by her noises, except for the occasional moments when angry baby shows up. Mostly he ignores her and carries on as usual, which is exactly the response I was hoping for.

I’m continuing to write about the steps we took to prepare Bax for Ellie’s arrival on ThatMutt.com.

Ellie and Baxter on the bed

We’re all taking our time adjusting to our new family and enjoying life together.

It’s amazing to see our families come together in this little girl and think about what her future holds. The optimism and possibility that a baby brings are pretty special.

New year and new addition

Hello everyone. Happy 2018. We enjoyed a nice long, relaxing break (thanks for your patience with the silence on the blog).

I’m calling the break well-deserved because it turns out Santa brought his friend the Stork when he visited our house over the holidays.

Our little family of Matt, Ralph, Baxter and I is going to be welcoming a new addition early in March.

We're having a baby

As we start the new year, there’s obviously lots of news to share–the baby’s room, how Baxter’s getting ready to be a big brother (Ralph’s already got the big sister thing down), boy or girl–along with more updates from the farm.

While we’re counting down to baby’s arrival, I’m going to be decreasing my posting schedule to once a week (Sarah in Illinois will be continuing as a contributor, so every other week you’ll see two posts).

I love keeping track of the memories we’ve made since moving to the farm through the blog and sharing our farm adventures with all of you. There’s lots more to come, and I’m hoping to continue sharing our story once baby arrives.

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”

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.