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?


Looking back at Home Goals 2017

Thanks everyone for your good wishes on our new addition. We’re excited–and I will admit I’m still a bit nervous about this whole baby thing too. We had our pre-natal class this weekend, which was informative and encouraging, and I have (yet another) ultrasound this morning (this baby is going to have supersonic hearing after all of our scans). Overall, we’re feeling pretty good about where we’re at.

As you can see, 2017 was quite a year for us. Today I’m taking a minute to look back at the year that was from a personal, professional and farm point of view.

After thinking and planning for quite awhile, I took a leave of absence from my communications job at the end of August to spend some extra time with family and see if I could build my own communications consulting company. I love working from home and love working for myself. I’m still working on building my client base, but I’m so grateful to have this opportunity.

The timing for my leave turned out to be very fortunate, as at the start of July we found out we were going to have a baby and at the end of September Matt was diagnosed with an ocular melanoma. It’s been so helpful to have a more flexible schedule for appointments and most importantly to have the mental space to process and reflect on all of the changes in our lives.

Along with all of that, we’ve replaced both our cars–my 14-year-old girl finally died and Matt’s year-old car was written off after he was hit by a driver who ran a red light. Matt ended up with a broken arm courtesy of the airbag, which derailed some of my plans for projects around the farm, but was a small hardship when he could have been much more seriously hurt.

Amongst all of these changes and challenges, the farm has been our constant and our refuge. 2017 marked five years at the farm, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. It gives both of us peace to be here, and also gives us an outlet when we need to distract ourselves with tractor therapy, digging in the dirt, painting something or just walking the property.

I have a feeling we’re going to be saying, “What a year!” for the next while (perhaps the rest of our lives?) as we watch this baby grow, adjust to our new family reality and continue with life on the farm.

As many of us do at the start of the year, I like to take a moment to look back and reflect on the year past. Beyond all of the personal changes in our lives, I also started 2017 with my usual list of Home Goals I wanted to accomplish at the farm over the year.

Looking back, we didn’t do too bad.

My office

Turquoise craft room

I was very happy to finish the final bedroom at the farm and finally unpack all of our moving boxes–only five years after moving in. Reupholstering my grandmother’s vintage slipper chair is a project I’m still very proud of. What I called my office ended up being more of a craft room and it was such a great space for creativity.

I say “was” because my office ended up seeing another makeover just a few months later when I decided to turn it into the baby’s room. I’m finding other spaces to be creative around the house, and I love how the baby’s room is coming together. I’ll be sharing all of those details soon.

Clean up the pond shore

Red sky over the pond at sunset

The pond shore was my one and only outdoor land clearing goal for the year (and we have plenty of spaces that I want to clear). Mid-year, I gave up on it happening, but then an enthusiastic nephew and a generous husband went to work over a few weekends, and we made more progress than I ever expected.

There’s still more to go, which might be difficult as I don’t think the baby will be as helpful as our teenage nephew, but Matt and I may be able to divide and conquer on this one. And regardless, every time I look out the kitchen window or walk past the pond with Baxter (which happens at least once a day), I’m grateful for the improved view and access to the water.

While I had planned to focus just on the pond shore, I did give the area right behind the house a bit of attention, and cleaned up (most of) the jungle that’s been there since we moved in.

New lawn

Vegetable garden

Green tomatoes growing in the garden

At the start of last year, I said I was going to add rhubarb (check), a second row of berries (check–ended up being blackberries) and maybe some more grapes (check). I also put in four blueberry plants to try. As usual, I’m crossing my fingers that everyone survives the winter and bears fruit this year.

My biggest goal was keeping the weeds under control. I can’t say I was successful in that. I tried to find some old hay bales for a deep mulch but didn’t have any success. And in terms of weeding by hand, most of the season, I didn’t feel like weeding, and I gave into that feeling… a lot.

We capped off the year by covering two of the quadrants with tarps, and my tentative plan for the coming year is to leave the tarps in place. This will decrease the garden size by not quite half, which might just be manageable in our new reality.

Flower gardens

Garden in bloom in June

The flower gardens got some half-hearted attention this year. I can’t say I met my goal of keeping them weeded and filled with beautiful flowers, but I did get in them a few times and they didn’t look too scraggly most of the time (I don’t think).


Uh, yeah. I still have empty picture frames leaning against the basement walls waiting for art. I didn’t get to this in the first half of the year, and, since I left my job, I’ve been careful about spending money on extras, even inexpensive posters. So we go yet another year with some unfinished areas in the basement.

However, I did finally share the transformation of the basement TV area and all of the details on how we decorated it. I love this space so much and am so proud of us for doing it ourselves.

Basement TV area

New barn cat

Our barncat Ralph

After talking to a few people, we decided not to add a new barn cat to our family. Ralph has things under control and she’s content. She doesn’t need company, and I’m not confident that expecting her to train a young cat would work. So Ralphie gets to be mistress of the barn. She can live out her years in peace, and we will take our chances with adopting a new cat when we need it and hope that the newbie lives up to Ralph’s high standard.


As always, a few extra projects sneak into every year. I can call another room completely finished–the guest room–after refinishing a vintage metal bedframe. Spoiler alert, the guest room has since seen a few more changes as it’s become guest room/sewing room as I’ve given my office over to baby.

Antique brass metal bed frame

The living room also saw a few tweaks with a new mirror on the mantel and new pillows on the couch. I’ll be sharing our new coffee table soon too.

How to mix and match throw pillows

So around the house, 2017 was a mix. Which is okay and pretty normal for us.

We had enough abnormal in the year that I’m grateful that projects and the farm are such a refuge for us.

How was 2017 for you? What was your big accomplishment for 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.

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.

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.

Four tips for simple Christmas decorating

Sarah is here to share a touch of Christmas from Illinois. Her front entrance is looking very festive, and decorating didn’t take her a lot of money or time. She’s sharing her tips for easy, affordable and attractive Christmas decorations below.

I love just about everything about the holiday season. One of my favorite activities is decorating our house both inside and out.

We had never done this before, but Steve asked if this year we wanted to decorate with a theme, so we chose “red and gold.” I think this will become a new tradition. It has made decorating much simpler and everything feels less cluttered and classier.

I used this line of thinking when decorating our front step and chose to go with the gold part of our theme. I thought I would share some tips I have when decorating.

This is the sad view that I started with. What you can’t see is the rotten pumpkins that I had just removed from the steps.

I began by going to my parents’ and helped my mom gather clippings from her boxwood bushes.

Tip #1: You don’t have to buy expensive decorations. Branches from pine, cedar, boxwood and other evergreens make beautiful natural decorations.

I gathered my supplies and laid my branches out in the general shape and size that I wanted to hang from my front door. I used floral wire to tie small bunches of branches together.

Tip #2: When wiring together live branches make sure to tie them really tight. The branches will shrink as they dry out.

I used ribbon for decoration and also to hide the wire that I used. I like to use wired ribbon to help it hold its shape.

Tip #3: I always scour after Christmas sales for ribbon. I can often save 50-75% by doing this.

For my lanterns I wired a few branches from my trees to the handles.

Tip #4: When trimming branches from a tree, look at how the branch is hanging before it is cut. If you want the branch to hang down, but it is curved up on the tree, it will be very difficult to force it into the position you want.

I also added some pinecones that my mom’s cousin had given us. Again I used floral wire to tie them together and tied them to the handle. I took some more wired ribbon and tied a knot to finish it off.

To complete the look, I added a really cute dog.

Merry Christmas from Illinois! I will be back after the New Year.

That is indeed a cute dog. Does the craft store sell Blitzes?

Thanks for all of your posts over the last year, Sarah. It’s been great to see what you and Steve are up to in Illinois. I hope that you and your family have a wonderful holiday season!

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”