My Mother’s Day present to myself (plus a tool wishlist)

When it comes to gifts, I like to tell people what I want. For the past few years, I’ve taken it a step further when it comes to Mother’s Day, and I’ve bought myself a present.

The first time I did it, I bought Bluetooth earmuffs. They felt like a bit of a nice-to-have, but I knew I’d enjoy listening to podcasts when I was driving the tractor. The “nice-to-have” factor is hard for me. I try to be pretty practical and frugal most of the time. (I did buy used ones, so I felt better about having a bit of a discount.)

This year I bought a new-to-me cordless reciprocating saw (secondhand on kijiji). This has been on my wishlist for a while. We have so much scrub and brush around the farm. I thought a reciprocating saw was my best bet for pruning and trimming. It can get down in the dirt easier than a chainsaw (and is much lighter), so that I can mow right over the stump. Plus, not being limited by an extension cord was key. The pond shore needed more clean-up, and I was not stringing extension cords together until I could reach.

Note that I said “needed” more clean-up. The saw has been put to work, and I am loving it. I have cleared the pond shore, the septic bed (and then Matt’s Dad came and helped with a few bigger trees), one side of the pond trail and along the treeline at the edge of the front field.

The piles of brush are enormous, which leads to the next thing on my tool wishlist: a wood chipper. (For now I’m borrowing our farmer’s.)

Also on the list, a box trailer (so I don’t have to borrow Matt’s Dad’s) and a battery powered nailer (I am converted to battery tools).

Working around the farm makes me happy. Having the tools to do it is like a gift that keeps on giving.

Do you buy presents for yourself? How to you justify nice-to-have versus need-to-have? What’s on your tool wishlist?

Odds & sods

Doesn’t this photo illustrate what we need more of in the world? More nature, more compassion, more gentleness, more help. More children learning to be compassionate, gentle and helpful to nature.

As April comes to an end, I am hanging onto Earth Day. This month’s round-up is made up of things that have taught me, inspired me and helped me to think about the Earth and my place in it. I hope that some of them help you to do the same.

April’s links:

Pastoral Song by James Rebanks was a major focus of my last blog post, but I have to share it again and encourage you to read it for yourself.

May we raise children who love the unloved things

A creative sewing up cycle

Books are one of the ways I’m trying to help Ellie understand the world. Here are a few about climate change, environmentalism and the Earth that we’ve liked: We Are Water Protectors, I Am The Storm, A Rock Is Lively (this whole series is a great way to introduce science to little kids).

How did you mark Earth Day?

Listening to the land

In the future when I talk to Ellie about feeling the onset of climate change, I think I will start with the winds. The winds are so strong and fierce. More than anything I remember from when I was growing up. I feel like the winds are harbingers of more harshness to come.

I am not optimistic about climate change. I feel like we have passed the point of no return. I don’t see people changing their habits. I don’t see any desire to change our habits. I think that Ellie is going to face many struggles.

Last week I read Pastoral Song by James Rebanks. I read it in a couple of days, set it down for a day, and then picked it up to read it again. This time with a pencil and notepad beside me.

So much of what he wrote connected with me. But this passage hit hard, and I want to share it as I look ahead to Earth Day this week.

What will our descendants say of us, years from now? How will we be judged? Will they stand in the dust of a scorched and hostile world, surrounded by the ruins of all that exists today, and think that we, who could have saved the earth, were thoughtless vandals, too selfish or too stupid to turn back?

Will the future know us as the generation that pushed everything too far, on whose watch the world began to fall apart, who had so little courage and wisdom that we turned away from our responsibilities?

Or will our descendants lie in the cool green light of the oak trees we planted and be proud of us, the generation that pulled things back from the abyss, the generation that was brave enough to face up to our own flaws, big enough to overlook our differences and work together, and wise enough to see that life was about more than shop-bought things, a generation that rose above itself to build a better and more just world?

This is our choice.

I’ve been reading a lot recently. Thinking about farming and food and our world. Trying to learn about our land and figure out what is best for it.

A consolation for me when I think about Ellie’s future and climate change is this farm. She will be able to grow her own food if she needs to. The farm will hopefully be a safe place if she needs one. We will protect this small section of the world as best we can.

I often think of the farm as a refuge from the rest of the world, but Pastoral Song reminded me that we are part of the world, especially ecologically. Climate change doesn’t stop at the farm’s border. What happens in the fields across the road affects us, as does what happens in the Arctic, the Amazon and the English fells.

I am learning. I am trying to change. I am trying to do my best on this piece of earth that I am responsible for–and realizing I have a responsibility to the rest of the earth as well. I am trying not to despair.

The winds roared through the farm on Friday. Their sound fills my ears and blocks out everything else. I can’t hear Ellie. I can’t hear my thoughts. All I feel are the winds. They consume me.

Then, on Saturday morning, the air calmed. Ellie and I walked down the driveway to open the gate–the gate that connects us to the rest of the world. We heard a crow call as it flew over and Ellie cawed back. The sun beamed into the pines, beckoning the bloodroot that is rising from the forest floor. We stepped carefully as we discovered worms crawling all along the lane.

Nature was waking and our girl was listening. I’m trying to hear too.

How much of your furniture is new?

Recently, I did a mental inventory of our house. I counted 6 pieces of furniture that we bought new. All of the rest are hand-me-downs, handmade or thrifted.

The basement reading nook shows our mix: Strandmon wing chair (new, though it was a birthday gift), ottoman (made by me), stump table (made by Matt’s Dad and me), monkey art (hand-me-down from Matt’s Grandpa).

Reading nook with Ikea Strandmon wing chair

I’m pretty proud that we’ve only bought 6 things new. I like walking through a room and seeing all of the things that I’ve made or found or rehabbed. I think it makes our home personal. It also makes me feel capable when I reflect on all of the projects we’ve done.

The environmental aspect is really important to me as well. By reusing and recycling we’re reducing our impact.

Here are my 6 newbies, along with the year we purchased them. I’m curious to know what’s your number?

  1. Ellie’s dresser (2018)

Another good example of a mix from Ellie’s nursery: dresser (new–Matt’s parents covered half the cost as I was stricken with sticker shock from buying new furniture), bookshelf (thrifted and repainted), Strandmon wing chair (thrifted this time), ottoman (made by me), triangle table (hand-me-down from my grandparent’s cottage). I should note that the crib was new as well (a gift from my Mom). It has since been passed on, so it is having a second life.

Ikea Strandmon in the nursery
  1. Basement wingchair (2013)
  2. Basement ottoman (2013)
  3. Basement couch (2012)
  4. Living room couch (purchased in 2006 for our first house. Does this count as vintage now?)
  5. Living room chair (also from 2006)

This total does not include appliances, mattresses, lighting (though all of our lamps are second hand), or accessories (art, pillows, etc.).

If you look at the dates above our “new” furniture is not all that new. Holding onto things for a long time is another way to reduce our impact.

Furnishing our house in this way is financially beneficial as well. The Strandmon wingchair that I bought secondhand for Ellie’s nursery was less than half the price of a new one. Keeping the same couch for 16 years is obviously cheaper than buying a new couch.

Here’s a final mix from the basement TV area: sectional and ottoman (new), wood side table (hand-me-down from Matt’s Grandpa), lamp (thrifted and repainted), TV cabinet (made by my Dad and me), TV (new, but bought mostly with points), chair (won), Monopoly art (made by me).

Basement TV area

Mostly, I thrift and DIY for fun. This is what I like to do and I love furnishing our house in this way.

How much new furniture do you have at your house? Any great thrifting scores to share? Do you have any DIY furniture you’re particularly proud of?

Hope grows in the garden

Our garden is already underway for 2022–despite waking up to snow on the ground yesterday. Spring, where are you?

Ellie received a set of gardening tools and many packets of seeds for her birthday. She was very excited to start planting, so we have a bumper crop of tiny watermelon plants living in the dining room. I’m hoping the weather warms up before they become big watermelon plants.

The rest of her seeds are all crops that can be sown directly into the garden.

I’ve also been pruning the grapes a little bit. The grapes have been neglected (as has the rest of the garden) and they’re getting a bit wild. A longtime blogging friend, Kit, inspired me to give them some attention. I’ve not pruned as much as Kit did, as I feel like the shock might kill the vines. But I’ve tidied them up a lot, so I’m curious to see how they do this season.

I also have a line on some mulch that I’m hoping will help to subdue some of the weeds.

I aspire to have a beautiful and productive farm garden some day. We have been so, so far from that for so, so many years. I’m hoping that we can make a bit of progress this year. Ellie is extremely excited by her gardening tools (highly recommend this gift) and enthused about being helpful in the garden. So maybe this will be the year.

Are you planning to grow any food this year? Have you started your garden yet?

Odds & sods

March felt tough. We marked Matt’s 43rd birthday–the third birthday without him here. Ralph died. Spring tiptoed in and out, and I’m really ready for it to come and stay. I’m tired, and the juggle has been feeling tough some days.

But there were ups in the month. There always are. We saw some more family members for the first time in a while and actually ate dinner together. Those connections are special. Cigo has very much settled into the farm and our family and we’re having a great time together. The snow has melted (though it returned yesterday). Ellie is learning to ride her bike. My mind is going to outdoor projects, though I will wait for the ground to dry and temperature to rise.

Here are some things that are motivating me today and as I look ahead.

Even if your life is 80% sunshine and 20% storm, it is so easy to let that 20% be the weather. Do your best to keep it in perspective.

Source

A magical moment with the maple moon

Maybe I’ll try this planting technique in the garden this year

It’s time to get rid of spongy moth eggs

What if we treated our home as our most important organization?

How to build a business as a mom with small children

As March ends, I’m trying to regroup. Refocus with work. Recharge with sleep. Refresh my attitude. Remember my quest to be content.

How was March for you? What are you focusing on as the month comes to an end?

Maple moon

I love being outside at the farm during a full moon. Being able to see my shadow at night feels like a bit of magic. Last week we had a maple moon–a full moon that coincided with the sap running in the maple trees.

Once again, we have tapped our trees. The annual sap run and syrup making has become a fun tradition.

Ellie loves sample the sap as it drips from the trees and then monitor the sap as it boils on the stove. (We scorched our first batch, so she keeps an extra close eye now.)

Enjoying our sweet homemade syrup is a sweet treat for the rest of the year (as long as it lasts) and a continual reminder of the magic of the farm.

Remembering Ralph

Ralph the barn cat

Ralph died last week.

The farm feels different.

I’ve never known the farm without Ralph. She was here before us. (Here’s her introduction on the blog.)

After she died, Ellie and I went for a walk. As we came up the trail toward the barn, I was hit by the thought that Ralph wasn’t here.

It doesn’t feel right. Another hole in our family.

Our barncat Ralph

I call Ralph the #worldsbestbarncat. Because she was. She was tough and savvy. Gentle and affectionate.

Our first spring was particularly memorable for the four kittens she gave us–and the realization she was female.

Everyday she would wait for Matt to come home from work, knowing that he’d head straight to the barn to dish out her kibble. Her habit of waiting on the driveway and demanding food and attention led to her broken leg–and her temporary stint as an indoor cat.

Child sitting on the floor reading a book to a cat sitting on a chair

She bonded with Ellie from the beginning and was an exceptional babysitter. If I sat Ellie on the ground, Ralph would wind around her. Ellie would laugh and try and try to reach and pet. Ellie’s gentleness and affection for animals is rooted in Ralph and Baxter.

Ellie, Bax and Ralph by the silo

We have no idea how old she was or what her life was like before we came here. She was blind in one eye, pretty much deaf, almost toothless and lame (mostly a joke, since her leg healed very well). She did not like dogs, though she did come to tolerate Baxter. Even in her last weeks as she was weak and ill, she had the energy to hiss and swipe at Cigo.

Maybe she waited until Cigo was here. We have another furry family member to watch over us now. Her time here was done. Now she is with Matt and Baxter.

Matt and Ralph walk to the barn

She gave us 10 special years, and she will always be part of this farm and our family.

Farm-iversary 10

A decade. We’ve been here at the farm for a decade.

Ten years sounds like a lot. But it feels short to me. In the life of this property, 10 years is a blink.

When we came to the farm, we were told that the previous two or three owners had each lasted only a few years. I hoped that we would break that streak. Now I hope that someday the farm may become Ellie’s and generations of our family will be able to live here and be part of this special place.

Be part of.

In living at the farm, I’ve become conscious that it’s not really ours. The land is its own. We care for it. Tend it. Enjoy it. Use it. Benefit from it. But it is its own being that has a life far beyond us.

Big field

A friend gave me a book for Christmas, Braiding Sweetgrass, that discusses an Indigenous philosophy of land and nature. The author advocates for a “reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world.”

Since moving to the farm, my attitude a lot of the time has been that nature knows what she’s doing and works best without interference. A reciprocal relationship isn’t quite that. Reciprocity means tending the land so that it will tend to us. Sweetgrass thrives when it’s harvested–moderately, carefully and considerately.

I’ve always been conscious of the long history and future of the farm and wanted to do my best to honour that. Now I’m considering that honouring means being a bit more active. Cutting back brush and vines that are infiltrating the forests. Somehow clearing some of the phragmites from the pond and re-establishing cattails. Learning more about regenerative agriculture and working with our farmer to try some new (old) things.

Reeds

Ten years at the farm is special. In part, 10 years feels short because living here still feels so novel. Each year, the impact this property has on me increases. And my desire to care for it–and ensure it cares for Ellie and those who may live here in the future–grows too.

Odds & sods

Sun rising over snow covered farm

I am ending February in gratitude. Gratitude for what we have. The world still feels full of turmoil and conflict. There is still illness, but I am grateful for the security and peace that we have at the farm and within our family.

Cigo is settling in and we are feeling comfortable in our new family. Being able to share our love and joy is very special.

We celebrated Valentine’s Day, Family Day and three birthdays, including Ellie’s. We didn’t see as many family members as we would have liked, but we celebrated.

We had snow, rain, wind and days where we could see glimpses of spring.

Life keeps going. We keep doing our best.

Here are some things I enjoyed this month:

A conversation and a prayer. “In a world that is struggling, a world that is swirling, a world that is tumbling, may we not lose hope… May we each trust that our acts of love and our acts of kindness no matter how small help the dawn of a new reality break upon this world.”

Putting a price on how nature protects us

We’re doing 1000 Hours Outside again this year (we made it to 841.5 hours last year)

A thoughtful, sensitive renovation of a historic lakehouse

We are never getting an emu… though this is hilarious (the whole account is hilarious)

A thoughtful perspective on renovation, the life of a house, and how we are just a moment in time

I hope that you are safe and are able to find peace in your day. I am grateful to you for reading and connecting in this way. Take good care.