Odds & sods

Thank you so much for all of the kind thoughts on my last post. I appreciate your condolences and your stories of connecting with friends and having fun. It truly means a lot to read your messages.

I’m not really sure what to write to follow that post. I confess my head is a bit all over the place this week, and projects at the farm are somewhat the same.

This post will likely reflect that as I share some odds and sods of what’s been happening lately.

Ellie turned 5 months old a week ago. I’ve been sharing a photo every month on Instagram of her with her tractor. For the first time, she was stable enough to actually sit on the tractor (with a bit of help from Daddy).

Ellie sitting on her tractor at 5 months old

She’s rolling over all the time now. But only from back to front. She hasn’t figured out how to go the other way, and she doesn’t necessarily love laying on her tummy, so we spend a lot of time fixing the upside down baby–not a hardship during the day, but not so much fun in the middle of the night.

She’s still a gem, though, and takes it pretty easy on us usually.

Here’s some of what else has been going on:

  • I had a first animal sighting for me last week: a fawn. Six years into farm living, and deer are still special to see. But I had never seen a fawn. This one was way in the distance following its mom across the back field, but it was still incredibly special to get a glimpse. Butterflies and herons are holding special significance for Matt and me this year, and we’ve seen more of them than ever. We’ve also had a skunk a few days in a row, five mice (in the house… yuck), turkey vultures (Baxter’s nemesis) and an infestation you’ll hear more about in a future post.

Turkey vultures on the barn

Turkey vulture on the barn

  • A local farm went viral over the weekend. The farm where I buy our birdseed has fields and fields of sunflowers in bloom. They were allowing people to walk through the fields and take pictures (for a small fee). The response was surprising to me, but on Saturday it was unreal. An estimated 7,000 people showed up. I can’t imagine 7,000 people on our farm. The police were conducting traffic and the road that the farm is on had to be closed. I was caught in the jam and was blown away. When I got home, I found out that the police shut down the sunflower viewing for the season because of the overwhelming turnout. I’m happy for the family for what they achieved and disappointed that their season got cut short. I’m sure they could have made more income from sunflower walks than sunflower seeds. I am super proud to see a small, family business–and a farm–enjoying such success and hope they can come up with a solution for next year.

Field of sunflowers

  • I had another article published in the latest issue of The Canadian Organic Grower. (It’s a profile of potato growing at Calannire Organic Farms, and unfortunately isn’t available online yet.) I wrote this shortly after Ellie was born, and I still remember how good it felt to have this piece of my self–to be a writer for a few hours and not only Mama. Life is all about balance and finding what works for us.
  • I was first introduced to Pete Souza’s work through a PBS documentary about presidential photographers. Next I started following him on Instagram and then I checked his book, Obama: An Intimate Portrait, out of the library. The documentary is very interesting, the book is lovely and his political commentary on Instagram is cutting. I’m interested to see his new book Shade.
  • I’m currently reading Endurance, an account of astronaut Scott Kelly’s year in space. It’s a neat glimpse behind the scenes of the space program and the effects of space on people’s bodies and minds. I did not realize how truly international the International Space Station is.
  • I’ve been cooking mainly vegetarian for awhile now. Thug Kitchen has become one of my go-tos for tasty, easy recipes–and humour (as long as healthy vegan cooking with an abusive potty mouth appeals to you).
  • On Friday, I got my first haircut since Ellie was born. I now have a short little bob. Byebye pixie. I love having short hair, and I’ll likely go back to the pixie in a little while. My hair had basically already grown out–the hard part–and my hairdresser and I thought it was a good opportunity to change things for a little while.

Thanks to all of you for reading my posts and following along with our adventures and caring about what’s happening with us. Choosing to share some of our life through this blog has connected us with a lot of different people, and I truly feel those connections. I appreciate that you take some time out of your week to drop by and read what’s happening with us.

What’s happening at your house? Anyone else trying out a new haircut? Any special animal sightings or books or recipes to recommend?

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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.

jump

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.

A simple deck switch in Illinois

In Illinois Sarah is enjoying outdoor living. She and her husband Steve made what turned out to be a simple change to improve their enjoyment of one of their favourite outdoor spots.

I’ve mentioned several times that Steve and I like to spend a lot of time on our deck. We designed and built it the summer of 2013. Then two years later we cleaned and sealed it.

We have gotten so much use out of it, whether it is just Steve and mefr or one of the several the birthday parties, 4th of July parties and girl’s night that we have had on the deck.

As much as we have used the deck, Steve had noticed that it could be improved. When we designed it we had two sets of steps: one directed towards a door of the house that we use often and one directed towards our garden.

However, after a few years of use Steve pointed out that we could really improve the flow if we moved the steps. What first seemed like a huge undertaking was really a quick change up. Thankfully the steps were built independently of the deck so after removing several deck screws the whole set of steps easily moved.

Then taking a few screws out of the railing and using a circular saw to cut it down we were easily able to replace it where we had removed the steps. Thankfully Steve has really good vision, because when he mentioned doing this I thought it was going to be a whole day of work and honestly it took less than an hour!

Moving the steps to a longer side did bring up a small issue. The stairs were narrower than the opening. Steve and I both felt that some tall planters would guide people towards the stairs and a railing wouldn’t be needed.

We found these planters at Lowe’s. To fill them we wanted something permanent that would look nice in the winter so we also purchased these bushes. Then we bought petunias and verbena for color during the summer. We could not be happier with how they turned out. (And yes that is Blitz’s very own baby pool in the background.)

Also I had to divide and move my mums around to fill in where the steps had been. We still need to decide what material and where we want a walkway but overall we are thrilled with the changes.

The deck just feels like it makes more sense this way and we sure like to spend time sitting out there and enjoying each other’s company.

Do you have a gathering spot at your house? Ever had a project that just wasn’t working and you made the decision to rework it? What flowers would you use to fill those big pots?

What a great switch, Sarah. I’m impressed that it was such an easy change for you. The planters are a good solution.

Decorating moments

The Handmade Home is a relatively new blog to me. I really like their colourful, casual, happy style. A little while ago Ashley shared 10 decorating tips, and number 3 was to make moments in your space.

“When you have little areas that really reflect who you are, that’s when you’re getting somewhere. Giving an area space to breathe, to create little moments within your space, is like double bonus points for spaces in your room.”

I love making our home personal, whether it’s doing the work ourselves, using furniture that’s been handed down through the family, decorating with items that are unique and important, or any number of little touches that make our home all about us.

So Ashley’s advice about making moments really resonated with me. Here are a few of my favourite moments from our home.

Basement reading nook

Reading nook with Ikea Strandmon wing chair

The reading nook is a good example of creating a simple moment in the midst of a larger space. The basement is mostly open concept, but I created different zones and the reading nook under the window is a favourite.

It’s simple. A comfy chair, a good light, a small side table made from a stump and a large ottoman where I can put my feet up. The reading nook is a good reminder that it doesn’t take much to make a moment.

How to make a DIY round ottoman

 

Mudroom

Rustic simple mudroom

The mudroom is a space that only sees moments. It’s a pass through. We don’t hang out in there. But it’s full of helpful moments that set us up for going out or coming in.

There’s the bench that our nephew and I made, the repurposed hooks for Baxter’s leashes and towels, the refinished closet doors that look a bit like barnboard, and a bunch of other elements that make this a personal, functional, beautiful space for us.

Free plans to make a rustic wood bench

 

Book collection on the basement TV stand

Dice bookend

The TV stand in the basement is a completely personal piece. I designed it to accommodate Matt’s collection of video games and systems. It also echoes the style of his grandfather’s dining set, which sits on the other side of the room.

While this cabinet can be a moment all on its own, there’s another smaller moment sitting on one corner: a small book collection anchored by a homemade die bookend. This bookend ties in with the fun and games theme we have happening in the basement, and the books add to it. Chuck Norris, card tricks, cute dogs–this shows we love our books, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously around here. This isn’t literature. This is just for fun.

How to make a die bookend, including a free pattern for your own dice

 

Shelves in the basement bathroom

Built in shelving in a small bathroom

I love the tile, fixtures, huge mirror and dark paint we chose for Matt’s bathroom. It was one of the first spaces where I took some decorating risks, and five years in I’d make the same choices again.

The built-in shelving is a particularly special moment for me. We contrasted the classic marble, shiny chrome and dramatic black wall with warm natural elements like barn board, baskets, golden wood and one treasured family photo.

Bathrooms sometimes don’t have a lot of space for decorating. This little section gave me the opportunity to add the personality that I crave and highlight some things that are important to Matt.

See the whole bathroom

 

Living room fireplace mantel

Fieldstone fireplace in the summer

The big fieldstone fireplace in the living room is one of my favourite moments in this house. We treasure the warm fires on cool winter nights and enjoy the rustic style the fireplace gives our farmhouse year round.

The mantel is a moment on its own. We found the barn beams on the property, had them milled, and then installed and finished them ourselves.

The fireplace is a spot I’ve learned not to over-decorate. I enjoy the fireplace and the mantel most when there’s breathing space to appreciate the stone and the wood.

Every time I look at the fireplace, I’m reminded of the work and all of the people who were part of this project.

How to make a round wood framed mirror

 

Over our six plus years at the farm as we’ve worked our way through various spaces both in and out, and we’ve been able to create lots of special moments. The process of making a house your own is a special one.

What is your favourite moment at your house? Do you create moments, or do they happen serendipitously?

Nursery DIYs round-up

Thanks for following along as I’ve shared various parts of Ellie’s nursery over the last few months. I love this room so much. Ellie is now four and a half months old, and her nursery continues to be a comforting, happy space for us.

Turquoise gender neutral nursery

 

As with all of the rooms at our house, Ellie’s is a mix of DIYs, heirlooms (or hand-me-downs) and thrifted pieces.

Given that it’s taken me so long to share all of the tutorials, I thought it would be helpful to round up all of the DIYs in one post.

If you’d like to go back and look at the reveal for Ellie’s nursery, you can find that post here.

Shadow box

After thinking about this project for years, I finally made a shadow box to display Matt’s first pair of sleepers that he wore home from the hospital. This project was easy and affordable–definitely worth the effort when I consider how much it would have cost to have the sleepers professionally framed. I love that the sleepers are protected and preserved and that we can appreciate this extremely personal heirloom. How to make a custom shadow box.

Baby sleepers framed in a homemade shadowbox

DIY Eames Hang-It-All

It’s amazing how helpful simple things like hooks can be. These racks hidden behind the door hold our carriers, the diaper bag, bath towels, Ellie’s hat–things that we access frequently and need at hand. I love knowing where things are and the hooks are so helpful to keep her room is tidy and organized. How to make a knock-off Eames Hang-It-All.

How to make your own Eames Hang-It-All

Cozy flannel crib sheets

I found most crib sheets too tight for our mattress. In fact, the mattress bent, curved and wrinkled when I first made Ellie’s bed. As well, I wasn’t interested in the patterned sheets that are so common. I sewed simple white flannel sheets using this tutorial from House of Menig. I’m hoping to sew some cotton ones for summer now that the weather is warm.

Vintage pedal car tractor in the nursery

Skinny dresser from two nightstands

The nursery has a weird little nook just inside the door. Years ago I made a small narrow dresser to go in the nook. The dresser is still filled with Mama and Daddy things, but the top holds Ellie’s lamp and a few other frequently used items. How to build a tall narrow dresser.

Turquoise gender neutral nursery

Beadboard backing for the bookshelf

I found an Ikea Hemnes bookshelf second hand on kijiji and replaced the backing with a beadboard panel for a country touch and painted the whole thing white. Adding new backing is a super simple project, especially if you have staff at your lumber store cut the panel for you. Note if you’re changing the back, there is a channel on either side of the Hemnes that the panel slides into, so measure accordingly. More about the nursery bookcase, including our favourite books.

Bookcase in the nursery

Sew your own pouf footstool

I’m still super proud of the pouf footstool that I made. It’s Moroccan-inspired, large, leather(ish) and will be soft and sturdy when Ellie starts to pull herself up. I also shared a round-up of a bunch of other footstools that you could make yourself. How to DIY a Moroccan pouf.

DIY Moroccan pouf free sewing pattern

Blackout window treatments + an Ikea hack

Window treatments are obviously very important to keep the nursery dark so that Ellie can sleep. However, I also wanted them to look nice. I hid a blackout blind behind a bamboo blind valance, and then added full length blackout curtains for both function and form. I also shared my tips for pleating Ikea curtains. How to make blackout window treatments for a nursery.

Blackout window treatments in the nursery

Figurines shelf

My collection of nursery rhyme figurines seemed perfect for the nursery. The cutlery tray shelf that I made a couple of years ago is such a clever solution to display small items like figurines. How to make a shelf from a cutlery tray.

Sleepers framed in a shadow box

Patching and repainting a gallery wall

I love the turquoise colour of Ellie’s room and am happy that we didn’t have to repaint when we changed the room from office to nursery. However, we did have to deal with a couple of gallery walls that left a bunch of holes in the walls. I shared my tips for painting over the gallery walls without repainting the whole room. How to repaint a gallery wall.

Turquoise gender neutral nursery

I feel like DIYing so many parts of Ellie’s nursery made it an even more personal space for us. It also, of course, made decorating this room a much more affordable undertaking. I hope that some of these projects inspire you at your home.

Garden update from Illinois

Happy July 4th to all of my American readers. Our resident American, Sarah, is taking a break from her Independence Day festivities to share a glimpse of how gardening is going so far this summer in Illinois.

Happy 4th of July to all the American readers! As you are reading this we should be celebrating Independence Day with a fish fry and fireworks in our back yard.

When Steve and I discussed what sides to make to serve with the catfish, I knew that my goal was to make dishes that included as many foods as possible from our garden.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that we got a slow start to our garden this year. Unfortunately, we have struggled ever since. Walking through the garden last weekend Steve said, “This is the worst our garden has ever looked.” I had to agree.

We had several heavy rains, and it seemed that every time the garden dried up enough to actually walk the rows, another big rain came. Looking up the rainfall for June, it shows that we only had one inch more than average, but I think the timing was our issue.

However, our garden may look awful and yields are down, but we have still been able to have some fresh vegetables.

We have had the best luck with our cucumbers. We have picked enough pickling cucumbers to make 3 quarts and a pint of refrigerator pickles.

Steve had never made refrigerator pickles before and after giving him a little tutorial of how to do it, he has taken over and made it his project. He has tried 3 different recipes and tweaked them to how he thinks they could be improved. The pint above is his version of a hot pickle which included a jalapeno and some red pepper flakes. Hopefully after a few more weeks of marinating and adjusting the recipe, I can share his final version.

Even though the garden is not exactly like we like it, we are still fighting through. Over the past weekend, I actually MOWED our garden rows. I can’t say that I have ever done that before.

Then I was able to pass through with the tiller and pull weeds by hand.

We have a long way to go, but it is looking more like a garden now.

How is your garden doing this year? Have you had to fight weeds? Rain? Any other adversities?

Ahem… fellow garden mower here. I’ll just leave it at that.

How to prepare your dog for a baby

Baxter and Ellie

As our little family has grown, I’ve loved watching Baxter with Ellie. I’m so proud of how relaxed he is with her.

As soon as we found out we were pregnant, I started thinking about how I wanted Baxter to act around our baby and what behaviours we needed to work on. We consulted with our trainer and at the beginning of this year (about two months before our due date) we started working in earnest to prepare Baxter for his new role as big brother to Ellie.

Baxter watching Ellie in the play yard

As regular readers know, I’m a contributor to ThatMutt.com, where I write about dog training and behaviour. I’ve been sharing all of the details of our baby prep strategies for Baxter through a series of posts on ThatMutt, and this weekend the final entry was posted. I’m really proud of this series, so I wanted to mention it here.

Baxter and Ellie are both really, really important parts of our family. While Ellie isn’t super aware of her big brother yet, Baxter has been doing very well with Ellie. For the most part he ignores her—which is fine with us—but he also chooses to lay as close as possible to her stroller when we’re working outside and waits beside the car until I unload her when we come home from an outing. He seems to recognize her as part of the family.

Ellie in her stroller in the garden

Here are the links to the individual posts in my series on how we prepared Baxter for our new baby:

As Ellie grows we’re going to have to teach her how to behave in many situations–and especially how to behave around Baxter and other dogs. Likewise, he’s going to have to keep on adjusting to her. We’re very focused on working with them both to make sure everyone lives happily and safely together.

Hiking with Ellie and Baxter

I hope you’ll check out some of the posts and leave a comment if you have any advice or questions. I also hope that this series becomes a resource for other parents and dog owners out there. Thanks to Lindsay at ThatMutt.com for allowing me to document this important time in our family.

For all of you dog lovers out there, ThatMutt.com is having a huge giveaway featuring $500 worth of great dog gear from Mighty Paw. Baxter has a bunch of MP equipment, and we love it. Just for entering, you’ll receive $5 to spend on anything in the Mighty Paw store and a free copy of Lindsay’s dog training ebook, “The Good Mutt Guide.” The deadline is Wednesday. Click over to ThatMutt.com to enter (and read a couple of the baby prep posts while you’re there 😉 ).

Round herb garden with birdbath

Summer is just around the corner. In Illinois, Sarah is already well underway with summer projects. In fact, she’s already crossed one off her list–a new herb garden.

I seem to always have project ideas spinning around in my head. With Pinterest, magazines, pictures of other people’s gardens and yards, I have plenty of inspiration at my fingertips.

So it is such a wonderful feeling to take one of those ideas and bring it to life. If you remember back to March when I posted that I wanted to move my herbs, I had some ideas of what I wanted them to look like.

Well, I am happy to report that I as soon as the weather warmed up enough to work outside, I got started on this project.

This was the inspiration picture that I chose to go with:

I chose the small patch of grass in our back driveway. I have big dreams of eventually filling it all with flowers, but thankfully I have learned to start with small bites at a time so that I don’t become overwhelmed.

My focal point is my grandmother’s birdbath. So I first decided where I wanted it to sit. Then I took a measuring tape and measured out 4 feet from the bath in several different directions and marked it with spray paint.

Next, I shoveled the top layer of sod out of the circle. This was a long and tedious process but I believed it helped prevent my bed from being overrun with weeds and grass.

When all of the sod was removed I went over the bed with the tiller. This was a little difficult because it is a small area for as large of a tiller as we have but after wrestling it around for a bit, I got all of the soil turned over.

I then used twine and some scrap boards to lay out where I wanted to plant the herbs and where I wanted the stepping stones to go.

I found some stepping stones at the home improvement store and slowly started to see the herbs fill in.

I have cilantro, chives, basil, oregano, dill, salvia, yarrow, tarragon, and rosemary so far. Some of the herbs such as dill, cilantro and chives we use very often. I don’t use the salvia or yarrow, but they add some pretty color.

One more feature I added was a solar powered fountain for the birdbath.

I have to keep a close eye on it because it can occasionally empty the birdbath, but mostly it works perfectly well.

I still am going to make a couple decisions such as if I am going to add more mulch or maybe plant creeping thyme between the stepping stones. But overall I am pretty happy with my progress and cant wait to see the rest of the bed fill in.

Do you have a designated herb garden? A birdbath? Any project ideas swimming around in your head that you need to get started on?

Your grassy patch looks so much like our turnaround, Sarah. My goal is to have ours covered in flowers too, but I’ve stopped halfway because it’s definitely a big job. The turnaround is home to our birdbath too… although we still haven’t put ours out yet. 😦 I love the garden that you’ve built. The herbs are filling is so well, and it’s so special to use your grandmother’s birdbath.

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.