Projects, painting and progress in Illinois

Sarah in Illinois is here today with an update on how she’s done on her monthly projects.

If you have been keeping track, it’s been three months since I announced that I was setting a goal of one project a month. So how have I done?

Let’s start with Blitz’s house.

It’s painted, and that was my goal. I really thought that I would have the roof shingled too, but that didn’t get done. For the paint, I used some concrete floor latex epoxy that we had sitting around. It would not have been my first choice if I went to the store and picked it out, but I think it will work very well. And the epoxy will help protect it from the weather.

My second project is by far my favorite and the one I am most proud of. I told you that we had sneakily taken my grandma’s St. Francis statue from her yard.

It was starting to crack and the paint was faded and flaking. When I last posted about it I showed a little progress.

And now:

Yes, that really is the same statue.

I want to maybe touch up his facial features a little, but I can say that I am very happy with the outcome, and I can’t wait to give it back to my grandma.

And since I love a good before and after:

For my final project from my list I was supposed to prime and paint our hallway. I will call it about 75% complete.

It is primed, and I did start painting, but I really thought I had more paint left. If I have more, I sure as heck can’t find it. So I will take what little info I remember about it (it is semigloss and the color is called Toll Booth), and I will go back to where I got it and hope they can mix me up some more. I am frustrated because the color runs throughout our house and if for some reason I can’t find a match I am going to have quite a problem.

So there you have it, not completely done, but I have made some headway. I love having this goal out here in the public because it made me focus on my three projects and not get distracted like I so often do.

To keep motivated I will set my next three months goals in my next post. You can be assured that they will be garden related.

Good job, Sarah. That statue looks amazing. Your grandmother will be so surprised. That’s really special. I’ve done the paint colour match thing before, and it’s worked out fairly well. Just to be safe, I suggest trying to make the “break” at a corner or other dividing point. 

Digging in the dirt

Tulips in the garden

Dirt under the nails, dirt on my jeans, digging in dirt. It has started.

It felt so good to get out in the sunshine on the weekend and start to weed the flower gardens.

Considering that last year it didn’t start at all, I had a bit of work to do.

A full year without weeding meant the garden was overgrown 6 months ago. After everything died off over the winter, it looked terrible.

Overgrown flower garden

Two heaping wheelbarrows later, it looks better, but a little bare.

Cleared garden

There’s plenty of room to grow. And it seems like the bushes, irises, sedums, tulips and other plants are all alive. So it should fill in quickly.

How are your gardens looking? Have you done any weeding yet?

Pick up sticks, farm style

Baxter behind a fallen tree

One of the common springtime jobs is picking up the branches and twigs that have fallen into the yard. When your yard is 129 acres, this job goes to another level.

I’ve written before about our trails and how we haven’t done a great job of maintaining them. Early in the winter, a decent size tree came down right across the entry of the west trail.

Cleaning this up will be much more than just picking up sticks.

Fallen tree across the trail

But for now, we’re letting fallen trees lie.

Last week, Baxter and I clambered over it to check out the rest of the trails.

This is actually a magic time to walk the trails. We’re not slogging through snow, wading through (much) water, battling masses of mosquitoes or dealing with overgrown grass and brush.

The trails are wet though. Matt and his Dad had laid a catwalk through the first marshy section, but it floated away a little while ago. We can sneak around on the right edge of the trail, but, of course, a tree has fallen to block the way. It’s a choice of hurdle or limbo and don’t fall in the water.

Hiking through the marsh

Farther along, we have an actual creek crossing. This section never ever dries up and will be deep and fast flowing in a few more weeks. As you can see, the catwalk in this area has also washed out.

Crossing the creek

The willow on the other side of the creek has lost a large limb.

Fallen tree branch

Deeper into the woods, we climb to higher ground and the forest changes to evergreens–including new trees that have sprouted in the middle of the trail.

Hiking through an evergreen forest

At the end of the trail, we reach the east boundary of our property. Looking to the north, somewhere on the other side of this marsh, is the other half of our trail network.

Overlooking the marsh

Baxter and I backtracked so that we could check it out too.

The east trail is not nearly as wet. There’s a creek at the entrance, but an old corduroy road topped with a plank makes crossing easy.

Corduroy road

The east trail has the same tree issues as the west, though. We’ve had a super windy winter, so some fairly large trees have fallen.

Baxter under a fallen tree

Baxter under a fallen tree

I’m on the lookout for a brigade of forest rangers with chainsaws who want to give me a few weeks of free labour.

If they are wearing hip waders that would be great.

Wading in the water

Bax and I did discover a few things that could help with our water issues.

At the edge of the back field are a couple of large piles of tires. Aren’t these ugly? I still think we could upgrade our catwalks using these as “piers” and laying skids across them to make a boardwalk.

Tires thrown away in the woods

Alternatively, we could channel the water with these culverts. I continue to be amazed at what’s been abandoned and dumped on the property.

Culverts

For now, barring the arrival of any forest rangers, I’m happy to just enjoy the farm and our trails. And that’s my plan for the weekend.

What are your plans for the weekend? Do you do pick up sticks at your house in the spring?

 

A heck of a hive

Giant wasp nest on the ground

Snow melts. Grass dies. And all of a sudden things appear.

Things like a giant wasp nest.

Giant wasp nest on the ground

I’ve never seen a nest this large. Let alone one built on the ground.

Never mind knee high to a grasshopper. This is knee high to a grown (albeit not super tall) woman.

Giant wasp nest on the ground

Have you ever seen a nest this large? Is spring uncovering anything at your house?

New upholstery for a vintage slipper chair

Slipper chair upholstered in Brissac Jewel by P Kaufmann Fabric

When my Mom was cleaning out my grandmother’s house, I asked if I could have the slipper chair. When my Mom showed up with a pink skirted chair, I was surprised. I actually didn’t remember ever having seen this chair before. The “slipper” chair I had in mind was a parson’s chair that had sat in my grandmother’s front hall. I ended up with that chair too–in fact it turned out to be one of a pair and I got them both in addition to the little pink slipper chair.

Yes, I have a thing for chairs.

I stripped off the pink cover and the old padding way back when we were still living at our first house. And the poor chair has sat naked in the pool room since we moved here to the farm. (I still had the pink cover balled up in a plastic bag. I slipped it back on the chair for a photo op. However, with no stuffing and an extreme number of wrinkles, the chair, which was already pretty sad, looks really, really sad.)

Reupholstering a slipper chair

I’ve always envisioned the slipper chair being part of my office, so now that that makeover is underway, it was finally time to give the slipper chair a new life.

This was a totally start from scratch scenario. I had the wood frame of the chair and that was it.

Wood frame of a slipper chair

This was also a totally make it up as I go scenario. I am not experienced in upholstery and am–like many people–a bit intimidated by it.

So I just dove in. I stained the legs to a dark brown. I covered the seat with some foam, and then put more foam on the back. I covered it all with batting, mashing it around the corners. I stapled, stapled and stapled.

Reupholstering a slipper chair

Then I covered it all with an old sheet, stapling the heck out of every fold.

Reupholstering a slipper chair

Then things got serious. I pulled out my bolt of Brissac Jewel fabric that I’ve had for longer than I’ve had the chair. There was lots of laying things out, turning them around, laying them out again, putting them back to the exact way they were before. And then doing it all over again. Once I finally figured out how to place the fabric, I then spent a lot of time stuffing material around the legs and trying to get the folds just right–or right enough.

Reupholstering a slipper chair

Reupholstering a slipper chair

I made my own piping and used flexible metal tack strip (plygrip) for the first time (this video was very helpful).

Reupholstering a slipper chair

I built my grip strength using my vintage manual staple gun–seriously, I’m almost ready for American Ninja Warrior. My fingertips are still tender. If I take on more upholstery, I would invest in an air powered staple gun. However, a project like this can be done with very basic tools–and very basic skills.

I covered up the messy underside with another piece of the sheet (although the packing crate that was used for the seat is pretty cool–I wonder what went to Montreal via Halifax).

Stamped wood on the underside of the vintage slipper chair

Underside of the slipper chair

My grandmother grew up in her family’s furniture store and reupholstered furniture regularly. She made the pink slip cover that was on the slipper chair originally. All I could think as I was working on this chair was that she would definitely have something to say about my technique if she was around. And I wish she was around to tell me how to do it right.

Right or wrong, though, it turned out pretty well. I can see the few flaws, but overall, I’m really proud.

Slipper chair upholstered in Brissac Jewel by P Kaufmann Fabric

Slipper chair upholstered in Brissac Jewel by P Kaufmann Fabric

Slipper chair upholstered in Brissac Jewel by P Kaufmann Fabric

Slipper chair upholstered in Brissac Jewel by P Kaufmann Fabric

I think my grandmother would be too.

Sweet and sour saga of syrup making

Homemade maple syrup

Maple syrup. Sap, sugar, sweetness–so much goodness. Our maple syrup making this spring has been great–except for one incident that can only be described as terrible.

I try to be a positive person, so we’ll start with the good.

We tapped five maple trees at the start of this month (about two weeks earlier than last year), and we are having such a good run of sap. Warm weather the first week of March brought 30 litres on a good day–way more than last year.

We were a bit overwhelmed. We have only so many large containers to store sap and the fridge was full of food with no space for sap–thank goodness for the cold cellar. We’re low tech syrup makers, so we boil all of our sap on our stove, which takes a long time. Getting 30 litres of sap down to syrup on an average weeknight has made for some very late nights.

But right from the start the syrup was great. Our first run gave us a bit more than 3 litres of very light syrup. (Syrup gets darker as the season progresses. I only photographed our first 1.5 litres).

Homemade maple syrup

A cold spell put the run on hold for a couple of days, then we started again and got about 80 litres of sap over last weekend. When we finished our full weekend of boiling on Sunday night, we had 2.5 litres of incredibly sweet syrup–magic. (See how it’s darker than the first run?)

Homemade maple syrup

The run continued into the start of this week, and by Tuesday evening we had about another 80 litres of sap on its way to syrup.

And then things took a turn.

Early Wednesday morning–very early, 1 am early–something woke me up. A couple of seconds later, the smoke alarm went off. Matt–and a whole lot of smoke–were in the kitchen when I opened the bedroom door. In fact, the smoke was absolutely everywhere. Syrup was pretty much everywhere too.

It had boiled over the pot, flowed across the stove top, overflowed the stove top, ran down onto the floor, behind the cabinet, under the stove, across the kitchen floor. It was a mess like I’ve never seen.

Matt sent the smoking pot outside, and we started sopping up the burned syrup. I’m not quite sure how to describe the next hour. Sticky. Smokey. Smelly. Not how you want to spend the time between 1 and 2 am. Those all apply.

We pulled the stove out of its spot so that we could mop behind and underneath. I mopped again the next morning before I went to work to deal with the residual stickiness. We scraped the stovetop as much as we could but there’s still a black ring of burnt syrup. I’m sure syrup is behind and under the cabinet, but I’m not moving that. The house still smells like burnt sugar three days later. The charred pot is still sitting on the lawn.

Burnt maple syrup

Burnt maple syrup

At the final minute when sap turns into syrup–around 219 degrees Fahrenheit–it gets foamy and bubbles up in the pan. We had both accidentally fallen asleep and missed this magic syrup moment. So the bubbling and foaming accelerated until it took over the whole stove and a portion of the kitchen.

Checking the temperature on maple syrup

Our frustration at losing so much syrup and so many hours of work is significant. However, we completely recognize that we only lost syrup. The red coals of charred sugar that I saw on our stove when I first entered the kitchen on Wednesday morning remind me that our loss could have been much, much worse.

We’re going to try again, though. Matt insists that we not end our syrup season this way. After sub zero temperatures for the past few days, the sap started running again yesterdays\ afternoon. We have a container of sap that will go on the stove this weekend.

And we have a new plan that all boiling stops at midnight, whether we have syrup or not.

Maple syrup. Sap, sugar, sweetness–so much goodness. Sap, sugar, smoke, spills–so terrible.

But more sweetness ahead.

Garden plans in Illinois

Like me, Sarah in Illinois is also planning and dreaming of her garden. She’s making her list and checking it twice–and then checking it a third time thanks to some help from the family. 

Like Julia, I am planning my garden this year. I wrote this post, and then when Julia mentioned taking a week off I thought that I might have a few things to add.

Well, it turns out I have lots to add.

I have received several plant and seed catalogs. I usually buy many of my plants at a local farm store, but I want to place an order for some of the things that are not found around here.

I made a small list and asked Steve if there was anything he wanted to add to it. My list included a few seeds that we always plant, and I added a few new things to try. Namely, blueberries, tomatillos, pepperoncini peppers and Black Krim tomatoes.

Steve couldn’t think of anything he wanted to add, so I set it aside and went out to clean the chicken coop. I came back in and Steve and his daughter had all of my catalogs out and were making a list. And I mean, they were making a LIST. Many items were new varieties of vegetables that we have grown before but there are new plans for the garden and surrounding yard this year.

We will be adding 2 cherry trees, 3 blueberry bushes and 4 grape vines. We also threw in 50 new strawberry plants and 2 holly trees for the yard. This wasn’t completely a shock to me since Steve and I have wanted to add a fruit arbor to our yard for a while. I just did not know that it was going to be this year.

At our house I am the planner, thinker and researcher. Steve is more likely to throw things together and see how it works out. It is a good combination for us. But that means I am frantically researching how, when and where to plant these trees and vines and bushes before they arrive and Steve is likely to just start digging when they show up. Hopefully, I will have a rough sketch of where we will put them soon.

Another way that Steve is helping to prepare for the garden is that he tuned up our tiller. He also fixed a couple things that have never worked for us on it. It is a hand-me-down piece of equipment and it has worked as-is, but it is nice that he has fixed a couple of the features on it. All we are waiting for is for the temperatures to rise a little and the garden to dry up a little.

Last weekend I planted some lettuce inside. I just felt I needed to start something growing around here. And in a short time I should have some lettuce to add to our salads!

My next post I will be updating how I did on my “one project a month” goal. I have made some progress as I mentioned. But I have also had setbacks.

I came home to this mess.

Blitz had knocked the little pot of brown paint (for my Grandma’s statue) off the workbench and all over him and the floor. Thankfully it was paint and not stain like I had originally thought. That would have been a nightmare to clean off of him and the floor.

Are you planning to plant anything new this year? Do you have any advice for growing any of the new items we ordered? Have you had any help from your pet on a project?

Way to go, Sarah. Your plans (and Steve’s) sound great. Perhaps we can share grape tips. I’m also curious to hear how your holly does. I love the idea of holly, but have been pretty much unsuccessful with two different plans at two different houses (including this one where I killed an established bush).

Project ADD

Sewing desk

Ahhh. A week’s vacation. What a treat.

Time with family, watching TV and a few movies, reading, writing, sleeping in.

In between all of this relaxing, though, I’m not sure what I accomplished last week. As you can probably guess, I begin most vacations with somewhat ambitious plans of things I’m going to do around the house. I’ve learned to manage my expectations and that I enjoy my vacations more if I don’t put pressure on myself to finish all the things.

However, I usually finish at least some of the things. Not so this time.

I feel like I’m coming out of this vacation with a whole bunch of half-started and un-started projects. Everything from a spring living room refresh, new pillows for the basement, a dress I’m sewing and of course the never-ending office makeover.

I’m usually pretty good about keeping myself focused on one particular project. So having a list of things that I want to happen all over the house is making me a bit twitchy.

But I’m also excited. Maybe spring is in the air.

Who am I? Where did this project ADD come from?

Some of these projects are dependent on each other. I needed to get the office set up again–or at least my sewing machine–so that I can sew the pillows and my dress. The new pillows in the basement will mean some of the other pillows move upstairs to be part of the living room refresh.

Another week off would be very helpful to get all of this done. But I’m happy with how last week went.

You may notice in the photo above that my slipper chair is almost upholstered. Just two pesky corners to go. And a morning at the local fabric district with my Mom means I have all of the supplies for my other various projects.

I’m looking forward to these spring projects.

Do you have any spring projects on your list? Do you like productive or relaxing vacations?

Vegetable garden plans

Garden in winter at sunrise

We are officially in the month of spring. That means spring break–and that’s just what I’m going to be doing next week. I’m going to be taking a bit of time to hang out at the farm and hang out with my family. It’s going to be a week off from the blog as well. I’ll be back after the break.

The month of spring also means that garden season is dawning–even here in Canada. The green in the photo above is the winter rye I planted back in the fall. I did not expect it to be this green at this time of year, but it’s a very encouraging way to start the year.

I already talked about my plan to add blackberries and some more grapes this year. The order went in to the nursery at the start of the week.

So now I’m thinking about the rest of the garden.

As a refresher, we have a roughly 2,500 square foot garden. It is round, so our strategy is to divide it into quadrants. Raised beds run around the perimeter.

After a lot of work over the last few years to finish the fence, build the raised beds, build trellises, run a waterlineconstruct and hang the gate–and clear the garden in the first place–I’m looking forward to being able to focus on plants and soil this year.

I have a few themes that are guiding my plans.

Space planning

Last year I said we were going to use the whole garden. But I lied.

We only used three quarters of it. And the third quarter was filled with watermelons and weeds that we let run wild, so that was pretty much a cheat.

Watermelon vines growing in the garden

I realized as the summer progressed, that all of our plants could have used a little more elbow room.

We have a huge garden. There’s absolutely no need to cram things in. So this year, the plan is to give our plants lots of space and use the whole garden.

The easiest way to do that is to designate specific quadrants for specific crops. Specifically, tomatoes and potatoes will each get their own quarters.

Garden plan 2017

Crop rotation

The tomato and potato placement leads to my other priority for this year, crop rotation. Different plants draw different nutrients from the soil. Rotation is important to ensure the soil has a chance to recover.

From what I’ve read, potatoes and tomatoes are not the best of friends–as in you shouldn’t plant tomatoes where you grew potatoes the year before (and vice versa). My plan is to plant them in opposite quadrants so that we can rotate them (literally) around the garden each year and have a gap year between when potatoes and tomatoes grow in the same spot. (Does that make sense?)

Harvesting red potatoes

I’ve moved plants around each year but not considered rotation in a thoughtful, strategic, multi-year way.

To make the rotation work, the potatoes will grow in the same spot this year that they were in last year.

A few other things are staying in same place, more out of laziness than any strategy. The squash trellis was a success last year, and I want to use it again. However, it’s a bit of a monster (16 feet long by about 7 feet tall and about six feet wide). The prospect of moving it is daunting. The best place for the sunflowers is the south side where the sun is the strongest. I don’t think one year of repeats for the squash and the sunflowers will be too tragic.

Sunflowers on the weathered wood fence

Weed control

Oh weeds. Between 2,500 square feet of soil and my day job, I do not believe it’s possible for me to keep up with weeding the garden. Or at least I’m not willing to put in the time required.

So plan B. Mulch. Deep, deep mulch.

Straw mulch in the vegetable garden

I think I should be able to buy (or receive) some old bales of straw from the farmer who does our fields. Old bales that are already on their way to compost would be perfect.

The mulch will (hopefully) not only keep down the weeds, but as it composts it will add nutrients back into the soil.

Plant choice

The big lesson you hear from a lot of gardeners is grow what you eat. If you ask Matt, he’ll say potatoes (the Kennebecs were awesome), peppers (I’d appreciate some red bell peppers and Matt’s particularly interested in jalapenos) and onions.

For me, the fun of gardening is still trying unusual and new things. That means probably planting a row of our purple potatoes again (we have some of our Russian Blues left that we should be able to use as seed potatoes). Trying some different tomatoes (probably not our giant Sicilian Saucers again). And experimenting with eggplant, broccoli or cauliflower for something completely new.

Sicilian Saucer tomatoes

Oh and less zucchini. Again. We downsized to only a half a dozen plants last year and that was still way too many.

I’m excited for warm weather, longer days and the return of the vegetable garden. Until that arrives, I’m excited for a little pre-season vacation. I’ll be back in a week.

Do you have any garden plans yet this year? Any tips for things to grow? How about rotation or weed control ideas?

Cool or creepy?

Bookshelves

One thing our home is lacking is bookends. I know. It’s tragic. You pity me, don’t you?

I will admit that as our bookshelves are filling up, there is less and less need for bookends. On many shelves, the books now go end to end, and I have a hard time squeezing in the decorative objets that I want to display.

However, I am still on the hunt for some bookends. So far, I’ve found them hard to find.

I’m only looking casually at thrift stores, so this hasn’t been the most active of hunts. I don’t want them to be super kitschy. I also want them to be cheap–hence, thrift store.

I came across this hand bookend last week. I immediately picked it up, but then I second guessed myself. Was it creepy?

Hand bookend

I bought it anyways.

Even if it is creepy, I think it works with Matt’s Stephen King collection.

Hand bookend

What’s your vote? Creepy? Or cool?