Gardening philosophy: See how it goes

Earth Day is this week, so it seems like a good time to talk about vegetable gardens. It also seems like a lot of people are planning gardens this year. Whether it’s a desire to be more self-sufficient, or looking for an activity to keep kids busy during quarantine, or the joy that comes from watching things grow, there are a lot of up sides to gardening.

I’m not sure what our garden plans are yet. I think the best description of my philosophy is “see how it goes.”

It’s hard to overstate the mess that was the vegetable garden last year. I had high hopes of weeding at least the outer raised beds, but only made it about a quarter of the way around in the spring before I gave up.

I blame the baby.

Ellie gardening at 1 year old

One year ago this week

We spend plenty of time outside–that’s our favourite place to be–and Ellie is pretty good at amusing herself while Mama works.

But the garden ground was too uneven for her a year ago when she was still unsteady on her feet. She spent most of her time in the garden frustrated. She took two steps and tripped. She fell down and couldn’t get back up. She got caught in weeds or plants. I felt like I was torturing the baby every time I tried to work.

We both found joy when the raspberries ripened. Ellie very quickly learned that any red berries were good to eat, and I loved seeing her reach for berries one after another. She still got tangled up, but she persisted because nothing comes between this girl and her fruit.

Red raspberries

In the fall, I really, really wanted to prune the raspberries. I didn’t do it the year before (again, blame the baby), and I knew we’d have a bigger crop and easier picking experience this year if I could get it done.

Between some early mornings, naptimes, and one baby-free day, I got the raspberries done. There were major weeds, many dead canes, multiple wheelbarrow loads, a lot of careful realignment of canes behind the wire trellises, and of course my favourite furry sidekick.

Baxter laying beside the pruned row of raspberries

But they got done and they’re looking great. Seeing the new leaves sprouting on the tidy rows brings me joy.

Some asparagus is starting to poke up–maybe this will be the year we finally pick some–and the rhubarb has emerged. A sandbox has also landed in the garden. Thanks to its arrival (and some temporary pet worms), the asparagus is already weeded.

Ellie playing in her sandbox in the garden

There’s more to do, but I’m adhering to my “see-how-it-goes” philosophy. No matter what, I’m anticipating more joy this summer with our girl.

Are you planning to grow any vegetables this year? Do you garden with your kids? Any tips for keeping toddlers occupied while working outside?

 

(For anyone looking for more garden tips, Amanda at Life at Cloverhill is doing an IGTV series where she answers reader’s vegetable garden questions.)

Colourful and cozy toddler play area

Thank you everyone for your kind comments on the last few posts. It has felt like a big step to return to blogging and find my voice again, and I appreciate your warm welcome and patience very much.

Keeping busy has helped me get through the last few months, and one of my projects is a new play zone for Ellie. I think I love it just as much as she does.

Colourful toddler playzone

We had already amassed what felt like a large collection of toys. Then Christmas arrived and I felt overwhelmed by all of the new additions every time I walked into the living room.

Baby, you’re movin’ to the basement.

It was time to get organized.

Bring on the bins!

Colourful toddler playzone

Well, before I could get to the bins, I first had to find the shelf to store them. I reused a shelf that I had built for the office in our first house. It had a brief life in the main area of our basement here, but has been tucked away for a few years.

I hauled it out and gave it a fresh coat of white paint. A trip to the dollar store found bins that fit pretty much perfectly (they’re a bit long, but that makes them easier to grab). Initially, I was not in love with their bright green colour and planned to spray paint them, but once they were in place, the colour worked with the our DIY refurbished ding pong table and felt fun and fitting for our basement.

I’ve organized toys by category: cars, stuffed animals, farm, food, lego, balls & blocks, music. I may label the bins with pictures at some point, but for now I do the clean-up most of the time so labels aren’t needed.

Colourful toddler playzone

The top of the shelf holds some of Ellie’s extensive tractor collection and a few books and everything is within Ellie’s reach.

By far Ellie’s favourite thing to play with are books, so I knew I had to have a library of some kind. I’ve loved the idea of book ledges, so off to Ikea we went for some spice racks. I picked a small selection of books from the main bookshelf in her room and tucked in some small stuffed animals for extra fun.

Toddler reading nook with spice rack bookshelves

A collection of pillows under the shelves make a cozy spot to read.

Toddler reading nook with spice rack bookshelves

Purple is the one pop of colour that we’ve not used elsewhere in the basement. I’ve been trying to incorporate it for awhile, but I’ve never found the right spot. When I decided that the pink and purple ape would be a regular resident of Ellie’s play space, I knew it was time for the purple.

This ape was a class mascot that came home from school with Matt years ago. He has been wearing a T-shirt that had a nerdy saying about history on it and sitting in a corner of the basement all this time. When I took off the T-shirt, I was shocked to see that Matt’s students had written “Merry Christmas” and then all signed their names on the ape’s belly. This will be something nice for Ellie to see when she’s a little older and help her understand how special her Dad is.

Colourful toddler playzone

The ape is lounging on some purple pillows. I already had the purple upholstery fabric, pillow forms and even zippers, so these were a quick project. But when I spotted a rare Purple People Eater pelt at a local fabric store, I knew some faux fur was just what this little nook needed.

While the shelf and the nook and the books are the main play area, the rest of this room is also very much about Ellie. Bigger toys line up along the wall, her growth chart hangs in here. There’s even a spot for Baxter, who likes to keep an eye on his little sister.

Colourful toddler playzone

 

Colourful toddler playzone

And at the far end of the room, I added a special gallery of photos.

Colourful toddler playzone

Matt’s brother made these photo collages for Matt’s memorial. Ellie loves looking at pictures of Daddy, and it’s important to me that he has as much of a presence in her life as possible. So hanging these photos where Ellie can see them easily was an easy decision.

Ellie looking at photos of Daddy

Having a little DIY, organizing, decorating project felt really good. It was a distraction, but also a reconnection to who I am and a reminder of what I like to do.

I also feel really good every time Ellie asks to go downstairs to play, which is often now.

Grapes and goodness in the garden

Red somerset grapes

We have grapes!

Three years ago I planted eight grapevines, and two years ago I added four more. Every year since then I’ve cut off any fruit that has appeared with the idea that the plants need all their energy to grow big and strong, rather than growing grapes.

This year, I let the grapes grow, and I was so thrilled back in August when they were finally ready to harvest.

Bunches of red somerset grapes on the vine

Ellie was delighted as well. Girl looooooves fruit, and grapes are a favourite.

Ellie picking grapes

It’s been so exciting to watch the grapes grow over the season. Seeing the big bunches of unripe green grapes made me feel like I’ve been doing something right.

Bunches of unripe green grapes

I have I’ve felt like I’m fumbling along with my grapes ever since I planted them. Figuring out where to plant them, how to trellis them, how to prune them, protecting them in the winter, even my decision to cut off the grapes the last couple of years were completely me winging it.

As I watched the grapes finally coming on this year, I was worried something would happen before I was able to taste them. Blight, birds, bugs. Something would get them instead of me.

But nothing happened. The grapes ripened, and they were beautiful.

Unripe and ripe grapes

In the end something did get them instead of me.

Blame it on the baby.

Ellie learned very quickly that anything purple or red in the garden was ripe for the picking. She would happily stand there and eat grapes by the bunch.

Ellie eating grapes in the garden

The flavour of the sun-warmed grapes was unmatched. They were so lovely and sweet. The pop as I bit into them, the stickiness of the juice on my hands, the sight of Ellie opening her mouth to ask for another and then the feeling of a little hand smushing a grape into my mouth in return make grapes a favourite summer memory.

Basket of sovereign coronation blue grapes

DIY toddler step stool – Ikea hack

As I wrote the title for this post I realized, wow, we have a toddler. Holy moly. Ellie turns 18 months old this week, but she’ll always be our baby.

Ellie is a smart, curious, confident little girl who loves to be included in whatever we’re doing–actually, she insists on being included.

Pretty much as soon as she could stand, I realized I needed a way to help her be involved and help me keep her safe and corralled.

I went looking for plans to build her a step stool and discovered the world of learning towers. One of the first plans I came across was a simple Ikea hack using the popular Bekväm stool from Happy Grey Lucky.

DIY learning tower from Ikea Bekvam stool

The plan is super detailed with clear instructions.

I was skeptical about Sina’s direction to drill through the full width of the 1X2. I thought for sure the pine would split, but I went very slow with my pilot holes and worked from a 1/8 bit up to 5/64″, and I had no problems when I screwed it all together–even though I couldn’t find #6 screws in the right length and was using fatter #8s instead.

The stool went together very quickly. Once I had the wood cut, Ralphie and I knocked it out in one naptime.

Assembling the stool outside with our barncat

Close up of the baby monitor

I chose not to paint it, as I like the colour of the natural wood. However, I do feel it may be helpful to coat the wood with Varathane or some other sealant, both to protect the wood and make it easier to wipe down.

We use the stool mainly in the kitchen for cooking and washing dishes. Between food spills and water splashes, I feel like it’s inevitable that the stool will become stained. (There is a coating of some kind on the actual Bekvam, but the upper framework is naked.)

Water spill on the Ikea Bekvam

I’m most interested in how the stool works as opposed to how it looks, and it is great.

Ellie loves her stool. She grabs on and tries to climb it whenever I’m cooking–she still needs help to get on it. She also drags it across the kitchen floor when she wants to wash dishes–girl loves water and is very insistent.

DIY learning tower from Ikea Bekvam stool

Ellie on her learning tower

We love it too. It keeps her pretty secure and occupied–we sometimes joke that it’s a standing baby jail. I say pretty secure because I would never leave her unattended in case she tips, climbs out or slips down.

I was hesitant about just one dowel at her back, worrying about her slipping out, but we only had one incident where she tried to get down on her own. It would be easy to drill a couple of larger holes so that you could slip an extra dowel in if you felt like it. The larger gap makes it easy for her to climb up herself, although she’s only figured it out once so far.

DIY learning tower from Ikea Bekvam stool

As she grows, I hope she will continue to want to be involved in what we’re doing–and more helpful in actually doing it.

Odds & sods

Our girl is officially one year old! I know everyone says time flies, and it definitely does. But when I look back over the past year and think of everything she’s learned and how much she’s grown, it feels like it has to have been a year.

It’s amazing to watch a human grow.

Collage of 12 months of baby photos

We celebrated with a big pizza party with Matt’s and my families. It was really special–and also completely overwhelming. So many people. So many presents. So much food. We ended up delaying Ellie’s final tractor picture to the day after her birthday because it felt like we were trying to do too much. But I managed to finish a tractor cake for the big day–after Matt did an emergency run back to the grocery store for more icing sugar.

Baby with tractor pedal car

Tractor birthday cake

Our other excitement this month came courtesy of Baxter. He met up with someone or something in the woods and came home with a few gashes. One on his neck ended up needing stitches. He was not happy with his vet visit–nor the haircuts that were needed for his IV and to assess his various wounds. But we are happy that his injuries were relatively minor, that we have an amazing, kind, caring, gentle, skilled, generous team at our vet, and most of all that he’s home safe. He’s now on leash any time he’s outside, especially since he is completely fixated on the woods, apparently looking for a rematch.

Baxter looking into the woods with stitches in his neck

And now on to some of the inspiration I’ve come across over the last month:

Rambling Renovators living room

  • Jen at Rambling Renovators has amazing style, and she is going behind the scenes, sharing her process of how to decorate a room. She shared how to start and how to layout the furniture. Bonus, she’s updating her daughter’s room, which is a super fun project… not that I’m planning Ellie’s tween bedroom yet… much.
  • A reminder to not get stuck in our to-do lists and make time for family and fun
  • I’ve never made macaroni from scratch. But I’m trying to find an alternative to Matt’s favourite Kraft Dinner. I had high hopes for this vegan version (Chloe’s recipes have great flavours), but it was not a hit. Deb’s endorsement of Martha’s (non-vegan) version is making me think it’s the way to go. Any suggestions of how to get the flavour of KD with more real ingredients?
  • “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Inspiration from Arthur Ashe via Thelma Golden in In The Company of Women by Grace Bonney.

My writing elsewhere:

Did you celebrate anything this month? Or have any excitement courtesy of your pet? Do you have a macaroni recipe to share? What’s inspiring you these days?

The baby’s first build

Growing up, my parents always included my siblings and me in whatever was happening at our house. Maintenance, building, painting, renovating, cleaning–we were all involved. Some of it was chores. Some of it was just how our family rolled.

Looking back, I can see how these experiences gave us confidence, responsibility, skills, teamwork, work ethic, understanding and much more. This foundation set us up for our own homes and our own lives.

I don’t think my parents necessarily thought too deeply about the long-term benefits their approach would have. They liked doing things with us and wanted us to be involved. Or they needed help, and they had 8 extra hands hanging around. … Or, more likely, they had 8 extra hands and needed to keep them busy.

Today, a year into parenting, my sense is that most people spend a lot of time thinking–and worrying–about how to raise our children. What type of person do I hope my child grows up to be? How do I help her become that? I don’t think our aspirations are too much different than those of our parents. But I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and spend a lot of time reading different theories, trying different techniques and thinking about how to set our children up for success.

Admittedly, I’ve only been doing this Mom thing for a year. I have a long way to go, and I expect that we will face many challenges. However, I’m hoping that I can channel my own parents and remember how much I benefited from simply being involved in whatever they were doing.

Ellie and I did our first real build recently. You’ve seen her previously helping to make our invisible bookends and supervising some sanding. But this time she actually got her hands on some of the tools and materials. Of course, she also got her mouth on them too.

Baby playing with screwdriver and drill

My Mom gave Ellie a set of table and chairs for Christmas. I decided that since they were hers she should be part of putting them together.

Baby leaning on a box

I of course spent a fair amount of time making sure she didn’t drop the drill on herself, stick the screwdriver too far down her throat, cut herself on the scissors, or eat too much of the packaging. But we also had fun talking things through, finding the right pieces and putting it all together.

Baby excited to be holding a piece of wood

Fun is the best word I have to describe how it felt to build this little table and chairs with her.

Mom and baby sitting a child size table

I hope we have a lot more fun in the future. And I hope that she grows up to be a confident, capable, helpful woman, in part because of the things we do together.

A look back at 2018

What a year it was. I kicked off 2018 by sharing the news that I was pregnant. Ellie arrived at the end of February and we haven’t looked back. Our new family was absolutely the highlight of last year. We had some low times too–my Dad’s death and some other moments too hard for me to talk about yet. But Ellie is always light and joy and love.

Ellie–or rather her nursery–was also the source of some of the top posts on the blog last year.

I shared the reveal of her colourful, farmy, happy space and then dove into the details of various DIYs and other projects we completed in this special room.

Turquoise gender neutral nursery

Some of the most popular posts were her DIY Moroccan pouf (and a round-up of other poufs you can make yourself), the blackout window treatments (and how to pleat Ikea curtains), and an easy, low-budget Eames Hang-It-All.

How to make your own Eames Hang-It-All

A feature of the nursery is my favourite Strandmon wing chair from Ikea. I finally wrote a proper review of this chair, and it quickly became one of the most popular posts of last year.

DIY Moroccan pouf free sewing pattern

Just before Ellie arrived, I finished a project that’s been in my plans for awhile–a new coffee table for the living room. You all liked it as much as I do, and it ended up also being a top post of 2018. I used the Benchwright plan from Ana White, modifying it to have drawers on both sides. This table turned out so well, and the extra drawers are very helpful now that the baby is turning into a complete busybody.

DIY Benchwright Coffee Table

Obviously, our lives now revolve around that busybody. We didn’t do quite as many projects in 2018, but I can’t complain about how we spent our time. Sharing the farm with our little family is all I want for 2019.

Christmas stockings full of memories

Christmas tree in front of the fireplace

In the 1970s, my Dad got into latch hooking (or rug hooking, as he called it). He made a big wall hanging, a Christmas wreath and, when I was born, my Christmas stocking. He went on to make stockings for each of my sisters and my brother as well.

When Matt and I moved into our first house, I brought my stocking with me. Matt did the same. They don’t match. They’re not large. They are certainly not trendy. But they are full of meaning and memories for us.

When I realized Ellie needed a Christmas stocking, I wanted hers to have the same meaning. As she grows, it will take on more memories. But I wanted it to be special right from the start.

I’ve written before about how we’re trying to keep my Dad alive for her, so I decided that I would latch hook a stocking for her. I found a company online that had lots of kits, and Matt picked out the pattern–a puppy, of course.

Our Christmas stockings

It arrived at the start of December and I worked diligently (sometimes feverishly) every day to finish it by Christmas. Every time I sat down with the yarn and the hook and the mesh, I felt connected to my Dad. It feels so special to know she’ll have this stocking, chosen by her Daddy, inspired by her Grandpa and made by her Mama.

For the first time, we have three stockings hanging above the fireplace. It’s so special to mark this first Christmas with our new little family and add to our memories together.

I hope that you all have a wonderful holiday, filled with memories and family.

Odds & sods

Happy last week of November. I hope everyone had a nice weekend and a great Thanksgiving.

I know everyone always says that time flies, but I am seriously amazed that it’s already the end of the month–and one month from now will be Boxing Day. Hard to believe.

I’ve really been trying to be in the moment over the past few months and not look too far ahead. I want to savour my time with Ellie and Matt. It’s not about what’s next. It’s about what we’re doing now and enjoying it. Admittedly, life isn’t always enjoyable, but moments are temporary. If Ellie needs to be held a little while longer, I’ll give her that, because someday she won’t want to sit with Mama.

Speaking of the passage of time, our baby is 9 months old now. She’s been out as long as she was in. Ellie shared her 9 month birthday with what would have been my paternal grandmother’s 104th birthday, which made the day even more special. We marked the occasion by taking another photo of our girl with her tractor.

Ellie sitting on her tractor

Looking back over the rest of the month, here is a round-up of some things that have caught my eye.

Kitchen refresh by The Handmade Home

A really smart kitchen refresh

A checklist for making green home improvements

I’ve realized I have many feelings about names… and apparently others do too

How dog agility applies to all dog training

The world is better than we think (my book recommendation from Obama)

Worrying is praying for stuff you don’t want

Say yes to your life. Because… this is it.

My writing elsewhere:

How we care for our barn cat

Livestock Guardian Dogs – An Introduction

Why does my dog refuse to walk with other people?

We’re gearing up for a busy week here. We have a bunch of appointments, including a doctor visit for Ellie and her last swimming lesson. We’ve loved swimming and will be buying a pass to go on our own until Ellie’s eligible for the next level of lessons.

We’re also preparing to host some of Matt’s extended family for our annual month before Christmas party this weekend. It’s always so nice to see everyone and spend time together. While Christmas has obviously already hit the blogosphere, this party is my cue to start decorating and start getting my head into the season.

What’s ahead for you this week? Are you in Christmas mode yet? Or are you, like me, trying to live in the moment?