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?

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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 😉 ).

What I got for Mother’s Day

Chainsaw in the woods

Wood is the traditional gift for fifth wedding anniversaries and, apparently, first Mother’s Days. Last Sunday, Matt and his Dad spent hours working to clear the trails in our back woods. I love walking the trails on our own property, but I’ve written before about how they’re a bit overgrown. An ice storm and wind storm this spring made the trails nearly impassable. For my walks with Ellie and Baxter, this situation was far from ideal.

Tree fallen across the trail

Firewood blocking the trail

Imagine if you will a woman walking in the woods. She is wearing a baby in a carrier on her chest and she has a dog leashed around her waist. They come to a stream crossing. The catwalk has washed out and a tree limb has fallen, blocking the trail.

She forges ahead, contorting herself to slither around the tree without dumping the baby out of the carrier and into the water.

The dog chooses a different route and the leash ends up wrapped around various trees.

The woman temporarily loses her balance and adjusts her footing–right into a deep part of the stream. Her boot fills with water.

Hiking with Ellie and Baxter

After emptying out my boot, wringing out my sock and untangling Baxter–all while still balancing Ellie in the carrier–I decided the trails were out of bounds until we did some work.

So I was thrilled to receive a Mother’s Day present involving chainsaws, wheelbarrows, multiple loads of firewood and clear(er) passage on the trails.

Matt and his Dad wheeling firewood out of the woods

My FIL and Baxter cutting wood in the forest

Loading firewood from the forest

Matt unloading firewood
You may recall that Matt and I had done this chore previously, so I know exactly how much work this was. I’m over the moon happy to have access to our trails and incredibly grateful for Matt and his Dad working so hard.

I’m also still holding out for a brigade of forest rangers equipped with ATVs, wood chippers, weed whackers and chainsaws (these trails could seriously use a whole season of work from a whole crew). Perhaps next Mother’s Day?

Behind the scenes

Just because I can’t keep all the cuteness to myself…

Ellie and Matt assembling our new wheelbarrow.

Matt and Ellie assembling the wheelbarrow

Quality control testing.

Matt holding Ellie in the wheelbarrow

Ellie, Baxter and I helpfully supervising on Mother’s Day.

Carrying Ellie

Our new addition

Ellie's birth announcement

Matt and I are very happy to introduce our daughter, Ellie, who joined our family on Feb. 23.

Ellie arrived one week before her due date and weighed 8 pounds even.

Ellie with pink tulips

Her full name is Elizabeth Audrey Julia. Elizabeth from my mother’s middle name and Audrey from Matt’s mother’s name.

We’ve been doing very well getting to know each other. Ellie is a good sleeper and eater so far, and we’re doing our best to keep meeting her needs.

Family picture

Baxter is maybe a little more watchful, but mostly he is his usual relaxed and lazy self. He chooses to interact with her every so often, sniffing or sharing his sunbeam or hanging out on the bed with us. He’s not bothered by her noises, except for the occasional moments when angry baby shows up. Mostly he ignores her and carries on as usual, which is exactly the response I was hoping for.

I’m continuing to write about the steps we took to prepare Bax for Ellie’s arrival on ThatMutt.com.

Ellie and Baxter on the bed

We’re all taking our time adjusting to our new family and enjoying life together.

It’s amazing to see our families come together in this little girl and think about what her future holds. The optimism and possibility that a baby brings are pretty special.

How to prepare your dog for a baby

#2018 onesieAs you can imagine, lots of baby prep is happening here at 129 Acres. We’re finishing off the baby’s room, figuring out how to unfold and then collapse the stroller (seriously, I feel like I should have studied engineering), installing the car seat, freezing meals and a whole bunch of other things.

One of the most important parts of our preparation is working with Baxter to get him ready for the changes that are coming.

Baxter and me in the baby's room

We have a great trainer, and she’s been very encouraging and helpful. As well, we have a great, easy-going, relaxed, lazy dog, so I think we’re starting from a very good place.

I’m going to be documenting our baby prep strategies for Baxter on ThatMutt.com. The series kicked off yesterday and new posts will be added every other week for the next several months.

I encourage you to hop over to That Mutt and check them out. I also welcome feedback, advice and more questions. I may not know the answer yet (#firsttimemom), but I’m happy to figure it out.

Baxter is a really important part of our family, so we want to make sure he’s as comfortable as possible when the new addition arrives.

Baxter up close

I’m still going to be your baby, right?

Odds & sods

Whew. I feel like I could have slept all weekend. Of course, that was not what happened, but I did spend Sunday afternoon curled on the couch with Baxter. The fire was going, I was wrapped in a cozy sweater. It was a perfect low key few hours before we head into the final stretch of Christmas busyness.

Since I’m still feeling lazy, I’m starting this week simply, sharing a few tidbits of what we’ve been up to recently. And because I’m apparently feeling random, I’m throwing in a couple of favourite recipes. Also, dog pictures just because they’re cute.

Dogs hiking in the snow

  • Part of the reason for the couch afternoon was we spent the morning at the holiday dog hike our trainer organizes every year. There is something so special about watching dogs of all shapes and sizes running together–most of them off leash–and enjoying the outdoors.
  • This weekend included another treasured holiday tradition, a family potluck hosted by one of my (many) cousins. I took my favourite potluck dish, sweet cream cheese dip with green apples… or, as I sometimes call it, sugar on a plate (recipe below).
  • I started my holiday baking with a big batch of Matt’s favourite–peanut butter balls (recipe below). Up next, whipped shortbreads, which are one of my favourites.
  • Two new-to-me blogs that I’ve been enjoying: The Handmade Home and Arrows and Bow

Peanut butter balls

2 cups icing sugar

2 cups shredded coconut

1 1/2 cups peanut butter

(My grandmother’s recipe calls for equal parts PB, sugar and coconut, but I’ve been finding them way too sticky, so I’ve been cutting back the PB over the years. I fudged the quantities above a bit, as I make a much bigger batch. This year’s was 5 cups of icing sugar, 5 cups of coconut and 4 cups of PB, which resulted in approximately 140 balls.)

Mix sugar, coconut and peanut butter together. Roll into small balls (sticking the “dough” in the fridge for a few minutes helps to firm it up so it’s easier to roll). In a double boiler, melt chocolate chips with a bit of evaporated milk. Roll balls in chocolate and put on a tray to set.

I store mine in the fridge to keep them nice and firm.

Sweet Cream Cheese Dip with Green Apples

1 block of cream cheese

1 cup of brown sugar

Crushed Skor bars

Dulce de Leche (or caramel sauce)

Mix cream cheese and brown sugar together and spread on a large plate or platter. Sprinkle with Skor bits and drizzle with dulce de leche. Chop green apples into wedges. Scoop dip with apples and feel healthy ’cause you’re eating fruit.

And more dog pictures.

Our trainer giving instructions before we hike. (Don’t let Baxter fool you. He’s not actually listening. He just wants attention too.)

Dogs hiking in the snow

All the sniffs.

Dogs hiking in the snow

When you show up at the holiday party wearing the same outfit as someone else (although the little guy also had on pants and socks).

Dogs in matching plaid coats

The afternoon after a hike.

Baxter sleeping on the couch

Cold snap

December snowfall

Our first significant snowfall and cold snap arrived this week. As it happens, they coincided with a hiccup in our heating system.

When we woke up on Tuesday morning, the temperature inside was down to 13 degrees (55 fahrenheit). Outside it was -5. Brrr.

Thermostat showing 13 degrees

Definitely a day for breakfast in bed under the covers.

Baxter eating under his blanket in bed

Fortunately, a service tech from our geothermal company (Waterloo Energy Products) arrived by 8am and by 8:30 the heat pump was chugging again.

It turned out we needed a new capacitor (the cylinder in the centre of the photo below), which is apparently a fairly inexpensive part (we haven’t received the invoice yet).

Inside the geothermal heatpump

We’ve had our geothermal system for more than five years, and we’ve been really happy with our choice to go geo. While at first we knew next to nothing about geothermal, now we’re huge endorsers of this system.

While he was here the tech checked the rest of our setup and everything seemed to be in good shape. Which is good as the cold snap is continuing. Yesterday was -18 but felt like -27. Yipes.

Baxter has yet to take his turn at serving breakfast in bed.

First snow and first fire

Snow dusting the split rail fence by the barn

Thursday night the flurries started, and Friday morning we woke up to our first dusting of snow this season.

The puppy was entirely over-excited until his feet got too cold (temperatures also fell incredibly far overnight) and then he was excited run back to the warm house.

Baxter surveying the fields after the first snowfall

Tire tracks across the field after the first snowfall

Baxter surveying the fields after the first snowfall

Snow on the barn roof

After all of the cold and snow, I was very happy to also have our first fire of the season this weekend. (Yes, that means our chimney is clean. One more task crossed off our fall to-do list. How to post to come).

Logs burning in the fireplace

I’m writing this in front of our second fire of the season, enjoying a quiet, cozy wind down to our weekend.

I hope that you all had a good weekend as well. What was the highlight for you? Any weather changes where you are?

Potato harvest 2017

Garden week is continuing here on 129 acres. This post is all about the high point of the whole gardening season so far–the potato harvest.

Picking potatoes

You may recall that we decided to devote a whole quadrant of our 2,500 square foot garden to potatoes this year. We had a whole bunch of seed potatoes–all from our own pantry–and I ended up putting in about eight rows.

The results were pretty much as expected. A whoooooole lotta potatoes.

Potato harvest 2017

We grew four varieties: Kennebec, Russian Blue, Basin Gold and red. The Kennebecs are by far our favourite. They fry up nice and crisp for hashbrowns, but stay soft and potatoey inside. Their flavour is also wonderful. It’s a good thing we like them because we had so many we ended up picking them into the wheelbarrow.

A wheelbarrow full of Kennebec potatoes

The Kennebecs also grew big. One potato will make more than enough hashbrowns for breakfast for both of us. For comparison, Matt wears a size 13 boot.

Giant potato

The Russian Blues are fun purple potatoes. We got a decent crop of them. The reds are the first potatoes we ever tried growing. I think some of the plants were choked by weeds this year because the number of reds that we got this year was not great.

However, the greatest disappointment ended up being the Basin Golds. These were an experiment. When Matt is looking for giant baking potatoes to go with our steak dinners, he picks up Basin Golds.

We had a couple of potatoes that sprouted by the time spring arrived, so we stuck them in the garden. They definitely did not live up to our expectations of giant baking potatoes. First, we only got six potatoes. And second they’re small. Here are our measly six taters with their size 13 Kennebec relative.

Different size potatoes

The potatoes are all different shapes and sizes.

There was a Russian Blue that Matt enjoyed particularly. Ahem.

Mishapen potato

And the much more G-rated Mini Mouse potato.

Mini Mouse potato

We dried the potatoes for a little while on a tarp on the driveway–supervised by that omnipresent puppy–and then loaded them into sacks and put them in the cold cellar. Last year, we followed a pretty similar process, except we put them in cardboard boxes, and they lasted fairly well.

Potato harvest 2017

Hopefully we will be enjoying homegrown potatoes for many months to come. I’m expecting breakfast for dinner–complete with hashbrowns–will be on the menu one evening this week.

Do you grow your own potatoes? Do you have a favourite kind of potato? How do you like to eat potatoes? Any tips on storing potatoes? I’m really hoping that our sacks work well.

Making room to run

Back in the spring, I stopped in at our tractor dealership. I love our tractor, Wiley. I particularly love his attachments–mower deck, front-end loader, snowblower–and covet more–backhoe, auger, rotary cutter.

On this particular day, I was particularly coveting the rotary cutter.

A rotary cutter is a heavy-duty mower, sometimes called a bush hog. It can go through thick brush. It can hit rocks and stumps without breaking. It can even take down small trees.

In our constant campaign to beautify/tame/maintain the farm, clearing brush is an ongoing undertaking.

The thing about anything to do with the tractor is it isn’t cheap. So when I came home and told Matt I’d gotten a quote on a rotary cutter, I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be.

His exact words were, “You’ve been talking about this since we moved here, woman. Just buy it.”

Alrighty then. One rotary cutter coming our way.

Woods rotary cutter

It took us a while to get the rotary cutter running. Eventually, our tractor guy came out for a farm call to walk us through it (five years in and we’re still country newbies). But last weekend we got cutting.

And Matt loved it as much as I did.

Matt did the septic bed. He wanted to cut the little trees so that their roots don’t get into the drainage area. It’s hard to see, but at the top of this slope behind all of those weeds is the house.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

It took Matt very little time to get his confidence. While I avoided trees that were more than a couple of inches in diameter, Matt had no hesitation about mowing them down.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

The puppy liked all of the new smells that we uncovered.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

We also uncovered a few rocks and stumps, but the cutter powered through.

Rock scraped by a mower

Matt soon had the septic bed nice and clear. (The house is behind me in this shot.)

Cleared septic bed

After Matt had his turn, I took mine in the meadow. This is what happens when I ask my husband to take my picture. I end up with puppy butt.

Baxter watching the tractor

He did manage to resist Baxter’s charms long enough to get a few action shots.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

At the end of the day, there was plenty of space for the puppy to run.

Baxter running through the meadow

And a nice clear view from the pond up to the house. Well, clear except for the pines, but there’s no way we’re taking those down.

The mowed meadow