Merry Christmas

Painting of farm in winter

Merry Christmas everyone.

Whatever you celebrate, I hope that you have a wonderful holiday season with your family and friends.

2017 has been a year of change and ups and downs for us. Thank you for following our adventures and supporting us.

I will be back in the New Year with more stories from our 129 acres.

Read the story of this beautiful painting.


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

Four tips for simple Christmas decorating

Sarah is here to share a touch of Christmas from Illinois. Her front entrance is looking very festive, and decorating didn’t take her a lot of money or time. She’s sharing her tips for easy, affordable and attractive Christmas decorations below.

I love just about everything about the holiday season. One of my favorite activities is decorating our house both inside and out.

We had never done this before, but Steve asked if this year we wanted to decorate with a theme, so we chose “red and gold.” I think this will become a new tradition. It has made decorating much simpler and everything feels less cluttered and classier.

I used this line of thinking when decorating our front step and chose to go with the gold part of our theme. I thought I would share some tips I have when decorating.

This is the sad view that I started with. What you can’t see is the rotten pumpkins that I had just removed from the steps.

I began by going to my parents’ and helped my mom gather clippings from her boxwood bushes.

Tip #1: You don’t have to buy expensive decorations. Branches from pine, cedar, boxwood and other evergreens make beautiful natural decorations.

I gathered my supplies and laid my branches out in the general shape and size that I wanted to hang from my front door. I used floral wire to tie small bunches of branches together.

Tip #2: When wiring together live branches make sure to tie them really tight. The branches will shrink as they dry out.

I used ribbon for decoration and also to hide the wire that I used. I like to use wired ribbon to help it hold its shape.

Tip #3: I always scour after Christmas sales for ribbon. I can often save 50-75% by doing this.

For my lanterns I wired a few branches from my trees to the handles.

Tip #4: When trimming branches from a tree, look at how the branch is hanging before it is cut. If you want the branch to hang down, but it is curved up on the tree, it will be very difficult to force it into the position you want.

I also added some pinecones that my mom’s cousin had given us. Again I used floral wire to tie them together and tied them to the handle. I took some more wired ribbon and tied a knot to finish it off.

To complete the look, I added a really cute dog.

Merry Christmas from Illinois! I will be back after the New Year.

That is indeed a cute dog. Does the craft store sell Blitzes?

Thanks for all of your posts over the last year, Sarah. It’s been great to see what you and Steve are up to in Illinois. I hope that you and your family have a wonderful holiday season!


Simple Christmas party table setting

Our annual Christmas party is tomorrow. It’s always special to be together with family and friends and over the years Matt and I have come to really enjoy hosting everyone.

I commented on one of Brooklyn Limestone’s Instagram posts last week where Stefanie shared the beautiful engravings that I used as place cards for our very first month before Christmas party at the farm.

Placecard inspired by Brooklyn Limestone

She was intrigued by our “month before Christmas” party, and our exchange got me thinking about the gatherings that Matt and I host every year.

It’s become a tradition that Matt and I host a few dinners on key occasions every year–the month before Christmas party for his Mom’s extended family and a Good Friday dinner for my Mom’s extended family.

I like having these set dates that everyone knows they’re coming to our house. We still send out invitations well in advance (a simple email reminder), but for the most part people have them in their calendar already.

Hosting a Christmas party (a bit more than) a month before Christmas can feel a little early, but we squeeze it in before schedules get too busy, so it’s easier for everyone to make it.

The guest list is extended family that we don’t get to see very often. As our families get bigger, we find it’s harder to see everyone, so this ensures that we’re connecting at least once a year.

The menus don’t change very much. Tomorrow Matt will be cooking a full Christmas dinner, and everyone will be bringing appetizers and sweets to share.

We try to keep it casual. The house will not be fully decorated for Christmas. Some reno projects are underway that have led to clutter. But the point–and the joy–is to have everyone together.

What holiday traditions do you have? Do you host parties at your house? What are the big occasions for your family? How do you keep your family connected?

Merry Christmas

Snowy farm

Our fourth Christmas at the farm. It feels like we’ve always been here, but I never take this life for granted. The farm is the greatest gift.

This is my absolute favourite place to be, and this is a special time of year to be here. It’s an extra bonus that we’re going to have a white Christmas this year.

Matt and I have an extended time off this year, so I’m looking forward to two weeks of relaxing, good food, family and friends, and of course some projects.

Thank you all for following along with life here on our 129 acres. It means a lot to know that all of you are out there, interested in what we’re up to and cheering us on.

Merry Christmas to you. I hope that you have a wonderful holiday season with your family.

I’ll be back with more stories to share in 2017.

Happy holidays from Illinois

Sarah in Illinois is here today with her final post for 2016. Thanks for being part of the blog for the past year, Sarah. I’ve enjoyed the peak you’ve shared into your life in Illinois.

The year is winding down and since this is my last post until the new year, I thought I would take a minute to thank Julia for letting me guest post and share a little of my rural living. I have really enjoyed being a part of her blog and I am excited to continue on in 2017.

This past year has felt like there were many detours and setbacks. In fact, most of the year I felt like I was changing plans, adjusting to a new normal or just trying to keep some sense of order to what was going on around here.

“You can’t plan life. Because no matter how perfect your plan is, life has a way to rearrange it.” — Mina Deanna

There were definitely some things that went according to (my) plan, like getting chickens and adding Blitz to our family. But it felt, more often than not, we were paddling against a raging river.

So instead of sitting around being grouchy about failed plans, I am going to focus on good things in my life.

I am thankful that our family is healthy and we have a warm house to live in and food for our bellies.

I am thankful for family gatherings like the one we had today where I got to spend time with my 91 year old grandmother.

I am thankful that my family has an annual tradition of collecting and donating baby clothes to families that need them.

I am thankful for my close group of girlfriends who are there for me, always.

I am thankful for the treats that a neighbor left on our doorstep today that remind me that I live in a wonderful neighborhood.

I am thankful that Steve and I have jobs that allow us to buy the things we need. And even some things that we don’t need.

No, this year did not go as planned, but I am thankful that each day is a new day to try again.

Thank you to everyone that read my posts this year and followed along with me. I’ll be back in January to start a new year with new plans!

Thanks for the reminder to focus on the good, Sarah. Merry Christmas to you, Steve, Blitz, the chickens and all the rest of your family.

Christmas writing elsewhere

One week to go before Christmas. I. Can. Not. Wait.

We’ve hosted our annual Christmas party and done a bit of decorating. Baking and finishing off Christmas presents are on the list for this weekend.

I’ve also written a few Christmas posts for some of the other sites I contribute to.

On That Mutt I shared my tips on how to make sure your dog is comfortable during a party. I think it’s pretty clear that I’m biased when it comes to Baxter, but seeing his facial expressions during the party are worth the click in my opinion.

Here’s a sample for you: the most hopeful puppy in the whole world staring at his favourite person (Matt’s Dad) and his favourite foods (turkey and squash). He’s very hard done by, in case you were wondering. I have some actual helpful tips in the article too, not just cute dog pictures.

Baxter eyeing the buffet

Since moving to the farm, I’m embracing more and more a rustic, natural style. On homify, I wrote about Christmas decor without the kitsch.

Country Living room by Vanessa Rhodes Interiors

And since it’s been years since we’ve had a Christmas tree at our house, I also shared some ways to branch out beyond the traditional Christmas tree (although I can’t see a Christmas tree wall decal ever being our style).
Walls & flooring by Vinyl Impression

Are you ready for Christmas at your house? What festive things are you up to this weekend?

The season of making

I love making presents for people. (And I love getting handmade presents too).

Some of my making so far this year has been peanut butter balls for Matt, blanket shawls for several people (need to make one for myself–I love those shawls), chocolate zucchini breads for my team at work (using homegrown zucchini of course) and a wood sign for a special colleague.

Life lessons wood plaque

I’m not good at making friends at work, but Tania and I really connected. In the new year, she’ll be starting a new job in Toronto. I will miss working with her.

When I was thinking about a going-away gift, I thought back to the conversations we’ve had during our late evenings in the office. Usually, we end up talking about life and what’s really important. I thought about this growth chart that Becky from sketchy styles made. It is full of good lessons for any age.

I scaled it down a wee bit, added checkboxes rather than height markings, changed a couple of items (“drink good wine” seemed appropriate for my friend) and renamed it a to-do list rather than a hero chart (Tania is the queen of to-do lists).

Life lessons wood plaque

I gave the sign to Tania yesterday, and she loved it. She also totally got it. That’s the best part of gift giving: finding the perfect gift that matches up with the people you’re giving to.

Are you making any gifts this year? What’s the best gift you’ve ever given? Have you ever received a special handmade gift?

Linking to: Happy Housie Get Your DIY On: Wall Decor

Christmas card display

It’s Thanksgiving this week for my American readers, but as she celebrates Sarah in Illinois is already looking ahead to Christmas. Timely, as we’re exactly one month away from Christmas. Yipes! Sarah is back today to share a cute DIY for displaying Christmas cards.

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is checking the mail box for Christmas cards. I love sending and receiving cards and putting them on display. However, I have never really had a way to display them that looked nice.

This year I decided to turn to Pinterest to come up with a plan. There were so many cute ideas, but I did not use one specific image as my inspiration. I searched for “Christmas card holder” and used an idea from here and a feature from there, and this is what I came up with:

Christmas card display

I started by making a frame out of simple 1×2. I decided I wanted the inside of my frame to be about 16×20 inches, but that measurement could easily be adjusted to any size.

I cut my 1×2 at a 45 degree angle making sure that the right and left side were exactly the same length and did the same for the top and bottom. That way the frame would be square.

Cutting 1x2s on a mitre saw

The trickiest part of the whole project was nailing the frame together. Because I am stubborn, I didn’t ask for help. But having someone to help hold the pieces would be easier. Using screws would also have been easier, but I didn’t want the screw heads to show.

At this point, I grabbed some stain that we had sitting around and gave it a good coat and wiped off the excess. Many of the inspiration pictures that I was looking at used chicken wire as the background, but I felt the chicken wire was too “country” for my taste so I planned to use hardware cloth.

I found these little bitty clothes pins to use to hang the cards on the wire.

Mini clothespins

They came as bare wood, so I used the same stain as I did for the frame to give them a little interest. I used tin snips to cut the hardware cloth to size and then stapled it to the back of the frame.

Hardware cloth stapled to a wood frame

For the pennants, I had to do some experimenting. I used quarter-inch plywood and cut it in a strip 2.5 inches wide. Then I had to cut it into the pennant shape. But I didn’t know what angle that should be. So I just tried until I liked the way it looked.

I set my miter at 45 degrees, and I didn’t like that angle, so I changed it to 30 degrees. That was better, but I still felt it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. The next pre-marked measurement on my saw was 22.5 degrees, so I tried that and thought it looked just right!

Cutting penants on a mitre saw

After I cut several pennants, I used a little drill bit to put holes in the top to string some jute through.

Drilling holes

But before I strung them up I painted with a little craft acrylic paint. All that was left was to hang them at the top of the frame. I did that by tying the string to the back of the frame on the hardware cloth.

My frame is now hung on the wall and ready for the first card to come in the mail!

Christmas card display

What a cute display, Sarah. It’s just country enough, in my opinion. To see what else is inspiring Sarah, follow her on Pinterest.

I hope that Sarah and all my other American readers have a great Thanksgiving.