Unconventional living room reorganization

The living room is still most definitely the playroom. My campaign to convince Ellie that her room should become a playroom has not yet been successful. But I have successfully reclaimed part of the living room.

I started thinking about how I could better deal with the toys and the mess.

My first idea was moving the television farther out into the room. There was already an empty corner behind the TV. I could make that whole corner a play zone. Tucked behind the TV, it would be her own little secret spot.

But then I realized she wouldn’t like being tucked away. Part of the appeal of playing in the living room is that she can spread out and be close to the kitchen or wherever I am.

I also realized the toys are used much more often than the TV. So I decided to tuck the TV away. I pushed it back into the corner and made a play zone in front of it.

I grabbed a shelf that had been dumped at the side of the road. After adding some more shelves and giving it a coat of paint, it is perfect for holding a whole bunch of things. (Some bins would help it hold even more.) All of her kitchen and grocery toys sit on top of the shelf, instead on on top of the coffee table.

The TV isn’t useable now. But we can slide things around pretty easily if we ever want to watch it. And if we really find we miss the TV, I can mount it on one of those extending, swinging arms. We also have the basement TV.

The coffee table still gets covered regularly with crafts and colouring, but now there’s usually a spot to set down our afternoon snack or a book. Progress.

The toys still win, but so do Ellie and I.

Who else’s living room does double duty? How do you handle toys at your house? Do you have a TV in your living room?

Brush clean-up with a borrowed wood chipper

Back in the spring, I started trimming branches, brush and trees that had sprouted up around the farm. I kept clipping and cutting for weeks. (Matt’s Dad even came out to help with some bigger trees). By the time I stopped, I had two very large piles of brush.

I asked our farmer (who rents our fields) if I could borrow his wood chipper. He was willing to loan it to me, but when I asked if our tractor could run it he laughed at me. So I needed to borrow the chipper and a tractor. Well, the weather shifted soon after that, hay season started, and our farmer and his tractors were busy.

So the piles sat.

I waited until we were well into fall, and I reached out to our farmer again. A giant tractor and an equally giant wood chipper soon arrived.

And I got to work.

The chipper blasted through our brush. It was awesome. Matt’s Dad came over and cut a few more trees, so I added them to my pile and kept going. When I finished one pile, I moved the tractor (slightly terrifying to drive something that big) to the next pile and kept going. It took several days, but finally all the brush was gone.

I spent another day cleaning up and moving the piles of chips. I have one pile on the turnaround where it will be spread on our new flower garden next spring. I have another pile tucked beside the compost bin for wherever else we need it. And I still have half of the load that a local tree service delivered back in the spring. (Comparing piles, I estimate that I chipped another truck load.)

With my focus on no dig gardening, the chips will be useful. I’d much rather make the brush into something useful than burn it. Plus having all of the brush finally cleaned up feels like a big win.

Do you use woodchips in your gardens? Have you ever used a woodchipper? Or driven a big tractor?

Getting the vegetable garden ready for winter

Garden month kicked off in September. Now, in November (two months, but who’s counting?), I am declaring it done.

I am also declaring it a success.

You may recall that by mid-October I had one task left on my to-do list: clean up the vegetable garden.

My focus was on the one quadrant where Ellie and I grew some things this year. That quadrant definitely was my main priority, but two other quadrants also got some attention. That means three quarters of the garden is in pretty good shape for next year.

In our growing quadrant, I laid out planting beds and pathways mulched with woodchips. I had researched the best dimensions for no dig beds, brought my measuring tape outside, laid out one piece of string… and then I just went for it. We ended up with three wide beds. My plan was to seed them with a rye cover crop, but it’s too late in the season, so I covered them with leaves instead. We have ample supply of leaves right now.

I laid down cardboard under as much as I could, but I quickly ran out. Some weeding will be in my future, but hopefully the mulch is thick enough that it will help a bit.

Ellie wanted to plant some garlic (part of her birthday present to me). So we set up another wide planting bed and another mulched pathway in an adjacent quadrant. Then we tarped the rest.

Two quadrants done. Now onto the raised beds around the edge.

These beds hold our asparagus and grapes… and a lot of weeds. I’m embracing no dig, so my clippers got a workout as I chopped the weeds as close to the ground as I could. Around the grapes, I laid down my last stash of cardboard (pizza boxes) and topped them with more woodchips.

There was one last thing on my to-do list and it was outside the garden. So, so many weeds had grown up around the fence. I still don’t have a working weed eater, and the mower can only get so close. So my clippers went to work again, and I edged the outside of our growing quadrant. It didn’t take that long, so I kept going. Then I did a bit more and the whole perimeter was cleared. Next year, I will get the weed eater running and keep the edge tidy.

I was on a roll with my clippers, so I ventured back inside the garden and went to work on another section of raised beds. I managed to clear it. Then the mower handled a third quadrant.

Finally, I stopped. (Though I am coveting bundles of cardboard set out for recycling at local stores and eyeing the leaves that are covering so much of our lawn… I could mulch the rest of the garden and it would be so good!)

As it is now, three quarters of the garden are pretty useable. Since my goal at the start of garden month was one quadrant, we’ll definitely be ahead when spring comes.

To-do list over-achievement rarely happens for me. Does it for you? Are your gardens ready for winter? Have you planted anything this fall?

Inspiration for a girl’s green room

I’ve been trying to convince Ellie to move into the guest room for awhile. Our rooms join with a pocket door, which we leave open. I think we’d both sleep better if we weren’t quite so close. (I could do without a little voice calling, “Stop snoring, Mama!”)

Also the guest room is larger with a double bed.

Aaaand… her current room would make a great playroom, which would mean the living room no longer has to be overrun with toys.

(Am I selling you on this idea?)

Ellie is change averse, so she has not been a fan of my plan. But she is a big fan of green. So when I mentioned we could paint the guest room green, she was a little more enthused about the idea of relocating.

But don’t tell Ellie the guest room is already green(ish).

Ellie’s definition of green is G-R-E-E-N. Something like this colour from The Makerista.

Source: The Makerista

My inspiration is slightly softer. In fact, I’ve been planning a green room for a hypothetical little girl long before I ever decided to have a baby, all due to a special gift from my grandma.

My grandmother made all of the girl grandchildren quilts for their weddings (she knit afghans for the boys). The one she gave me is girls with umbrellas–with a green backing.

I thought it would be perfect for Ellie. Though when we unfolded it the other day, her first words were, “That’s not my green.” I also realized that it’s sized for a single bed, not a double. So the quilt will not be the inspiration for Ellie’s new room, though I do hope to use it somewhere.

But, I have another option. An old chenille bedspread from my grandparents’ cottage was folded alongside the quilt. It’s the perfect size for a double bed and it includes a nice dark and saturated yet soft green. Plus Ellie’s first words on seeing it were, “It’s so flowery!”

My Mom has this lamp, which she had in her childhood room, and I think the two would work really well together. (She needs a new shade and some new wiring.)

So now to find a green that is sufficiently saturated for our girl, but sufficiently mellow for Mom.

House & Home tells me that juniper green a “softer, more saturated green” is trending. They cite Webster Green from Benjamin Moore as an example. I think this green would look great (and sufficiently farmy) on our (fake) paneled walls. As long as it’s green enough for Ellie.

The brass-ish bed would contrast with the green, so we could keep that. We’d also keep the dresser that Matt’s parents bought for her nursery. Then it’s what else do we need? Nightstands? A desk? Bookshelf? Some fun, colourful, flowered curtains?

The move is likely a ways off. Moving one room has a domino effect with the rest of the house, as I would need to relocate everything that’s currently in the guest room. Plus then there’s redecorating, and it might take some time to negotiate the final design with my partner/client.

For now, I’m having fun thinking about it. And it was really special to pull out the quilt and the bedspread and share them with our girl.

Are there any other green fans out there? What’s your favourite shade? What’s your must-have for a kid’s room? Do you have any special gifts from your grandparents?

Mudroom reveal

Our mudroom is done–for now. This room was the first on my home goals list for this year. I had just five small tasks to do, and they are finally finished.

Today, I’m giving a tour of the space and highlighting some of my favourite features.

The secret behind the picture

Let’s start with the hidden (literally) gem. I’m particularly proud of how this secret cupboard turned out.

One weekend, I built a little box. When our contractors arrived, I asked one of them to install it in the wall next to the door. Then I attached hinges to a picture frame and installed it over the box. Inside the box, I screwed two rows of little cup hooks. Voila, hidden key cupboard.

I like having our keys hung up, rather than jumbled together in a basket in the drawer. Originally I’d planned to find a farmy painting for the door. But when I couldn’t find the right size, I decided to go with photos. I chose a picture of Matt in the pool during our home inspection, and then I selected another photo of Ellie and me in the pool during demolition. A literal snapshot of the history of the mudroom, and our little family together in this space we dreamed about.

Figure it out furniture

Someday the mudroom may have beautiful built-ins. But for now, we’re making it work with free hand-me-down dressers, our homemade bench and other DIYs. And honestly, they’re working great.

The dressers look fresh after a coat of paint to match the walls. Spraying the hardware to match the black hooks that we used in the room was the finishing touch. The dressers are likely not going to be here forever (the one on the landing is too small and the one by the door is too big), but they’re doing everything we need.

The upper one holds puzzles, colouring books and games for Ellie. Plus cards, flyers, coupons. It’s also our mail drop, wallet and phone charging station. The lower one holds sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, masks and some outdoor toys and tools. In the winter it stashes hats, mitts and scarves. Both dressers have empty drawers, so we have more than enough storage for now.

Matt’s nephew and I made the bench almost nine years ago. I’ve been surprised by how much I like having the free-standing shorter bench. It gives space for my longer coats to hang freely, instead of puddling on the seat. Ellie is still a bit short to reach too high, so having her hats or other gear in a dresser drawer or a bin on the floor works best for her, rather than putting them on a too high shelf.

Living with the space as it is now gives me an idea of what we need and what works best.

A little bit country

We live on a farm, but we don’t have a farmhouse. With every tweak we make, I try to inject more country character. The V-groove paneling on the walls, cedar on the ceiling and simple black hooks are all examples of that.

The mirror is another. It was a bit ornate when I found it in the thrift store. Removing the decorative top piece and the cherry-esque finish countrified it a lot. The factory finish was so hard and thick, but patience and a lot of sandpaper prevailed. Finding the right way to refinish it took a bit. Everything I put on the wood turned red. Finally, I went with simply varathane. That countrified it the rest of the way.

The mirror bounces a bit more light into the room (enhancing Cigo’s sunbeam), and its round shape contrasts with all of the straight lines from the paneling and other elements in the room.

Designed for us

Installing an LED nightlight cover plate on the landing (I was influenced by Young House Love) was probably the easiest task on my to-do list. It gives a perfect glow for the stairs. The location of this plug–and all of the other switches, outlets, light fixtures, heated floor control panel–was very carefully mapped out by me. The electrician and the tiler didn’t completely agree with my choices, but I’m the one that lives here, so I got my way.

The dimension and height of the landing, the way the doors swing, where the openings were located, and the height of the archway into the kitchen were other areas where I pushed for what I wanted. Sometimes I felt guilty asking for a change, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t make the mudroom exactly the way I wanted.

Now everything is so convenient and it works for how we live.

Make it personal

Like all spaces in our house, the mudroom is personal to us. Matt’s nephew and I made the bench and I made the umbrella stand for our last mudroom. My sister-in-law made the yellow crate for Ellie. My Dad made the wooden shoehorn that’s hanging from the hook and the large wood plate on the dresser that we use for mail. There’s even a box on the stairs to hold stones, sticks, pinecones, feathers and other treasures that Ellie collects.

Matt’s winter coat which I wear to take the dog out hangs beside the door. Having a whole section dedicated for Cigo has been a game-changer. In the old mudroom, towels were draped over the bench, leashes were piled on top of each other. Now we have ample hooks for everything. I even stash his nail clippers and a bottle of dog shampoo in the dresser by the door, for those moments when he smells a bit too farmy to allow in the house.

The painting on the wall is another special, personal touch. Like so much of the art in our house, this too was painted by Matt’s grandpa. When I shared art options for the mudroom a long-time reader had a brilliant suggestion: switch between paintings. So I had two framed. One summer scene (by Matt’s grandpa) and one winter (by my Mom’s friend). They’re roughly the same size, so they can hang on the same hook.

The mudroom has been a great addition–literally–to our house. This is a space that we live in every day, and that I enjoy every day. I am very proud that we dreamt it and we built it. It’s much more than a mudroom.

Do you have a room that’s more than a room? What is your must-have for an entry? Do you have any secret storage at your house? Who else switches art seasonally? Anyone else have a sunbathing dog?

Garden month kicks-off

Happy September. Does anyone else feel like the clock is ticking? Yesterday we had our first cool temperatures and even saw a flock of geese flying over.

Fall on the farm always comes with a bit of pressure (or at least an ambitious to-do list flitting around in my brain). I know it’s not fall yet, and I said in my last post that I’m holding onto summer as long as I can. I am. But there’s a window here. So I am declaring September garden month.

I have some very specific tasks that I’d like to tackle this month, so that I am prepped for winter. Really, I’m looking beyond winter and ahead to next summer.

Spread topsoil

You may recall that my Christmas gift from Matt’s Dad last year was a load of topsoil. We have put the dirt to good use, but we still have a large pile left. I know exactly where I’m going to use it, and if I have a day with the tractor, I think I can get it all spread. Toss on some grass seed, and we’ll have a smooth(er), green(er) lawn next year.

Clean up vegetable garden

We had more success in the vegetable garden this summer than in many years. It’s still a complete disaster, but we made an itty-bitty bit of progress. I’d like to build on that progress by cleaning up what worked this year (zucchini, cucumbers, peas, raspberries), and getting one quadrant ready for planting next year. That means pruning, paths, rows, mulch, cover crops.

Transplant well garden

Garden in bloom in June

Anticipating that we will be building the driveway/mudroom patio next year, I want to empty the flower garden that’s currently in this spot. This garden is well-established, and I don’t want to lose the plants when everything is under construction. I always envisioned the turnaround being a massive flower garden, so I my plan is to use these plants to begin to fill the other half, which is currently grass.

Working on these tasks this month will hopefully give seeds and plants time to get established before winter and set us up for smooth(er) sailing next year. At least, that’s the plan. Ellie starts school next week, so I will have more time for projects (at least that’s the plan). Garden month, here I come.

Do you have any projects you’re working on this month? Anyone else feeling the pressure of winter looming? Share what you’re working on in the comments, and we’ll cheer each other on.

Gonna make this garden grow

Inch by inch. Row by row.
Gonna make this garden grow.

Garden Song Written by David Mallet. Sung by Raffi.

Row by row is the best way to characterize the vegetable garden right now.

I had ambitions to make May garden month. As in get the vegetable garden in shape. Be ready to go by the start of June as soon as the risk of frost had passed.

That didn’t happen.

But my ambitions and Ellie’s enthusiasm for the garden have not diminished.

June (or the second half of June) is now garden month. We’re planting and weeding and mulching and building as we go. It’s not my preferred thoughtful, methodical approach. But inch by inch, we’re making progress.

Pullin’ weeds and picking stones, we are made of dreams and bones

My aim is to do a no-dig garden with mulched pathways between the wide rows. This has been my goal for years now, but maybe this year we get a little closer.

We have a mountain of woodchips piled outside the gate of the garden, thanks to a local tree company. We have piles of cardboard in the driveshed that I’ve been collecting since last year. We also have the mower, which has been my weapon against the grass and weeds that clog much of the garden.

I’m keeping my focus small. One quadrant. We have sowed cucumbers, carrots, zucchini and peas. If the plants get established and we’re on top of the weeds, perhaps the raspberries, asparagus or grapes may get some attention.

Plant your rows straight and long, season them with prayer and song
Mother earth will make you strong, if you give her love and care

Just like my current soundtrack, the vegetable garden is determined by Ellie. She is very excited for the garden this year. Her excitement doesn’t involve prep like weeding or laying out beautiful raised rows, but she does make it fun.

Inch by inch. Row by row.
Gonna make this garden grow

How is your garden growing?

How much of your furniture is new?

Recently, I did a mental inventory of our house. I counted 6 pieces of furniture that we bought new. All of the rest are hand-me-downs, handmade or thrifted.

The basement reading nook shows our mix: Strandmon wing chair (new, though it was a birthday gift), ottoman (made by me), stump table (made by Matt’s Dad and me), monkey art (hand-me-down from Matt’s Grandpa).

Reading nook with Ikea Strandmon wing chair

I’m pretty proud that we’ve only bought 6 things new. I like walking through a room and seeing all of the things that I’ve made or found or rehabbed. I think it makes our home personal. It also makes me feel capable when I reflect on all of the projects we’ve done.

The environmental aspect is really important to me as well. By reusing and recycling we’re reducing our impact.

Here are my 6 newbies, along with the year we purchased them. I’m curious to know what’s your number?

  1. Ellie’s dresser (2018)

Another good example of a mix from Ellie’s nursery: dresser (new–Matt’s parents covered half the cost as I was stricken with sticker shock from buying new furniture), bookshelf (thrifted and repainted), Strandmon wing chair (thrifted this time), ottoman (made by me), triangle table (hand-me-down from my grandparent’s cottage). I should note that the crib was new as well (a gift from my Mom). It has since been passed on, so it is having a second life.

Ikea Strandmon in the nursery
  1. Basement wingchair (2013)
  2. Basement ottoman (2013)
  3. Basement couch (2012)
  4. Living room couch (purchased in 2006 for our first house. Does this count as vintage now?)
  5. Living room chair (also from 2006)

This total does not include appliances, mattresses, lighting (though all of our lamps are second hand), or accessories (art, pillows, etc.).

If you look at the dates above our “new” furniture is not all that new. Holding onto things for a long time is another way to reduce our impact.

Furnishing our house in this way is financially beneficial as well. The Strandmon wingchair that I bought secondhand for Ellie’s nursery was less than half the price of a new one. Keeping the same couch for 16 years is obviously cheaper than buying a new couch.

Here’s a final mix from the basement TV area: sectional and ottoman (new), wood side table (hand-me-down from Matt’s Grandpa), lamp (thrifted and repainted), TV cabinet (made by my Dad and me), TV (new, but bought mostly with points), chair (won), Monopoly art (made by me).

Basement TV area

Mostly, I thrift and DIY for fun. This is what I like to do and I love furnishing our house in this way.

How much new furniture do you have at your house? Any great thrifting scores to share? Do you have any DIY furniture you’re particularly proud of?

Hope grows in the garden

Our garden is already underway for 2022–despite waking up to snow on the ground yesterday. Spring, where are you?

Ellie received a set of gardening tools and many packets of seeds for her birthday. She was very excited to start planting, so we have a bumper crop of tiny watermelon plants living in the dining room. I’m hoping the weather warms up before they become big watermelon plants.

The rest of her seeds are all crops that can be sown directly into the garden.

I’ve also been pruning the grapes a little bit. The grapes have been neglected (as has the rest of the garden) and they’re getting a bit wild. A longtime blogging friend, Kit, inspired me to give them some attention. I’ve not pruned as much as Kit did, as I feel like the shock might kill the vines. But I’ve tidied them up a lot, so I’m curious to see how they do this season.

I also have a line on some mulch that I’m hoping will help to subdue some of the weeds.

I aspire to have a beautiful and productive farm garden some day. We have been so, so far from that for so, so many years. I’m hoping that we can make a bit of progress this year. Ellie is extremely excited by her gardening tools (highly recommend this gift) and enthused about being helpful in the garden. So maybe this will be the year.

Are you planning to grow any food this year? Have you started your garden yet?

Maple moon

I love being outside at the farm during a full moon. Being able to see my shadow at night feels like a bit of magic. Last week we had a maple moon–a full moon that coincided with the sap running in the maple trees.

Once again, we have tapped our trees. The annual sap run and syrup making has become a fun tradition.

Ellie loves sample the sap as it drips from the trees and then monitor the sap as it boils on the stove. (We scorched our first batch, so she keeps an extra close eye now.)

Enjoying our sweet homemade syrup is a sweet treat for the rest of the year (as long as it lasts) and a continual reminder of the magic of the farm.