Odds & sods

The end of July always feels like the halfway point of summer for me. We snuck away from the farm last week for a family cottage holiday. It was lovely to have a change of routine and time with family after so much isolation over the last several months.

Morning at the cottage

Last week also marked 2 months until my 40th birthday. I’m not hung up on the number, though I definitely don’t feel 40 yet. And I’m not seeing this as a major milestone. But it is an occasion, and I don’t want to ignore it.

I’ve started feeling more ready to look ahead–though some days I’m absolutely still focused on just getting through–and I started to mull an idea over. I share my birthday with Nicole Balch of Making it Lovely (we’re the same age). When she turned 30, she inspired me with her 30 before 30 list.

I’ve decided to do a 40 for 40 list. Not before 40. I only have 2 months. But between now and the end of the year, I’ve come up with 40 things that I’d like to do. Some of them are chores (getting a handle on our investments), some of them are fun (rewatch Jurassic Park), some of them are things I’ve always wanted to do (like knit this sweater).

I feel like it’s a way to mark my 40th year.

But before I get too ahead of myself, I wanted to share some things that I came across this month that were particularly meaningful, inspiring and interesting:

A goodbye letter for Baxter

How to raise a monarch butterfly (we had to find a sitter for our 10! caterpillars while we were away)

Monarch caterpillars hanging upside down

Lots of life lessons learned after spending a month with the toughest man on the planet

A semi-scientific exploration of how to be more happy (reading this book, I realized I am pretty happy)

More inspiration for Ellie’s playground expansion

Want to move to the country? 15 things to consider

More real talk about country living and the busy-ness of modern life

How has your summer been going? Have you been able to get away? What are you doing to change up your routine or connect with family? Do you have any goals between now and the end of the year?

Odds & sods

I work very hard to be a positive person and put goodness out into the world. So I feel like this isn’t what I want to say, but I have no other description than this past month felt heavy.

I miss Baxter. My Dad. Matt.

Father’s Day, the anniversary of my Dad’s death and a few other occasions weighed on me.

Matt’s Dad is part of the Optimist Club, a service organization in Matt’s hometown. The Club bought us a tree to plant at the farm. I chose a sugar maple, to honour Matt’s love of making maple syrup, and selected a spot near Ellie’s playground overlooking the fields.

Standing by Matt's tree

It was lovely and special and generous and kind. But it was also sad and harder than I expected.

The last class of kids that Matt was able to teach graduated last week, and the school organized a scholarship in his honour. Lovely and special and generous and kind. But also sad and hard.

Obviously, the world is grappling with some very, very difficult issues, and we felt the impacts of that here at the farm.

Slowly pandemic restrictions are lifting (sometimes it still feels too fast). We have been getting together more with family and friends, but still staying outside and still being cautious about going out very much.

I have been thinking about race and biases and racism and what part I can play, both for myself and for Ellie.

And in the realm of first world problems, we had no internet for about two weeks, which sent work, connecting with family, my Zoom grief counselling group skidding sideways. I’ve been working hard to get caught up.

But we had beautiful warm (sometimes sweltering hot) weather. Our fields had their first cut of hay, and we took Ellie’s annual picture with the bales. (You can see the flashback on my Instagram.) And last night as I walked up the driveway after closing the gate, thousands of fireflies were sparkling all around me as far as I could see.

Ellie standing on the hay bale

Every single day has good in it, and that is some of what I am sharing today in my monthly round-up.

“Two of the fundamental facts of being a person are 1. Whether we can walk or not, we must go on. And then also 2. None of us ever walks alone.”

My new favourite Instagram account (and an inspiring One Room Challenge transformation)

The One Room Challenge wrapped up last week and I’ve been having fun looking at some of the rooms

Expansion plans for Ellie’s playground

Three tips for how to make choices that will make you happy

Pandemic financial habits that are worth keeping

A thought-provoking comparison

I found my design inspiration for our main bathroom

How was June for you? What were your bright sides this month?

 

Odds & sods

Last week I talked about looking forward to joy in the garden. On Saturday we found it. Sunshine, warmer temperatures, some cooperative worms, a bit more progress on weeding and our happy girl.

Weeding the vegetable garden with Ellie

I think a lot of people are using this time to reconnect with what’s most important. Family, nature, making, growing. I hope that among the juggle and the difficult, you’re able to find the joy.

Here are some other things that have made me happy over the last little while:

“The ultimate day of running and fixing and making and being.” Lots of lessons for living, prioritizing, working, feeling, thinking and accomplishing. (Also LOL at 10:05)

I watch a fair bit of HGTV most weeks. A new favourite is Celebrity IOU. It feels genuine, generous… and of course there are some beautiful makeovers.

I’m noticing a bit more diversity on HGTV. A few episodes have highlighted accessibility needs for people with mobility challenges and they’re branching out beyond the nuclear family with multi-generational households.

Thinking of hiring a designer? I’ve followed Jen at Rambling Renovators for a long time. Her style is beautiful, and I’m so proud of her for taking this step. But more I love the positive hopeful attitude she’s promoting in launching her business now.

Cookies with no chocolate, no peanut butter, yet everyone I gave them to asked for the recipe (Tip: This makes a huuuuuge quantity of cookies. I cut the recipe in half and still had more than 50. Hence, the giveaways.)

How to brush a toddler’s teeth. I feel like we’re making some progress toward a truce in our nightly battles though we’re not yet as peaceful as this demonstration. I welcome any tips.

Shelf isolation

The royal wartime radio address updated and reimagined

My writing elsewhere:

I wish you joy and health. Take good care.

Odds & sods

Hello from COVID-19 quarantine at the farm. The farm is not a bad place at all to hunker down, and I feel fortunate that we have this spot.

We play outside and inside. I’ve broken out my old Cabbage Patch doll (for her) and jigsaw puzzles (for me). Ellie loves her new play area in the basement, though I so wish I had a playground or swing set for her outside. It’s in the plans. I just haven’t got there yet.

Ellie playing with a cabbage patch doll

We look for snail shells at the pond, sit on the tractor in the barn, practice rolling down the hill behind the house (which is a tandem event, since the toddler doesn’t understand physics yet), and I trade wheelbarrow rides for just a few minutes to rake this next section of flower garden.

I do a bit of work online and am daily so grateful that I am here with Ellie and don’t have to answer to a boss–aside from keeping clients happy.

Matt, who was our lead grocery shopper, always kept us stocked as though the apocalypse was about to arrive. So our pantry, freezer, battery stash, toiletries, cleaning supplies are all full–even though I’ve been on a mission over the last few months to eat the freezer (in hindsight, not great timing). I of course have to go to the grocery store, but I’ve been buying enough for two weeks at a time, so I can minimize my outings.

I’m finding quarantine brings out grief in different ways and I’m missing Matt in new ways. He would love this time off work and being home with us at the farm. He voluntarily self-isolated before it was government mandated. We would be really good at this.

But, Ellie and I are a dynamic duo. There are lots of things for us to do, so it’s not too hard to stay home and do our part to flatten the curve.

Twinning

I had an epiphany last week when I was taking some items to the post office. What if I am somehow a carrier of the virus? It could be on the package, which is then handled by the post office staff and any number of people as it travels from my house to someone else’s. I cannot carry the responsibility of infecting anyone. Never mind our families and our daughter and people like Matt. So we are staying home.

I hope that you are staying safe and doing everything you can to help stop this virus.

Here is this month’s odds & sods round-up, quarantine edition:

We’re keeping connected with family and friends through text, online chats, phone calls, Facetime and emails. I’ve taken food to a friend who works at the hospital and a neighbour who is overdue with her third baby–two people who need easy meals after long, tough days. I’ve also set a goal of reaching out to at least one more remote connection everyday, whether it’s a coworker, neighbour, cousin. How are you staying connected?

We got a new stove! In case you missed my previous update, the team at Tasco exhibited the care and compassion I was hoping for, and arranged for us to return our malfunctioning stove. Our new stove arrived just about 10 days ago, and it is lovely. I felt pressure to pick the right one this time and walked into the store with a spreadsheet of ovens with all of their features and reviews. I ended up going with KitchenAid. The double ovens are exactly what I was looking for. Food cooks as expected in the amount of time expected. I made homemade mushroom soup for the first time (so easy and so good) and my favourite bread–apparently it’s the thing to do during quarantine.

No knead bread baking in the oven

Just discovered this artist. Love this one, this one and this one so much.

What dog owners should do during COVID-19 and 10 ways to help an animal shelter during COVID-19.

The terms social distancing and self isolation bug me. Why invent new words that people have to learn? Especially in a crisis? As a communicator, my mission is to always be as clear as possible. That means keeping things simple and direct.

Social distancing graphic

We’re wrapping up March by… what else… staying home. I’m hoping the month ends lamb-like, so we can be outside and maybe even finish clearing the gardens so the spring flowers are ready to bloom.

 

How are you getting through COVID-19? I hope that you are well and safe. Take good care, everyone.

 

My writing elsewhere:

Odds & sods

Thank you everyone for your kind welcome back this month and patience as I work to find my voice. All of you who are reading, commenting, emailing, thinking of us and wishing us well mean so much. You make a difference. It is a comfort.

We had a very, very special day yesterday–Ellie’s second birthday. Our families came for a simple celebration with balloons, presents, pizza and cake. Just for fun, Ellie and I recreated her tractor photo from her first year (in case anyone wants a cuteness flashback). She can almost reach the pedals.

Ellie on the tractor on her 2nd birthday

This month’s posts have been pretty personal with my word of the year and sharing some about Matt’s illness. That felt like where I needed to start, but I’m looking forward to writing more about the house and the farm–like Ellie’s new play area that you saw last week–soon.

I’m also going to be continuing my month-end wrap-up posts, trying to share things that have inspired me or interested me and might do the same for you.

Here are some of the things I came across in February:

View this post on Instagram

There are still a few tweaks and a fun art project to do before I can technically check the DIY nursery closet redesign off the list, but we’ve already been enjoying it in a way I never foresaw. The little girl doesn’t have a ton of clothes – and the ones she has are still so tiny – so there’s an entire section meant for hanging clothes that can be used for something else. I stuck a big pillow from my college dorm room in the corner, brought in a small basket of books and a bright quilt, and now we have a book nook! Since she doesn’t go to her little ‘preschool’ on Friday, we stay in our pjs until after the morning nap, and we’ve started to hang out in this nook in her beautiful new (and incredibly organized!) closet. It’s such a fun way to start our weekend! It feels so good to sit and enjoy this almost-complete space (that’s been in my head for nearly 2 years!) with our tiny person. This is my motivation to always keep her clothing collection small so we never lose this cozy little corner 📚

A post shared by Laura (@homespunbylaura) on

I’ve been enjoying following along with Laura’s closet makeover. It’s organized, totally my colour (dark blue teal) and there’s even a cozy reading nook.

“You choose to wake up happy or choose to wake up sad… And then, from that point on, you… just continue trying to figure it out… It’s about the journey and the discovery and understanding what that is.” Ear Hustle.

“We live in hope–that life will get better, and more importantly that it will go on, that love will survive even though we will not.” The Anthropocene Reviewed

Love this song. Love this moment. Wish I could sing.
* There’s some commentary about this being set up rather than impromptu. First, why do we have to be so cynical? Second, if it was set up, good on her (or him) for a savvy strategy and achieving a tough goal… going viral.

For gift giving for Ellie, I try to follow the wear, read, want, need formula. So her birthday gifts were  a party dress (which I made from one of Matt’s flannel pyjama pants), the sequel to one of her favourite books, a new pack of Play-Doh (we’re terrible at putting the lids back on) and some teeny-tiny hairclips (her hair is finally growing!). Of course, her aunties, uncles, grandmas and grandpa were also very generous to her.

Did you mark any special occasions in February? Do you have a gift giving strategy for your kids? Or any birthday traditions?

Odds & sods

Happy last week of October. Are you all set for Hallowe’en at your house? Our Hallowe’en is pretty lowkey. We’ve done a few things with our little goblin, even though she doesn’t realize what’s going on. We’ve had a few Hallowe’en stories at bedtime (including a special one from Daddy), there is a jack o’lantern in our living room, and a Supergirl costume is set aside for Thursday.

Pumpkin carving with Ellie

Before I look too far ahead, I’m looking back at some of the things that inspired me this month:

“If you’re going to be good at something, it has to be your own something. It can’t be somebody else’s thing.” Michelle Obama came to town, and Matt gave me tickets to go. She was inspiring, funny, sincere, dedicated… everything you expect.

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turnHarriet Beecher Stowe Sometimes the universe sends you just what you need when you need it. This quote showed up in my Passion Planner during a particularly difficult week, and I’m still carrying it with me.

One Room Challenge is continuing. I am very behind on blog reading, but I’m popping in as much as I can to check out the progress some of my favourite bloggers are making. Are you following anyone that I should add to my list?

I finally started reading Harry Potter this month. The original craze somehow passed me by, and I don’t think I’m the target market anymore. I’ve finished the first two books and will likely finish the series, as I’m curious enough to see what happens. Are you a Harry Potter fan? I’m taking a little break this week and reading this book that my Mom passed along. A sewing inspired novel? That sounds good to me.

My writing elsewhere:

What’s inspiring you this month? How are you celebrating Hallowe’en this year? Any Harry Potter fans out there? Or other good books to recommend?

Odds & sods

Happy last day of September. I’ve been hanging on to summer and the warm weather as much as possible, but yesterday morning, Baxter, Ellie and I went out for a walk and it felt very fall. The sun was shining and a cool breeze was blowing. But in the east field, it looked like spring as new seedlings have sprouted everywhere (just ignore the red tree on the edge of the field).

Baxter walking across the field

Grass seedlings

Getting this field ready for planting has been a full summer project, but over the last couple of weeks, our farmer did the final grading and even seeded. I’m pretty sure this is the start of hay for next year.

Living on the farm, I’m conscious that things are always changing and growing. Even as fall begins and we head to the quieter season of winter, life goes on.

Before I look too far ahead, here are some of the things that have grabbed my attention this month.

When I meet people they often call me Julie rather than Julia. I always feel awkward correcting them, so I usually just go along. At a party earlier this month Ellie was playing ball with a young girl who looked to be about 7 years old or so. I kept saying, “Throw the ball to Ella. It’s Ella’s turn.” After a few rounds of this, the girl said, “It’s Bella.” She was so confident and direct. I was impressed. It takes a lot to correct an adult when you’re a child, and this is something I struggle with even now. Next time I hear Julie, I’m going to try her simple approach.

More communications tips: how to talk to your kids using nonverbal techniques.

“Food should be grounded in people and place… Growing and cooking their own food, making their own history, building their own economy.” Eat Like A Fish by Bren Smith is an interesting, motivating and slightly scary look at fishing, food and climate change . It has me thinking about the choices I make and my expectations around food.

I haven’t knit in a really long time, but I started again this month, and it feels really good. A little sweater for Ellie is taking shape. And one project is sparking so much creativity. I whipped up a simple elastic waist skirt for myself during one of Ellie’s afternoon naps and started sewing a dress for me as well. I also have two more sweaters planned for her, a pair of mitts, maybe a hat.

Sarah Richardson just wrapped up a makeover on her own cottage. I loved watching the first renovation that she did many years ago, so it’s been interesting to see how she updated the spaces. A highlight for me was the bathroom where she made it look new even though most things stayed the same. She shows the benefit of choosing timeless materials that you love.

My writing elsewhere:

What season does it feel like where you are? Have you been doing any crafting? What’s your favourite creative outlet? Anyone else have a name that people often mishear? What was the highlight of September for you?

 

Odds & sods

I know summer is winding down, but we are still savouring every second. We’re having such a good time all together and really, really enjoying each other.

We’ve spent time with our extended families and also with our own little crew. There were lots of swims in Matt’s parents’ pool and a very special cottage week with my family. There have been tractor rides, hikes and harvests. Life is very full and very good.

Our rhythm is changing these days, but we make sure to treasure our time at the farm together.

Here is my monthly round-up of some recent happenings:

Dining room by Luke Havekes

The September issue of House & Home was over-the-top with a Milanese “guesthouse” (on the scale of a chateau), a Parisian pied-à-terre, and a large London flat. Completely out of my league. But tucked amongst all of the splendor was a home that felt completely attainable and identifiable by Canadian designer Luke Havekes. It was comfortable, colourful and personal. A few spaces even felt familiar, as they had elements that I’ve used here at the farm, like the white china cabinet with the arched tops.

Are you watching American Ninja Warrior? It is such a positive, uplifting show. The physical achievements are super impressive, but the competitors themselves and their stories are even more inspiring. Plus, watching two women finish the course last week was a great milestone.

“Resilience depends more on what we receive than what we have within us.”

I’ve been trying to recycle Ellie’s infant carseats rather than putting them in the garbage (they were hand-me-downs and are near expiry). It took awhile, but Atmo does recycling all across Canada. There is a cost (about $20 per seat), but there are various drop-off locations, which is more affordable than some of the other options I found that required me to ship the seats to a depot.

Chris Loves Julia’s kitchen makeover has been all over the internet–for good reason. It’s a great example of what can be done with DIY, creativity, some simple materials and paint.

My writing elsewhere:

Do you feel summer winding down? How are you wringing every last drop out of the season?

 

Odds & sods

We’re at the last week of June.

We always think about my Dad. Between Father’s Day and the anniversary of his death our thoughts have been a little heavier at times this month. We see lots of signs that he’s still with us and we feel his love all the time.

Life is hard. But life is also very, very, very good.

We had a lot of fun this month. Ellie finished her second class of swimming lessons—she passed 😉 —so she’s all set for pool and lake time this summer. We celebrated Matt and his Dad with Father’s Day and remembered my Dad too.

Here are some of the other things we’ve been up to and inspired by this month:

Ellie with a miniature donkey

One of our family outings in June was to The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada. We’d never been there, even though it’s fairly near the farm. It was so much fun and their programs are super impressive. There are 86 rescued donkeys and more at local foster farms—which is giving me ideas. I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area.

The garden on the turnaround has always been a challenge. The big maple tree keeps it in perpetual shade and also sucks up all the moisture from the ground. Plus the garden is big, so I feel like plants disappear. I went to a presentation at a local nursery about shade gardening to get some tips and came out with a list of plants and solutions to try. I’d like to try turtlehead because it’s a big plant and a late bloomer, although I’m worried our soil is too dry. Do you have any plants or tips that have worked for you?

On the topic of gardens, Cathy and Garrett over at The Grit and Polish did a massive makeover in their vegetable garden. They made a great family hangout space.

Looking for some food to serve at your next family hangout? Call it a bruschetta bar, charcuterie platter or tapas, this is what I love to eat.

“There are all these phenomena in human life that are really resistant to language… It’s that personalization of experience and the urge to share experience. We all desperately want other people to hear us and hear our stories and know what our feelings feel like, and they can’t.” Beautiful reflections on the power and limitations of language by John Greene of The Anthropocene Reviewed podcast on 99% Invisible.

Another quote that’s inspiring me: “talent comes everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it so that people listen to it, that’s a whole other bag. And unless you get out and you try to do it, you’ll never know.”(From A Star Is Born)

My writing elsewhere:

We’ll be rounding out the month with lots of family time this week, and our first overnight trip with Ellie. Matt’s parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, so there’s a special dinner and family photoshoot in the plans.

What was your highlight from June? How are you wrapping up the month? What’s been inspiring you recently?

 

Odds & sods

Happy last week of May, everyone. And happy Memorial Day to my American readers.

This is one of my favourite times of year. The farm is so, so green and everything looks nice–wild, but nice. We’re trying to stay on top of mowing and weeding, and for once I feel like I’ve been making progress in the gardens. Between a pregnancy and a baby, we have about two years of neglect to overcome. But fortunately, the baby loooooves being outside and can entertain herself a little bit.

My monthly Odds & Sods post took a break last month thanks to the One Room Challenge, but I’m back this month to share some of the interesting links I’ve come across recently:

Baby sitting in a puddle on the driveway

The baby’s favourite outdoor entertainment involves splashing in puddles, hassling the cat, picking flowers (so cute), practicing walking up and down the barn ramp, visiting the horses across the road and definitely ingesting a (hopefully) healthy amount of dirt.

If like us, you’re spending a lot of time outside and you happen to also live in tick territory, here’s an article I wrote about how to protect your dog (and yourself) from ticks.

This documentary about the Mayo Clinic was so impressive and inspiring. And this documentary about how Bill Murray seeks and creates joy gave me joy.

Matt and I are regular Jeopardy watchers (yes, we’re closet senior citizens), so we’ve been watching James Holtzhuaer since the start. Initially we were excited by him because he reminds us so much of my sister’s husband: appearance, voice, quickness on the buzzer, weird wager amounts. But then we got excited for how James has been playing… and winning ($2 million and counting). I’ve loved reading some of the articles that go behind the scenes on James’ impressive run: The Man Who Solved Jeopardy

I’ve always loved hyper-realistic art, so CJ Hendry’s images blow me away (those ink blots are done with pencil crayon). It was interesting to read about how Instagram helped her popularity, but I was kind of bummed with the focus on “art-world acceptance.” I’m not in this sphere, so I don’t know how important galleries and museums and critics and collectors are. She definitely has a loyal following, commercial success and a lot of acceptance in certain circles. If you’re an artist, feel free to enlighten me.

The story of a Pulitzer prize winning reporter (from my hometown who got started at our local newspaper).

A good reminder of the importance of water conservation.

I cook mainly vegetarian these days, and I’m a fan of the power of cauliflower (Matt not so much). Two recipes we’ve I’ve enjoyed are taco “meat” (dial up the seasoning) and cauliflower bolognese (my MIL thought it was a meat sauce). On the non-cauliflower side, these lasagna stuffed mushrooms were a hit with everyone, including the baby.

My writing elsewhere:

What are you eating these days–hopefully it’s not too much dirt? Any other Jeopardy fans out there? Do you have any artist Instagram accounts to recommend? Or must-watch documentaries?