Hints of spring in Illinois

We are officially a week away from the first day of spring. (Is anyone else boggled by the fact that we’re already halfway through March?) Sarah in Illinois is here today, sharing some of the signs of spring that have popped up at her property.

The temps are still too cool to actually do any kind of gardening outside. But while taking a tour around my yard over the weekend, I could see many signs of spring.

First, right outside my backdoor was a clump of chives that looks like they could be used right now.

The daffodils once again have fought their way through the gravel that we put down.

The lilies are coming up through the old growth and reminding me that I still have a lot of yard clean up to do.

The plum tree has some promise of buds to come.

The magnolia out front has some beautiful buds starting.

Even my mums are reaching for the sunlight.

And finally out in the garden, my strawberries are reminding me that time in my garden is not that far away.

What signs do you have that remind you that spring is coming?

Can I say I’m glad I’m not the only one starting the season with garden clean-up yet to do, Sarah? Your lilies look like they could be any number of spots at our place. We’ve had snow flurries every day this week, so I haven’t done a formal tour yet, but I’m hoping to see some more signs of spring soon.


Looking back at Home Goals 2017

Thanks everyone for your good wishes on our new addition. We’re excited–and I will admit I’m still a bit nervous about this whole baby thing too. We had our pre-natal class this weekend, which was informative and encouraging, and I have (yet another) ultrasound this morning (this baby is going to have supersonic hearing after all of our scans). Overall, we’re feeling pretty good about where we’re at.

As you can see, 2017 was quite a year for us. Today I’m taking a minute to look back at the year that was from a personal, professional and farm point of view.

After thinking and planning for quite awhile, I took a leave of absence from my communications job at the end of August to spend some extra time with family and see if I could build my own communications consulting company. I love working from home and love working for myself. I’m still working on building my client base, but I’m so grateful to have this opportunity.

The timing for my leave turned out to be very fortunate, as at the start of July we found out we were going to have a baby and at the end of September Matt was diagnosed with an ocular melanoma. It’s been so helpful to have a more flexible schedule for appointments and most importantly to have the mental space to process and reflect on all of the changes in our lives.

Along with all of that, we’ve replaced both our cars–my 14-year-old girl finally died and Matt’s year-old car was written off after he was hit by a driver who ran a red light. Matt ended up with a broken arm courtesy of the airbag, which derailed some of my plans for projects around the farm, but was a small hardship when he could have been much more seriously hurt.

Amongst all of these changes and challenges, the farm has been our constant and our refuge. 2017 marked five years at the farm, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. It gives both of us peace to be here, and also gives us an outlet when we need to distract ourselves with tractor therapy, digging in the dirt, painting something or just walking the property.

I have a feeling we’re going to be saying, “What a year!” for the next while (perhaps the rest of our lives?) as we watch this baby grow, adjust to our new family reality and continue with life on the farm.

As many of us do at the start of the year, I like to take a moment to look back and reflect on the year past. Beyond all of the personal changes in our lives, I also started 2017 with my usual list of Home Goals I wanted to accomplish at the farm over the year.

Looking back, we didn’t do too bad.

My office

Turquoise craft room

I was very happy to finish the final bedroom at the farm and finally unpack all of our moving boxes–only five years after moving in. Reupholstering my grandmother’s vintage slipper chair is a project I’m still very proud of. What I called my office ended up being more of a craft room and it was such a great space for creativity.

I say “was” because my office ended up seeing another makeover just a few months later when I decided to turn it into the baby’s room. I’m finding other spaces to be creative around the house, and I love how the baby’s room is coming together. I’ll be sharing all of those details soon.

Clean up the pond shore

Red sky over the pond at sunset

The pond shore was my one and only outdoor land clearing goal for the year (and we have plenty of spaces that I want to clear). Mid-year, I gave up on it happening, but then an enthusiastic nephew and a generous husband went to work over a few weekends, and we made more progress than I ever expected.

There’s still more to go, which might be difficult as I don’t think the baby will be as helpful as our teenage nephew, but Matt and I may be able to divide and conquer on this one. And regardless, every time I look out the kitchen window or walk past the pond with Baxter (which happens at least once a day), I’m grateful for the improved view and access to the water.

While I had planned to focus just on the pond shore, I did give the area right behind the house a bit of attention, and cleaned up (most of) the jungle that’s been there since we moved in.

New lawn

Vegetable garden

Green tomatoes growing in the garden

At the start of last year, I said I was going to add rhubarb (check), a second row of berries (check–ended up being blackberries) and maybe some more grapes (check). I also put in four blueberry plants to try. As usual, I’m crossing my fingers that everyone survives the winter and bears fruit this year.

My biggest goal was keeping the weeds under control. I can’t say I was successful in that. I tried to find some old hay bales for a deep mulch but didn’t have any success. And in terms of weeding by hand, most of the season, I didn’t feel like weeding, and I gave into that feeling… a lot.

We capped off the year by covering two of the quadrants with tarps, and my tentative plan for the coming year is to leave the tarps in place. This will decrease the garden size by not quite half, which might just be manageable in our new reality.

Flower gardens

Garden in bloom in June

The flower gardens got some half-hearted attention this year. I can’t say I met my goal of keeping them weeded and filled with beautiful flowers, but I did get in them a few times and they didn’t look too scraggly most of the time (I don’t think).


Uh, yeah. I still have empty picture frames leaning against the basement walls waiting for art. I didn’t get to this in the first half of the year, and, since I left my job, I’ve been careful about spending money on extras, even inexpensive posters. So we go yet another year with some unfinished areas in the basement.

However, I did finally share the transformation of the basement TV area and all of the details on how we decorated it. I love this space so much and am so proud of us for doing it ourselves.

Basement TV area

New barn cat

Our barncat Ralph

After talking to a few people, we decided not to add a new barn cat to our family. Ralph has things under control and she’s content. She doesn’t need company, and I’m not confident that expecting her to train a young cat would work. So Ralphie gets to be mistress of the barn. She can live out her years in peace, and we will take our chances with adopting a new cat when we need it and hope that the newbie lives up to Ralph’s high standard.


As always, a few extra projects sneak into every year. I can call another room completely finished–the guest room–after refinishing a vintage metal bedframe. Spoiler alert, the guest room has since seen a few more changes as it’s become guest room/sewing room as I’ve given my office over to baby.

Antique brass metal bed frame

The living room also saw a few tweaks with a new mirror on the mantel and new pillows on the couch. I’ll be sharing our new coffee table soon too.

How to mix and match throw pillows

So around the house, 2017 was a mix. Which is okay and pretty normal for us.

We had enough abnormal in the year that I’m grateful that projects and the farm are such a refuge for us.

How was 2017 for you? What was your big accomplishment for the year?

First fire at the pond

I still find it hard to describe the feeling of being at the farm. It’s peace, happiness, pride, calm and so much more.

My favourite place at my favourite place is the pond.

Since we moved here I’ve envisioned walking along the edge of the water, a bench on the shore, maybe a little dock out into the water and a firepit.

On the weekend, one part of that came true–or started to–with our very first fire at the pond.

Fire on the shore of the pond

All of our efforts over the past few months with our new rotary cutter, the chainsaw, the nephew and the husband have gotten us much closer to my vision.

This fire was less of a campfire and more about cleaning up all of the brush that’s accumulated from our work.

Trimming brush

The pond shore was my main outdoor goal for this whole year. Then by June I’d given up on this plan after we ran into hiccups with a broken arm, broken chainsaw and other projects. That changed with the arrival of our mower and all of Matt’s and our nephew’s work.

Overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

Brush at the edge of the pond

Fire on the shore of the pond

My fall to-do list included mowing the meadow and the shore one more time, but I’m letting that one go now.

Hopefully, we can resume in the spring and push on towards my vision for my favourite place.

We’ll be closer than we have ever been before.

Burning tree stumps

Let’s go back in time. Waaaaay back to my second month of blogging and my 20th post ever.

On a foggy spring morning, I snapped a photo of this old stump covered in moss and mushrooms.

Old stump

While I certainly appreciated the natural beauty of the stump, I didn’t appreciate its location in the middle of the “yard” (can’t really call it a lawn back then) between the driveshed and the garden.

My strategy was to make the stump into our firepit.

Burning a stump

That was in spring of 2013.

Burning a stump

Now, in the fall of 2017, I can finally stay the stump is officially gone. On the weekend, I shoveled up two years worth of ash (I’ve done this cleanout once before) and leveled the ground.

Surprisingly, remnants of the stump were still there. It was very squishy and rotten, so I easily hacked it down with my shovel (here’s how I keep my shovels sharp). Then I raked everything level.

Burning a stump

After Matt hit another stump with the mower over the weekend, we have a new candidate for the next firepit. We also happen to have no shortage of brush and deadfall, so stump removal 2.0 is now underway.

Stumps to be burnt

Burning brush at the farm

Tree maintenance is ongoing at the farm.

Do you have a firepit at your house? Have you ever burnt a stump? Any techniques or advice for removing stumps?

Birthday wishlist

Happy September, everyone. September is my birthday month. Usually, I tend to have one thing on my birthday wishlist. In the past, Matt and our families have come together to give me my coveted Strandmon wing chair, a beautiful painting of a local landmark and our birdbath.

This year, I’m putting two things on my wishlist: a load of topsoil and a session with a stump grinder. Maybe not typical for birthday festivities, but much desired by me.

The topsoil will regrade the north and back of the house getting rid of the last of the rocks and weeds in these two areas. It would be very nice to have these two areas graded properly for water flow and have them mowable next summer.

Back of the house

The stump grinding is also about mowing. Ralph’s stump (sorry, Ralph) is my nemesis every time we cut the grass.

Now that we’ve cleared the meadow, a few more stumps have been revealed. They’re continuing to sprout suckers which block my view of the pond. And again, mowing around them is a pain. Getting rid of these stumps would be a huge part of our quest to clean up the meadow.


Really, property clean-up is like a gift that keeps on giving. Yes, there’s some work involved, but I enjoy that part. I will also enjoy my stump free meadow and weed free yard for years to come. So happy birthday to me, maybe?

What’s the oddest birthday gift you’ve ever asked for or been given? Have you ever used a stump grinder? I’m curious to see one in action.

Finding our waterfront

Remember how clearing the pond shore was my one and only outdoor home goal for this year? And how at the mid-year report I said it wasn’t going to happen?

It’s happening, people.

Our keen 17-year-old nephew who loves being at the farm had a day off from his summer job, and he wanted to learn how to drive the tractor. If you’re driving the tractor, you might as well learn how to use the front end loader, the new rotary cutter and tow the trailer.

So I went through the basics of a hydrostatic transmission and what levers did what. We hooked on the rotary cutter and I pointed him at the pond.

Here’s how things were looking after last weekend’s mowing of the meadow. I swear there’s water on the other side of all of that grass and brush.

Overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

I was super impressed with our nephew. He was calm and confident and careful.

Mowing the overgrown grass around the pond

Mowing the overgrown grass around the pond

Loading firewood with the front end loader

A morning of work cleared about half the shore on the east side. The remaining thickets are hiding all kinds of logs and stumps. So we have more work to do, and I need to set Matt loose with his chainsaw, but the progress is awesome.

This vantage point still doesn’t show you much of the water, but I swear it’s there.

Clearing overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

Clearing overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

This deep in the summer, the pond is a little mucky, but it’s still my favourite part on the property.

Pond in the summer

Pond in the summer

Our nephew totally made my summer.

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

Raspberry report


Raspberries equal summer for me. I grew up picking them in my parents’ garden and making jam with my Mom. In fact, at Matt’s and my wedding all of our guests received a small jar of homemade raspberry jam made with my parents’ berries.

Now we have them in our garden.

It’s been two years since I transplanted canes from my parents’ garden. They have spread and sprouted new plants and this year they are bearing fruit. Lots and lots of fruit.

We have one row that’s about 16 feet long, and now at the peak of raspberry season we’re picking about 3-4 pints a day.

Although I’m mostly picking partial quarts because I ruined a couple of pints when I accidentally fermented some berries by leaving them on the counter too long.

Soggy pints

Quarts of raspberries

Our plants are super dense with lots of canes. In fact, the row could likely benefit from some thinning. I think a few less canes might encourage more fruit or at least let more light or air get to the fruit. This bird’s nest was buried deep in the plants. I had no idea it was there.

Bird's nest in the raspberries

The wire trellis that we built has done a good job of keeping the canes upright and contained, so the row has been easy to manage. We added some woodchips between the raspberries and blackberries, trying to keep weeds down.

We’ve had a good amount of rain during this growing season, but I think the berries could have benefited from a bit more watering. They’re a wee bit small. With a bit more water, they might grow bigger. Something to keep in mind for next year.

Small or not, we already have plenty of berries. In fact, it’s been hard to keep up. I’ve made jam, a galette, muffins, stirred lots into my yogurt and pints are still stacked in the fridge.

Raspberry galette and jam

We could have even more, but I’ve not been super enthused about picking after I get home from work. I’m expecting to find some very ripe berries this weekend. They should be good candidates for more jam.

We may not need wedding favours this year, but I’m sure our family will still enjoy jam in their Christmas packages.

Are you enjoying raspberries at your house? Any raspberry recipes to recommend? Or growing tips to share?

Reclaiming the jungle

Landscaping is a multi-phased project here on the farm. I’m not entirely sure what phase we’re in now, but I looked back through the archives and the first time I posted about this area of the property was four years ago. Holy moly.

The back of the house has been a wee bit overgrown. As in we just let it go. Not the prettiest view out the kitchen window.

Overgrown weeds at the back of the house

There were so many rocks and weeds it was unmowable. But I wasn’t prepared to put in the work to make it a flower garden either.

We left it alone. Surprisingly, it didn’t improve.

Then two years ago we covered most of the mess with a tarp. Which wasn’t really much of an improvement either.

Tarp covering the backyard

We left it alone again. For two more years.

But at the start of this July, I finally lifted the tarp.

Hello rocks. Fancy finding you here. But the weeds had mostly died, so that was a bonus.

Picking up rocks

With some raking, digging, leveling, a wee bit of sawing and mowing for some of the more stubborn brush, and finally seeding and watering, we ended the day with something that we thought could someday be a lawn.

Seeding the backyard

The local wildlife came by to check out the transformation. The snakes particularly seemed to enjoy the cleared dirt.

Milk snake

Our usual inspector came by too. Hello Ralph. And hello sprouts!

Ralph inspecting the newly sown grass

Three week later, hello electric green lawn.

New lawn

We still have some blending to do and a few thin spots to fill in (plus I’d love to break up that concrete beside the steps).

And of course that black tarp is still hanging around. Hopefully the weeds closest to the house die over the next few weeks and I can seed that area this fall. Who knows what phase we’ll be at by that point.

Do you have an overgrown area that you’re reclaiming? Have you ever used the tarp technique to deal with weeds? Are you a seed or sod person? Is anyone else’s property overrun with rocks? Who else has snakes slithering by?