Un-Labour Day

First post of the month means it’s time for another project. But I have something different for you this time around. You see, September’s my birthday month, so I’ve decided to give myself a break.

Of course, there’s still lots to do around here, and since I actually like to spend my time doing things, I will keep myself busy.

Finishing my bookshelves is at the top of the wishlist. My birthday was always my rough deadline to have the shelves completely set up and all of my books unpacked. Having my books back will be like reconnecting with old friends. I think that’s a pretty good gift to give to myself.

Bow on box of books

We made some really good progress this weekend. Matt and I painted the living room. The outer frames of the bookshelves are all primed, and I should be able to get two coats of paint on them today. The shelves themselves will come this week.

Painting the bookshelves

So despite this being an unlabour month, I was pretty productive this Labour Day weekend.

What were you up to this weekend? What are your plans for September?

Summer project report

Take a journey with me back to February, would you?

Don’t worry. You don’t have to actually go back to the time of snow and cold and dark.

Just remember back in February when we painted the foyer, kitchen and hallway.

Hallway painted Benjamin Moore Abalone

Now let’s go back a little bit further to January when I posted my 2014 Home Goals, and I said I wasn’t going to paint the living room this year.

Well, I lied… kind of.

The kitchen, hall, foyer and living room all run together, so I planned to paint them all the same colour. Knowing that I wanted to set up my bookshelves this year, back in February Matt and I painted one wall of the living room–the wall I planned to put the bookshelves on. I figured once my shelves were set up and full of books, I wouldn’t want to take everything down again to paint behind them.

So the living room has looked a little bit like this for the past six months. Stylish, I know.

Half-painted living room

Well, the thing is, when I started the bookshelf makeover this month, I realized that if I put the shelves where I originally planned, we wouldn’t have room to walk around the couch and into the dining room. I decided to put them on the opposite wall. A wall which was unpainted. Whoopsie-doodle.

So my August project report goes something like this.

  • Put the bookshelves that had gotten damaged in the move back together.
  • Took the big fat bookshelf apart, cut it in half and rebuilt two new sets of shelves.
  • Added iron-on edging to the new shelves where I needed to.
  • Stripped the paint off the TV stand.
  • Raised the TV stand by half an inch and added trim around the bottom.
  • Painted the TV stand.
  • Realized I was going to have to paint the living room.

Here’s some evidence that I did actually do some work on the bookshelves.

Steps in my bookshelf makeover

Despite my progress, the bookshelves are kind of on hold right now. They’re all set up in the guest room ready to be painted. However, I’ve shifted my attention to the living room.

The prep process is exactly the same as what we had to go through for the hallway:

  • Pull out nails where pictures were hung.
  • Take off cover plates.
  • Sand the incredibly rough walls.
  • Patch holes and divots.
  • Wipe down the trim.
  • Paint the trim.
  • Prime the walls.
  • Paint (two coats).

The living room is both simple and complicated to paint. Complicated because it’s a vaulted ceiling that requires a big ladder to reach the top of the wall. Simple because on the two walls I’m painting, there is an archway on one and a patio door on the other. The actual wall space is minimal.

And yes, you read that correctly. I am painting only two walls. Of the four walls in the living room one is already painted (as you saw) and the other contains the fireplace. I am not painting around the fireplace until we’re done whatever we do with the fireplace.

So my August project is another bit of a fail. I did manage to get the TV stand completely finished though. I’ve put it in place, even though we’ll likely have to move it when we paint. I had to finish something this month.

TV stand before and after

What did you accomplish this month? Have you ever gotten mid-way through a project and only to find your to-do list has grown?

Baa-baa black sheep

Last week I happened to be over at my parents,’ and my Mom said she had received a notice to go to the post office to pick up a package for me. We were both pretty curious. It’s been awhile since I received mail at my parents’ address.

As soon as we saw the return address on the package, we knew what it was. My Mom’s friend had made me a quilt.

Quilt based on Kay Harmon design for Springtime Frolic

In her wonderful cover note, she called this a nephew quilt. I am a very proud aunt to four fun boys. Two of them are brand new, born just this year.

Here’s some of what she wrote:
“Aunts dream up projects to make with their nephews and have great patience when sharing their tools, skills and time… This quilt is for you to snuggle under with those nephews and love them to bits.”

The design is based on a tabletop quilt by Kay Harmon called Springtime Frolic. My Mom’s friend saw it in the Primitive Quilts magazine this spring and then adjusted the pattern to make it a bit larger.

The workmanship, the piecing and the quilting are absolutely beautiful. The parts I like best are the squiggle quilting (I don’t know the proper term for it) around the outside edge and, of course, the one black sheep.

Detail on a quilt based on Kay Harmon design for Springtime Frolic

I’m choosing to associate myself with this guy since I like to be a little bit different and stand out every so often. Besides, I cannot cast one of my nephews as the black sheep.

I feel so honoured that someone took the time to make something by hand specifically for me. Plus, it just seems right that we have a handmade patchwork quilt at the farm… especially one with livestock on it. This is a very special gift. Thank you, Mary.

Anyone else have a homemade quilt at their house? Or are there any quilters out there? I’m a sewer, but I’ve never tackled a quilt, and I admire those who do.

Fields of beans

It’s been nearly three months since our fields were planted with soybeans. Well past time for an update, Baxter informed me.

Hello y’all. Baxter here. I went on a detailed inspection of our fields this weekend, and I’m here to share my report on the state of our soybeans. I can’t believe Julia’s let it go this long without showin’ y’all what’s been going on. I’ve decided to take care of this myself. A farm dog’s responsibilities never end.

First off, our soybeans are tall. As tall as me. Some spots are shorter, but most are growin’ pretty well.

Baxter in our field of soybeans

Second off, our soybeans are not real sniffy. They smell mostly like green.

Baxter sniffing the soybeans

Third off, our soybeans are fuzzy. Not furry like a dog. Just fuzzy.


Yup. We’ve got actual beans, y’all.

I haven’t tasted them yet. I’m waitin’ ’til they get a bit riper for that test. I’ll keep y’all informed.

Baxter’s crop report is turning into an annual occasion. Click here to read his last one from a year ago.

Behind the scenes on vacation

This past week has been my second holiday of the summer. It’s been a wonderful time with Matt, Baxter, Ralph and the farm. I’ve spent some time with family and had a few projects, of course.

Here’s a few highlights what’s been happening this week.

Vacation photos

  • Cheering on my sister as she runs her first race since having a baby this spring. She did 5K in 22:30–a great time that was fast enough to come second in her age group!
  • Checking out a new dog park with Baxter. He had a chance to play with not one but two of his most favourite dogs ever–Great Danes.
  • Taking a mini getaway to Orillia to visit Matt’s brother and sister-in-law.
  • Uncovering a family of baby mice in my closet (no picture, you’re welcome). Not how I wanted to start my Sunday morning. It wasn’t a fun experience for Matt either, who was in charge of removal.
  • Revisiting some classic (for me) ’90s TV and signing two new books out of the library.
  • Playing in the annual office softball game… until we got rained out… and rained on. My favourite wings for dinner made up for being a bit soggy.
  • Helping my father-in-law cover his pool for the season. The water was 64 degrees (about 17 celsius). Brrr.
  • Working on my bookshelf makeover with my Dad, clearing a big pile of firewood and weeds from around the old firepit and finally getting my cold cellar work room organized.

I tried not to be too ambitious with my to-do list for this vacation. So I’m also trying to be okay with not spending as much time on “projects” as I could have this week. I figure I could take a good six months off work and keep myself busy every day.

I think I’d make a really good retired person.

What were the highlights of your week?

Damp, soggy and sloshy

You know that stale air musty house smell when you come back from vacation? After our week at the cottage last month, that’s exactly what Matt and I came home to. And then we walked down into the basement.

There we sniffed a distinct eau de damp.

Turns out that at the very start of our holiday, while we were lakeside, there was some water flowing at home.

A torrential downpour washed half the gravel down the driveway, overran the sump pump in the cold cellar and seeped through the foundation in the laundry room.

Believe it or not, we escaped with very little damage. The worst was some damp carpet in the long room and beside the laundry room. Some of the baseboards have swelled a little bit as a result, but overall it’s not too bad.

The cold cellar is about 6 inches below the rest of the basement, and the floor is concrete, so even though it appears that area was the sloshiest, the water didn’t seep into the main basement. Thank goodness.

Running the dehumidifier for a few days dried out the carpet.

The biggest bummer is that we had patched the laundry room foundation before we left on vacation… or we thought we had.

At one point, the laundry room window was a door into the basement. When we found occasional puddles on the laundry room floor, we figured that was the most likely source.

Matt dug out the foundation, I found a membrane at Home Depot, we stuck it onto the foundation and back-filled the hole. (Forgive the bad iPod photos. We temporarily misplaced the real camera).

Patching a leaky foundation

Well, either we missed the location of the leak, our patch didn’t work, or the freak volume of rain would have overwhelmed the foundation anyways. Hence the eau de damp.

Back at the farm after our vacation as we were drying out the basement, we watched on TV as more torrential rains flooded a town nearby. When the storms rolled into our area, the rain spewed over the edge of the gutters and puddled right next to our apparently porous foundation. Uh-oh.

A break in the storm found Matt and me outside in our raincoats and boots. Matt fetched the extension ladder, I held it secure, and he climbed up on the roof to empty the eaves troughs.

Cleaning out the eaves trough

Our pine trees shed like crazy, and their needles clog the downspouts. When the second wave of the rain hit, the gutters flowed like they should.

Clogged downspout

We’ve had more rain since then, and Matt has been super vigilant about making sure the water runs away from the house and that the basement stays dry.

So far so good.

The problem of the clogged eaves troughs and downspouts has been solved. Now if only we could solve the where-the-heck-is-the-water-getting-in? problem.

Who else has come home to a not so pleasant surprise after vacation? Have you ever dealt with leaky foundation issues? How often do you clean your gutters? I swear I did them a few months ago. Anyone else ever done some mid-storm water diversion?

Taking paint off melamine

The question of the day was can I strip paint off of melamine? The answer was kind of.

This is not my favourite piece of furniture. (Not the TV. I love my TV. My problem’s with the TV stand.)

TV stand

I attempted to build it when we lived at our old house. We had gotten a new TV. We needed a TV stand. I had some white melamine left over. So I sliced it up and went to work.

Cutting went fine.

Assembling not so much.

I didn’t have the right tools or fasteners and as my rocky, shaky shelf collapsed for about the fifth time, I called my Dad.

My Dad and I knocked it together in no time, but when I painted it I ran into trouble again.

My roller was disintegrating as I painted, and I ended up with all kinds of bits stuck to my shelf. It didn’t improve with time. The dark brown paint showed dust really easily, and when I tried to wipe it down, the dust just got caught in the flecks and it looked even worse. Believe it or not, this is the bottom shelf after I’d wiped it down.

Dust stuck in bumpy paint

I decided to include the TV stand as part of my bookshelf makeover this month. I’m not planning to strip the paint off of all the bookshelves, but the finish on the TV stand was just too awful. I needed a fresh start.

I went with my usual chemical stripper, and it worked pretty well. The stripper made quick work of the paint, even though it’s a heavy-duty oil-based enamel. The stripper also took off the white coating on the melamine. I’m not too worried because I’m going to be repainting, but the finish was a little bit rough. I went over it with my sander to smooth everything out. It may not look great, but I think it’s going to be okay.

Stripping paint off melamine

This week my Dad and I are tackling the rest of the shelves. We’ll be cutting down, putting back together and adding trim. Painting will come soon after. The TV stand should be looking much better the next time you see it. Maybe I’ll even like it by that point.

Have you ever tried to take paint off of melamine? Have you ever painted melamine in the first place? It’s not that hard to do… as long as your equipment is half decent. Has anyone else run into problems with disintegrating rollers? Do you have a piece of furniture that you don’t love?

Plant problems

Anyone know anything about lilacs, Japanese maples or holly? Each of mine is feeling under the weather.

The lilac is probably my biggest concern, simply because this plant has tremendous sentimental value to me. My bush grew from a shoot that sprouted off my grandmother’s lilac. It survived the move from our first house to the farm and up to now has thrived in the front flower garden. However, this summer the leaves started getting dry spots and then the tips curled under.

Blight on lilac leaves

When I unfurl the leaves, there’s a dirt-like substance inside. If there’s parasites, they’re too small for me to spot.

Blight on lilac leaves

Anyone have any guesses what might be wrong? I’d really rather not lose this plant.

The Japanese maple has his own problems as well. First, I will concede that he’s pretty crowded. I’ve been working at thinning the ferns since spring. The walnut tree is obviously another problem. I don’t have a good excuse why he’s been allowed to invade the maple’s personal space so much. Whether it’s crowding or some other issue, the tippy top branches are losing their leaves.

Japanese maple

Like on the lilac, the leaves are drying out and falling off.

Dying leaves on my Japanese maple

The Japanese maple took a beating during the ice storm. The trunk was completely wrapped in ice that was a quarter inch thick.

Ice caking the trunk of the Japanese maple

I was wondering if the tree is still traumatized from his winter ordeal. He’s just a bit weak this summer. He’ll pull through and grow more leaves next year. Won’t he? Or is that wishful thinking?

The final patient is my holly bush. Now I have to take most of the blame for this guy’s misery. He used to live in the front flower bed. However, I redrew the border of the bed, and he fell outside the line. I dug him up and moved him around the corner to the well garden. He was fairly well established in the front bed, so I cut through some pretty big roots when I transplanted him. He’s not fully recovered yet. You can see the leaves are pretty sparse and fairly yellow.

Sick holly bush

In my defense, I do have to say he wasn’t the healthiest guy before I moved him. He had very few leaves and probably produced all of a half dozen berries for the two years we’ve lived here. He seems to be plagued by ants. When I dig around the trunk, both at his original home and now in his new location, I unearth what looks like a whole colony. There’s not much bark left on his thick old trunk, and I wonder if the ants are eating him.

Trunk of the holly bush

When I pulled off a leaf, though, I found a different type of pest.

Small green caterpillar

Is this little green caterpillar the culprit? Is it the ants? Or the transplant?

I’d really appreciate any ideas anyone has. Anyone else having botanical illnesses in your own gardens this year? Let’s commiserate in the comments.

Battling the annual moth invasion

Not to gross anyone out, but we have a bit of an infestation at the farm. (Seriously, if you’re eating, you might want to come back later).

It started the first spring that we lived here. On Easter weekend, the moths arrived.

The first year, I had just brought in a big bouquet of forsythia branches, so we thought the flowers must have been the source.

We spent all spring and most of the summer battling the moths. They were dusty creatures that left behind a smudge when we squished them. Our ceiling, which was so disgusting before we painted it, was mostly marked by moths.

Gross smears on the ceiling

I emptied cupboards and closets and sprayed insect killer. We vacuumed webs. And nothing changed. The moths just kept coming.

Finally, the weather turned cold, and they stopped.

But the following spring, they were back. There was no forsythia to blame this time. It seemed that the moths were somewhere in the house. We smacked and squashed and slapped. We were both disgusted and resigned.


They didn’t seem to be the types of moths that threaten wool clothing. Instead, they seemed to congregate in the kitchen. They liked crackers and rice and cereal. They munched on our food, spun webs and occasionally we spotted their maggot-like larvae crawling around. It was totally gross. But we had no idea where they were coming from.

Then this spring, we decided we had to try something new. We found some moth traps and hung them around the kitchen.

Flour and pantry moth trap by Tanglefoot

Our goal was to kill one generation before they had a chance to reproduce. We were vigilant about killing any that we saw. To avoid putting more smudges on our freshly painted ceiling and walls, we kept our handheld vacuum handy to suck them up. The traps filled up, and we deployed fresh ones. They’re basically a sticky sheet of cardboard with little scent capsules that go inside.

Flour and pantry moth trap by Tanglefoot

The traps seem to work. Although I don’t think we accomplished our mission of killing a whole generation, there have been slightly fewer moths this year than previously. I feel like they live somewhere in the kitchen, within the walls, behind the cabinets. I don’t think the moths will truly go away until we renovate the kitchen.

And as much as I want that project to happen–for more reasons than just the moths–it’s probably at least a few years away still.

I realize that creepy crawlies are part of country living. However, the moths can move on a n y t i m e.

Anyone else ever dealt with moths? Any tips to share?