Gated

We’ve crossed an important milestone in the garden. We are now fully enclosed. I finally built the gate last weekend.

Garden gate

The first step, and the most time consuming part of this project, was to plumb my posts. The fence posts were anything but straight. They were meant to be fence posts, not gate posts. You might recall that this only became the gate when my nephew and I cut through the fence rails.

I found two 4x4s and ripped them down for each post. They were attached to the posts with the longest screws I could find. Not too difficult. Just fiddly, but worth it so that I could build a rectangle gate rather than a trapezoid or parallelogram.

Making fence posts plumb

So I drew up my plans and got to the easiest part of this project, the gate itself.

Plans for the garden gate

I made the outside frame, added a centre brace and tested the fit. It was too wide. I knew my tape was sagging when I measured the opening, but I thought I’d compensated enough. Ugh. Baxter was very concerned.

Baxter supervising gate construction

I unscrewed one end and trimmed off an inch, and that fixed the problem. This still wasn’t a difficult project. I squared the gate and added my diagonals.

Building the garden gate

Our usual chainlink mesh adds some extra stability to keep everything tight and square. We had both 4 foot and 5 foot chainlink on hand. I picked the 5 foot because I wanted it to run all the way from top to bottom. I’ll borrow my FIL’s heavy duty wire cutters and clip off the excess height. (Allow me to brag a bit by pointing out our extremely tall tomato plant towering over the mesh).

Chainlink fence over the top of the garden gate

Even though these are just 2x4s, the gate is pretty heavy–a factor of being 7 feet wide and nearly 5 feet tall. I’m considering adding a little wheel on the underside so that we don’t have to muscle it all the way open and closed. I just don’t want the wheel to be too tall because I don’t want much of a gap between the gate and the brick threshold I put in. As well, if the wheel ends up tangled in the grass, it’s not going to be much help. I may end up with just a handle of some kind to make the gate easier to lift.

Brick threshold at the garden gate

While I’m still sorting out these details, the gate is just propped in place. The other details I’m trying to sort out are the best hinge solution. Between the narrow 2x4s of the gate, the tapered 4x4s of the posts and the excessive weight of the gate, there isn’t a clear hinge choice. I really value Home Depot’s easy return policy in this situation. I can buy pretty much every option and bring them home to see what will work best. (And I did buy a handle and small caster as well).

Gate hinges

Hinged, handled, wheeled or not, the gate is still doing its job.

Garden gate

And the vegetable garden is continuing to take shape.

What have you built this week? Have you ever constructed a gate? Any thoughts on whether the wheel will work? How long do you think it’ll take for the new wood to weather so that it matches our fence?

Piano trio

Searching for a spot to put the bouquet of very tall gladiolas that my Mom brought to the farm, I eventually found my way to the piano in the dining room. With the pretty flowers in place, I took the opportunity to photograph this piano, which joined our family about a year ago.

Matt's grandma's piano

It’s a new addition to Matt’s and my little family, but not to Matt’s extended family. It’s his Grandma’s piano. This picture shows her at the piano with Matt’s two older brothers.

Matt's grandma with her piano

I played piano for many years, eventually earning my Grade 8 from the Royal Conservatory. My parents bought an electric piano for my sisters and me. A few years ago, they gave Matt and me the piano, which I really appreciated after not having a piano in my life for many years. However, I’ve always wanted a “real” piano. There’s something about wood and wires that was important to me.

Last summer, Matt’s aunt gave us his Grandma’s piano. I don’t play that often anymore–and when I do, my fingers are so rusty that I spend most of my time on scales, chords and arpeggios–but I’m still thrilled to have a “real” piano and especially one with family heritage.

Cecilian piano

The arrival of this instrument led to a bit of a game of musical pianos in our house.

My childhood piano moved to the basement. Its ability to play songs on its own and various other instruments aside from just piano is always a hit when the nephews come to visit.

We also had a third piano–the one that came with the house. This piano has lived in the cold cellar since we did the basement reno. It was a monster–big, heavy, beat-up and badly out-of-tune. Even if we could have lifted it, it wouldn’t have fit up the stairs. But I was adamant about keeping it because it was my “real” piano.

Well, once Mama’s piano arrived at the farm, I gave Matt the green light to get rid of the squatter piano.

(Piano aficionados may want to skip the next part).

The piano came out of the basement in relatively small pieces. The harp was still a monster to haul up the basement stairs. Matt did most of the work dismantling and evicting the piano. We have to extend thanks to my Dad, who dropped in for a visit and ended up swinging the sledgehammer and helping to carry the harp up the stairs. Then Matt’s Dad came by with his truck and helped Matt take the harp to the local charitable metal donation bin.

I did keep one piece of the old piano: this key, which now sits on top of Matt’s Grandma’s piano.

piano21

On the back side of this key, there’s a very faint signature. I think it says Ernest Pare Feniseur. I’ve type the name into Google, but haven’t turned up any results.

Piano key

Decorating the rest of the top of the piano, I have our valiantly persevering cacti, a metronome that we found in the house, my Mom’s gladiolas in my grandmother’s vase, Matt’s grandmother’s metronome and two candlesticks turned by my Dad (topped with candles that were burned at our wedding). Yes, I’m just a wee bit sentimental.

Matt's Grandma's piano

Together, they all make a pretty special corner of the house.

Who else played piano growing up? Do you still play? Anyone else have a piano at their house?

Guest post: Introducing Sarah In Illinois

I’m pleased to introduce Sarah, also known as Sarah In Illinois. Sarah is a long time reader and commenter on the blog. Over the years we’ve exchanged a few emails and gotten to know each other a bit. It seemed like Sarah and I were living similar lives in a lot of ways, so I asked her if she’d like to share some of her story here. Sarah doesn’t have a blog of her own, so I’m happy to turn mine over to her today.

Hi! My name is Sarah, and I am so excited to stop in and share with you. You may have seen me leave comments here as “Sarah In Illinois.” When Julia asked me if I was interested in an occasional guest post, I was flattered and honored. I hope my contribution to this site will be interesting to read!

I really enjoy reading everyday life/farm living blogs and I think it stems from having pen pals when I was in elementary school. I loved to read how everyday things were done differently in other countries or even in other areas of the US, and I view blogs as a modern version of a pen pal.

Sarah in Illinois

Steve and I

A little about myself: I am in my late 30s. I have always lived near small towns in rural Illinois. In fact the population of my current town is less than 1,200. I am engaged to my boyfriend of over 6 years, Steve. Steve sells seed, farms for another person and more recently he started farming for us.

He has 14 year old twins that are often with us, and our pets include a German Shepherd, a Chocolate Lab, a barn cat and 3 hermit crabs! Both of our sets of parents and my brother live less than 15 miles from us and his siblings and our extended families live not much further away than that!

Sarah in Illinois

Completely peaceful rural living!

I attended college and received a bachelor’s degree in construction management and a minor in architectural design. I chose that area of study because I love old houses, but I never went to work in that field. My parents owned the automotive parts store where I worked growing up, and when they sold it I continued to work for the current owner. So my love of old homes is really just a hobby, at least for now.

Until a couple years ago I lived alone in a huge old farm house. There was never a shortage of projects there and with my dad’s help I learned so much about home renovations hands on. After 10 years, I began to realize that the house was really too large for me both physically and financially. And it was about that time Steve and I decided we were ready to move in together, so I said goodbye to my farm house and moved in with Steve.

Our current house is smaller, but of course there is a long list of projects we want to accomplish there too! Steve and I have tackled projects together with nothing more than a quick look on YouTube and a run to the home improvement store. We have replaced windows, tiled floors, built walls, textured walls (often called knock down) and our next project, that we plan to do all on our own, is a two room addition!

Sarah in Illinois

Knock down is so, so messy!

When I am not at work or working on home projects, I like to bowl in a league, read self-help and dystopian fiction, watch TV with Steve (thank goodness for DVR!), paint with acrylics, feed and watch hummingbirds, and run. This year I decided to try to make healthier decisions and so I started training and ran my first 5K in July!

Sarah in Illinois

My first 5k!

I plan to share some of our projects in the house, in the yard and in the garden in future posts. Like Julia and Matt, we love our pets like family members so I am sure they will make an appearance occasionally.

I hope you enjoy my posts and if you have any questions or suggestions, you can email me at tharpsarah77@hotmail.com. You can also follow me on Instagram: sarah_in_illinois.

Thanks so much, Sarah! I had pen pals growing up too, but it’s been awhile. And I don’t think I ever had a pen pal in Illinois. It’s great to learn about your life there. Country living, DIY home reno, pets, running, living close to family, dystopian fiction… I feel like we could be the same person (except for the hermit crabs, of course)!

Beautiful bathroom to be?

I mentioned last week that we had some issues with the cold water tap in our main bathroom. I started to think that the solution might be a bathroom reno.

I really don’t want to do anything to this bathroom—including fixing the taps—until I can do everything.

And by everything I mean go back to the studs and start over.

The layout of the bathroom is decent: big linen closet, large vanity with good storage, long counter and double sink. Plus the basics: tub-shower combo, toilet, window.

Main bathroom before

Main bathroom before

However, everything is old, chipped, discoloured, beat up–or, in the case of the countertop, Care-Bear-coloured.

Bathroom Before Collage

We were able to get the tap working again, so we’re not hauling out the sledgehammers any time soon (yay for the wallet, boo for my bathroom beauty). To cheer me up, I dove into my Pinterest board and pulled out some inspiration to share with you. I also need your input on a couple of areas where I’m not sure what to do.

For general inspiration, I really like what Jenna Sue did to her guest bathroom in the most recent One Room Challenge. It’s a clean, country space with lots of personality. I probably want something a bit brighter (more white), but I love the overall feel of her space.

So let’s dive into my not-so-loved space, okay?

My plan is to leave the fixtures in the same places (likely–I’ll talk about what might change below).

I want a new vanity (I’ll stick with white) with lots of drawers for storage and a beautiful white/light/natural coloured countertop. Undermount sinks (for function) with shiny retro look faucets (for form).

Bathroom vanity with lots of drawers

I like how this vanity squeezes in another drawer below the sink. Source: One Week Bath

Above the vanity, what do you think would work best for a mirror? We have a pretty big bathroom, but I like how the sheet mirror makes it feel even bigger. I’ve seen some cool ideas to get the space-expanding effect of the sheet mirror but in a little more stylish fashion. Or should I just go with two big wood framed mirrors? (That would let me do some fun wall-mounted sconces).

I’ll break up all the white with a beautiful solid wood built-in floor-to-ceiling linen closet. Again, I want lots of drawers, but I’ll probably do glass doors on the upper half. I do okay at keeping the linen closet tidy, but there are always those mismatched sheets, shampoo bottles or tissue boxes that aren’t as aesthetically pleasing to have on display.

My biggest question is whether I should try to separate the tub and shower. It would be a bit of a squeeze to fit everything in, but we could probably do it. Is a country style claw foot tub worth it? If we keep the tub and shower together, how would you get a country feel?

With the high iron content in our water (even after it runs through our filtration system) everything turns orange very quickly. I’d rather not have tonnes of grout to clean, but one of those acrylic monsters doesn’t say “farm” to me. I also don’t love getting up close and personal with a shower curtain. What would you do?

The floor is an area where I’m open to having a bit of fun. A patterned cement tile like Jenna Sue? A wood-look tile? Really retro with black and white?

I also like the idea of wood planks on the walls. We currently have fake paneling that’s been painted. It’s so stained, that no matter how many times I wipe it down I can still see where pictures hung in the past. I think real wood would be a step up. But would that be okay in a bathroom? I like a really hot shower, so I’m worried about how the steam will affect the wood.

Lighting is still TBD. I actually really like the cut glass swags that we have currently. In fact, you might remember I found a vintage light to match them. However, I’m not sure that they go with my vision for the new space. Do I just do pots and sconces?

Hmmm, I still have lots of things to sort out apparently. Maybe it’s a good thing we didn’t have to dive into a full on reno.

What would you do with this space? What style is your dream bathroom? What fixtures are on your wishlist?

Finally finished the fence

The benefit of using the old longe ring for the garden meant that we already had a fence. However, it was a beautiful sturdy weathered wood fence. Perfect for form, not so good for function when it comes to a garden.

The ring was used to exercise horses. Meaning anything smaller than a horse could fit through the fence.

Matt and I decided to add chainlink to keep the bunnies and other hungry creatures away from our garden.

I had collected a few rolls of chainlink from the ends of various people’s driveways, but the ring is so big that I had to buy three more rolls. So this project was definitely the most expensive part of the garden so far coming in at nearly $300.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to buy posts or anything else besides staples. We made use of the wood fence and stapled the chainlink to the existing posts.

Chainlink fence stapled to a wood post

Lesson learned, we should have thought a bit more about who does what.

I stretched the fence, and Matt hammered the staples. I have less muscle than Matt, so stretching the fence was hard for me. Matt has bigger fingers than me, so he hammered his fingers a lot while he was holding the staples between the links of the fence.

Installing chainlink fence in the garden

Matt wasn’t going to give in though. There was no way he was switching roles. So we worked our way around the garden taking breaks to hammer the ground in frustration or slap mosquitoes who just won’t go away this summer.

When we reached the end of a roll, we joined it to the next section by weaving in a single strand of fencing. Just twist, twist, twist until the wire reaches the bottom. (To separate a section of fence, you just reverse the process and untwist one piece of wire. Your fence will easily split in two.)

Joining chainlink fence

Eventually, we got a rhythm. A lot of it consisted of us asking each other, “Ready?” And then, “Hold it, woman!”

Our marriage survived, and our garden is fenced.

Fenced, but not gated. We bought wood for the gate last week but haven’t built it yet. So we are still welcoming the hungry creatures–horse-sized and smaller–to our garden.

The thing that I like about the fence is that the chainlink is pretty much invisible, so we still have the aesthetic qualities of the wood fence that I fell in love with from the start.

Wood for the garden gate

And to be honest, our garden isn’t really under threat from the local wildlife. Our beans were munched shortly after they sprouted, but the rest of their gardenmates have survived… and thrived. In fact, I think Matt would be happy if a hungry hoard descended on the zucchini.

Odds and sods

Odds and sods collage

It’s been a good vacation week here. I feel like I’ve found the balance between productivity and relaxation.

All of the gardens–flower and vegetable–are weeded. We’ve bought wood for the garden gate but not built it yet. We “fixed” the bathroom tap–when we couldn’t find a new cartridge that fit, we lubricated the old one and reinstalled it.

I’m 2 1/2 out of 3 on my vacation goals: I’ve had lots of long walks with Baxter, one with Matt and one with our hike group (and one more to come this morning). I spent a late afternoon on the couch with half a movie (as opposed to a lazy morning and a whole movie). I discovered that I can in fact still turn a cartwheel.

Here are some other things that have caught my eye recently:

  • Some great art–including DIY options–from Brooklyn Limestone and The Makerista. I love the room that Gwen made for her son. The gallery wall is outstanding.
  • I just discovered Love Grows Wild a few weeks ago, and now it seems to be popping up everywhere. Liz has been open about finding her style, and the spaces she’s making are beautiful. Plus she lives on a farm, so she’s totally someone I love to read.
  • And speaking of open and honest, Jen at IHeart Organizing wrote a great post about the challenges of blogging for “the reveal.”
  • Eat that frog totally helped me get ready at the day job for this vacation, and it’s helped with the small day job tasks that I’ve had to deal with during the vacation too.
  • My Mom brought me a beautiful bouquet of gladiolas. Our flower gardens are pretty much done blooming. I need some plants that bloom past August. Perhaps gladiolas would work?
  • I’m feeding my love of gardening with a new Sarah Addison Allen book. Now if only our garden had a magical apple tree…

How has your week been? Any suggestions for late summer flowers to add to my gardens? Have you read Sarah Addison Allen? Did anyone else try a cartwheel?

Over-thinking

My thought process went something like this:

“Now that we have the garden, we could really use a composter. I should put it near the kitchen so it’s convenient.”

“While I’m out here, I might as well clear the weeds from the patio.” (I did not ask Baxter to pose. Dude was in a photogenic mood.)

Weedy patio

My technique is to take a sharp spade and shove it sharply against the joints between the slabs. If you feel like you might break your wrist, you’re doing it right.

Clearing weeds from the patio

“Now that I’ve cleared the weeds, I might as well see if I can uncover the steps.” (We’ve never seen the steps, and you probably can’t either).

Stairs covered with ivy

“Holy heck. What was I thinking trying to clear the steps? This ivy is ridiculous!

Stairs covered with ivy

“Wow, these steps are much bigger than I thought. And they look amazing.”

Concrete patio steps

“Now where to put the composter? I’ll just clear a little more of this ivy.”

Clunk.

“What was that? Are there more stones under this ivy? Why?

“Oh hello, husband. You have great timing. Milkshake? Yes, please.”

—Break for Matt’s amazing chocolate peanut butter milkshake—

“Alright, that gave me the fuel I needed. Let’s do what I came out here to do in the first place.”

Composter on the back patio

“Finally done.” (And yes, the dog abandoned me after the milkshake break).

Patio after

“All this work for a composter? I think I need a shower.”

“But hmmm… what about the patio on the other side of the house?”

Clearing weeds from the patio

“I need to stop thinking so hard.”

Who else has ever over-complicated a simple project? Do you have a composter at your house? Do you have a weedy patio? Any tips on how to do battle with ivy?

Take it easy

It’s vacation week, people. I’ve been trying really hard not to come up with a big to-do list for this week. (I can hear Matt scoffing as he reads this).

I’m not good at sitting and relaxing. Honestly, I find I relax the most when I DIY. Gardening, painting, working around the farm empties my mind usually.

However, I’ve been trying to set different types of goals for this week:

  • Spend a lazy morning on the couch with a blanket, hot chocolate and a pointless action movie (my favourite kind of movie)
  • Check if I can still turn a cartwheel (Matt’s scoffing again)
  • Go for a few long walks with Matt, Baxter and our off-leash hiking group

Of course, there will be other activities. The gardens are all weedy. The cold water tap in my shower is so stiff that it barely turns–and Matt’s brother and sister-in-law are coming to visit at the end of the week, and part of being hospitable involves not asking your guests to shower in scalding hot water. I might finally put a gate on the vegetable garden.

But who knows. Maybe all of the books I’ve ordered from the library will come in, Ralph and I will hang out in the hammock, and our guests will have to double fist it when they turn on the water.

We’ll see what happens. For now, I’m trying to make like the Eagles and take it easy.

What’s your plan for the week? How do you like to spend your vacation?

Harvest!

I know this blog has turned into more of a gardening blog over the last little while as opposed to a home reno blog. We have many more renos to go, but in our limited Canadian growing season, I am going to garden. I appreciate you all sticking with me. In case you can’t tell, we’re loving our new vegetable garden. We’re especially loving all of the food that we’re harvesting.

Vegetable garden harvest

We were a little late on planting (the whole building the garden thing delayed us a bit). So I’ve been trying to be patient when it comes to looking for edible vegetables. However, I’ve perhaps been a little too patient.

I thought the zucchinis were still at the blossom stage. A closer look revealed we were past the harvest stage for some zucs. Yipes. There were nine good-sized (really fairly large) zucchinis. And two days later, I harvested seven more (and there’s been one more since then).

So far, I’ve made grilled zucchini, chocolate sour cream zucchini cake, zucchini bread, chocolate zucchini bread, zucchini soup and zucchini parmesan. I even snuck a few into my parents’ car when they came to visit the farm. More are coming though. Anyone have any good zucchini recipes?

Zucchinis

Out of a whole package of bean seeds, only four plants have grown (the others were nibbled right after they sprouted). That means our harvest has not been huge, but we’ve had a few lovely yellow beans.

Yellow beans

Beside the beans, the tomatoes are turning red. The cherry tomatoes blow me away. I’ve never seen tomatoes grow in clusters like this. And of course, they’re my favourite sweet tomatoes. Very few make it to the house. I eat ’em like candy right in the garden.

Cherry tomatoes

The potatoes plants are blooming. I hope potatoes themselves grow in time for harvest this fall.

Potato blossoms

And beside the potatoes, in a mass of leaves and vines, squashes are starting to form. I’m absolutely going to figure out a trellis system next year for the squash. They’re taking over. Good thing we have a big garden, but there are lots of other plants on the wishlist for next year. The squash are going to have to learn to share.

Baby squashes

We’re picking lettuce, beets and green onions as we need them, the red raspberries have transplanted successfully, and I have hope that a few of the black raspberries are going to make it. It looks like even the peppers may be perking up.

This is the closest I’ve ever been to being a farmer. And I have to say I like it.

What are you growing, harvesting and eating at your house?