Vintage blue leaf dishes

Blue leaf serving dishes

I love pretty dishes and special serving pieces. I do my best to pull them out regularly and not leave them shut up in a cupboard.

This set of blue leaf dishes is particularly special to me. They came–kind of–from my grandmother.

Blue leaf serving dishes

I say kind of because only one piece–the one in the centre–actually belonged to my grandmother.

My grandmother entertained regularly, but I only remember seeing her use the blue dish once. It is made up of four leaf bowls, one round bowl and a pair of leaf salt and pepper shakers. They all fit together and sit on a lazy Susan.

Blue leaf serving dishes

Blue leaf serving dishes

Despite only seeing it once, it made an impression on me. I love the colour and the form of the leaves and the way it all joins together.

When I was in university I went to an auction and all of a sudden a familiar looking blue leaf dish was on the block. It was three leaves joined together with a little handle. I bought it (probably for less than $20) and excitedly showed it to my grandmother.

My Grandma was a very organized, very practical woman. When she died, items throughout her house were labelled with the names of who should inherit them. My name was on the blue dishes and their lazy Susan.

A few years later, I found another dish at a flea market. This one was a pair of leaves with a little handle. I hesitated, but eventually made my way back to the vendor and bought the dish (again for less than $20).

I’m so glad I did because I haven’t seen one since. There’s not a maker’s name on the underside, though they’re obviously all made by the same manufacturer. My grandmother’s set has her name on a fabric sticker on the bottom of each piece, a throwback to when she would take the dishes to church suppers.

Blue leaf serving dishes

I love that I’ve been able to amass a little set on my own. And I love putting them to use. They are perfect for Mexican night, when each dish is filled with its own ingredient. Set on the lazy Susan in the middle of the table, the big piece spins around so people can build their own tacos without having to constantly pass bowls around the table.

The double leaf dish holds fried onions and peppers, while the trio holds salsa, sour cream and guacamole (or as my MIL called it when we had them in to dinner, Guatemala. Sorry, Audrey. It was too funny not to share.)

Blue leaf serving dishes

Blue leaf serving dishes

We’re making our own memories with these dishes. Even though only one of them officially belonged to my Grandma, they all make me think of her and feel more good memories.

Who else loves dishware? Do you have any sets that you’ve collected over time? Or do you have any special pieces you’ve inherited?

Finding a home for a favourite table

Drop zone in the front entryway

Do you have a drop zone in your house? It’s one of those handy areas, usually near the entry, where you can “drop” things as you come in. Mail, keys, purse, receipts, stray paper.

Our drop zone has been set up for a long time, but I realized recently that I’d never shared it with you.

Maybe because I don’t consider this spot “done.” I continue to mull over the pieces I used in this space–and if we ever proceed with my big reno plan to move the front door, the drop zone will definitely relocate.

However, our drop zone is a great example of two of my favourite home decorating lessons: 1) buy what you like and you’ll find a way to make it work 2) use what you have. So despite thinking of this layout as temporary, it deserves a moment in the spotlight.

The standout piece is the table. This is my very first solo auction purchase. Usually I went to auctions with my parents and my Dad bought for all of us. Then one day my brother and I headed out to an auction just the two of us. When the table came on the block, I bided my time and then jumped in. I had $60 as my cutoff and went one more. I got the table for $65. (Auction lesson: most people will pick a round number for a cutoff. If you can go one more–just one more, don’t get carried away–you might be the winner.)

Carved wood table

I can’t remember exactly when I bought this, but I might have been in university–maybe even high school. For years my parents moved it around their house, trying to fit it in with their furniture.

Even when I moved out, Matt and I didn’t have a spot for it in our first house. But when we moved to the farm, this little wall was the perfect dimension for this table. See what I mean about buy what you like and it will work out?

I am totally a child of the nineties. Remember dark red cherry-ish wood? Back then, I totally envisioned a house with cherry kitchen cabinets, a cherry sleigh bed with matching dresser and nightstands. I love this dark red wood.

But one of my stumbling blocks with this table is the dark red wood. I’m not sure it really works with our house. It doesn’t seem “farmhouse” or “country” to me. I feel like I should maybe paint it. But I love the red wood. And if I don’t like it white, it will be hard to take it back to the wood thanks to all of the deep carvings.

For now, I’m happy to keep the table as it is.

The rest of this little spot is things that we already had. The basket on the bottom holds receipts. Every so often, Matt does a tally so that we keep track of all of our household expenses. The shallow wood saucer on the tabletop was made by my Dad. It’s a spot to drop mail or other papers and it usually holds a flashlight. The rest of the surface stays relatively clear. Usually my camera bag is sitting here, where it’s easy to grab.

Drop zone in the front entryway

Above the table is a little mirror that my cousin gave us for our wedding. Again, this was something that we didn’t have a place for at our first house, but it fits perfectly beside the light switches. The mirror is something else I mull over occasionally. The wall could accommodate something taller, and the gold frame doesn’t exactly say “country.” I have visions of making a simple barn board frame for a taller mirror… maybe.

Despite its shortcomings, this is a very handy spot. It saves things piling up on the kitchen island most of the time. And I’m happy to see my table finally find a home.

Do you have a drop zone at your house? What are essential features of a drop zone for you? Do you have any furniture that took awhile to find its home? Would you paint the table?

Progress, not perfection

Sarah is making progress on her projects in Illinois. Today, she’s sharing some of that progress, as well as the lesson that it’s okay to strive for progress over perfection.

“Progress, not Perfection.”

I am not sure who said it first. A quick internet search shows many people using this phrase. My cousin is a personal trainer, and she uses it for her clients. It is a great reminder when you are trying to be healthier, but I think it pertains to so much in life.

That is what I am going to use for my personal home goals too. I did not finish any of my first three projects yet, but I did make progress.

If you look back to my earlier post one of my goals is to paint Blitz’s dog house. I still haven’t decided what color I want to paint it but that doesn’t stop me from going ahead and priming it.

Of course I had help. Because when you have a 6 month old puppy, you really can’t do anything without him being under your feet.

Or close enough to what you are painting that he gets white paint on his head and ears.

So there has been progress.

In other news, while I was out in the yard today I noticed new growth at the base of my mums.

You probably remember my massive mums from previous posts. My dad wants a few starts from it, so when the weather warms up quite a bit I will split it up again like I did last year.

When we went over to visit my parents today, my mom showed me her plans and shopping list for her garden for this year. Seeing the starts of the mums and seeing my mom’s plans made me realize, I am already behind on my garden planning this year.

I need to just keep making progress.

Thanks for the reminder, Sarah. It’s great to see the progress that you–and Blitz–are making. I love the paint in his fur. Such a helpful guy. I hope you’re able to continue making progress.

Office makeover update

Made over china cabinet for office storage

I mentioned on Friday that I’ve been a bit frustrated by how long the office makeover is taking. I had made huge progress over the Christmas break, but then I went back to work and it felt like things came to a screeching halt.

Here are my previous posts about this project:

I’ve only been working on the office on the weekends, so that’s the biggest factor affecting my progress. Between working long hours at the day job, writing on the side, spending time with my husband, oh and eating, bathing and sleeping, something’s gotta give, and it’s been the office.

But, I feel like I finally turned a corner.

Here’s our original to-do list, and where we’re at:

  • Scrape ceiling – Finished over the Christmas break
  • Paint ceiling, trim and walls – Finished over the Christmas break
  • Add new shelf to closet – Two shelves are installed. Next step is to fill them.
  • Redo china cabinet and desk – This was the part of the project that took much longer than I’d hoped, but they’re done. And like the closet they’re ready to be filled.
  • Reupholster slipper chair – I stained the legs of the chair while I was doing the desk and the cabinet. I have the fabric. I need some foam. Then I’ll teach myself upholstery.
  • Reupholster ironing board – Because a primary activity of the office is sewing, I have an ironing board in the room. It needs a new cover to match the new office.
  • Unpack all of my boxes and decorate – Oh I am so excited to do this finally.

Finishing the furniture was a big step.

I decided to break up all the white with some wood, so I stripped the top of the desk and china cabinet and stained them darker. The rest of the desk and cabinet went white.

In the left side of the photo below you can see a glimpse of the tall narrow dresser that I made a few years ago for the weird little niche. I swear I bought matching hardware for desk drawers at the same time that I made the dresser. It’s been nearly three years, though, and I’m not sure where I put it.

Office makeover in progress

We’re approaching the “put-it-back-together” stage.

I’m looking forward to sorting my yarn, fabric, other crafting supplies and tchotchkes. I’ve already moved some of my magazines and knitting patterns into the china cabinet. There are some amazing vintage patterns from my grandmother. This may be a farm living, home makeover blog, but I’m going to write another post to show you some of them.

Magazine and knitting pattern storage

Often, I see bloggers moving so fast on makeover projects and doing multiple major renos in a single year. That’s not how I do things (obviously).

I’ve been thinking about this project for a long time, though, and it’s starting to look like the picture in my mind. I feel like this is going to come together–I’m not entirely sure how yet, but I think we’re going to get there.

Do you have a first project of the year? How’s it going for you so far? How do you balance projects with all of the other things happening in  your life? Any tips for organizing fabric or yarn? I admit I’m not entirely sure where to start with some of the things that have to come back into this room.

Lessons from the universe

I don’t quite know how to describe this week.

In the post I had originally written for today, I talked about how despite being frustrated at how slowly the office makeover is moving, I had taken some time away from it to focus on other aspects of my life. Vacuuming my floors, cleaning my bathroom, cooking dinner, donating a big pile of items–little things, but crossing them off my list gives me peace of mind. So as of Sunday afternoon, I was feeling pretty good about life. I had even made some progress on the office too.

Donation pile

But then a couple of hours later, driving along with a car full of items about to be donated, my brakes gave out. I had just enough pressure that I was able to stop the car safely, get home and then get to the mechanic on Monday morning.

It turned out the repair is a big job and more money than I want to put into my 14-year-old car.

So this week has been about buying a car–I definitely don’t have time or focus to work on the office or stay on top of other parts of my life.

I was able to borrow a car from my parents, so I could get back and forth to work–no choice but to stay on top of that. Then, on Wednesday night I came out of the office and the car wouldn’t start. Several hours and a tow truck ride later, I was home and once again vehicle-less.

So I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but the universe is not on my side this week.

I’m trying to look on the bright side. (Happiness is a choice, right?)

I didn’t hurt myself or anyone else when my brakes failed.

I have access to a vehicle that saves me the cost of renting a car.

I was able to work from home for a couple of days when I couldn’t make it into the office.

I’ve been saving my money because I knew I was going to have to buy a new car soon, so I can afford to buy the car I want, even if it’s a bit earlier than I’d hoped.

My parents have a CAA membership, so there was no charge for the tow truck.

The tow truck driver was very kind and dropped me at home before taking the car to a mechanic near my parents (nearly an hour from my work where we started).

My parents’ car is now fixed.

And I bought my car last night and should have it early next week.

Bright side. Bright side. Bright side.

Also on the bright side, it’s Friday. I am ready to leave this week behind and start fresh next week.

But between now and then there are a few more bright spots on the horizon. This weekend I am going to be spending some time my brother and his fiancée and meeting my brand new nephew (just 10 days old!–and just to be clear the nephew is not my brother’s… it’s Matt’s brother’s :)).

And I do have some news about the office makeover to share, so I’ll be back with a full update on the project on Monday. Because despite the universe’s plans for me, progress has been made. Slowly but surely.

Vegetable garden additions – Blackberries and more grapes

Vegetable garden covered in snow

I don’t know as gardening season ever really stops on the farm. Sure we’re not out in the garden every day like during the warmer weather (hello, -20 degree windchill and ice storm). But we’re thinking about the next season, monitoring our stores of vegetables and preserves, and enjoying the produce (curried butternut squash soup, yum).

But come February, I feel like it’s more socially acceptable to discuss gardening. I mean, we’re just 40 days away from spring, people. It’s comin’.

My plans for the garden this year are relatively modest compared to last year. Between our raised beds, trellises, hose and gate, the infrastructure is all in place.

The quadrant layout is working for us. So now I’m just thinking about how to fill those quadrants. (Reminder, here was last year’s plan).

Round garden plan for 2016

Top on my list is adding a few more perennials this year, and I’d love your input on what would work best.

You may remember that I tried to domesticate some wild black raspberries, and ended up ripping them out when they ran wild. So I have a row of raspberry trellis that’s empty. My established raspberries reproduce prolifically, so it would be easy to transplant some new canes into the empty row. But I’d love to try something different.

I’m come across Arapahoe blackberries. They’re supposed to be thornless, self-supporting (so not floppy like the wild raspberries), reasonably hardy for the Canadian climate and with smaller seeds.

Seed catalogues

The other addition I’m considering is more grapes. I’m a bit hesitant because I know nothing about grapes, and I’m not sure if the grapes I bought last year are going to be alive in the spring.

I bought eight vines last year, four red (Somerset) and four purple (Sovereign Coronation). In my mind, I’ve always considered 12–an even dozen–a nice number of grapes. Plus, I feel like four green would round out my collection.

Lakemont are supposed to be seedless, store well (my catalogue says “actually improves in cold storage”) and a “superior” table grape.

Anyone know anything about Lakemont or Arapahoes? Any other suggestions of berries or grapes to add to our garden?

How to renew your mortgage

The saga of renewing our mortgage is over. Thank goodness. This is one of the less fun parts of farm ownership.

But, it’s important.

It’s because of careful financial planning that Matt and I were able to buy the farm in the first place. We stay on top of our finances and prioritize our mortgage to ensure we’re able to maintain the lifestyle that’s so important to us.

Farmhouse

Today I wanted to share a bit of our experience renewing our mortgage. Hopefully, there are a few lessons in here that might help others as well.

Start early

We were eligible to renew as of six months before the end of our mortgage term. It’s important to take advantage of this long lead time and not wait until the last minute.

Matt was watching the interest rate forecasts and suspected that the rates were going to go up, so he wanted to lock in as soon as possible. We also knew we would likely need time to negotiate the best deal.

Give yourself as much time as you can so that you’re not scrambling–and potentially paying more than you need to–at the end. I’ve also learned that rates are often lowest in the summer, so if you can work that into your timing you could have an advantage.

Organize your records

To renew, our lender needed up-to-date paperwork for our property taxes and insurance.

The credit union that holds our mortgage had gone through a merger in the last five years and changed its name as a result. We had to update our insurance to reflect their new name, which took time (much more time than it should have, but that’s just the one of the joys of home ownership).

Most cities will issue a tax certificate which shows the status of your property tax payments. Our city does this for a fee of about $60. For our credit union, our most recent tax bill showing it had been paid was sufficient.

If you’re going to transfer your mortgage to a different lender, you’ll likely need additional paperwork regarding your house, employment and income tax.

Negotiate for yourself

At our first renewal meeting at the credit union, they had little cards all around the office promoting a 2.69% interest rate. And then sitting in the meeting they offered us 2.99%. Ummm… what?

Even Baxter agreed that didn’t sound right.

Baxter at the bank

It turned out that the 2.69% was for new customers only. Matt, who knew I was about to lose my mind, was very careful not to look at me. Why do you not reward loyal, reliable customers?

After a conversation, our agent offered to put in a request to “head office” for 2.79%. I still wasn’t happy, but it was better than nothing.

Guess what rate was approved. 2.89%.

Matt’s reaction was, “Well, it’s better than what we’re paying now. And what if rates go up?”

I said, “Give me a week.”

I booked appointments at two other banks, gathered all of our paperwork (including extra paperwork about our personal financial situation) and went to work. In the end, I managed to secure two offers at 2.64%.

Because these companies weren’t familiar with the farm, we would have to go through an appraisal again. But both banks waived the fee.

Matt shared the emails with the new offers with the credit union—the written evidence was important. And… they matched the rate. Thank goodness.

Biggest lesson from this renewal process. Do not accept the first offer you receive. Work with your current lender. Engage a mortgage broker. Shop around to other lenders. Do everything you can to get the best deal for yourself.

While a quarter of a percent may not seem like a huge decrease, on hundreds of thousands of dollars over five years (or longer) every percent makes a difference.

Read your mortgage policy

Before you sign anything, read the paperwork—even the dense, legalese, policy parts. Understand what is expected of you and what flexibility exists for payments.

For Matt and me, being able to adjust our payments if needed and being able to make lump sum payments against the principle are important.

There have been some changes to our credit union’s policies, so it was important to understand how that would impact how we usually manage our mortgage.

Pay attention to your payments

Thanks to our lower interest rate, our new payments are much lower than they were before–or they could be. Matt and I have chosen to keep our payments at the same level, which means we’re putting more towards the principle than before–$63.80 every single week. That’s more than $3,300 extra that we’re taking off the principle every year, which means the farm will be completely ours that much sooner.

Consider your situation

Five years is a long time. Things may have changed since you first signed your mortgage. When renewing your mortgage think about where you’re at now in your life as well as what’s ahead and what you need.

Maybe interest rate isn’t most important to you. Maybe you want to change your payment amounts or timing. Maybe you’re ready to renovate and want to set aside money for that. Over the last five years, Matt and I have changed jobs, renovated, bought a new car. And who knows what’s ahead.

We’re confident that we’ve done our best to set up the new mortgage in the way that works the best for us and that we have the flexibility to adjust if we need to.

Anyone else have a mortgage story to share? What are your tips for negotiating with a financial institution? How do you balance lifestyle and finances?

Tips to create a stylish and dog-friendly home

I recently wrote an article for homify that combines my two loves–dogs and home decor. (My husband is another one of my loves, but that’s a post for another time).

I know that many of you are also dog lovers, so I thought I’d share my tips for creating a stylish and dog-friendly home. From dog beds (complete with a trio of super cute dachshunds) to dog showers, there’s a whole range of ideas–and cute puppy photos.

I’d love to hear what makes a dog-friendly home for you.

For many people, home isn’t home without a dog…

A dog-friendly home is one that is comfortable for both its human and animal occupants. There should be a balance of style and function and–good news–it’s easy to have both.

Read my tips.

What makes your home dog-friendly? What do you wish you had that would make your home friendlier? (For me, it’s definitely a dog shower in the mudroom).

How to encourage egg laying in the winter

Back in December, Sarah in Illinois shared some of the lessons she’s learned since adding laying chickens to her farm. In the post, she mentioned mentioned that their egg production had declined as winter set in. She had a few ideas to encourage more laying, and today she’s back to share what happened.

If you remember my post a couple months ago, I gave an update on the chickens and mentioned that their egg production had declined.

I thought that it was either from lack of daylight or cooler temperatures. I was willing to try to add some artificial daylight, but that I was not going to risk a barn fire by adding heat.

I am happy to report adding some light did the trick.

I went to the local home improvement store and purchased a light socket with metal shade. All you do is add a bulb and plug it in.

I took it a few steps further.

First, I chose an LED bulb. I am serious when I say that a barn fire is one of my worst fears, and I was going to take no chances in using a bulb that would get hot.

An LED did the trick. It produces almost no heat at all. I can rest my hand on the metal shield while it is on and there is no chance of me, or the chickens, getting burned.

As you can imagine with a traditional bulb there is no way I would be able to touch the shield, it would burn me instantly.

The second thing I did was to secure the fixture.

It came with a clamp to attach it where you need light. There is a good chance that it wouldn’t move, but I wanted to make sure it did not fall and rest in the straw in the bottom of the coop. So I ran a screw into the clamp after I had it where I wanted it.

No crazy chicken antics will cause the lamp to fall.

My final step was to add a timer. I have it set to come on every morning from 6 to 7 am and again from 4 to 8 pm.

After I had all of this in place I waited.

After about a week I found 2 eggs in the box.

And then a few days later I started getting 3 eggs a day.

I even had a bonus day yesterday where all 4 chickens laid an egg.

I can say that this project was a complete success, and I have no fear of burning our barn down.

I also have progress to report on my project goals that I listed in my last post.

One of my projects is to make over my Grandma’s Saint Francis statue.

I started by scraping off all loose paint. I did not intend to remove all the paint, only the paint that was loose and came off easily.

For the most part the concrete is in good shape but it has broken off of the base.

I am sure there are products meant for this type of project, but I chose to use what we had sitting around. We had a partial bag of thin-set mortar that we had used to install tile in our house. It sets up extremely hard, so I thought that once it is painted, it may work just fine.

I really don’t know about the longevity for this use, but I decided that it was worth a shot. I mixed some water and made it thick enough that I could apply it with a putty knife.

I knew that I wanted to add a couple layers instead of one thick layer so I purposely left the first layer bumpy instead of smooth so that the second layer will have something to attach to. I waited for it to dry and hoped that it would work.

24 hours after I added the thin-set to the statue, I started thinking that it is not going to work. I think the thin-set is too crumbly and will not hold up long term.

But that’s okay. I tried it, and I will try something else and report back how it goes.

Way to give things a try, Sarah. I’m glad that the chickens’ light worked so well. It’s great that you’re able to get fresh eggs again. I would miss those! Hopefully you’re able to find something that works for your Grandma’s statue too.