Four new legs in Illinois

A new family member has joined Sarah and her family in Illinois. And he’s just about the cutest–I said just about, Baxter, don’t worry.

In my last post I left you hanging with the announcement that we had someone new joining our family. I am proud to introduce Blitz!

Last year I introduced my sweet Treu, but what I have not really wanted to write about was that in January of this year he got really sick.

He fought pneumonia for a while and then he quit eating and then quit drinking anything. It was at that point that the vet felt we were fighting something much more severe, most likely cancer.

Treu was 2 months short of his 13th birthday and I could not justify putting him through any invasive diagnostics or treatments. So I made the heartbreaking decision to put him to sleep. It was by far the hardest decision that I have ever had to make.

I went through all spring and summer working in the yard and garden without my sidekick.

I needed some time to grieve for him, but it was really hard not to have a dog at my side. (I should note that we still have Steve’s Lab, Brody. We have not been completely without a dog. But Brody is very clearly Steve’s dog and I have been missing having “my” dog.)

Late this summer a friend who knows my love of German Shepherd dogs told me that he knew of a litter to be born late in August. It took me a little time to decide if I was ready or not, and finally I decided that this little monster needed to join our family.

It has been 13 years since I have had a puppy. I had forgotten a few things, but they came rushing back:

1. Puppies sleep a lot. They have times of intense energy and play and then they crash…HARD.

2. Puppies don’t sleep of long periods of time. They want to play tug at 2am. And again at 4am.

3. No matter how many toys you buy for them, no matter what size, color, shape, no matter if they make noises or do not, puppies will chew on things that they are not supposed to.

4. You will have to clean up a lot of bathroom messes. It never fails, the moment you bring a puppy inside from going to the bathroom; he will pee right in the middle of the floor.

But, the puppy breath, the cuddles, the fun from teaching him a new trick, offsets all of the bad stuff. He won’t be a puppy forever so I am going to focus on all of the fun that we plan to have.

And all of the chickens that we have to chase.

Awww. I loooove that photo at #4. It’s totally an “I’m sorry” look. You both look so happy. It’s so nice to meet you, Blitz!

First fire of the season

Saturday, I was outside in a chilly wind all afternoon. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the farm, so I didn’t have physical labour to keep me warm.

Saturday evening, home at the farm, was all about big bowl of soup on the couch in front of the first fire of the season.

A chilly day spent outside means the first fire of the season

A photo posted by Julia (@juliaon129acres) on


Sunday, Matt and I rearranged the woodpiles and took delivery of another load of firewood from his Dad.

We have a serious stockpile of firewood this year. It wraps around all three sides of the pool room.


We’ve gotten so much new wood this year that things have gotten a bit jumbled.

The rearrangement on Sunday was about putting the oldest wood in the most accessible spot: stacked on the side patio closest to the kitchen door. Then there is the original woodpile behind the pool room now expanded to four rows–we’ve never had four rows.


The newest wood is on the other side patio where it can dry for awhile–years given the amount of wood we have to burn through before then.


The fireplace is my thing, but the firewood is Matt’s. I gripe a bit about firewood taking over our house, but I appreciate all of the effort he puts into making sure I’m set for a cozy night after a chilly day.

How are you getting ready for winter at your house?

Five standout houses from homify

I’ve been writing for for a few months now. As a home reno and decor junkie, I love going behind the scenes on amazing houses from all over the world.

Here are a few homes that I’ve written about that stood out so much that I had to share them with you.

I love the idea of being involved in a barn conversion–especially when the result is as beautiful as this barn in the Netherlands.

country Corridor, hallway & stairs by reitsema & partners architecten bna


The tiny house movement is not something I can see myself participating in, but it was neat to see how every “room” of a house could fit into a single shipping container.

rustic Houses by Cristina Menezes Arquitetura


Container homes are very much not my style, but this one from Northern Ireland came with sheep and a cow, so it appealed to the country girl in me. Plus it has an amazing suspended bathtub that looks like a hammock (!).

modern Houses by Patrick Bradley Architects


I love a good before and after, and this Portuguese home was full of them.

translation missing: Schools by SHI Studio, Sheila Moura Azevedo Interior Design
translation missing: Schools by SHI Studio, Sheila Moura Azevedo Interior Design


And my most recent post, a restored rustic farmhouse in Northern England, complete with a beautiful country kitchen.

by Linda Joseph Interiors


Check out all of my posts.

Country or modern, rustic or sleek, what home styles appeal to you?

Vegetable garden highs and lows

I’m going to go a bit corporate today. Have you heard of a SOAR analysis? It’s a business planning exercise where you look at the strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results for a particular project. It’s a bit friendlier than the old-school SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats).

Today’s project is the vegetable garden.

Vegetable garden in October 2016

Matt and I officially harvested everything last weekend. We have more clean-up yet to do, but I feel like I’m ready to look at what worked and what didn’t… or, more positively, what opportunities there are for next year.


Soil – We have a great garden, and I can’t really take a lot of credit for it. Our soil is fabulous, and I’m doing everything I can to keep it healthy (see opportunities below).

Trellises – I’ve written about growing our raspberries, tomatoes and squash vertically. It totally worked. We got great yields in much less space than we would have without the trellises.

How to grow squash vertically

Watering – This was a very, very, very dry summer. I was very thankful for our well, so that we didn’t have to pay municipal water fees. We watered every other day–more than is recommended by most gardening how-tos–but I think it made the difference between losing most of our plants (which didn’t happen) and harvesting a very impressive crop (which did).

Crops – In terms of impressive, the key successes this year were peppers and beans, which last year did next to nothing. Two new crops–sunflowers and watermelon–were also great successes. The watermelon took forever to ripen, but finally made it thanks to the hot summer weather continuing well into fall.

Watermelon harvest fall 2016

Our potatoes, tomatoes and zucchini were crazy prolific as usual, and the new versions we tried–ridiculously giant Sicilian Saucer tomatoes and Russian Blue potatoes–were fun additions.

Russian blue potato


Raised beds – Argh the raised beds. I love having the perimeter beds in the garden, but the soil we bought for them was not good at all. Weeds didn’t even grow. The asparagus, hollyhocks and some of the herbs eventually got some traction, but it took all season. The carrots, beets and onions were nearly complete failures. Some of the herbs just shriveled up and died.

Pathetic carrots

Dead lavender plant

I’m not sure what we need to do to remedy this next year. The soil was triple mix which is supposed to include compost, peat moss and top soil. However, our triple mix is very sandy and seems to be deficient in nutrients. I’m thinking all kinds of compost and manure might revitalize it.

Black raspberries – My attempts to domesticate the wild black raspberries that grow elsewhere on the farm was also a big fat fail. These plants can only be described as brambles. They’re thorny and floppy–and when they flop over, they root themselves into the ground making a big tangled mess. I channeled Sleeping Beauty’s Prince Phillip and dug them all out last weekend. I’m looking forward to finding a new kind of berry to plant in their place next spring.

Weeds – One of the things I wanted to try this year was using a deep layer of straw as a mulch over the garden to smother the weeds. Matt and I brought an old abandoned bale of straw up to the garden, but I never got around to spreading it over the garden. We didn’t keep up with weeding by hand, so the garden was very, very weedy. The deep mulch method is still on my list for next year.

Weedy garden

Plant the whole garden – Our garden is big. Last year we planted just half, but this year we made it up to three quarters . I ended up mowing the weeds in the empty quadrant all summer. Not the best use of space. I’m hoping that we can use the whole garden next year.


Maintain the soil – I’m learning that gardening is about growing soil, more than growing plants. Last fall I added ash and manure to the whole garden. This year, I’m aiming for more manure and some compost–especially in the raised beds. I’m also trying a cover crop for the first time, seeding one quadrant with winter rye. Crop rotation is another consideration that I’m realizing takes lots of advance thought–as in years in advance.

Slow-growing crops – Asparagus and grapes were two additions to the garden this spring. Both are going to be long-term commitments, and I’m hoping that they make it through the winter and thrive next year.

First year grape vines

New additions – I’m looking forward to adding more herbs to the raised beds and putting more thought into how they’re clumped around the perimeter of the garden. Another consideration is maybe a cutting garden, or at least dressing up the vegetables–and filling some of the vacant spaces–with a selection of flowers.


Infrastructure – There’s another corporate, distinctly non-garden word for you. But I don’t know how else to describe the base structures that form the garden–and that as of this year are all done. Last year our big accomplishment was the fence. This year, we added the curbs, raised beds, trellises, gate and waterline. I’m looking forward to not “building” the garden next year and just planting it.

#Harvest16 – Once again, the garden was super, duper productive. We had more zucchini, tomatoes and watermelon than we could use–to the benefit of our families and co-workers. We’re hoping that our squash and potatoes last well into the winter. Any storage tips?

Garden harvest fall 2016

Preserving – I feel like growing your own garden soon leads to preserving your own food, and this year Matt and I dove in to canning. We pickled about 10 pounds of beans–I was skeptical, but they’re so good I can eat a jar on my own–and made nearly 12 litres of our own ketchup–Matt is a big user of ketchup and is very particular about his preferred brand… although he has now switched allegiances to our homemade version. We’ve also loaded up the freezer with beans, roasted tomatoes, grated zucchini and plan to add peppers.

I’m not quite ready to call this year’s garden completely done, but I am ready to call it a success. In fact, we have also fulfilled every single goal I had for the garden in my original Home Goals 2016 post. That’s an achievement.

How did your garden grow this year? Any tips for storing potatoes and squash? Or favourite recipes to share? Anyone have ideas for the soil in our raised beds?

Prickly pants

Pants covered in prickles

Our trails are a wee bit overgrown. After an evening hike with Baxter, I returned to the house and spent half an hour picking prickles off of my pants.

To be fair, I had ventured off trail for awhile when Baxter decided to choose his own adventure. (Did anyone read those books as a kid? I usually cheated and looked ahead to find what chapter I had to choose to get the good ending). However, half the prickles had already attached themselves to me before I left the path.

I asked Matt whether he thought a big strong man with a chainsaw might find his way out to the back woods. (Some trees are down too). He suggested a little strong woman could do it herself.

So much glamour and gallantry here on the farm.

Growing sunflower seeds

It’s been neat to watch the sunflowers go through their various stages of growth.

More than a month ago you saw the cheery blossoms.

A couple of weeks ago, the seeds started to come in. The spiky flowers in the centre of the blossom dropped off to reveal the tightly packed seeds.

Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds

It was about this time that the local wildlife seemed to discover the sunflowers.

I had hoped to get another photo this week, but the flowers have been nearly picked clean. Most of the seeds have been consumed.

The biggest culprits are the blue jays. Any time I walk past the garden, at least six jays erupt from the sunflower patch. We’ve also spotted chipmunks and squirrels.

So it appears that we may be buying bird seed again this year.


Happy fall from Illinois

Lots is happening in Illinois this fall. Sarah is here today with a whole bunch of updates–and some very exciting news.

Happy fall! I thought this week I would give you a review of what has been going on around here and a little sneak peek of what we are preparing for.

Harvest is in full swing here. Steve has been working long hours every day in the combine. It seems like every field on my drive to and from work is either already harvested or has farmers in it working hard.

The view from our house is opening up since we have fields on all four sides. But I have to admit; with or without crops our view isn’t too bad.

The chickens are doing great. They have become very comfortable here.

Maybe just a little too comfortable.

I can pretty much count on getting two eggs a day from them.

From everything I have read, four chickens should average about three eggs a day. So I think they still have some room from improvement. We have been catching grasshoppers from the fields for them and they have learned who brings them the treats. They follow us around the yard all of the time.

One project that we are currently working on is building a garage inside of our pole barn. I have decided to do one large recap of that when we finish, but here is a hint of what we have been working on including pouring a concrete slab for the floor.

And finally, if you follow me on Instagram you already know the most exciting news: we are adding four legs to our family. I will give him a formal introduction once he joins us, but here is my first picture with him on the day I picked him from the litter.

Our house is about to get a whole lot busier.

What does fall look like at your house? What crops grow in your area? Any suggestions on introducing the new puppy to the chickens?

Aaah! That is very exciting, Sarah. New chickens and new puppy all in one year. You’re more ambitious than me. As cute as that fluff ball is, I think I’m most jealous of your fresh eggs and your new garage.

16 things

My favourite tree at sunset in the fall

This list was originally published as “15 Ordinary Things that Amuse City People*” in the June 2007 edition of Harrowsmith Country Life. The asterisk led to a footnote: “and that country dwellers should never take for granted.”

Matt’s aunt–a fellow magazine and book hoarder–passed the magazine on to me last weekend.

As I typed them out, I realized there are actually 16 things–I counted twice just to make sure.

It also occurred to me that today, as we celebrate Thanksgiving here in Canada, these are pretty good things to be thankful for.

Living on our farm is one of the most meaningful experiences of my life, and I’m grateful everyday that I am able to see, appreciate and enjoy these and so many other things:

  1. Sheep
  2. Fresh air
  3. Tractors
  4. Horizons
  5. Home-grown veggies
  6. Deer
  7. Deer and fawn
  8. Cattle chewing their cuds
  9. Sunrise over the cornfield
  10. Barns
  11. Church suppers
  12. An apple fresh off the tree
  13. Homemade maple syrup
  14. Babbling brooks
  15. Inhaling after a summer storm
  16. Starry starry nights

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians.

Fun oversize Scrabble art for the basement

Oversize scrabble tiles as art in the game room

Anyone want to play Scrabble? I’ll bring some letters if you bring the very, very large board.

When it comes to art in this house, I follow two principles: keep it personal and keep it inexpensive. For the basement, I have one more factor: keep it fun.

A wall full of really big Scrabble tiles ticks all the boxes.

Oversize scrabble tiles as art in the game room

Personal: The letters are the initials for us and everyone in our immediate family. Moms, Dads, brothers, sisters, in-laws, nephews, niece, pets.

A message from Auntie JuJu to the two babies joining our family in the next few months: your names must start with one of these 16 letters. More than half the alphabet is in play. That’s lots of options for you.

Inexpensive: Sanding all of these tiles took a bit of time, but since I’m not paying myself an hourly rate, my only costs were a few 2x10s, some sandpaper, printer paper, Mod Podge and a paint pen.

Fun: We have giant Scrabble tiles hanging on our wall. That’s not typical artwork.

Oversize scrabble tiles as art in the game room

When I was making these, I wanted the letters to hang perfectly flush to the wall. Even the thinnest hanger didn’t appeal to me.

Oversize scrabble tiles as art in the game room

I came up with a simple solution that was also–you guessed it–cheap.

I routed a channel in the back of each tile, which slips over a nail that I hammered into the wall.

Oversize scrabble tiles as art in the game room

Adding art to the basement was one of my Home Goals for 2016. We call this room the long room, so I wanted some substantial art that could fill the wall. Sixteen large wood slabs work very well.

Oversize scrabble tiles as art in the game room

Do you play Scrabble? Would you ever hang boardgame art on your walls? How do you handle art when you have a big wall?





How to grow squash vertically

Last year, our squash took over the garden. Fully half of our nearly 2,500 square foot garden was completely covered in squash vines.

We loved the squash that we harvested, and we knew we were definitely growing squash again. However, we knew that we weren’t willing to give up that much of the garden this year.

My plan to corral the squash was first to plant less. No matter how much we like squash, we cannot eat nearly 40 butternuts and about 70 acorns (last year’s harvest).

Wheelbarrow full of acorn squash, butternut squash and pumpkins

The second part of the plan was to coax it up, rather than across. Up was a theme of our garden all this season. I’ve already shared how our raspberries and tomatoes are growing vertically. Now it’s time for the report on our final vertical experiment.

And this truly was an experiment. We were growing acorn and butternut squash. They weren’t small and lightweight. I wasn’t sure whether the vines would be strong enough to support the hanging fruit.

Back in the spring, I built a large A-frame. It was about 8 feet tall and 16 feet long.

A-frame squash trellis

We used 2x3s for the As with plywood at the peaks for extra stability. The top ridge is two 2x2s. Each A is screwed into stakes that are hammered into the ground. We spread wire fencing across each side and attached it to the wood with big staples. Just for extra stability, we tied each end of the trellis to the fence so that it couldn’t fall over.

How to grow squash vertically

With the A frame in place, I planted (half) our squash seeds under the trellis.

Squash seedlings

As the plants grew, I tucked the vines into the mesh. The vines were a bit fragile and bruised or even snapped easily. I learned it was important to not let the plants get away from me. I had to be diligent about training them up the trellis before they grew too big. Fortunately, the squash seemed to recover quickly from any of the damage I inflicted.

Squash growing up an A-frame trellis

Just like last year, though, the squash took over. Thankfully, this year it took over in the right direction–up. Soon, the whole A frame was completely covered.


The plants blossomed and set fruit. And I crossed my fingers that the fruit would stay on the vines long enough to ripen.

We’re nearing the end of the season now, and I’m happy to report that things are looking really good. The leaves are starting to die off, so you can see just how good for yourself. Behold, the squash.

How to grow squash vertically

Yup. Once again, we have a whole lotta squash. And they’re big ‘uns. Oy vey.

How to grow squash vertically

The butternuts are phenomenal. The acorns are more iffy. But I’m not sure that I can blame the trellis.

First, we don’t have quite as many acorns as I was expecting. The butternuts definitely have them beat for quantity.

Second, the acorns aren’t exactly all acorns. They come in a few different shapes. Any ideas what would make them grow so differently?

Elongated acorn squash

Mishapen acron squash

Despite some mutants, I’m calling the vertical squash growing experiment a success. It’s definitely a method we’ll be using again.

Have you done any experiments in your garden this year? Have you tried vertical gardening? What’s your favourite type of squash? Any tips for storing the squash or recipes to share?