On thin ice

I think this hole in the ice is a sign that someone had a bad day.

Breaking through the ice

But someone else didn’t take the warning.

“What do you mean the ice isn’t safe?”

Dog on thin ice

“My foot’s cold… and wet.”

At the edge of the pond

(And just in case you’re worried, the pond is pretty shallow here, so when Bax did actually break through, he was able to climb out without any trouble. Although he was a little miffed that the ground cracked and he ended up wet. I also had him on his long lead so he couldn’t wander too far.)

Keeping score

I feel like I’ve crossed a new milestone in blogger-dom. I used chalkboard paint.

I know. It’s like nearly four years in, I’m finally a serious blogger.

Tall chalkboard for score-keeping in the games room

I’ve been wanting to add a chalkboard to the long room in the basement for awhile now. This is the room that holds our pingpong table and dartboard.

I figured a chalkboard would give us a place to write down the score, and it could also play the role of “art”–one of my home goals for 2016 being to decorate the basement.

I used rough cut 1x3s for the frame and screwed them together with my Kreg Jig. Lesson learned, lumber this thin will split if you screw into it sideways. Cut a new piece, redrill the pocket holes, screw into the end grain, all is well.

Pocket holes with the kreg jig

The frame is stained with a mix of Minwax Classic Grey and Provincial. I find as I proceed with decorating this house, my style is getting more and more rustic–hence the rough cut lumber and the grey stain.

The chalkboard itself is a piece of hardboard coated with chalkboard paint. With chalkboard paint (for those that aren’t in the know), you have to “season” it before you use it. That means you rub it all over with chalk and then erase it. If you don’t do this, your writing won’t erase properly. However, this eliminates the beautiful black finish and makes your board very grey. I was a bit disappointed by this, but I think I can live with it. I’m not prepared to buy a big piece of actual chalkboard to fix it.

Tall chalkboard for score-keeping in the games room

The chalk and eraser sit on the floor in a wood bowl that my Dad made.

Chalk and erase in a wood bowl

Now we just have to clear Matt’s box collection off the pingpong table so we can actually use the chalkboard (darts is not my sport). Keeping it real for you.

Tall chalkboard for score-keeping in the games room

Speaking of sports, are you watching the Superbowl this weekend? Have you ever used chalkboard paint? Any darts tips to share?

Gate crasher

This intersection is at the east end of our property.

Intersection

For some reason, it’s a challenging intersection. Maybe the signs disappear every so often. I dunno. But cars frequently come straight through the intersection and end up in the ditch (note how the grass doesn’t grow here because it gets torn up so often).

Ditch

However, last week, a car missed the ditch and instead ended up in our field. The problem was the gates to the field were closed at the time, so a gate, two fence posts and a few dozen feet of fence ended up in the field too.

The driver was fine. Our gate, not so much.

Field entrance

Dude must have been moving because the fence and posts are deep in the field.

Broken gate

And the posts are very, very shattered. The biggest post is actually broken in two pieces. Insane.

Broken fence posts

Even the metal hinge that’s almost an inch in diameter snapped.

Broken gate hinge

Car parts and shards of the posts are scattered through the field.

Car parts

Is that???

VW decal

Yup. It is.

VW decal

The field is far enough from the house that we didn’t actually see the accident. We found out about all of this when a police officer showed up at the house on Saturday afternoon. I got a quote from our farmer on how much it’s going to cost to fix the fence and the gate, and I called Mr. VW to discuss where we go from here. He’s supposed to drop off the money this afternoon. Fingers crossed he follows through.

Garden plans

I’ve held off posting about the garden until February.

Yes, today is the very first day of February. But I held off.

You see, I’ve been thinking about this garden since before the end of last season.

You’re impressed with my restraint, aren’t you?

You know who’s not impressed or excited? Baxter. Dude does not share my enthusiasm for the garden at all. In fact, he drooled on my garden plan as I was writing this post.

Baxter sleeping on the garden plan

But never mind him. I will carry on.

There are a few things feeding my obsession:

  1. I’ve wanted a garden ever since we moved to the farm and last year it finally happened.
  2. It turned out the garden was a project that both Matt and I enjoyed. Sometimes our projects tend to belong more to one of us, so it was nice to have something we were both invested in.
  3. The garden worked! We had so much food. It was amazing.
  4. There’s so much potential. Translation: So much more to do.

You saw some of my to-do list in my Home Goals 2016 post. Today I want to focus less on what has to be done and more on what could be done.

As in, what could be grown.

Here’s my initial idea for the upcoming season (minus the drool).

Round garden plan for 2016

The big news for this year is that we’re using the whole garden. Last year, we only cleared half.

So that means we can plant more of certain things (potatoes, beans) and more new things (broccoli, watermelon, eggplant, asparagus, sunflowers). You’ll see there are still a few blanks in the plan above. I’m open to suggestions.

I also feel like this is the year to sort out the best layout. I’m still wrapping my head around gardening in the round. The layout of two central axes crossing at right angles, and then shorter rows running perpendicularly (does that description make any sense?) is something I started last year. I found it’s a helpful way to divide this huge garden into manageable sections.

A couple of points to keep in mind:

  • The raspberries, squash and tomatoes are all going to be on trellises, so think vertical when you envision those.
  • The perimeter plantings are going to be in slightly raised beds. The rest of the garden is all at ground level.
  • The bottom left corner can be a wee bit shady late in the day.

As always, though, I would appreciate your input.

What plants would you suggest? How would you lay things out? What summer projects are you planning? What are you going to grow in your garden this year?

Tough times on the trail

Does anyone watch the Amazing Race? Matt and I have watched every season. If you’ve not seen it, in every episode, as well as having to get from point A to point B, there are specific challenges the teams have to complete.

Sometimes the challenges are ridiculous. As in spend 14 hours doing the most physical, back-breaking, exhausting task possible.

Every so often, Matt and I find ourselves in a situation that could be an Amazing Race challenge.

That was the case about a month ago when Matt came up with the idea to clean up some of the deadfall on the east trail. I’ve mentioned before that our trails are a bit challenging. On the east trail, the challenge comes from downed trees, fallen branches and all kinds of brush.

Deadfall in the back woods

Matt’s done this cleanup before with his Dad. I’ve never experienced this particular version of reality TV come to life. Now that I have, I don’t think I’ll be sending in my Amazing Race audition tape any time soon. Real life is quite enough.

This particular Amazing Race challenge was to

  1. Gather the necessary equipment–trailer, chainsaw, chainsaw oil, gas, chainsaw wrench, safety equipment, wheelbarrow
  2. Take the customary local conveyance (the tractor) from point A (the house) to point B (the back field)
  3. Fill the trailer with firewood.
  4. Race to the finish line (back at the house).

The key to successfully completing an Amazing Race task is smart division of labour. So Matt went to work with his chainsaw, and I had a near death experience pushed the wheelbarrow. I don’t have a picture of this because I was busy dying. Also unlike on the Amazing Race we didn’t have a camera crew following our every move.

This hill may not look like much, but it felt incredibly steep going up (and then down the other side).

Gathering firewood in the forest

The wheelbarrow was not the ideal tool for this operation, given the rocks, mud and sticks buried in the trail. Plus we were pretty far back in the woods, so the push was loooooong. And just when you approached the end, there was the catwalk over the corduroy road at the entrance to the trail.

Pushing the wheelbarrow over the forest catwalk

Between the two of us we managed five loads of firewood and only a small section of trail. But, that worked out to a mostly full trailer, fulfilling our Amazing Race objective. Can’t you tell how thrilled I am?

Trailer loaded with firewood

At the end of an Amazing Race episode, competitors sprint to the finish mat where they are greeted by the host. If they’re first, they get a special prize.

In our case, I drove Wiley back to the house while Matt rode in the trailer. After stacking the wood, unhooking the trailer and putting the tractor away, we staggered to the house. As we were the only team on this leg, I think we came in first. However, our prize of an ATV and a small trailer that fits in the trail were missing.

So we’ll not be doing more clearing any time soon. I’m sure we’ll find another Amazing Race worthy challenge though. They seem to be fairly common around the farm.

Stay tuned for our next episode.

What’s your favourite reality TV show? Have you ever auditioned for a TV show? What Amazing Race-esque challenges do you get into at your house?

Planning a cutting garden

Sarah in Illinois is back today, sharing how she’s coping with her winter cabin fever. Hint: warmer times plus pretty flowers figure in her plans.

One of my goals for 2016 is creating a cutting garden. Having a vase of flowers on my counter always makes me smile. Steve usually buys me flowers for special occasions and my mom gives me flowers sometimes, but the idea of walking out to the yard and creating my own bouquet just sounds perfect.

I’ve had the idea of a cutting garden for a while. We have a small ditch that is hard to keep mowed, and I considered planting wild flowers there. That is something we still might do, but I have decided to create a designated cutting garden in another spot. We have started receiving seed catalogs in the mail and email and planning a garden has been keeping my cabin fever away.

I have made up my mind to do a raised bed for my cutting garden. I will probably follow the plans that Kit shared with us over at DIYdiva. She was able to make some great looking beds that did not break the bank. And while I am making them, I will add one for asparagus and one for strawberries.

But I am going to have to talk to Steve and decide where we want to put all of these beds and plan them so that they are easiest to mow and weed around. So those ideas are still rolling around in my head.

I need to make a list of flowers that I want to include. This Old House website gave a list of fast-growing cutting flowers, and I thought that would be a great place to start.

It mentions that Black-Eyed Susans are good for deer deterrent, which I didn’t know. I occasionally see deer tracks in my yard and near the garden so it won’t hurt to plant Black-Eyed Susan. Plus they are so bright and cheerful! I know I want to plant cosmos and poppies, and I am sure I will be picking flowers by what catches my eye at the time.

I am surprised at how much planning there will be in this garden. Should I plant in rows like a traditional garden or in a more free-form design? I want to plant close together to keep weeds down and use as little chemical weed treatment as possible. I want to have a mix of colors, a mix of annual and perennials, and I will probably plant seeds along with plants. Since this is my first time with a cutting garden, it is really going to be an experiment, and I plan to take notes so that I can improve on it each year.

Have any of you created a cutting garden? Do you have any suggestions for me? Any flowers that you would be sure to add?

I plan to keep you updated through the year on how it is going.

Ahhh… beautiful flowers spread around your home. That sounds lovely. I’m never good at picking flowers to bring them inside, but I admit I’ve considered having my own cutting garden. And poppies are definitely on my list too. I’m really interested to learn from Sarah’s experience this year.

Halfway to a hospitable guest room

This house is the first time we’ve had an honest to goodness spare bedroom. We like it when people come to stay with us. However it doesn’t happen that often. Perhaps because the room has never been very welcoming.

You saw last week that making over the guest room is one of my home goals for 2016. Today I’m ready for the first progress report.

Here’s a really bad photo to show roughly where we started. (We usually put sheets on the bed when we have guests).

Guestroom before

The specialest features of this room were the stippled ceiling, ugly ceiling fan and pseudo wood paneling. And everything was dirty. Incredibly dirty, as is the norm for any untouched space in this house.

I’m almost ashamed to remember that we used this room as our bedroom up until about a year ago. When we scraped the ceilings after Christmas, the water running down the walls left brown and grey dirt tracks. So gross.

Despite its… specialness… this room is not going to be a hard fix. Here’s the to-do list:

  • Scrape the stippled ceiling
  • Paint the ceiling, walls and trim
  • Replace the light fixture
  • Make window treatments
  • Refinish the desk chair
  • Strip the paint off the metal bedframe (and maybe repaint)
  • Decorate and personalize

And here’s where we are so far.

Guest room makeover progress

Better, right? Even that paneling looks okay now that all of the holes are patched and it’s painted a pretty blue-green (Wythe Blue from Benjamin Moore).

We’ve obviously made really good progress, but despite appearances I feel like I’m only halfway. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve moved onto decorating (hanging pictures, adding the flowers) as a way to avoid starting on the curtains.

The finishing touches are usually the hardest part of any makeover, right? But if we truly want a hospitable room, we should give our guests the option of sleeping past dawn. Sigh. Curtains here I come.

Do you have fake wood paneling at your house? How about a guest room? What must-haves should I include in our guest room?

Floorplan #3 – Master suite on the edge of the forest

This month, I’m sharing some of the floorplans I’ve worked through in the four years since we’ve owned the farm.

Just a reminder, here is our current layout.

Current floorplan

Last week you saw my second idea–adding a garage off the living room and turning the pool room into our master bedroom–which has been the plan for most of the time we’ve lived here. But all the way along, I struggled with losing the lawn on the south side of the house to the garage.

Matt has advocated pretty much since day 1 for the pool room becoming the garage. I could stomach the south lawn being a driveway better than I could handle it being garage. So that became the basis for floorplan #3.

Floorplan #3

Highlights:

  • The pool room becomes the garage. I’m pretty sure we’re going to need a mini-extension on the garage in order to fit two cars. Basically, the width of the mudroom gets tacked on the end.
  • Like in all of my plans, the current mudroom comes off and the front entrance shifts so that my office becomes the front foyer. Again, I think I can deal with the first view as you come into the house being the bathroom.
  • The back door in the kitchen is closed in, the window is expanded, and the wall pushes out about 5 feet.
  • The hallway is extended through the closets in the two bedrooms and the master suite (along with new closets) is added on the north side of the house. (And as I look at this, I realize it may make sense to switch the bathroom and closet… although I think this very not-to-scale floorplan is skewing the proportions).
  • The new mudroom and back door are still about 6 steps down from the kitchen.
  • We would still upgrade all of the doors and trim and add a metal roof.

Pros:

  • This reno could likely be done in phases.
  • The kitchen expansion gives us a bit more counter space, room for bigger appliances, more natural light and my coveted view down to the pond.
  • There is direct access from the mudroom to the outside, so we don’t have to walk through the garage.
  • Bedrooms 1 and 2 still have good closets, added along with the master.
  • The bedrooms are all together at the end of the house. The master bedroom is nestled up to the forest and still has a pretty good view of the pond.
  • We keep the lawn on the south side of the house.

Cons:

  • This is a bigger renovation with three separate additions: the garage, the kitchen and the master suite.
  • Running plumbing, electrical and HVAC to the master bedroom addition is a long way from the utility room under the living room fireplace.
  • This reno disrupts pretty much every room in the house.
  • Bedrooms 1 and 2 lose the windows they currently have on the north wall.
  • The pool room–one of the best rooms in the house in terms of size and windows–becomes the garage. Not a room you typically visit to enjoy the view.
  • We’ll lose a few trees, and we might have to fill in part of the small ravine on the edge of the north lawn.

Here’s the view of the north lawn. Pretty much this whole lawn would be taken over by the addition. The ground drops off right at the tree line on the right side of the picture. To be able to walk around the extended house on this side, we’d have to take out a few trees and level the ground a bit.

North lawn

Right now, this plan is the front-runner for me. I’m willing to sacrifice the north lawn as opposed to the south. I still get everything I want–better kitchen, front porch, master suite, attached garage, farmy-country appearance. Plus I get to keep the quality of the property around the house.

This is the last plan that I have to share. Going back to the home goals that I shared at the start of the week, my next step is to meet with a contractor or two and start to get some idea of costs of plans #2 and #3. The contractor I have in mind has experience with big renovations like this, and I think he might have some good suggestions for the best layout too.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your suggestions.

What do you think about this plan? Do you like all the bedrooms to be together? What adjustments would you make?

Home Goals 2016

I really enjoy the process every January of setting my home goals for the coming year. (If I’m being honest, I start thinking about them in December or even earlier). I’m not big on resolutions on the personal front, but on the home front my annual plan helps me stay focused.

This year, I’m going to try to continue last year’s plan of striking a balance between productivity and a bit of relaxation. There’s still lots to do, of course. But it’s been four years since we bought the farm. Obviously, our renovation pace is not even close to breakneck.

We are approaching the point where we have either really big projects (kitchen, bathroom, garage, master suite) or small stuff (paint the guest room, dining room, my office). For now, I’m keeping the focus on the small stuff.

Which will help me to continue another theme from last year: frugality. We did pretty well on that front in 2015. You’ve seen some of my long-term renovation plans already, so continuing to save money in 2016 will be helpful.

And that’s the first goal on the list: get an idea of how much the Big Reno is going to cost.

Beyond that, the focus is going to be on small, frugal things.

Guest room

Matt and I got a start on this at the tail end of last year by scraping the stippled ceiling. We have more to go to make it match the picture in my mind.

  • Paint the walls and trim
  • Replace the light fixture
  • Make window treatments (ugh… I really don’t want to sew curtains again)
  • Refinish the desk chair
  • Strip the paint off the metal bedframe (and maybe repaint)
  • Decorate and personalize

Finish the basement

Scrabble art for the basement

Source: insideways

The basement was our very first project when we moved to the farm. But the nit-picky finishing bits are still hanging around. I just need to get my butt in gear and get it done.

  • Trim around the cold cellar doorway
  • Finish the built-in storage area in Matt’s bathroom
  • Make/buy art to finish off the space (this one’s a carry-over from the 2015 home goals)
  • Build shelving in the closet under the stairs

Furniture

My list of wanted furniture is getting shorter and shorter.

  • China cabinet for my office
  • Coffee table for the living room
  • Reupholster slipper chair for my office (in the same beautiful Brissac Jewel by P Kaufmann that I used for my bulletin board)

Vegetable garden

Last year’s top home goal returns. There’s still more to do to make my dream vegetable garden.

  • Hang the gate
  • Edge the garden
  • Build raised beds around the perimeter
  • Build trellises for the raspberries, tomatoes and squashes (we can’t have the squashes running rampant again this year)
  • Plant perennials: grapes, asparagus, rhubarb, more raspberries
  • Run a waterline out to the garden

Outdoor clean-up

Manicured meadow

Source: LandVest

I’m going to be a bit ambitious this year and add a second outdoor task to the list. The task of cleaning up this property could be a full year project for a full team of people. It’s a job of picking up rocks, extracting weeds (fire worked well last year), grading (and maybe adding a bit more topsoil), seeding grass, mowing. And it’s a matter of picking my spot… and being satisfied with a spot, not all of them. Here are my options:

  • North side of the house
  • West side of the house
  • On the edge of the woods at the north side of the house
  • Around the barn (all points of the compass)
  • Behind the driveshed and around the garden
  • At the foot of the driveway
  • Along the shore of the pond (oh how I want to clear the shore so that I can get close to my pond)

Six goals for 2016. I feel like there’s a bit of symmetry in that. Most important I feel like these goals should be relatively achievable.

In fact, the year is already off to a pretty good start.

The guest room is well underway, and I’ve started a few projects for the basement too.

You’ll see some of those soon.

Are you setting goals for 2016? What projects do you hope to complete this year?