There’s always a project on at the farm. We put in the garden, expanded the garden, did the renovation, expanded the garden, had the berm built… Part of the appeal of the farm is the endless possibility of things to add, improve or create.

This year we’re busy adding to our tree count.  The local conservation authority has a program to sell tree seedlings very inexpensively as long as you can prove a good reason for planting them and are willing to take a lot at once.  We’d been meaning to do this for a few years but it sneaks up on us and we’ve missed the deadline in the past.  This year we got organized and did our first order of 50 maples, 25 pine, 50 cedar, 25 serviceberries and 25 dogwoods.  The WorkHorse put his tree planting high school summer job experience to good use as he got busy planting them.  It took a full 2 days to get them all in – the ground at the farm being a little more pliable than concrete – but with his team of helpers (the kids) he got them in.  At one point they were digging holes near the neighbour’s property and their chickens came by and kept eating the worms out of the WorkHorse’s shovel.  The chickens at least were big fans of the tree planting effort.


We have a whole crop of orange markers everywhere.  This will give us a 3% chance of not hitting the trees with the mower.

Besides looking to fill in some gaps for a bit more privacy (that’s what the conifers are for), we’re worried about our aging maples.  There are probably a hundred around the perimeter of the farm and down the driveway and they are probably a hundred years old.  Hopefully we’re getting ahead of the tree decline.

The kids couldn’t understand why we were planting all of these baby trees since it will be decades before they’ll mature.  I guess our vantage point is different.  We explained that we’re planting these trees for their children.  Makes sense to me, someone planted them for ours.

Besides the big tree plant, we also added more fruit trees.  Two more plums, two pears and two more apples.  The beautiful old apple tree is on its last legs unfortunately and we like our applesauce at Northbrook.  The WorkHorse planted the new trees near some apples we’d planted last year and the year before and it’s turning into a lovely little orchard space.  I’m thrilled with it and I have visions of setting a table in the middle of the these trees for a special occasion one day.

I’ve always thought that our job is to protect and add to the natural beauty of the farm.  Investing in a whole pile of trees seems like one of the best ways to accomplish that.


One of new baby trees



The (terrible, horrible, no good, very bad) renovation

When last I posted (two years ago!) I was, simply put, in a state.  The farm, my happy place, had seemingly turned on me.  The renovation was stalled, the pipes had burst leaving a mess and an extra expense of a new bathroom, and the Workhorse was beside himself.  Our contractor, who had begun to seem a little fishy, was starting to smell like a decomposing whale.  The lies, once convincing, started to pile up.  I wanted to trust him – he seemed like a nice guy, and if I believed his stories, he’d had all kinds of personal problems.  The Workhorse wanted him gone.  I stalled.

Then the City shut us down.  The building permits, we had been repeatedly assured, were just waiting to be picked up the next time the contractor was in the vicinity of the permit office.  Turns out no permits had ever been applied for.  This was a very hard pill to swallow since I had tried to convince the contractor to let me handle the permit process but he had insisted that he could do it better, faster and easier.  It also turns out we had hired a pathological liar.  I’ve never encountered anyone like him before and I hope never to again.

The City was not amused.  All work was halted.  We fired the contractor and begged and grovelled to the City inspectors who didn’t want to believe we had been duped. We started to hear from trades, whose work we’d paid for only to find out they’d never been paid by the contractor.  That was one of the worst parts. Everyone felt awful about it, except the lying contractor, presumably.  A new (wonderful) contractor was hired and the City let us know we’d need a $20k septic system before work could continue.   The good times rolled on.

Everyone who wades into the waters of home improvement has one really bad renovation, I think.  This was ours.  Work didn’t really start again until April.  It cost a trillion dollars, more or less, took 13 months, not 60 days and probably took two years off the Workhorse’s life in stress.

In the meantime, I fell out of love with the farm.  Besides the stress and hemmorhaging of cash, the place looked like crap.   Grass had been ruined, there were piles of wood and fill around the farm and it looked like hell.  It was all a mess and I certainly didn’t feel like writing about it.  We didn’t get the farm cleaned up and pretty again until this past summer.

At the end of the day, our addition was everything we wanted and more.  It’s beautiful and it has changed the way we live at the farm.  We put in a basement gym and the big family room is the best place to spend time together.  We have a big mudroom with lots of storage.  And the addition also made space for a smaller sitting room where the old living room was.



Here’s what it looks like now



It took the better part of two years, but we recovered from the betrayal of the bad contractor, we came up for air financially and we cleaned up the grounds.  Somewhere along the way I fell back in love with the farm.  Some things are meant to survive being tested.


Winter of discontent


The last time I posted I was longing for the lazy, cozy quiet of a Northbrook winter.  I imagined two weeks of Christmas holidays and then calm, relaxed weekends.  The universe had other plans for us.

About a week before Christmas we learned that pipes had frozen and burst during the week.  We dropped everything and drove up to the farm mid week only to find this.

frozen toilet

No, that’s not an ice sculpture, that’s the toilet in our master bathroom – completely encapsulated in ice.  At the end of the day we had a main bathroom that needed gutting, a living room ceiling that needed to be ripped out and replaced and this lovely hole in the plaster wall of our hallway.


The damage also meant that we didn’t spend the Christmas holidays at the farm – and the lovely tree that the kids decorated was enjoyed for a total of one evening.  Christmas in the city became a sort of utilitarian affair – the WorkHorse went to the office and I went to the gym.  In the midst of that routine we hosted the WorkHorse’s parents who were displaced by an ice storm.  I wouldn’t say it was a terrible Christmas, but it won’t go down as one of our favourites.

At the same time, the renovation that we were told would take no more than 60 days – we’d be sitting by the fire at Christmas, he said – drags on at a snail’s pace.  I’ve come to understand that everything that can go wrong will go wrong, and I’ve adjusted my expectations on timing.  Now I just hope that by the time summer rolls around our renovation will be complete and  in use.


It was all bound to happen.  These are the perils of owning a second home – and of renovating in general.

We’re coming to the end of our first full weekend at the farm since Christmas and we’re trying to enjoy despite its temporary shortcomings.  The upside is a new main bathroom, which should be finished soon – here’s a sneak peek:


One day soon this place will feel like home again in the same way.  In the meantime, I’m faking it with a pot of soup on the stove and a cup of tea at my side.

Drive by

Since I last posted more than two months ago it seems we’ve barely paused here at the farm.  With two years under my belt here, I now understand that the times of the year that keep us busiest in the city happen to coincide with the months in which the garden is most demanding.  As a result, when we’ve been at Northbrook over the last two months, which is less than I’d like it to be, we’ve been cleaning up the garden, planting garlic, mulching, composting and of course, gathering up the leaves.  Each autumn now I am truly grateful for the Cyclone Rake and it’s marriage-saving powers.

Not to be outdone by the grounds, the house has been requiring more than a little attention as our renovation is underway.

The idea, which came from the previous owner, was to tear down the summer kitchen – an uninsulated room attached to the house now used for storage and raccoon housing.  In it’s place will go a family room featuring comfortable seating and a fireplace.  It will also house electronics so that the current small living room can be a quiet place to sit and read.

Here’s what the summer kitchen looked like in the beginning.  I don’t have any indoor shots handy, but imagine a crappy shed-like room full of paint cans and racoon poo and you’ll get the idea.

summer kitchen july 2013

The reno began about a month ago.renovation 1renovation 2

Coming up each weekend is making the changes dramatic.renovation 3

Like any renovation worth its salt, it’s taking much longer than anticipated and will naturally lead to heart-palpitation worthy cost escalations.  It’s not our first rodeo, renovation wise, though so I know we’ll survive it all.  I’ve also discovered there’s a lot to be said for not living full-time where you’re renovating.

The rest of the last few months have been eaten up by city weekends, bike races and travels.  We held the second annual Northbrook Olympics.  image

The weather didn’t cooperate but I didn’t overcook the turkey this year, and I made this

delicious cake.pumpkin cake

Since we had to take it inside, we had a great game of charades.


Looking ahead, we’ll be tethered to the city over the next few weeks as the Girl turns nine, among other things.

girl at olympics

There are the holidays to prepare for and, as the renovation progresses door knobs, rugs and light fixtures to sort out.  It’s hard to believe, but I’m actually looking forward to winter coming – not so much for the weather, but for the hunkering down period.  Northbrook is perfect for many things, but passing a cold winter weekend is one of it’s best. Until the next drive by visit long enough for a blog post…


Racing to the end

Yesterday was our last full day of summer at Northbrook Farm.  Today we pack up and head back to the city in anticipation of back to school/life/work on Tuesday.  You’d think we spent the day swimming, eating, drinking and generally partying, wouldn’t you?  You’d be wrong.  We spent the day running as hard as we could.

First, we were expecting the annual wood delivery.  Usually Clayton and his buddy load the wood, with the aid of the WorkHorse, into the summer kitchen.  Since we’re about to rip the summer kitchen off we had to relocate this year.  So, we cleaned up the potting shed area of the Crappy Shed.  Clayton came and we helped him unload.  Then, and this is the fun part, we moved all of the remaining wood from last year from the summer kitchen to the crappy shed.  We unstacked it, transported it and restacked it.  Good times.  It’s a job done and at least the potting shed has had a much-needed cleaning.  I do like to keep it nice for the raccoons….

DSC_0020 (2)

After that, laundry.  So much laundry.  While the laundry was going I made a pot of chili for the freezer and supervised (minimally) the Girl making bread.  The WorkHorse never stopped all afternoon either. At 5:00, after picking a batch and a half of pickling cucumbers and dill, he decided to take the kids to find more apples while I made dinner.  After dinner the pickling and canning started.  While the apples were breaking down we made what we think will be the last dills of the year.  I then went to work on some Zesty Honey Pilsner pickles using the salad cucumbers from the garden, of which we had too many.

Everything took longer than anticipated and at 11:00 the madness was still ongoing.  In hindsight I’m grateful that a shortage of jars stopped me from making pickled carrots!  I was inspired by the pickling recipes in Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life and I’d made the pickled grapes the night before (oddly delicious, as I’d suspected).  The carrots will have to be pickled another day!

So far, 2013’s canning tally is:

dill pickles – 35 quarts

applesauce – 13 quarts (more to come hopefully)

salsa – 10 quarts

beets – 2 quarts

honey pilsner pickles – 4 quarts

pickled grapes – 1 quart

Total madness, right?  At the very least, we’re in good shape in the event of a zombie apocalypse, which when you live with a 10 year-old boy, is a topic that comes up more often than you would think.

Happy return to life to you, and let me know if you need a jar of pickles.

P.s. Here’s a shot of the garden this morning.