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.



We were woken by the sound of the wind howling, yelping and positively screaming around the house this morning.  The alarm clocks were blinking and, when I got up to see what kind of havoc the storm was wreaking on our rickety old maples, I found that I couldn’t see out of many of the windows for all of the snow blown on them. Here’s a view from this morning:

DSC_0537 The WorkHorse immediately considered the drive home. Not me, I’m just thinking about another day of totally justified laziness.  Yesterday I did so little that if there were an olympic event in slothery I’m fairly sure I would have medalled.  It’s not my fault.  The kids and the WorkHorse went into town to get some raccoon traps (more on that in a moment) and I was gloriously alone in the house.  After an hour of so of reading/obsessing about the garden (my seeds were delivered this week) I flipped on the TV where Patrick Swayze was just about to tell Jerry Orbach that no one puts baby in the corner.  That morphed into the last hour of Becoming Jane, followed by the entire Pride and Prejudice, which I cannot resist ever if it’s on.  So went my day yesterday.  Tough Mudder training started this week, and the additional cardio, plus some heavy deadlifts had left me sore and exhausted.  Thank goodness I have 8 months to get ready for this challenge – I think I’m going to need every minute.

I did pull it together enough to supervise the Girl in making some cookies with a batch of gluten free healthy cookies (they smell like dog food and taste only marginally better) for me.  For dinner I made my new favourite recipe.   I make two chickens because I eat a LOT of meat and the leftovers make me happy.


We get a lot of root vegetables in our winter CSA, so I roast them too – delicious.  And I’ve gotten into a very delightful appetizer.  Have you ever heard of watermelon radishes?  I hadn’t, until we got them in last year’s winter CSA.  I’d never been a fan of radishes, but then I read Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, and I have to admit that she converted me.  There are many radish references in her lovely book and I decided to give them another chance.  Now I’m loving them.  Particularly a watermelon radish, sliced as thinly as my $5 farm mandolin will allow, drizzled with good olive oil and fleur de sel.  I ate this last night while the chicken was cooking.  And then I ate the other half of the radish.  The WorkHorse was in another room and I didn’t exactly offer to share.  Can I justify my radish hogging by whining about my gluten (good cookie) free existence?  I’m going to try.


Today’s adventure had to do with our (so far fruitless) attempts to trap the raccoons who winter in our summer kitchen (it’s an old, uninsulated addition to the house where I guess they used to cook in the summer).  They summer elsewhere, it seems, but in the winter we can hear them going about their raccoony business and we can certainly smell them when we’re in the summer kitchen.  This weekend we decided to try and trap them.  The WorkHorse had read that cat food was their drug of choice, so he got a couple of traps – one where they enter the summer kitchen (under our kitchen porch stairs) and the other in the kitchen itself.  This morning we found the trap in the kitchen politely moved aside and the food eaten.  Under the kitchen porch was a very unhappy trapped cat.  Here’s the WorkHorse freeing the feline offender.


Once released, that cat moved so fast I actually couldn’t capture it on film.  Of course, I’m a clumsy photographer, so there’s that – but that cat was hauling ass off our farm.  At least one of us was moving this weekend.  The quest to become raccoon free will continue.  Mostly it’s just giving me more reason to want to renovate the summer kitchen into something like this.  Doesn’t a big stone fireplace, lots of windows overlooking the fields and endless comfy seating sound better than trapping raccoons?  I think so.

Dining Room Update

I’m a bit of a goal oriented person, and on my list this summer was to fix up the farm’s dining room.  Previously it was my least favourite room in the house, despite having good bones, beautiful pocket doors and lots of light.  It was also yellow.  Now I don’t have anything against yellow itself, but there is a colour of yellow that people paint their houses that sucks the life out of both the room and the people in it!  Adding to the horrible, soul-sucking yellow walls was that brass light fixture that was meant to look like a gas lamp.  We also have four different shades of wood in here, none of which looked good with yellow.  It was a wonder I ever ate a meal in here before.  Fortunately all of that has now changed.  The dining room is now my very favourite room in the house – thanks to a summer of mostly cheap fix-er-up projects.

First, we painted the room a soft grey, from Benjamin Moore’s Historic Collection.  It’s a shade darker than the grey in the hallway just outside the dining room.  Immediately the wood tones stopped looking awful – it was like the whole room relaxed.  Next, I fixed up that old jam cupboard – previously peach and green.  Now it’s a bit darker than the walls and has pretty glass knobs.  It’s also a place to stash some of the stuff that was just piled up in a wooden crate for the last year!  It was a messy job but completely worth it.  Here’s what it looks like now:

And, as you can see, we hung up the rooster painting we got from artist Julia McNeely just above it.  We did end up getting the pig painting too – those were the splurge items for the dining room.

Since that mason jar light fixture from pottery barn wasn’t going to work with our plaster medallion, the WorkHorse suggested an online search and I’m so glad he did.  I found this wonderful company on Etsy called BootsNGus  – and they custom-made us the most incredible mason jar chandelier – it’s perfect and I’m in love with it.

The other art projects were cheap, cheerful and dreamed up by yours truly.  First, we had some great birds’ nests that we’d found around the farm, and I wanted to show them off.  With a hot glue gun and a few Ikea shadow boxes, here’s what they look like:

We still had a bare spot, and I had some vintage table cloths from the Fairy Grandmother that I’d been waiting years to do something with.  I was going to make some quilt blocks to frame, but I realized they were perfect as they were.  Two more inexpensive Ikea frames and – voila – more cheap art!

Here’s a shot of the dining room now that’s it’s all done:

Don’t you love our laptops and all of the wires on the table?!  You may also notice that the table and the window are not lined up.  One of the farm’s many idiosyncracies is that the ceiling medallion and the window are misaligned, and the new fixture required lining the table up under it.  It actually seems as though the window isn’t centered in the wall.  I love an old house!

We’ve been at this project all summer, and I’m happy to say that there aren’t any more redecorating projects lined up.  We’ve got lots to do in the gardens, and lots of cooking to do in the kitchen this fall.  But now that the dining room is done, when can you come for dinner?

Getting things done

It’s been five days since we left our babies in the woods and while I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable with it, I’m getting more used to it.  And while I’d love to know how they’re doing, I’m enjoying the freedom from parenting and meal production.  Last night, for instance, the WorkHorse and I sat on the front porch for our farm-weekend tradition of cocktails and nibblies before dinner.  In the end, we just ate cheese and crackers and wine for dinner…glorious freedom, no guilt!

The other perk to having the kids away is plowing through the to-do list.  Now that the farm has been painted, I’m turning my attention to adding some decoration to the farm house.  We’ve had virtually nothing on the walls for a year, save for a painting by my father-in-law and the kids’ art here and there.  It’s time to make some changes and to make the place ours.

This week we had a chance to visit an artist whose work we’d seen in our local ice cream shop, of all places.  Her name is Julia McNeely and we fell in love with her farm animal paintings – they are bold and graphic and have just the right amount of modern to make it not too country, you know?  Here’s the rooster painting we picked up for the dining room (my poor photography doesn’t begin to do it justice).  We’re planning on a beautiful pig to go with it down the road.

Also for the dining room I’m obsessing about light fixtures.  We’ve got this ‘ye olde timey’ gas lantern thing up, which came with the house.  The WorkHorse likes it but it makes me want to die inside a little.  I’m afraid I’ve had to exercise a design veto on that one.  I’ve been yearning for mason jar chandelier like this:

Exeter 16-Jar Pendant, Galvanized Metal finish

The trouble is, we’ve got an original plaster medallion in the center of the ceiling which is messing with my plans.  I’ve found a company on etsy that makes great mason jar light fixtures and I’m hoping I can work something out with them.

The other long-overdue project for the dining room is to repaint an old jam cupboard that was a gift from the fairy grandmother.  It’s beautiful, but it’s also orange and green at the moment.  Early attempts at stripping it have indicated that it’ll be best to repaint.  Today’s kid-free project is going to be getting more of the paint off so it’ll be ready to paint next weekend.  It’s very hot and sticky, so the idea of spending the day in the shed, fully clothed to avoid being burned by the paint remover isn’t this farm girl’s idea of a good time.  But, it’s been sitting in that shed for a year, and it’s time.  Besides, it’ll be nice to get rid of the pile of junk that’s been sitting in the corner of the dining room for a year, waiting to go into the cupboard.

To motivate myself further, I’ll post the before picture:

Wish me luck on that one!

The other farm-related ‘getting things done’ project is fixing up an old window frame.  I’ve been looking for a great window frame to turn into a mirror for the upstairs hallway.  This involves yelling ‘slow down!’ every time we drive by an antiques store or garage sale while driving near the farm.  And there’s the pretty frame I missed out on at the Amish auction.  Last Sunday, after dropping the kidlets at camp, we finally had the chance to actually stop and poke around at an antiques store we often drive past.  We dug through piles of window and door frames and found a pretty but seriously beaten up frame.  It’s very tall – almost door sized, with rounded top that is oddly – hinged on.  The best part?  It was $40.  I dragged it into a local glass and mirror shop who will be fixing it and installing mirrors in the panes.  I think it’s going to be very cool, and cheap to boot!  I’ll show it to you when it’s done.

For now, though – it’s off to the shed and the jam cupboard…