The grandchildren have a little battery-operated John Deere Gator. This truck has been a thing of joy for the children. They have raced around the barn, crashed into brick walls and taken down a garden gate. But it seems this little truck is as strong as its namesake. The problem we have now is that the oldest child has outgrown it. She can no longer squeeze her length into the seat and reach the pedals. It was a sad day for her until she discovered that she now reached the pedals of our golf cart. Well, forget the Gator, which only held two anyway, the golf cart held three easily and more since dad had built a wooden bench on the back. All three children would zip around the farm with at least one adult yelling at her to slow down. She became pretty adept at keeping it slow, when she knew we were watching but like all kids, let loose whenever she could.
One day I was at my kitchen sink, which is on the back side of the property, where no one could see. I happened to look out my window and there, at the speed of light, goes the golf cart. The children’s noses were up in the air, their cheeks pulled back by the G force. I saw a red hat bouncing up and down race past in a blur. I could also see an accident about to happen. I raced outside where I stopped her and told her she was going too fast. To her credit she didn’t deny it, just asked. ‘How do you know?’ I answered her truthfully and said what all grandmothers have said: ‘Grandma knows everything.’
We can’t seem to get enough of gardening at our country home. Our latest addition is a garden of native flowering plants chosen specifically for winged pollinators.
The previous owner of our property was a prolific gardener. The abundance of gardens and variety of plants were a major factor in the aesthetic appeal of the property. She even went so far as to label each of her varieties of hostas, daylilies, peonies and non-native trees and shrubs. We never actually counted how many varieties of each there were and now our opportunity is lost, thanks to the toll children, chickens, rakes, and lawnmowers play on these labels. We try to preserve the labels that remain, but should probably just face reality and forgo the labels.
These perennial gardens are not the same as when we first arrived in 2011; trees and shrubs have since grown and the gardens are now better suited to shade tolerant species. We find it harder to find space for the species requiring full to partial sun. Each spring/summer mom goes on a thinning and pruning spree. Dad has spotted her and warned the children “uh-oh, there goes mommy with the clippers again.” When she really has the pruning bug, she will request that dad pull out the chainsaw for some serious modifications.
Despite the amount of work required to maintain a (pretty lax) feeling of order in the gardens, winter is a time when we tend to make plans to expand our gardens. Our latest endeavour is a garden along the side of our drive shed. The deck, which is a wonderful example of dad’s craftsmanship and pragmatism, does not have a picturesque view. In fact, it probably has the worst view possible; it faces an expanse of green corrugated steel that is broken up by a double-wide window. Where the drive shed is not obstructing the view, we gaze upon our gravel driveway and barn.
After some discussion and planning, dad built four beautiful cedar trellises and we dug a foot wide garden to run along the side of the drive shed. The bed’s exposure is full sun and southern (a rare aspect around here) and is nicely protected from prevailing winds by the cedar hedge that straddles the border between our house and the field.
We wanted to fill this garden with native plants that would attract butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. We find a visit from such a creature to be an exciting occurrence. A bit of researching led us to compose a list of sun-loving, native plants. In turn, dad began to hunt down our wish-list plants at Sheridan Nurseries: Goldflame Honeysuckle (Loincera x heckrotti ‘Goldflame’), Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias Incarnata) and a new variety of aster (Aster Kickin Lavender). We also added some non-native but bee, hummingbird and butterfly attracting plants: Purrsian Blue Catmint (Nepeta faassenii), Deep Rose Improved Saliva (Salvia nemorosa), Grape Gumball Beebalm (Monarda ‘Grape Gumball’ PPAF).
To improve the attraction to hummingbirds, we hung a nectar feeder (with a 1 part sugar to 4 part water mixture). We also set up a water feature for butterflies based upon one was saw at a butterfly conservatory – a small birdbath filled with pebbles and shallow water which permit the butterflies to safely land and drink without falling into the water. Our Rhode Island Red hens also like to hop up and drink from this feature!
We’re glad to report that our efforts are being rewarded. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird patrols the feeder and flowers and Monarch, Red-spotted Purple, Giant Swallowtail and Red Admirals are among the butterflies that feed from the flowers. We even witnessed a Monarch laying eggs on the Swamp Milkweed. We enjoy watching the fruit of our labours while eating our dinner al fresco.
Losing your first tooth is such a dramatic thing when you are five years old. My granddaughter was so excited that a tooth fairy would be coming to exchange her tooth for money. In fact couldn’t wait till bedtime. This made me remember the time I lost my first tooth over sixty years ago. The family was living with my grandparents at the time. I too was excited and especially so when I discovered she had left me a whole nickel. What I could do with a nickel at the candy counter. The black balls were my favourite. They lasted the longest and you could pop them in and out of your mouth checking to see what colour they had changed to. One morning, not long after, the house was awoken in the early hours. Not the children though as they were too young to assist in the search. Grandma, who left her false upper plate in a glass jar by the sink, said her teeth were missing. Every adult was in on the search but they couldn’t be found. Grandma went to work on the streetcar early that morning to do her job as a seamstress on Spadina. When I got up hours later to go to kindergarten I was sorely disappointed to find grandma’s teeth still under my pillow. Mom said that I’d be lucky if that was all that was going to be sore when grandma got home. Well, luckily for me the entire thing was found to be very funny by her, in fact she even stated that I was bound to be an entrepreneur.
“Grandma will you read to me?” My six year old granddaughter asked. Sure, I loved to read stories to my grandchildren. The book she placed on my lap was about where babies come from. The cover photo was of a mother holding her newborn. I could tell this wasn’t a cabbage patch or here comes the stork type book. I know there was more honesty about these things nowadays and thought I can handle that. Well, when I started reading the book I could have kicked myself for not perusing it more thoroughly. There were proper anatomical names. Words I didn’t know until I was in my twenties. I did my best to cover photos and skipped many paragraphs. I didn’t know how to stop without drawing attention to what I thought was inappropriate for a six year old.
As it turned out mom thought so as well when she came into the room and found me reading one of the books in a series she’d purchased. The one I was reading was meant for years down the road. My granddaughter had picked it because of the cover. She loves babies. I finished the book as quickly as I could. So now we both knew better. Mom to place some books out of reach of little hands and me, do a quick preview.
Time goes on and you think little minds forget. Not so. Their brains are like sponges, eyes and ears are everywhere but what I’m referring to is the book I read on the story of birth. My granddaughter got a new baby doll. She fed it, changed its diaper, loved it and you may have already guessed it…
My youngest son came over to borrow a tool. He had called earlier so we had it ready for him at the door. No sooner had he stepped in when my granddaughter slips her baby doll out from under her skirt for its debut. Oh no. I hope my son doesn’t make a fuss. But quick thinking as he is he says, “she’s sunny side up, turn her over.” And that was the end of it, for now.
Being a homeschool family, we had a growing collection of books and a dwindling amount of space to keep them. A dilemma ensued: how can we create an environment for learning while simultaneously not getting overwhelmed with too many books and nowhere to put them?
The books we accumulated could be added to shelves or cupboards in an out of the way spot to keep the appearance of a tidier home. But we did not want to tuck the children’s books away because we want books to play a central role in our home; we want the children to see their storybooks and feel the urge to go over, grab one and sit down to enjoy it. We want our nature guides to be quickly grabbed when a new flower or insect is discovered. But we also want these books to be given a place of honour and not just stuffed onto shelves with no thought to aesthetics or the atmosphere of the room.
To encourage our books to be enjoyed, we needed a place that invites a person to sit comfortably and get lost in a book. The main room in our home is the kitchen-great room. The room is bookended by the kitchen area on one side and a sitting area on the other. In the centre is our table/school desk and wood burning stove. I hoped to keep our books in this room where we spend most of our day. We needed a solution that could house many books, look pleasing to the eye, and provide a comfortable place to read. We needed a reading bench!
I’ve always liked the look of a reading bench in front of a window; an upholstered bench with cushions just waiting to have a person cozy up with a good book and sit for a spell. Of course, the window behind such a bench looks upon a verdant garden. To me, window benches hold a romantic appeal; they suggest luxury, leisure and elegance. Three things I have always dreamt of having. My reality however is hard work, an unending to-do list and country charm. So while we saw that a reading bench was what we wanted, my visions of elegance needed to be tapered with a dose of reality: 3 children and constant use.
Dad and I talked it over and planned our reading bench. A day’s worth of construction and painting in the barn was followed by a few hours of cushion assembly. We placed the bench in its spot beneath a window, topped it with throw pillows and filled the cubbies our treasured storybooks and nature guides. Now when it’s time to read we pile onto the bench and snuggle in for a good story.