A Year in Review

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Well suffice to say my blog efforts didn’t quite pan out the way I intended in 2015.  Not to say that progress hasn’t been made on Our Old Island Home, I just haven’t been faithful in sharing our progress with you.

Vanessa and I have been working full time at our new jobs.  I’m with Paul Davis Systems, an insurance-related restoration contractor on the island.  Vanessa is working at Cavendish Farms, processing one of PEI’s grandest commodities.

The gardens did equally well for us this year as the previous year.  We had greater success with some of our crops – our winter squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, garlic and onions were not only superior to 2014, but provided above and beyond our needs for the year.

Some of the successes in 2014 however, were failures in 2015.  Our corn was one such crop.  Between the dry summer, our neglect resulting from working full-time to just bad luck we didn’t have a single ear come to maturity.  Most formed on the plant, but went directly to the chickens where the ears were picked (pecked?) clean.  Our beets and cucumbers didn’t come to much this year either.  I blame the new garden plots we haphazardly prepared in the spring for their lack of contribution to our table.

Otherwise, the remaining crops (carrots, potatoes, turnip, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, peas, greens and zucchini) did as well as the previous year’s effort.

The hen house welcomed six new layers this year.  We did lose a couple of birds, but the remaining nine hens are providing, on average, seven eggs per day.  We’ve been selling our excess eggs to friends and co-workers.  The sales cover the cost of feeding the birds, but even still as I’m writing this, we have thirteen-dozen eggs in our fridge.  Vanessa has already frozen a couple dozen eggs for baking (yes, that’s do-able) and I’ll be pickling a couple dozen this weekend.  No, I’ve never had a pickled egg, but a co-worker of mine suggested it.  Hey, I’m game to try anything.

As the gardening season was drawing to a close, our attention was refocused on the house restoration.  This year, we completed the insulation in the attic, installed several new windows on the second floor, started taping and seamfilling the drywall, started setting the piers for the new porch and framed the floor for the new mudroom addition.  With fall coming to an end and winter bearing down on us, the added insulation, vapor barrier and windows will make for a much more, um, comfortable winter than last year.

That’s what’s been happening here.  On a more personal note, here’s how we’re doing:  good.  Very good, in fact.  Life is busy and looking back, I cant believe another year has passed.  But we’ve made intentional changes this year.  We’ve made time for each other.  No matter how busy life gets, we take time to watch the moon rise over Pleasant Valley and the sunset at the beach.  We go for long walks together with Murdoch along the trails behind our house and explore parts of the island we’ve not seen before.  Ultimately, this is the one true gift we can give each other – time.  Virtually every other gift will fade, tarnish, wear out or breakdown, and instead of filling our lives with stuff, we rather make memories and experiences.

And finally, in spite of my rather sporadic posts, we still get people asking how things are going here.  For whatever reason, some say we inspire them, others just enjoy the read.  Whatever the reason you find yourself reading these words, I make this promise (no it’s not a resolution):  I will do my very best to keep posting and updating our progress regularly at Our Old Island Home.  That’s all I can do: try.

Vanessa and I wish you all the best that this new year can bring.  Blessings!

 

All work and no play….

….makes for a dull blog?

For what it’s worth, I’ve written several updates since my last post.  Unfortunately they’re tucked away in the recesses of my brain waiting patiently for someone to shine a flashlight into the void, guiding their way out the darkness and onto your computer screen.

Until then, I humbly offer the following review of our summer.

My last post was full of anticipation for the upcoming growing season.  Now we’re enjoying the early fruits of our labor and impending harvest.

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For weeks now, the zucchini have been growing to mammoth proportions (which we’re processing into zucchini relish) and the zucchini we rescue from that fate end up on the grill with a little olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper.   Mmmm.

We harvested all of our garlic a few weeks ago, pulling them from their beds and hanging them to cure.

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Each “leaf” of the garlic represents a layer of the paper surrounding the cloves.  While the garlic is ready to use after harvesting, it’s important to dry the heads in order to store them for an extended period.

We let them cure for a couple of weeks in the warm, unfinished second floor bathroom of our home.  Once sufficiently dry, we clipped the leaves and roots and have them ready to use for the next few months.

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The beauty of growing our own garlic (aside from, you know, eating it) is that we have all we need to plant and grow next years’ supply.  We’ll set aside the largest and best garlic heads and plant those cloves this fall for next summers’ harvest.  Fresh food is awesome.  FREE, fresh food is awesomer.

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We’ve had a beautiful summer.  Although dry, it’s been downright hot for weeks.  The tomatoes are thriving and just starting to show signs of their maturity.

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The peppers are plumping and the potatoes are nearing their harvest time.  We’ve had one crop of peas already picked, another almost ready and a third crop growing for a fall harvest.  Likewise with the carrots, beans and beets.  Squash and pumpkins are flourishing in our lasagna beds and our second planting of cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards and kholrabi will be ready in a few weeks.

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Aside from the gardens, our flock of hens grew by six this summer.

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Violet, Pansy, Dahlia, Sunflower, Petunia and Lily have joined the Golden Girls – and at 18 weeks of age, they should start fulfilling their end of the bargain and begin to give us a daily egg each.

We had the pleasure of having my Mom visit for the majority of July.  As much as she was looking forward to a visit, I think we enjoyed it as much or more.

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Well, we certainly enjoyed exploring and discovering new restaurants and shops that Vanessa and I intended to (but never have) tried.  But more than that, we just enjoyed the company.

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Vanessa and I both are working full-time at new jobs.  I’ve been working for a disaster restoration contractor for the past several months.  Although I have to admit, after a long day (or week) of working on other people’s homes and properties, it’s hard to find the motivation to do the same for ourselves.  Vanessa is now at Cavendish Farms processing one of PEI’s most famous commodities: potatoes!  It’s actually working out very well for us.  I work a fairly typical work-week: Monday to Friday with occasional evening or weekend projects.  Vanessa works two day shifts, two night shifts and then has four days off.  Those four days have proven invaluable to us as she’s able to tend to things around the homestead (like curing garlic and raising chicks).

So.  There you have it.  Sort of.  Its hard to wrap up three (four?) months in 600-or-so words, but I think I managed to empty out a few things rattling around in my head.  I’ll do all I can to right-this-ship and resume my regular updates.  It’s looking like an exciting fall around our old island home.  Just do me a favor and let me know you’re still out there.  I get a lot of my motivation and inspiration after hearing from you.

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Thanks – and blessings from our home to yours!

Gardening. It’s cheaper than therapy.

There’s an old proverb that says, “no matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.”  This weekend sure felt like it had finally arrived.

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“I can smell it”

We took a short drive through Cavendish, enjoying the sun and fresh air, and spotted this guy on the edge of the ice at Wheatley River.

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We actually saw three of these bald eagles on our drive today but this was the only one we managed to photograph.

With spring only a couple of weeks away, our thoughts have been turning to the gardens and our seed starting schedule.

Depending on who you talk to, our last spring frost is typically expected sometime in the last week of may or first part of June. So with about twelve weeks before the last frost of the year, we need to start some of our seeds in anticipation of planting out when the soil is workable

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First up are our leeks and onions.  We’ll start the seeds this week, giving us about eight to ten weeks head start before planting them into the gardens.  Onions and leeks are fairly cold-tolerant, so we will transplant them two to three weeks before the last spring frost date – sometime in early May.

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Over the next few weeks, we’ll also be starting our broccoli, cauliflower, pepper and tomato seeds.

We experienced a steep learning curve last year when planning and planting our gardens.  Thankfully we’ve had far more successes than failures, but with everything in life, if we can learn from our mistakes, we won’t be subjected to repeat them again.  Careful records of our seeding and transplanting dates last year has taken out some of the guesswork, and we can tweak our schedule to improve our success this year.

I think spring really is my favorite time of year.  To me, it feels like the new year actually starts now – when the snow is melting, the soil warms and the trees and plants are waking up from the winter.

I know, I know – we’re not out of winter’s grip yet, but I keep reminding myself that there’s more winter behind us than ahead.

 

Making Peace with Winter

Call it the winter blah’s.

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Last year, writing about our new life on the east coast came entirely easy.  Everything was brand new and an adventure we wanted to share with our friends and family – and anyone else who cared to read about what we were doing.  But now that we have a full year under our belts, the challenge is to keep writing about what’s happening and how we’re progressing without sounding too redundant.

Take this winter for example.  We’ve had a pretty easy cold-season this year, up until last week that is.  Four storms within a week-and-a-half dumped almost 5 feet of snow on our old homestead.  Writing about the storms, the snowfall, shovelling out (and our good neighbor bailing us out with his snowblower) would sound too much like any of the storm posts I wrote last year.

I’m starting to rifle through the mail-order seed catalogues and could tell you about what we want to plant in our gardens this spring – just like I did in my post last January.  But does that make for an interesting post?  I’m not sure.

The one different variable we have this year is that both Vanessa and I are working full time.  I’ve already written about where we work and what we’re doing – and the job itself holds no interesting stories I can share.  We’re just doing our time there to pay the bills.

Sounds pretty winter blah-ish, doesn’t it?  The truth is, I’m no fan of winter.  I don’t really follow or play winter sports, I don’t care for the snow and cold and I’d rather be outside than in.  By the time February rolls around, I want it to all be over.  I’m sick of the snow and ice.  Bring on the mud!

But as I write this (in front of our wood stove with the outdoor thermometer reading minus 18 degrees), I remind myself that spring is just over a month away and we have so much to do in anticipation of the upcoming year.

So I’ll say this much:  at the risk of sounding redundant, I’ll simply post what’s happening and if there are still readers who want to know some of the (slightly) more mundane aspects of our adventure, then you’ll be happy to read-on in the upcoming days and weeks ahead.

Like I’ve said about the house renovations – it will be a long and arduous task to (essentially) demolish and rebuild our farmhouse, but it’s the memories that we will hold forever. Perhaps this blog will help remind us of every step we take.

Even if we’re up to our waist in snow.

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“and how the heck am I supposed to poop here” – Murdoch

 

We’ve only just begun

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“I make myself rich by making my wants few.”  [Thoreau]

It’s that time of year when we look back on what 2014 was and what we hope 2015 will hold.

For Vanessa and I, we’re grateful for what last year held for us.  The house renovations have been coming along nicely but slowed since we’ve been working full-time now.  We’re still eating our own vegetables we grew last summer: potatoes, carrots, beans, peas, corn, pickles, onions and squash.  The six chickens have started giving us about four eggs daily – even with winter’s cold embrace taking over.  And we have each other.  What else do we need?

We have our health, home, food and warmth – and with that, all of our needs are met.  Then there’s the other stuff we take for granted that’s really a luxury for most of the global population: we have cars, hobbies, music, internet access and more clothes than we actually wear.  I sometimes think it’s even too much.

One of the things I’ve loved most about our move has been our embrace of the concept of living with less.  At one point it was a conscious decision to do without some of the luxuries we’ve always enjoyed.  Dining-out together was a big one.  So was buying things we wanted but really didn’t need – just because we could.

Now we just want to live a simpler, minimal life.  Not militant minimalism, mind you – I don’t want to “make do” with two plates, two forks, two cups and two choices of clothes to wear.  But we can do with less.  In fact, it’s one of the more rewarding things we’ve done in our move.  We sold or gave away a lot of items we didn’t need or want to move to PEI – and we’ve not needed to replace them as of yet, either.

We’ve found that very little is needed to make a happy life.

So for 2015, if we’re talking resolutions (and I’m not really), then it would be to stay-the-course.  Keep our needs few.  After all, things will never make one happy – it just creates a desire for more things or bigger things.  We will unburden our lives by owning less stuff and doing more of the things we love.

For the past year we’ve been dreaming of our “big picture” together.  What we want our house to be.  How we’d like to farm.  The wood lot we want to purchase and how we’d use that for our needs.  But we realize a dream is just a dream without a plan.  This year, we’ll be expanding our gardens and offering limited weekly eggs and vegetable boxes for sale.  The woodlot we hope to purchase will be both an investment and a source of income.

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As for you, we hope you have a wonderful new year filled with happiness.  Dream big dreams, but don’t stop there, make a plan to see those dreams fulfilled.

 

Our New Normal

For the past year, Vanessa and I have spent our days working on the house and gardens.  We managed to purchase our home last November and since then we’ve worked side-by-side renovating and restoring our home and tending our vegetables.

Now for the last couple of weeks, we’ve settled into our new jobs on the island.  As I last wrote, I started a new job as a mussel grader in the town of Borden, about twenty minutes from the house.  However my career as a mussel grader only lasted about two hours.  After our first shift, my career path took a slight right-turn into the packing/icing/shipping area.

As mussel grading is probably the most mundane job imaginable, I had no objection to this slight detour.  I’m quite serious.  Trying to be clever, I was going to compare it to other boring jobs, but frankly I couldn’t come up with anything.  Basically, when grading mussels, you stand in front of a conveyor belt as hundreds of the little blue-shelled molluscs pass by – and your objective is to remove any dead or broken ones, and of course, anything that’s not actually a mussel.  That’s it.  All day.  Every day.

Thankfully, the company recognized one of my strengths right away – my strength.  We produce, on average, 20-30 thousand pounds of mussels per day.  Once bagged, the mussels are boxed, iced, packed and shipped daily.  That’s my role.

So what about Vanessa?  Since I was moved from the position I was hired for – mussel grader – I suggested Vanessa send her resume in to fill the position left from my departure.  She was hired over the phone within the week.  Her career as a mussel grader lasted a full day and was a little more eventful.

Although mundane, the mussels whizzing by your face from left to right, hour after hour can be problematic to those who suffer from motion sickness.  Like Vanessa.

After a day of running to the washroom, the supervisor promoted her to one of the bagging machines – a complicated computer-controlled beast from Europe.  I think it intimidates most of the workers there.  Vanessa took to it in no time – so that’s her new role.

So our new-normal isn’t all that different.  After a year of working side-by-side on the house and gardens, we find ourselves literally shoulder-to-shoulder at our “paying” job – she’s bagging, I’m boxing.  Our non-paying job continues to be the house renovations – which are still progressing, but thankfully, the income now affords us to resume the renovations.  The weekend weather looks like it will confine us to inside work so insulation and vapour barrier is on the agenda.  Last week we got the chicken coop insulated – so the girls are ready for winter now, too.

Now, if we can just teach ourselves to actually like mussels….

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Thankful hearts

We’re approaching a year since our move to PEI. In fact, one year ago this weekend we hosted our last Thanksgiving dinner with our family in Ontario. By mid-November we were heading east with a loaded down U-Haul truck and hopeful hearts. Since then, and now in the spirit of the Thanksgiving weekend, I have a new appreciation of the life we now have.

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I’m thankful for the beautiful island on which we now live. I’m thankful for the home we’re making and the fertile soil on which it’s built. I’m thankful for the freedoms we have in Canada – including the freedom to express my faith in the Lord without fear of reprisal. I’m thankful for the family and friends – both near and far – who have shown their unconditional love and support of the crazy adventure we chose. And I’m thankful for all those who have discovered and have been following this little blog highlighting some of our more memorable moments and milestones.

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This week I begin a new chapter in our life on the east coast as I start a new job. With winter approaching we find ourselves in need of employment and a steady income. Our little nest egg left from the sale of our Ontario home has almost been exhausted with the large expenses we’ve incurred this year: new house, new foundation, new roof, new well, new (used) car and countless trips to the building supply center for our ongoing renovations. My job now affords us to pay what little bills we have (insurance, electricity, internet) and leave an amount of disposable income for the ongoing renovations and savings we’d like.

I find the contentment in my heart and the size of my bank account to have no correlation – now more than ever. In spite of what our bank balance may be, I feel richer today than I’ve ever felt. I own my house, property and vehicles – all with zero debt. In fact, I recently told a friend that if I were to win a million dollars, I wouldn’t change a thing. I want to cut my own firewood. I want to grow my own potatoes. I want an old house to restore myself. I don’t miss any of the “luxuries” we had before our move. In fact, I’m happier living with less.

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I know this lifestyle isn’t for everyone – or maybe even the majority of people. But it is for us. And we’re truly, truly thankful for everything we have.

“A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being.”

Blessings to you and yours this Thanksgiving.

I know it’s been a while. A lot has happened.

It’s said: “great things are believed of those who are absent.”  If that’s indeed true, I hope I don’t let you down.

It has been a great few weeks since my last post.   A lot of things have happened to us and through us.  We’ve had a great time visiting with family and enjoying the bounty that’s come from our garden.

My last post spoke of the busy couple of weeks getting the house ready leading up to our vacation.  I won’t revisit that, but suffice to say, we enjoyed our little trip to Ontario.  Not that is was solely for our amusement – my brother Scott and his fiance Dawn were married.  That in itself was reason enough for us to drop everything and head back, but the honor was mine when I was asked to perform their wedding ceremony – to the surprise of everyone in attendance.

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It was a beautiful day spent with family and friends.

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While in Ontario though, we had a little scare.  I ended up in the hospital with a blood clot in my leg.  As the doctor said however, I got lucky.  The clot was in an arterial vein and I wasn’t at risk of it moving to my heart or lungs – so I was sent on my way with blood thinners to enjoy the rest of the vacation.

Once the newlyweds were married, we all convoyed back to PEI for a “familymoon”.

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Scott and Dawn, Scott’s kids Carrie and Ryan, one of Dawn’s daughters, Jordan and her husband Christian, and my Mom spent the week with us to see the life we’ve been making for ourselves.

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We did some of the usual touristy stuff – went to the beach (several times), ate some lobster and visited the sights and scenes.

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It was hard to see the family leave after only a week here, but we had a tremendous time together.

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Vanessa and I weren’t done with the vacation just yet, though.  We’ve been mackerel fishing now a couple of times.

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I want to take advantage of this as much as we can while the summer is here.  There is no catch-limit or license required to catch mackerel here – so while we’re able, we’ll be stocking our freezer with these freebies.

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And speaking of freebies, our garden just keeps giving and giving.  While our guests were here, we enjoyed produce picked daily from the garden – including broccoli, lettuce, beets, new potatoes and zucchini.

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Since our visitors left, the tomatoes are turning, the beans are almost ready and the corn is almost there.  We haven’t bought any produce – other than some fruit – in about a month.

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What we haven’t been able to eat fresh, we’ve been canning or freezing.  We’ve pickled fourteen pounds of beets and have a second crop planted for an early fall harvest.

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We’ve also processed fifteen pints of pickles – dill and bread & butter

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and have about ten pounds of cabbage fermenting for sauerkraut.

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So while we’re not entertaining guests, or fishing, or tending to the vegetable garden we also have our chickens.

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We now added six laying hens to our family so we quickly built a brooder for the chicks and Vanessa and I are currently building on a small coop from some of the reclaimed wood from the renovations on the house.

So needless to say our month-long absence is not the result of not having anything to write about, but rather the opposite – we’ve just been too busy to keep up with everything.   Hopefully we haven’t lost anyone along the way.

We’ll get back on track, but for now, some pictures from our garden:

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The storm passed. Everyone’s happy.

Well we survived our visit from Arthur – the first Atlantic hurricane of the season – although it was downgraded to a Tropical Storm by the time it hit the island.

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We lost power last night and have been without for about twelve hours now.  (Note: I’m currently writing this blog entry in my notebook to be transferred to the computer once power is restored). 

We’ve only been without power for a few hours now, but it certainly drives home the point of how reliant we are to the grid.  Since we’re so deep into the renovations, and we’re going to rewire the house anyhow, I’ll be hardwiring a few critical circuits to run off a generator if needed – the fridge, well-pump, a few lights and plugs, etc.  Nothing extravagant, just enough “juice” to get us through a lengthy blackout if needed.  With a well, no power means no water.

Not that we had any issue with this storm – there was lots of advance notice of the impending hurricane.  We had filled a couple of water containers we use for camping with water – and the bathtub as well.

So other than the power outage, we came out of things unscathed.  The roof was finished on Friday – one day before the storm hit….

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….and thankfully we didn’t lose a single shingle.

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Not to say the house didn’t rock in the strongest wind gusts – because it certainly did – but there were no significant issues.  I’ll admit it was pretty unnerving how the house shook in the strongest gusts – probably made all the worse because the house is completely gutted on the second floor.  One gust tore off the Tyvek building wrap from the exposed area on the back of the house and it’s now M.I.A.  The way the wind was howling, I suspect someone in Prince County is picking it up from their yard today.

Before the storm came, I closed in the floor of the addition to prevent and wind from gusting through the basement.  We didn’t need the basement filling up with water before the concrete floor gets poured, either.

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So suffice to say we’ve now got our work cut out for us.  Everything we’ve been doing to date has led up to this moment.  The demolition was in anticipation of the new foundation.  The new foundation allowed us to get the roof re-sheathed and shingled, which now allows us to finally get the upstairs renovations underway.

In fact, we had a big lumber order delivery on Friday to start restructuring the attic floor, install the roof vents for the cathedral portion of the ceilings and rebuild the partition walls.  This week, we’ll be getting our clawfoot tub, shower unit and associated hardware.

But it’s not all work, no play either.  We had a surprise visit from a good friend and former co-worker, Skip and his beautiful daughter Brooke.

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Skip and Brooke. Not an accurate representation.

They had an east-coast road trip planned and paid us a totally unexpected visit.  Skip was our lead-carpenter back in my Ontario life so I was tempted to shove a hammer into his hand when he walked in our front door.

Our work days have been lengthening as of late to get as much done as possible before our family arrives in August for vacation.  I’ve been preparing them that they shouldn’t expect the Royal York Hotel here, rather more like the Hav-a-Nap motel.  Either way, it’s going to be great to see family again and show them what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

In anticipation of their visit, we’ve been exploring the island ourselves for ideas to bring them.  Murdoch on the other hand is quite happy to just go to the beach.

Insanely happy

Insanely happy

Oh yeah, and to wrap things up, my birthday came and went.  We just did a small celebration this year….

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Oh, wait.  That was Canada Day in Charlottetown.   For my birthday, we just sat in the dark.

Thanks, Arthur.

 

 

Red soil and red sky

So with the foundation work chugging away, we finally have an opportunity to get our gardens planted.

Whenever we had some spare time over the last couple of weeks, we raked the old grass and straw from the garden area, laid-out the bed locations and tilled the soil.

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Last week we had a load of compost delivered to our place to help enrich the beds.  With time running against us, we didn’t test the soil or composition – we’re just trusting that the fertile soil of PEI doesn’t stop at our property line.

Speaking of fertile PEI soil: I suppose it’s only fitting that even compost in Prince Edward Island would be full of lobster bits.

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Once the compost was worked into the bed, it was time to start planting.  We started with the tomato beds – all from seeds started earlier this spring.

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In all, we’ve planted about twenty-four Roma tomatoes for sauces and canning.  In addition to the paste tomatoes, we also planted six each of four Heirloom-varities: Brandywine, Pruden Purple, Mountain Merit and Golden Cherry.

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With the tomatoes planted, we jumped over to the potato bed.  Not originally planned as part of our garden, the potato bed was a last minute addition.

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We never really thought we’d need to grow potatoes in PEI – we’re living in Canada’s potato capital, afterall.  Heck, we even have lobster in our soil!  So, like everything else, we went all-out and planted four types of potatoes: red potatoes, Yukon Gold, Russet and a purple-fleshed variety.

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Before the day was up, we planted two of our berry beds – raspberry and blackberry – and also got our asparagus bed planted.

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We’ve never grown asparagus before but have dedicated a 25-foot row for it – although it will still be a few years before we’ll actually be able to harvest spears to eat.

Finally, before we headed out for our drive, we finished up one more bed.

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Three types of cabbage, rutabaga, broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower, kale and collards.

All in all, not a bad start on the gardens.  We’ve still got the beans and peas to plant, as well as carrots, beets, sweet potato, corn, summer and winter squash, cucumbers, onions, garlic and peppers.

As of late, our backyard is taking on the appearance of a motocross course.  As exciting as it is having the foundation-work done, I’m really looking forward to getting the mess cleaned up.

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We’re still deciding where to use all of the island stone salvaged from the foundation….

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….and exactly how to get it all in place.  I do know, it’s going to be a beautifully landscaped property once we get to tackle that pile.

But as the sun was going down, we decided to take advantage of the remaining daylight to go for a walk on the beach.  A quick drive from the house and we arrived in Cavendish just in time to watch the sun set.

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Still early in the season, we had the beach to ourselves.  Tide was low and we walked along the shoreline to take it all in.

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I think this was the first time we really stopped to let it all sink in: this is our home.  We’re only minutes form the ocean in any direction from our house.

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With the sun down, we walked back through the sand dunes to the car.

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No matter how crazy the renovations get, we’re exactly where we want to be.  With the house.  With the gardens.   With each other.

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