How to add a little farmhouse flair this Christmas. Using black & white plaid, natural wood and whimsical elements to create a laid back festive style.

“And you need more ribbon why?” my husband groans as he struggles with the giant Rubbermaid containers that hold my relics of Christmases past. I will admit it, I am fickle when it comes to my Christmas decor. I love the thrill of heading to Michaels and looking at the abundance of ribbons and trimmings […]

“And you need more ribbon why?” my husband groans as he struggles with the giant Rubbermaid containers that hold my relics of Christmases past. I will admit it, I am fickle when it comes to my Christmas decor. I love the thrill of heading to Michaels and looking at the abundance of ribbons and trimmings and needlessly spending my hard earned cash on things I don’t need   picturing my family smiling around the tree. I can’t help myself. Surely there must be a support group for people who hoard decorations?

Trees of Christmas past

Growing up we had a very classical Christmas tree. My mum always decked it out in beautiful shades of gold. I remember BEGGING her to buy tacky trinkets and red decorations but she was steadfast in her Christmas decorating ideals. At the time I didn’t understand her and I promised myself that I would allow my children to go nuts with the tree and decorate it however they wish. I wasn’t going to be that Christmas mum. I was going to let me kids adorn the tree in all the tack they wanted.

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Trees of Christmas present

Flash forward 20 years or so and what do you know, I am that mum. I like my tree how I like it but I’ve come up with some compromises along the way that fit in with my control freak tendencies my aesthetic whilst speaking to the 10 year old child inside me who wants ALL THE THINGS on the tree. Living on the farm, I was inspired by the rustic Christmas decor I found at the local country stores. Think metal stars, checked ribbon and mismatched whimsical ornaments.  Over the years I’ve refined my style into one that I would call put together rustic. This year, I experimented with buffalo plaid and wood to create a chic farmhouse feel.

My Farmhouse style Christmas tips

It doesn’t just have to be red, green and gold

Think outside of the box when  it comes to your colour scheme. Black and white plaid adds a classic touch to your decor theme and mixes well with a white farmhouse pallette.

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Get a little touchy feely

Mix textures. Fuzzy, soft ribbon mixed with weathered wood gives laid back feel to your tree

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Showcase international finds

Add little nods to family with cute ornaments that you have collected from your travels. Don’t be afraid to add things you might consider tacky. You’re dressing your tree for your family and it should reflect who you are. Not everyone needs an instagram perfect tree!

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Bring the outside in with touches of green 

I am obsessed with my white kitchen but it can look a little clinical sometimes. Christmas is all about warmth to me. I create this in my kitchen with twinkling fairy lights and greenery. Honestly, I wish I could leave the wreath up all year but I think it looks a little too festive for the 30 plus degree days of summer.

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Add a little kitsch fun to your apothecary jars

If you follow any farmhouse decor blog you know that these bad boys are everywhere. Usually filled with grains that no one eats or faux fruit, they look polished but for Christmas it’s nice to try something a little different.

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So there you have it friends. My farmhouse decor tips for Christmas. So how do you decorate for the holidays? Are you a full on festive control freak, Clark Griswold (BIGGER IS BETTER) or a go with the flow kind of person?

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So you want to be a farmer? Things you really need to know from a farmer’s wife before moving to the country.

The sun rising above a dew covered field, the sound of cows mooing and roosters crowing, your children sitting around a scrubbed pine table. Sounds idyllic doesn’t it? This is the image most people have in their mind when they think of the farmer’s life. In reality it isn’t all fresh eggs and tractor rides (well OK, there are a lot of those). Living and working on a farm is tough and time consuming and it really is a way of life. It is like the third person in your marriage, the thing that is constantly in the back of your mind and can be the main strain on your finances.

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In the zeitgeist of “homesteading” moving to a farm is something that many people dream of and more and more often, people are packing up their “corporate” lives to head to the country in the search of a simpler existence. It seems like the perfect investment doesn’t it? With the move towards whole foods you would think that people would be demanding fresh food from their smiling local farmer in a flat cap (what, don’t all farmers wear a flat cap in your mind too?), However, farming is a very cliquey business where you need serious cash flow, connections and grit to make it.

Here are the top things you need to consider before moving to your dream life in the country.

Do you know what you’re doing?

I know this sounds silly but do you honestly, truly know what you’re doing? Have you researched your industry? So many people have the big dream to raise chickens to sell eggs or to buy 100 acres to live off but in reality, that isn’t a big enough operation to support your family. You’ll be able to make lots of omlettes sure but probably wont make enough to quit your day job (maybe unless you run an omlette blog or Instagram and in that case good for you and your weird niche). If you’re thinking of keeping animals do you know welfare laws, how to properly look after them and slaughter laws? There is a lot of red tape when it comes to selling meat in Ontario. Is there truly a demand for your product?

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The isolation

This was the biggest issue for me as a city girl. It is likely that you will have to move very far away from the city (and perhaps your family) in order to afford a plot big enough to carve out some type of living. If only one spouse is farming then the other is left alone for long periods of time and this can put a strain on even the strongest of marriages.  Being a harvest widow is no joke! I genuinely think it would be easier if both partners were to work side by side (which puts another set of strain on a marriage I guess!) building a business together. I have always felt a little removed from the farm and like it is a very separate sphere that belongs to my husband and I sort of slot in alongside it.

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The time 

Following on from the above point, farming takes A LOT OF TIME. You can’t just stroll in with your Starbucks at 9am and clock out at 5pm. Things break, animals die, people need your services around the clock. If you want a set schedule then this lifestyle is not for you. However, there is some degree of flexibility when there is rain or if your operation is big enough to have multiple employees. Moreover, you have to accept that vacationing will be very difficult if you have animals that need tending (unless you have some awesome family that will take on the farm when you’re gone). It is hard to plan your life around the farm and it is definitely something I myself am learning (albeit a little unsuccessfully sometimes) to be gracious about.

The dollar dollar bills

Farming is a money pit. It is estimated that 80% of new farms will fail in the first two years with that number growing into the 90s at the 5 year mark. Add this in with higher lending costs, weaker farm income and land prices cooling and the picture for new farmers isn’t all that rosy. The reality is that big farms are getting bigger and small farms are struggling to get a slice of the pie. You will need a lot of money for your start up and will probably have to look at a dwindling bank account until your farm gets established. This is hard for many people to deal with and is the leading reason why so many throw in the towel after such a short period of time.

The take away

Farming offers many opportunities for a wonderful life. You can be your own boss, work outdoors in the fresh air and see the (literal) fruits of your labour. If you do well then the reward is handsome and some farmers are lucky enough to sell their farms to developers for a significant wad of cash. Your family can be self sufficient and live a wonderful life away from the hustle and bustle of the city. My children love playing at the farm and going for tractor rides, it really is the best place to grow up. But farming is grueling and embeds itself deep in your soul. Those of us who weren’t raised on one baffle at how much heart goes into running a farm. My husband is a third generation farmer and his day to day life on the farm is still full of problems and complications despite being pretty established in our community. I know that market prices of livestock and crops play on his mind a lot. Even if you’re happy to take the monetary risk for your new business (ad)venture, there is the loneliness that farming brings. I moved from the city in Wales to the country in Ontario and for me the biggest adjustment was spending so much time alone on the farm. It got so much for me that we moved into a small rural town so I could at least see another human on a daily basis.

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Lately I have been looking at farms in Wales and trying to feel out whether my husband would be game to try. His answer as a fairly successful farmer, “you must be nuts. There’s no way we can start out again and be successful”.  Now if someone who has done well and has the expertise necessary thinks this way then maybe starting a farm is not a decision that should be taken lightly. However, if you think you’ve got what is takes go forth and farm my friend! I hope to see you at the farmers market in your flat cap in the summer!

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Giving up everything for love. The truth about becoming an expat wife and mother.

She’s crying in the British food aisle again

A few days ago I found myself staring wistfully at a jar of pickled onions on the shelf at my local supermarket grocery store. I had an ache inside me that I hadn’t really felt for a long time. It was back again, homesickness. It all sounds a bit crazy doesn’t it, to be tearing up over a British delicacy? However, when I’m in the trenches of homesickness anything can set me off. I moved to Canada almost a decade ago after meeting my husband on a trip in Australia. My husband tried unsuccessfully to move to Wales shortly after we met but the recession and lack of agricultural opportunities meant that he quickly ran out of money and patience from sitting in our flat all day with no car and no where to go. So I stepped up and offered to move to Canada to allow him to return to his dream job farming as I was a bright eyed 23 year old who was eager for adventure and a way out of the omnipresent rain that plagued Wales. So I booked my ticket, got my working holiday visa and after a tearful farewell at Heathrow to my mum I boarded my flight to Canada, not really believing that I would truly become an expat.

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I’m going on an adventure!

When I got to Canada it was the blazing heat of summer and I had a wonderful century farm house to decorate as I pleased. My husband got me a puggle puppy we named Darwin (after where we met) and I quickly got a job at a local gym where I met a few friends to keep me occupied. We got engaged a few months later and married less than a year after that. After returning from honeymoon I eagerly applied for my permanent residency and was excited at the life that lay ahead in Canada. I got my PR (permanent resident) status fairly quickly and decided it was time to set down some roots and a career. I wanted to be a lawyer in Wales but it became apparent that wouldn’t fit with the amount of travel I would need to do and getting into law school here is about as easy as getting a toddler to eat anything that you provide them with for dinner. I decided to head to teachers college and after a few years I got a permanent contract. Sounds like everything went perfectly for me doesn’t it? Honestly, on paper everything is perfect. I have a wonderful job, a beautiful family, a husband who I apparently love so much I’ll move across the world for and a gorgeous home that I could only dream about in the UK. However, I would be lying if I said that late at night when my husband in harvesting late, when I’m shoveling a foot of snow off my car, when I yearn to meet my mum for a coffee and a chat, when I see my friends going out back home that I don’t feel the sledgehammer blow of homesickness. It has been a decade and it is still as strong as when I first came here at times and it takes me by surprise.

 

The harsh reality of being the “trailing spouse” 

Life is hard as the “trailing spouse” (a kind of brutal term for the person in the relationship that moves for love). I miss home a lot, I have found it hard to make meaningful friendships with people that I have things in common with, my British humor is quite often lost on people and I have to repeat myself several times at the drive thru at Tims when people don’t understand my accent (“can I have a croissant please?” “a what sorry m’am, do you mean a chocolate donut?” repeat ad nauseam). Another thing I have struggled with intermittently is finding purpose in my new life. Having children gave me purpose as a mum but I don’t find myself completely comfortable in my new life in Canada all the time. Sometimes there is a feeling of being shoved into someone else’s life and you just have to carve out a little space for yourself.

Here are a few things that I wish I knew before I moved here:

  1. The honeymoon period will end at some point and no matter how grim life was, you will miss some aspect of it at some point.
  2. You will miss your family more than you can put into words and no amount of Facetime will make up for it.
  3. If you have children, you will have to deal with the guilt of them missing out on grandparent time.
  4. Homesickness will strike you hard at random moments. Teary at the pickled onions? Weeping at the sound of a British accent on a commercial? Sobbing over a pound you found in your wallet? Standing out in the rain because it feels like Wales? Watching any old shite that was made in Britain? YUP, you’re homesick.
  5. Snow for almost half the year SUCKS. Invest in a good jacket, boots and a shovel (OK so I don’t shovel too much snow so maybe work on being REALLY busy whenever your spouse walks out of the door to clear the driveway. Kind of like he does when you pick up the hoover or talk about going shopping).But there are positives..
  1. Your children will be international travelers before they are one. What a rich life they will lead.
  2. You get more than one passport which makes you look interesting and important at the airport.
    You will meet awesome people who you would never have crossed lives with otherwise.
  3. You get to enrich yourself and grow as a person by immersing yourself in another culture. I really think meeting people from different parts of the world and living amongst people different to me (you’d be surprised how many cultural differences I encounter) has helped me grow as a person.
  4. Your relationship with your spouse is stronger than most as you rely on each other so much.
  5. You realize how much you truly love your family and make every second count when you’re with them (WOW that sounded like a Disney movie).

So hang in there expat wives, mums and dads. It is a hard journey and maybe not the life you always wanted in some respects but you can do it. Try to remember why you moved to your current country and at the same time honour and celebrate your roots. You beautiful, multicultural global unicorn you.

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P.s in case you have never had the pleasure of a pickled onion I’ll show you what I’m banging on about. Brits, you’re welcome for the food porn.

 

 

Surviving as a harvest widow. How to deal with life when you’re a farm wife.

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Now before I start this post let me say that I know that I signed up for this lifestyle and everything it entailed. Yet, that does not make it easier when the long days of harvest set in during the early autumn and I slowly, but surely, lose my marbles only to regain them again around Christmas time. In many respects, being married to a farmer is excellent. We have flexibility (most of the time) when he needs time off, we live a fairly comfortable life, our children get to grow up playing in endless fields and they definitely will learn the value of hard work. However, being a farm wife can often be overwhelming and lonely, especially when you’re a very long way from home. I used to think that the homesickness and farm wife lifestyle were two separate issues, but now when I look back at times that I’ve yearned for my home most, it generally coincides with harvest or planting.

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The term “harvest widow” is kind of morbid but it actually refers to those crazy times in the farming calendar that fall in July and then again in September – late November when as a farmer’s wife you rarely see your husband. Most mornings he is up before me and the kids and most evenings he doesn’t return until long after I get to bed. Pros of this – I get to watch Gossip Girl unashamedly all evening while quaffing wine in my thermal PJs. Cons – I have to juggle the two kids and the craziness of dinner and bedtime (usually after a very long day of work at school for me!). It’s insane, it’s intense but it’s our life. Over the past decade I’ve come up with some coping mechanisms, that I’ve had to really hone since having two kids (single mums, I have MAD RESPECT for you! It is not an easy gig being alone!). Now I must admit that this year has been especially hard with the addition of our second daughter and I have felt tiredness like you wouldn’t believe. But here we are at the end of November with the final stretch of harvest before us and I can happily say I made it. Perhaps a little softer from comfort eating, teeth a little more stained from red wine and hair more than a little crazy from 4 month roots but I made it.  So I thought I’d share some coping tips with you all. Even if you’re not a farm wife, I’m sure many of us have husbands who are away a lot and like to feel like we’re not the only ones going through this.

Some tips from the international farm wife

  1. Focus on the fact that this too shall pass. I cannot reiterate the importance of those 4 little words. It will not be like this forever, the crop will come off the field and life will return to normal.
  2. Think about all the benefits. You get so much quality time with the kids, all the cuddles, all the kisses (OK, all the stress too but this is about being positive!). You can watch all the crappy TV you want without your other half moaning. You can paint your nails and wear your face mask in blissful solitude. Want a long bath, take it and your husband wont be disturbing you asking where easily located items are.
  3. Say YES to help. It is tricky in our situation as my family live across the Atlantic but I have had to become a lot more comfortable accepting help from my in laws and most importantly asking my mother in law for help when I need it.
  4. Get people to come to you. My dear friends are always happy to pop around with a coffee or tea (or wine, it is always 5 o’clock somewhere) for a chat. It isn’t the most exciting but after talking about potty, poop, dinosaurs and why the dinner you served is not poison all day, adult company is not just appreciated it is NECESSARY.
  5. Plan something that is just for you. Now this is tricky as harvest usually takes away the other main caregiver but if it rains and he can be home then go out and get your nails done. Enlist grandparents or a babysitter to watch the kids and go on a night out. You cannot become a hermit for 3 months. It will wear you down trust me. Hell, I just like going to Walmart alone for an hour. It is BLISS I TELL YOU!!!
  6. Try to get out to the field for a visit. I usually pack the kids up and stop for a coffee or take out and take my husband lunch or dinner. I really treasure those 15 minutes he stops in the car to eat with us and I know he does too.
  7. Send pictures of the kids to him so he doesn’t feel like he’s always missing out.
  8. Make the most of rainy days and Sundays. I know it seems crazy to say but rain days are your best friend as your husband will usually be home at a sociable hour. It truly is learning to dance in the rain.
  9. Have a well stocked wine fridge. You are deep in those parent trenches girl, take a load off sometimes!

Do you have a husband that works away from home a lot? How do you cope?

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The accidental farm wife

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“Don’t end up falling in love with an Australian and moving across the world!” These were my Mother’s pearls of wisdom before I set out on my three month adventure to Australia and New Zealand in 2008. Well, I took her advice…kinda.

Ten years ago after failing to secure a place on a graduate placement I decided to travel to Australia and New Zealand to clear my head. I booked the whole thing on a whim during my lunch break. It was crazy but maybe someone, somewhere in the cosmos lined up the whole thing because it was on that trip that I met my husband, a pig and cash crop farmer from Ontario. I remember laughing when my husband first told me what he did for a living as in Wales there aren’t a lot of eligible young farmers around. I pictured him with a small farm spending most of his days pottering around on a tractor. This wasn’t exactly the case and after trying to make it in Wales together, the reality that he couldn’t just up and leave his family farm set in so we packed up and moved to Canada.

Flash forward ten years and I live in a small town in Ontario, thousands of miles away from my home town of Wales with my husband and two daughters. I’m a primary school teacher and I absolutely love my day job. I have another job too, being a farm wife is no easy task. Add to that being an ex-pat and it can sometimes seem like the perfect storm. Here on this blog I hope to share my adventures on the farm, in the classroom and my every day life and create a space to give advice to others in my position (come on, surely more than one of us has met a dreamy farmer and uprooted their life!) Come join me for the ride!

Jo