My 25-year old daughter, Emily, has been in hospital for 68 days waiting for a heart transplant. This is an important first sentence because Emily's heart health has sculpted my last 25-years. I wasn't that entrepreneur, solopreneur, mompreneur who hated her corporate job and tossed it aside to start a business. I was a happy, corporate employed, married, pregnant woman in 1993 planning on returning to that much loved job after my baby was born.
Then in December 1993, Emily was born with complex congenital heart defects that couldn’t be repaired. As a result, she’s had three heart operations at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and a heart transplant would be in her future. Priorities for my husband, Gary, and I snapped into place immediately after Emily was born. I wouldn’t return to the career I adored, and that was 100% fine with Gary and myself. There wasn’t even a millisecond of doubt that my life wouldn’t be devoted to family. There is a foundation of security knowing exactly the path we would travel even though the path itself remained a mystery.
I stayed home raising Emily, mostly at Sick Kids for her first three years. In January 1998, Emily was given the okay to go home and live a great life. We knew Emily’s heart health journey wouldn’t be easy and wanted to make every moment count.
In June 1998 we went to Disney World. It was such an amazing vacation that we decided to return often, even though I didn’t have an income to finance Disney vacations.
After Emily’s third heart surgery, a year before she started kindergarten, I wanted to get healthy, fit, and take aerobics instructor training. A month after Emily started school, I started teaching fitness classes for The City of Mississauga fitness centres and Goodlife. Soon, I was teaching yoga and art lessons while Emily was in school and in the evening when Gary was home.
In January 2000, we welcomed our son, Evan. Our next Disney World vacation would come to fruition a year later. That vacation also came with a freelance job offer as a travel agent specializing in Disney.
Without realizing it, I became an entrepreneur.
Life was magical, even enchanted ….. until it wasn’t.
In the 6th grade Emily received a grim diagnosis of a rare disease that had a miserable mortality. The disease was a result of a complication of her last heart operation.
I became depressed, anxious and was put on anti-depressant meds. The side effect of weight gain made aerobics and yoga instruction so difficult that I stopped. I let my Disney travel business mostly fade away. But, I did continued teaching art lessons.
Art was my therapy. It had to be, all the traditional therapy that I tried was not helpful. Not only was art my therapy, it became my business.
Once again, I was an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship is the perfect career for me. I’m able to earn a living and still be Emily’s heart health advocate.
I created an adult colouring book, started writing knitting and crochet patterns for Ravelry, built an Etsy shop, taught art lessons (still do), became an Artist in Residence at Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre, and built Earth Looms.
In 2010, we bought a 2.5 acre off-the-grid cabin in the woods just south of Algonquin Park in Ontario. We recently converted my Algonquin art studio into an Airbnb. Because my creative focus is textiles and fiber arts, we have plans to raise fiber animals, such as angora rabbits, goats, and sheep once Emily’s heart health becomes stable. For now I spin and teach spinning (on spinning wheels and drop spindles) with sheep fleece from Ontario farms. I still teach weaving, knitting, and crochet. My Etsy shop and Ravelry patterns are excellent passive income. I sell all things related to textile and fiber arts; spinning wheels, drop spindles, raw fleece, roving, knitting supplies, embroidery hoops and patterns, crochet supplies, weaving looms and supplies, and more. Our off-the-grid cabin has inspired me to pursue permaculture techniques that include; microgreens, vermiculture, beekeeping, and organic urban farming.
Forever a teacher, I also teach online English lessons to students in China early in the mornings before you even think about your morning coffee.
We are so fortunate to have our feet in two locations. Living in Mississauga gives us the home base to visit Emily in Toronto General hospital daily, and the Algonquin cabin gives us the retreat we need to recharge to be able to give Emily our complete support.
Although we are in a holding pattern waiting for Emily’s heart transplant, we can still move forward. I include Emily in my creative entrepreneur business. She helps make and select items for the Etsy shop, she enjoys needle felting, adult colouring books, and sometimes crochets.
We are working on an interesting new cookbook (Emily is a foodie) that will be published just in time for Christmas 2019.
Twenty-five years ago my life dramatically changed course and I wouldn’t have missed a single second. #GratefulMom
#BEaDONOR #AdultColoringBook #LivingArtsCentre #Airbnb #TextileArts #FiberArts #Ravelry #Etsy #AerieNorthProject #PatternsBySandra #Beekeeping #Permaculture #Vermiculture #Studio89 #Mississauga #OffTheGrid #Homesteading #Microgreens #UrbanFarming #TeachOnline #Spinning #SpinningWheel #Spinolution #DropSpindle #Knitting #Crochet #Weaving #Loom #ArtTherapy
Bumbs, Obstacles, Hurdles, Update
October 29, 2019. It appears to be snowing all around our townhouse in the city and at the homestead but no snow in town. I love snow! Everything hibernates giving me pause to think and plan for the future. I'm still unable to do "regular" work. My health is far too inconsistant for that, but I'm working on it. After spending almost 2 weeks at the homestead last month, I lost 25 lbs as a result of working on the property. That's an excellent step in the right direction. It does get frustrating to have plans and not knowing if the day will be a "good" health day, a "bad" health day, or an "in bed all day in pain" day. I do the best I can. Working on the homestead is a labour of love. It's good that I can work for 20 minutes, take a break, then return to work. Things go slow and can be unpredicable, but I love it there.
When I have a good day, I am able to spend time on my laptop writing knitting and crochet patterns, planning vermicomposting, apiary, and garden ideas.
Emily's last cardiac appointment was a little scary. Her cardiologist is proceeding with the heart transplant meetings. The plan is to list Emily around February. Once she is listed, she could be called any time for a new heart. We are fortunate to live rather close to the hospital (other than the disgraceful Toronto traffic). We will live life as "normal" as possible. Emily will continue to go to school, Gary will continue to work, and I will continue to build our nest at the homestead. If everything goes well, Emily will get a new heart, spend a few weeks in hospital, and then recover at home.
I receive a couple of emails from Wwoofers who want to help on the homestead and Airbnb, I can't guarantee them work because of Emily's heart health. (click HERE for Wwoofer info)
My worm farm (vermiculture) is growing. It's in my townhouse basment because it's too cold for them at the homestead during the winter. I am learning everything I can about beekeeping. Hopefully I'll have beehives in May at the homestead. I will be starting an indoor greenhouse in the townhouse this winter. I planted raspberry plants at the homestead and so far, no bears. The wild blueberries should do well when the bees arrive. Herb gardens and micro-greens are all ready for next season.
Thanks for reading my blog. It's like my "Dear Diary" time. XOXO Sandra
October's Working Retreat Week
October 16, 2019. Earlier this month I got serious about moving things forward at the homestead. Being a part-time homesteader with health issues makes everything move at a snails pace. With Emily's heart transplant appointments coming up, I decided that I would devote a couple of weeks at the homestead (alone most of the time). I made a TO-DO list, listed supplies (free or inexpensive) I needed, and drove the 2.5 hours northeast. Gary and Evan came up on weekend.
Monday: Airbnb Prep. Our tiny cabin behind our house had been my art studio for years. Now that I have to spend more time in Toronto it made sense to move all my art supplies to one location. I emptied the tiny cabin and took more photos for the Airbnb description. This is an exciting project for us!
Tuesday: Haliburton, Ontario. With the Airbnb tiny cabin being off the grid I need to find ways to provide comforts, like coffee, tea, cooking, etc.,. So I spent Tuesday looking for an off te grid coffee maker for guests. I found two!
Wednesday: I had planned to spend today fixing the outdoor stone oven but I didn't realize how high the chimney was and didn't think it was wise to work alone on a ladder. So I'll wait for Gary to come and help.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday: LOTS of tree trimming for the meditation platform near the pond. I can't wait to stock fish in the pond for guests to feed and enjoy.
Weekend: Gary and Evan came up so we all worked together fixing the stone oven and enjoying the Autumn colours on the trees.
I have to take a lot of breaks to rest my bones, but eventually I got many of the projects completed. A wonderful side effect of working at the homestead was losing 20 lbs. and feeling more fit! Stay tuned for more updates.
Fish vs. Mosquitoes
.September 21, 2018
Not many of you are old enough to remember the tv show Green Acres. It was about a wealthy city dwelling couple who, upon the husbands request, move to the country. The wife, Lisa, played by the glamorous Eva Gabor (Zsa Zsa's sister), went along with the simple life to please her husband, Oliver (Lisa pronounced,
Ol-lee-vr). When we bought our off-grid property I knew my "Inner-Lisa" from Green Acres would occasionally emerge. Spring mosquito season is one of those times. Every Fall I anticipate Spring planting and working around the homestead. And every year I dread the mosquitoes and avoid outdoor work. Our 2.5 acres is wooded, rocky, and full of water sources that mosquitoes love. Standing water is their favourite place to lay larvae. Our medium sized frog pond is over populated with mosquito larvae. The frogs, birds, and bats are awesome and do their best to eat the mosquitoes, but we still have too many mosquitos.
This week I started my annual Spring mosquito deterent research. I had always wanted to try putting more fish in the pond. Our creek is full of fish. The creek was the source of water for the pond, however, a previous owner of the property dammed off the pond so no new fish enter the pond. (We are grateful to him for creating the pond.)
My research lead me to a fish called, gambusia (mosquito fish) that love eating mosquito larvae. I can't find information on these fish in Ontario. They appear to be tropical pond dwellers. I will never introduce a potential invasive animal on our property. (see below *). Gambusia fish look a lot like the minnows in our creek. This weekend I will move a couple dozen creek minnows to the pond and see what happens in the Spring. I don't anticipate that this will solve all our Spring mosquito problems, but I think it's a good start.
I have plans to thin out the overgrown branches around the pond, create an Earth Loom, and sitting area for meditation around the pond. It would be awesome if we could enjoy the pond area in Spring 2019. I'll keep you posted. Sandra XOXO
* Mosquito fish (Gambusia affinis) - Aquatic Invasive Species. Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. The virtues of the mosquito fish, Gambusia affinis, have been extolled by many mosquito control organizations. However, the species can be a major pest when introduced outside their natural range.
September 19, 2018
In recent years, I started watching several Homestead YouTubers. I narrow downed my favourites to: Dirtpatcheaven, Off Grid With Doug & Stacy, and Fouch Family Off Grid. Through Dirtpatcheaven, I learned about WWOOFers. WWOOF is an acronym and started out in the early days as Working Weekends On Organic Farms. This changed in time as it was realised that people wanted to volunteer and host anytime. Now various WWOOF organizations use a variety of meanings: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Willing Workers On Organic Farms. A couple of years ago, when we started talking about formally becoming a micro-farm, we assumed that we would be doing all the work ourselves. However, both Gary and I have health issues that severely slowed down our progress. I started to talk about WWOOFers more often. We have so much knowledge to share.
We are in the process of creating a tiny cabin Airbnb from what was formerly my art studio. With Emily about to be placed on the heart transplant list, I decided to move my art studio back to the city leaving the art studio cabin vacant. It's too adorable to leave empty, so we decided to share the experience on Airbnb. In October, I will be spending several days moving the art studio and designing a tiny cabin Airbnb. IKEA here I come!
The tiny cabin will also serve as the WWOOFer(s) home while they are here.
The application process is detailed. WWOOF Canada and I have been emailing each other all week. It's exciting and a little scaring to move forward with this. I am completely confident that WWOOFers will learn and we will have a mutually beneficial relationship. The scary part is actually seeing our vision come to be. This could be a "be careful what you wish for" scene. This will be hard work. But it's part of our dream. I'll keep you posted about the WWOOF Canada application results! XOXO
Hello, My name is Sandra Clarke. I am a part-time homesteader. We (my husband Gary and I) bought our homestead (just south of Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada) in 2010 when our two children were 10 and 16 years old. Our intent was to relax and enjoy the property on weekends while working in the city (Toronto, Ontario). However, we quickly grew to see the homestead had potential to be more than 2.5 acres and two off-the-grid cabins in the woods. Our plans expanded to create an organic homestead, eco-retreat for artists, writers, and nature lovers.
Gary and I are in our 50’s. We have a part-time city life and part-time homestead life. Gary still works full-time and I am a textile artist, both in the city and on the homestead.
Our 24-year old daughter, Emily, was born with complex heart defects that cannot be repaired. She’s had three heart operations and is currently in the process of being listed for a heart transplant. Emily is a brilliant writer (I’ll post some of her short stories on this blog). Emily attends college in Mississauga (near Toronto, Ontario).
Our 18-year old son, Evan, is also in school. He has a creative soul like Emily. Evan is a photographer and videographer. He specializes in nature films.
Our children are our priority. This is the primary reason why we are part-time homesteaders rather than full-time. Once Emily receives a new heart and is stable, we will be able to move permanently to the homestead. Our homestead is about a three hour drive to Emily’s hospital, so it’s best that we keep our little townhouse in the city to be closer to the hospital.
So that’s us! I wanted to keep my first blog short and sweet. I hope you come back for more. Thanks for your time!