Home Sweet Home

The Best Places We Slept in 2016

Dear Diary: It’s been six months and a few days since we sold our darling stone cottage in Galt, Ontario. Since, we have taken up residence at the storybook Caberneigh Farms with endless thanks to our friends Nicole and PJ who had a fancy barn with wi-fi and vacancy. We are in good company with Scotch mint-sucking horses and Olive the pig as neighbours. We even have our own resident barn cats, Lucy and Freddie. We’ve been spoiled by a steady supply of just-laid eggs and jars of Caberneigh Just Hitched honey. We’ve been privy to Nicole’s custom velvety egg nog and crème brulee. And scotch-tasting sessions with PJ, but that’s another story. And doesn’t involve eggs, though a Scotch egg would be really good right about now.

Bonus: Kim has almost earned her 4-H badge, John Deere tractor license and chainsaw operator certification. In addition to pig hoof trimming, we’ve learned how to contend with preventing pig break-in and enters, and how to keep four cats and six dogs from becoming a circus act.

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What we never dreamed is that we’d still be without a forwarding address six months later. (Or, learning the fine art of chicken wrangling).

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We packed our storage pod strategically—but, without thinking that we might need to access such things as winter boots and hockey equipment. Oh well, winter is almost over, right?

In six months we have slept in so many beds and scoured Ontario’s waterfront lots from Tobermory to Perth to Prince Edward County and over a dozen lakes in the Frontenac. Coinciding with this magical quest: finding hotels in parts unknown. Some have been dreamy and a complete refuge with Calgon-take-me-away bathtubs to sink into while others could have doubled for serial killer-type movie sets.

Normally I round up the best places we have slept each year. It’s been an annual tradition that we have enormous fun ‘researching.’ However, this year it seemed that for every remarkable place we slept, there was a nightmare hotel to match it.

The  18% Cream of the Crop:

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Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa, Blair, Ontario $310 midweek, $405 weekends

We kind of ruined ourselves by staying here. Yes, this is the same hotel I worked at in my previous incarnation as a massage therapist. To be on the receiving end of all the luxury is a marvelous thing. The grounds are not only manicured, but pedicured too. It’s like driving into a postcard. Deer tiptoe by, smoke curls out of the chimneys, and the brioche French toast with Earl Grey tea-infused maple syrup is like breakfast giving you a big hug. Langdon has its merits for all seasons, but staying on a deep freeze night in December makes the in-room fireplace the best balm.

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Suggestion? Pack a bottle of bubbly, get that fire roaring and order in the sumptuous $25 Wilks’ burger piled high with black pepper bacon and molasses compote and Smoked Majestic Henry Cheese. The crispy skin-on fries are served with an addictive mustard seed and thyme aioli.

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Be sure to sink into that gorgeous bathtub and prepare yourself for a rejuvenating sleep on a cloud.

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WHITNEY MANOR, Kingston, Ontario $179 HOT DEAL (reg. $275)

This was my birthday junket. A road trip around Wolfe Island, Stone City Ales and mac n’ cheese-stuffed grilled cheese sandwiches from MLTDWN (get it? Meltdown). And, this. The Murphy Suite–which is exactly the kind of place and space we want to buy.

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With exposed limestone, post and beam, a dreamy loft bedroom and soaker tub–this 1100-square foot suite is unforgettable. We wanted to lock the door and swallow the key.

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Suggestion: There’s a full kitchen, so bring all the fixings you need for the barbie and breakfast so you don’t have to leave until check-out!

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NEVIS ESTATES B&B, Perth, Ontario $175/night

After an extensive house hunting and gathering mission in the Frontenac, we were weary, soggy and starved. Our intrepid realtor, Barb Shepherd physically drove us to “Jenny’s Place” and introduced us. She insisted we stay there and skip the only other available option—the $189 standard Queen at the Best Western. She assured us we’d love Jenny, everyone did. Barb was right.

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As soon as we entered the Colonial heritage stone estate (c.1842), we wanted to curl up with cocoa and read Thoreau. Jenny is like your favourite blanket: warm, comforting, reassuring. She listened to our disenchantment with finding a house and rallied our spirits with her own story with a tap root deep in New Zealand. The house she has renovated with her husband is a true marvel, it really feels like a fun sleepover with a close friend. Breakfast is an elaborate affair and though Kim and I usually cringe at chirpy early morning convos with assorted guests at B&B’s, the two twentysomething girls we sat with were colourful and engaging. Between frying bacon and flipping fluffy omelettes, Jenny joined in on the story telling, knowing both girls well from long-term stays.

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The chatty equestrians were part of Ian Millar’s (hello Big Ben!) Millar Brooke Farm and were hotly anticipating competition at the Royal Winter Fair. As a just-out-of-the-oven loaf of brown-sugar crusted banana bread was delivered to the table, the girls told us all about ‘cribbing,’ a phenomena that is akin to crack for horses. By biting and hooking their incisors on a stall door or fence, they flex their necks, contract their larynx and swallow air, creating a gasping or grunting sound that is addictive.

So, stay at Jenny’s for the Jacuzzi and take-home slices of can’t-get-enough banana bread. AND, ever-changing but illuminating breakfast conversation with other guests. Book the local lumber baron’s room, The Senator McLaren.

PULLMAN G BANGKOK, Thailand $200/night

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This place has sexy in spades. It’s contemporary, it smells like warm vanilla pudding. It’s whitewashed and just oozes cool with a low thumping soundtrack, zebra skins, faux safari trophy heads, Foosball and craft Thai beers at the adjoining bar (25 Degrees Burger, Wine & Liquor Bar). The Pullman G is like entering a Miami night club. The elevators pulse with non-stop video of seductive pouty-lipped Swedes and, in another, bike tires spinning with playing cards ticking in the spokes. The floor-to-ceiling windows in the suite are the perfect front row seat to Bangkok’s sky-on-fire sunsets.

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The breakfast bar here was an oasis after two weeks in China, eating starchy boxed breakfasts of white things: cakey muffins, stale croissants and white buns. At Pullman G, the detox juices beckon. There’s a granola and yogurt bar with all the tiny fixings. Real muffins stuffed with good stuff. You feel like you’ve taken your body to the spa, just by eating breakfast.

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EL SOL AZUL B&B, Las Galeras, Samana 50 Euros/night (dependent on season)

There’s no reason to subject yourself to the oft-icky trappings of an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic. Swiss owners, Esther and Pierre have been in the hospitality industry for 11 years. They have everything figured out and know exactly how to exceed guest expectations.

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El Sol Azul is just 150m from the sea and minutes to the ‘downtown’ but tucked away in a pocket of serenity. The property is a showcase of tropical flowers and trees– crown of thorns, star fruit trees even! Pierre tends to them daily, usually with their lovely dog at his heels. There are two darling cats that live on the property too–and Caramel, loves to tease with her cute walk-by strut.

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The thatched roof bungalow style suites are Robinson Crusoe-like, but, with all the amenities.

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Breakfast is stellar. The spread is huge and European with fresh baguette, cheeses, local juices and punchy coffee. In addition to the continental fare, you can order eggs, any style and they come plated with ripe avocado and tomato.

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The pinwheel of homemade jams really puts Esther’s breakfast at the next level! I asked her for the coveted banana rum jam recipe–I don’t even make jam, but, this will be the exception–it tastes exactly like banana bread in a jar.

2016’s Nightmare Sleeps

Stone Church, Perth, ON $79/night (not incl. breakfast)

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The historic Gothic stone church home advertised on Airbnb looked promising. However, if we could have smelled those photos, we would have avoided booking a night. We were the only guests, despite the odd presence of 18 toothbrushes in the cup in the bathroom. Kim’s first comment was: “Ew. Keep your shoes on.” Second comment, “We’re definitely not showering here.”

We arrived late after another house hunt in the area. (This was before we were aware of Jenny’s place). The neighbours had Chubby Checker blasting as they sat in their yard just feet away. The house was a six feet away from Chubby Checker and five feet away from the major highway. We had already eaten, thank god—though the invite was there to make use of the ‘shared kitchen.’ I opened the cupboards looking for a beer glass and had a slight heave. I called Kim over—half the glasses had lipstick lips muddled around the lip of them.

The counter needed a good bleach and wipe. The fridge was so filthy and crumb-bound we didn’t even want to put our beer inside.

We took seats at the kitchen table (avoiding any additional contact with any surface of the house) and looked at online real estate. There wasn’t enough beer to inoculate us to sleep in such a dumpy cash grab Airbnb. We wondered if the sheets had even been laundered.

At 6am I awoked to Kim saying, “I’m ready to go when you are.”

And so we did. I’m not sure if we even brushed our teeth on the way out. That might explain the abandoned toothbrush collection.

Sandbanks Lakefront Airbnb, Prince Edward County, ON $140/night

Since when did Airbnb mean you never had to clean your house? We were APPALLED upon arrival. The junk lying around the house alone (old speakers, gym equipment, tools, tarps—all in disarray and decomposing). In the back, we were invited to join the owners on their outdoor furniture that looked like old car seats. From those ‘magical online photos’ we expected an ‘artist’s retreat’—whimsical, with a cute cat and a tiny firepit right on the beach. Sunsets! And, breakfast even—which most Airbnb properties don’t include. The room was small and a little dated with old-school paneling with a shared bathroom, but, we’d be taking advantage of the firepit and lake anyway.

Our house tour itinerary had us pulling in close to 8pm. We watched a couple carry their wailing newborn baby into the same house. We thought there was only one room in the entire home—not another greedy cash grab that had the owners bleeding money from offering ramshackle 70s shit hole rooms to unsuspecting guests—there were six of us jammed upstairs with walls as thin as a croissant flake. This was a cottage where NOTHING had ever been done in the form of upgrades. I might be making this up, but I’m pretty sure the toilet had one of those avocado green lid covers on it. With a matching pukey floor mat. The bathroom was straight out of 1962—the kind of place you want to put antibacterial gel on your hands and bum.

It was 100% gross, dark, mildewy and creepy. The couches sagged like tacos and looked like they were made out of cat litter. There were oil paintings and just weird things and weirder guests.

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Kim and I retreated to the lakeshore after hosing our legs with Off! Spray. We avoided the communal kitchen and opted to heat up refried beans hobo style on our Coleman stove (handily packed in the back of the Rogue) and make sloppy burritos on the beach, in the dark. We graciously said no to offers to join the owners and their neighbours for drinks in the car seats. We waited patiently until they left so we could start a fire (only to be joined by two urbanites who had never built or seen a bonfire before).

The only saving grace was the sunset. The sunset cost $140, but, we’ll take that.

You know, I really could go on in this scary segment from last minute middle-of-nowhere, we-have-no-other-choice Super 8’s in Trenton (insert train blasting past every 40 minutes on the tracks just outside the door—oh, and the neighbour’s AC unit that sounded like an elephant with asthma.

Belleville? Oh, there was a crappy one there. Popcorn ceilings, sink located outside the bathroom, squiggly hairs in the sheets and a carpet that was witness to someone’s bender and barf.

And, so begins 2017. Though we love to sleep around, we can’t wait to sleep in our very own bed (which is vertical in our storage pod in Ayr, Ontario), wherever and whenever that may be. Until then, home is where the barn is.

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House Hunting in Prince Edward County: Chapter 867

We’re no real estate dum-dums. If you don’t follow me on Facebook, you are safe from the daily barrage of realtor.ca nightmares and daydreams. Kim and I have been steadily  house hunting and gathering for a solid year now, and have watched our max price budget steadily climb over $100,000 from where we started. We’ve physically been through over 40 properties now and tromped around a dozen vacant lots from Point Clark to Warkworth to Napanee to Tweed. Our hot zone keeps expanding to the far fringes of our desired forwarding address of Prince Edward County. But we keep coming back to it like boomerangs. Our homing instinct is obviously deep in the magma of the County.

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The County has everything we want from the Millennium hiking trail, enviable birding (there’s even a Birdhouse CITY near Picton), Sandbanks Provincial Park, Hinterland (Borealis Charmat Rose and saison beer), Karlo Estates (Gilmour Maddison and Quintus), Fronterra Farm Camp Brewery, reubens at The Agrarian, anything on the menu and THAT VIEW at Lake on the Mountain, the barn quilt trail, farmer’s market, Toronto expats, a speakeasy, people doing creative stuff, Black River Cheese Company, kayaking, lavender farms, heirloom tomato tastings, wassails, maple syrup fests, a parade of giant pumpkins through Wellington in October, lilac bushes, The Drake Devonshire, studios to poke around in, antiquing as a sport…you get the picture. We want to be a part of the thumping heart of it all.

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We are as flexible as a Rio gymnast. Yes, we want waterfront and trance-like sunsets. We want privacy, no neighbours, a few willow trees and a dock to tie up a canoe to. We want an open concept floor plan, vaulted ceilings and some shiplap to whitewash. We’re okay with minor demolition of a rose-coloured, gold-fixtured bathroom (because there seem to be A LOT of those). We’re confident we could trick out a dated kitchen (why did everyone love oak so much in the ‘80s?). Kim can build amazing things, I’ve witnessed this. The very black walnut-topped table that I’m sitting at right now for starters (and we’ve sold this table with the house, so, we’ll need a redux!) and I’m great at tool and beer retrieval.

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What’s disenchanting is this seller’s market. Meaning, we chose the perfect time to sell, but the absolute worst time to buy. I don’t get it. If you’re selling—you have to be buying, right? The County isn’t seeing Toronto bidding wars as of yet, but there are multiple offers and jacked up price tags because the pickings are so slim. We’re revisiting homes that have been sitting on MLS for nearly a year and questioning their merit. And, after touring such homes with door jams separating due to a shifting foundation, we see why they’re sitting. One farmhouse simply needed some fun house mirrors to top it off for a free vertigo experience. It’s like dating—there’s a reason some people are single (and why you don’t need a second date for confirmation). And, there’s a reason why some poor houses sit.

We’ve smacked our heads countless times (mostly on panelled walls, hoping the drop ceilings won’t drop)—like a few months ago, innocently walking to the end of a dock in Napanee—only to see the industrial stacks and towers billowing smoke across Adolphus Reach in Bath. Or, the Moira River house with neighbours who owned pet pigs. Or, the Thompson Point eye-roller with neighbours who have created a bespoke outdoor museum of tarped crap. Or, the Williams Lane lot with a trailer park in full sideways view and cattails so tall that you’d need stilts to see the water.

We’ve looked at churches, tear-downs, top o’ the budget Cape Cods, Kijiji listings, Picton Victorians, passive solar homes, new builds on Muscote Marsh, regency cottages, century homes, contemporary, shipping container conversions. Really, we are open to everything!

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The biggest heartbreakers have set the bar impossibly high. Like the lilac bush-lined Lee’s Lane cottage with Airbnb income potential—it had an offer accepted as we stood on the dock and sucked in the uninterrupted view of the Bay of Quinte (never to be found again). Or, the red brick Victorian on York—so impeccably finished and designed—but in the wrong neighbourhood.

Yes, we know, we know. That magical house is out there—we are patient people. But, it’s frustrating to see what $450K will nab you in any other area.

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1863 Grist Mill and cottage on Chepstow Pond $285K (photo cred: realtor.ca)

We’re not prepared to ditch our County dreams yet, but, we’ll admit to weighing out the options and shaking our heads at what we could buy in Bayfield or the Grey Highlands.

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Grey Highlands $390K (photo cred: realtor.ca)

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Grey Highlands (photo cred: realtor.ca)

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Trent Hills, $399K (photo cred: realtor.ca)

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Trent Hills (photo cred: realtor.ca)

Oddly, we keep hearing stories about friends who only looked at ONE house and that was it. Or, like Kim’s co-worker, Deb—didn’t even look at it and bought it. Our friend Michelle in Qualicum Beach, BC did the same thing—she saw the cabin online and had a friend in Victoria go scout it out for her. “Do you see me living here?”

Kim’s sister did the same. One house in Ayr. Our Uxbridge friends did the same (thank god, because it’s their barn that we are moving into). Though, their realtor made them look at one other farm before they put in an offer. Imagine!

And so our search continues. Standby.

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Adventures in Real Estating: Prince Edward County

A trip to Prince Edward County guarantees two things: an opportunity to restore the senses and wine cellar. This is where I’d suggest a scratch and sniff option for the screen—not only are there lilac bushes here–they are full-on forests of perfumed mauve goodness.

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Last Saturday, Kim and I thought we had locked in on our dream house. The price tag was palatable, it was waterfront and SUNSET-side! We were squirmy with anticipation and spontaneity. I had to jet to the spa for an afternoon shift and we had to make rapid decisions all within a ten minute time span. I phoned the realtor, threw my hair gel, camera and power t-shirt on the bed for packing and left Kim to sort out the other messy details of finding a hotel on a long weekend.

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Photo credit: realtor.ca

Typically in this blog space, I brag about the sunniest moments of our travels. There are glossy photos of our haute cuisine experiences and braggy bits about hotels with Aveda products, organic coffee delivery in the morning and warm chocolate chip cookies on the pillow and the like.

But this was the long weekend, and, with the smoothest of traffic, we still wouldn’t arrive until after 9:30 to the hotel due to my pesky work shift and the 300km in between. Kim was apologetic when she picked me up at Langdon Hall—“Sorry, only the Motel 6 in Trenton was left!” On the flip side it was just under $100 for the night.

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When I told my mom this, she said, “Flo always tries to get me to stay there—I really have to put my foot down.” It’s a bit shocking that $100 gets you zero frills in Canada. In Uganda you get matching plush robes, a hippo escort, a King bed and porters that will run ice and limes to your room at a whim.

At the Motel 6? You get a shower head at mouth-level. You can hear every motel guest tweet and fart. It’s indoor camping with the all the contrived privacy of nylon tent walls, a lumpy bed and pixely TV. Kim had flipped on the Raptors game and said gravely, “This is why high definition is so important.” I frequently try and suggest chopping out the extras on our Rogers cable bill but now I understood the magnitude of paying for HD channels. I thought I needed a new prescription or had tortilla chip salt in my eye.

I asked the front desk manager for wine or highball glasses instead of the in-room plastic beer garden-esque glasses provided (he found two, mismatched and more etched than anything you’d find for 10 cents at a garage sale). Kim was about to ask Hamid if we could switch rooms due to the high velocity air con unit running directly outside our room (picture a Stephen King movie—those hotels that murderers hole up in with the sliding patio doors and parking spot just outside your room). In the same breath a train sounded its horn and trundled past, causing us all to pause our conversation. The air con unit was the least of our worries. We were sleeping five feet from the tracks.

But, all that aside. We survived. How dare we moan about Motel 6 when we’ve slept in a jungle hut without a toilet seat (but, one was found, miraculously, though it wasn’t attached and was a bit dodgy in the night).

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Back to the true purpose: house hunting and gathering. Adventures in real estating continued! We opted to check out another listing in the County on Bush Lane. Could we really live on BUSH lane though? We’d be a punch line to so many jokes. Bush Lane was a quick bust though. It had a conditional offer on it, based on inspection, and, it was just too tiny and choppy. And bushy.

Onward to Napanee and the home we were crossing our fingers over. We queued up for the Glenora ferry (a free car ferry from Picton to lower Napanee) after a quick pint at the Miller Inn. It was a sublime moment—sunshine, lilacs and short sleeves. (*Editor’s Note: must return to Miller Inn for the 5-cheese grilled cheese with bacon marmalade. Kim eyeballed the sweet potato poutine loaded with brisket and local curds for a future visit).

So, the dream home turned into the nightmare home in one minute flat. We bumped along the woodsy lane, adrenalin percolating (So much for year-round access as promised by the realtor. That turned into, “Oh, some people live at the end of the lane and you probably just have to chip in a hundred bucks or something to get it plowed out.”)

First: THE JUNK. The property next to our proposed dream home was a tarp city. Various implements and crap were parked and rotting on the spot, or haphazardly tarped in sheets of blue and flapping orange. The cottage itself was listing and ready for collapse.

When the realtor wheeled in—with her husband! (“I told him it was a pretty drive along the lake and he should come along.” That’s when you know you’re in a small town. What realtor brings their husband on a road trip? I had a flashback to Dunnville days when a tow truck driver brought his three kids who were on March break to the call. I had to sit in my vehicle as it was towed into town while his kids rode with him in the truck).

I asked the agent about the neighbours. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think they are here very often.” (No kidding). “But with these outbuildings, you wouldn’t even see them.” (Not selling it, sister).

I suppose if realtors were forced into transparency, no houses would be sold. But, hey, airlines had to start revealing hidden taxes and surcharges! Imagine how the realtor.ca site would be shaken if suddenly 360 degree views were mandatory. Trust me, Kim and I do our Nancy Drew detective work, zooming in on places courtesy of the aerials on Google Earth. But, you can’t always get a clear aerial on tarps.

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Photo Credit: realtor.ca

There were more weeds than gravel in the driveway. The front steps were ready to be condemned. Stepping inside, the realtor wrestled with a radio that was blasting heavy metal. The place smelled punky. Like unwashed hair. It was dark and filled with the most frightening collection of life-sized stuffed animals. And ships. The washer/dryer stackables were bedside. There’s no way you could even open them up without moving the bed—which was crammed in the 6×6 “third bedroom.”

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Photo credit: realtor.ca

We didn’t even look at the backyard or the lake. That’s when we both knew it was bad. We couldn’t see past the stuffed animals and peeling linoleum and paneling and smell. The husband helpfully suggested, “You gotta see past the furniture.” As he threw himself on the huffalump couch.

The agent scurried about and apologized for the seller. “He only uses this place in the summer, so he hasn’t had a chance to do a spring clean yet.” Why would he put it on the market then? Oh, and then she said this which made us both want to laugh: “Just so you know, there is an offer on it.” (It had been on the market for 12 hours and we called her bluff).

Offer or not, nothing was making that place pretty. We ignored her threat. of multiple bids.

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We looped north to Napanee proper, shaking our heads, mildly disappointed…and found lamb burgers and a stone butch lesbo-fronted blues band performing at the Waterfront Pub. Kim and I should start singing blues songs about real estate. We looked at the map of Prince Edward County and decided we’d hold out for Partridge Hollow, Pigtail Drive or Mosquito Lane. Over lagers from a nearby brewery in Bath, we fancied ourselves living on Petticoat Point, Doolittle Road or Limestone Ledges Lane.

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We carried on, with bedsores from too many kilometers in such a short span (900+) and the Motel 6 reasonable facsimile of a mattress. We stopped to re-fuel in “Welcome” at a gas station that sold homemade butter tarts, surprise bags for 25 cents, a brand new walker for $59 and local asparagus for $2.50 a bunch.

Somehow though, we were reassured. With a full tank and some asparagus, we realized that in these parts, anything is possible. Adventures in real estating continues.

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We Sold Our House on Facebook

They said it couldn’t be done. There were some tsk-tsk’s and a few exaggerated expressions of good-luck-with-that-one. Is there an emoji for that yet? We were bucking the system and taking a self-stab at the real estate market. Hey, I sold my 1996 Suzuki Sidekick on Craigslist. Surely we could sell our 1861 stone house on Facebook.

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Earlier in the year, Kim and I toyed with the romantic notion of raffling our house off. Wouldn’t you buy a $155 ticket with the possibility of winning a house that only required you to arrange your furniture and fill your champagne glasses? We would. But could we pull it off in tiny Galt, Ontario?

Remember the 1996 movie Spitfire Grill (neon-lit by the likes of Ellen Burstyn and Marcia Gay Harden)? Actually, I barely do, but there was something about a $100-an-entry essay contest and the winner could take over the retiring owner’s restaurant. The movie has generated similar copycat tactics, most recently in Toronto. In September 2015, Ruthie Cummings tried to raffle off her three year old German restaurant, Das Gasthaus, on Danforth Avenue for $150 bucks a pop. Instead of being a feel-good story, the unexpected backlash came in the form of eight labour complaints from former employees.

Cummings hoped to sell 4,000 tickets, earning her the tidy sum of $600,000 so she could return to Europe and care for her aging parents. The winner, Shawn McKerness, 40, a Windsor chef and restaurateur, decided to forfeit the controversial prize. According to the Star, the restaurant itself was closed at the end of January and had a bailiff’s note taped to the window, noting it was in arrears of $6,367.50. Oh, and then there’s that touchy subject of unpaid rent. “Property manager Alex Stergiou told the Star that Cummings is still “technically in possession” of the restaurant. Therefore, he said, she is on the hook for rent, which is about $5,500 a month.”

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Undaunted, Kim and I still liked the idea of the raffle. We didn’t have any jaded employees (maybe ex-girlfriends, but…). Could we hit up 2,700 friends, family and exes for $155? Our stone house-loving pals Troy and Lori were in. “We’ll buy a few,” Troy promised with a clink of our pint glasses. I knew my parents would be good for one or two. So, we had four sold before we even did a blitz! Plus, I won a soccer ball in elementary school for being a top chocolate-covered almond seller for Brantford Youth Soccer. In high school, I sold turkey shoot raffle tickets (among other things like poinsettias, dream catchers and tie dye t-shirts) to 100% pay my way to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Selling raffle tickets for our darling stone cottage would be a snap.

Instead of taking the sure-and-steady traditional realtor route, home owners are opening up to the magic, possibility and opportunity that a raffle can ‘buy’ somebody. The Humble Heart Goat Dairy and Creamery in Elkmont, Alabama is opting for the raffle route too. Rock Spring Farm in Essex County, Virginia is raffling off their 38-acre horse farm. There’s even a movie theatre on the block. You can write a 250-word essay on why you want to own a seaside cinema and win the Cape Ann Cinema and Stage in Gloucester, Massachusetts. How about a B&B in Maine? After 22 years, Janice Sage is retiring from the Lovell Inn & Restaurant (the gig comes with 10 staff and 100 dinner guests on the average night). She won the Inn via an essay contest back in 1993 and wanted to share the karma all over again.

A Whitby, ON couple who bought a waterfront property in Kingston as a retirement plan in 2003 opted to cash out with an auction last month. They had listed on the market the past for a $1 million price tag with no bites and were anxious to move on with their retirement and travel plans. They had hoped the 66-acre property and rural stone castle would nab around $800,000 but the lucky bidders snagged it for $660,000 (the minimum bid required was $300,000). There were 13 offers for the gated house with turrets, an elevator, a cedar grove and 2,000 feet of waterfront.

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Then there was the guy that essentially traded a red paperclip for a two storey house in Saskatchewan. I was as charged up and confident as Kyle MacDonald, the bloggernaut behind One Red Paperclip. MacDonald made his first paperclip trade for a fish-shaped pen in July 2005. He reached his goal of trading up to a house with the fourteenth transaction. The deal? Trading a movie role for a home in Saskatchewan (and it somehow involved Alice Cooper and a trip for two to Yakh, BC, along the way).

Okay, so, we didn’t have a movie role to barter with (but they do film Murdoch Mysteries down the road from our house), and maybe the raffle was a contortionist stretch for us. Maybe. We didn’t consider a one-day auction, but, the idea of us selling private was enticing.  It would involve nothing more than crafting a blog post, culling our best home and garden snapshots and some serious social media sharing. We peer pressured everyone to brag about this place and share it widely and wildly from Banff to Nashville to the UK to Australia and Uganda. Kim agreed that we should try, but, not endlessly. We’d establish a deadline and then go with an agent. Share. Like. Like. Share. Tweet. Reblog. Like. Like.

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We have both watched enough HGTV to know the math, logistics and obstacles of selling a home. With our PhD in Property Brothers, House Hunters International, Fixer Upper and Million Dollar Listing NY we were confident. Combined, Kim and I have spent 14,786 hours on realtor.ca. We know all about curb appeal and what-the-hell? We love real estate culture and count many agents as our friends. I flip to Toronto Life’s real estate page (where they profile a buyer and their three properties of interest. And then unleash the ugly guts of the bidding war and how much the listing went, over-ask. When we decided to go social media first instead of a sign-in-the-ground, a few of the agents got in on the mix too. (*Special thanks to Lindy Brown (Peak Real Estate Ltd), Lisa Reilly and Lisa Hipgrave of The Two Lisa’s (REMAX Hallmark Realty, Ltd.) Toronto for the Facebook press blow-out. And, to Laura Thompson of Coldwell Banker and Jane Gardner (Royal LePage) for potential buyers, inside scoop, special considerations and market assessments).

Trends and traditions are changing like the May barometer. Not only can you trade a paperclip for a house, write an essay and win a movie theatre, but you can divorce and sell your life. In 2008, after a sloppy break-up, Brit Ian Usher sold his life in Australia on ebay for $399,300. He wrote a book all about it, Life For Sale, and wrote a second, Paradise Delayed, about his off-grid life in Panama. Following the sale of his life, he set off around the globe to cross off 100 goals which he achieved in 100 weeks.

It’s endless, exciting and…what else can we sell? (Pause as I look around the immediate vicinity)

Why just have a garage sale anymore? You can sell your house on Facebook and hand the paperwork over to a lawyer. Which you would be doing anyway.

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The condensed version is—after a big splash on Facebook and over 900 visitors to the blog post I wrote (“House for Sale…Ours”), we did it. Thanks to the powers of social media and a friend of a friend of a friend who didn’t even remember how they knew that ‘friend’—we found our buyer.

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As we signed papers over cocktails at Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa, the couple remarked, “This is so civilized.”

Yes, we sold our house on Facebook. And now I want to enter that essay contest to win the goat farm in Elkmont, Alabama.

*If you like jellybean counting contests and want to win a cinema or the B&B, check out Kelly Gurnett’s The Write Life post about the essay contests  here.  I call dibs on the goat farm!

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Categories: Home Sweet Home, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Putting the ‘Real’ Back Into Real Estate

‘Real’ estate. I think they need to put a little more real into the market. You know those terrible stats that circulate about how much time you spend watching prison dramas and idling in coffee drive-thrus? I’ve spent 4.6 years on realtor.ca, I know.

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Buying a resale house is really a bizarre situation. It’s like a blind date where you meet over coffee (non-committal, but at the ready, all fresh-breath, preened, pounding heart and hope as big as Idaho). You’re all emotions, vulnerable, cautious, hurried, wide-eyed, twitchy and probably too caffeinated already. Imagine, if after this first coffee date, with latte foam residue still warm on your upper lip, that you had to decide YES or NO. Do you want to commit? You’ve had 30, possibly 45 minutes to glean as much information as you can and look for big, waving scarlet red flags. Will you marry him or her? Will you buy the house after one breeze through?

This is what buying a house is. A coffee date where you have to choose marriage after one frenzied get together. If you’re looking in Toronto—then you definitely have to propose on the spot. I DO! And do it quickly because 17 others are I-doing at the same time. Hello bidding war. Hello cranky cup of coffee the morning after when you learn the blind date you were crushing on went for $600,000 over asking.

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In hot markets like Prince Edward County, pacing and patience are de rigueur (insert image of exasperated but still enthused diners on Daniel Baehrel’s Earlton, NY restaurant waitlist. In seven weeks he had over 40,000 reservations for his 16-seater basement resto. That’s a 10-year waitlist!). However, word on the street is that buyers are buying over the phone, sight unseen, without conditions. No inspection, no financing—just, give it to me. Mine. I called dibs.

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We’ve fallen hard for a few properties but not enough to give our Visa number over the phone to the agent for a quick sale. Because, behind some of these glossy, cropped, stretched, fish-eye bait traps there are unseen nightmares. Junker neighbours, apple trees raining down so much rotten fruit so that the place smells like a booze can. There are gardens that small children would get lost in, and possibly eaten by foxes who are drunk on the fallen apple bounty. There are future wind turbines to fret about, toxic landfills, train tracks, mushroom farms (way more deadly smelling than chickens which rank higher than pigs on the manure Richter scale), nuclear waste, highway expansions, neighbours with tarps and trailers, condo developments…sigh. There’s always stuff to cloud the dream. At least Google Earth pricks your excited inflated balloon faster than a three hour drive to the house where you can discover first hand that the dream house is 10 feet from the road and the neighbours collect cars that will never move.

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To put the ‘real’ back in real estate, I would like the MLS search engine to offer a few more defining apps. I’d like to be able to choose a tiny U-haul moving truck icon to indicate I LOVE THIS ONE!! THIS IS IT! For a house that ticks a lot of our boxes but has something niggly about it—a little icon of me, jumping up and down but then standing with hands on hips. For the listings I keep accidentally repeatedly looking at because I can’t remember what the issue was—it would be so much easier if I could choose the icon that spells it out. Like intestines to indicate a gut job. Or a toilet to remind me that the bathroom was 100% tiled pink.  Or, binoculars, to indicate that the neighbours are two feet away. Or an English hedge maze to suggest that the house is all chopped up, no flow. For a listing too far from everything—a horse and buggy. Right?

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I’d like a scratch and sniff icon on a listing. (Remember those prized 80s sticker book collections full of puffies and sparklies and smellies? Root beer and dill pickle stickers were always the big traders.)

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What can’t we smell in this listing? The neighbour who likes to burn toxic things like pressure treated lumber and shingles? That adjacent mushroom farm that isn’t mentioned in the listing? Does the house smell like wet dog? I’d like to scratch and sniff that dream listing and smell a waft of just-baked chocolate chip cookies or crisp autumn leaves or peonies or plumes of sweet birch burning in the fireplace. Wait, is that cider simmering on the stove top? Yes, I want to smell nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, wood smoke, leaves, cookies and a big waft of lilac bushes. It would be wrong to say I’d also like to smell Kentucky Fried Chicken, but, you know, sometimes you do.

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There are so many things I wonder about houses on the market. Where do they order pizza from? Is there a chipmunk they call by name and hand-feed peanuts? How many trick-or-treaters do they get tumbling down their driveway?

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Do they grill something on the bbq that all their friends and family insist they make repeatedly? (Here: Kim’s very famous beer can chicken massaged with Schwartz’s Deli rub and steamed in a sultry Waterloo Dark ale bath or, Cajun catfish with a few cobs of local corn slathered in butter and parm).

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I wonder what room is the favourite of the home owner? Where do they have morning coffee? What kind of birds do they see at the feeder or nest building?

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Where do they fold up their legs with a paperback and a cat and slip away into printed word? I wonder what milestones have been celebrated in the kitchen. Why in hell did they paint five rooms blood red?

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In the house purchaser’s agreement, there’s always a disclosure about whether the house was a grow-op or if someone died in the recliner, or was murdered. Wouldn’t it be better if you learned about the fun stuff that happened in that house? Although I’m sure the grow-op owners would say they were having the time of their lives until they were caught). For example, we’ve had three Chihuahuas and two cockatiels sleepover here (not related).

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I would want people to know about Margaret too. She’s a toad as big as a Big Mac that lives in the backyard.

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Yes, my realtor.ca revamp would have these additions:

Signature scent: cedar cabin and clothesline (product placement candles can be purchased at Art of Home)

On the grill: beer can chicken or Cajun catfish

House wine: Karlo Estates Quintus

On tap (well, in a growler, actually): Grand River Brewing Co. Enigma Stout

What you can hear: orioles, church bells, osprey as they skim the river’s belly

Take-out: lime leaf curry, mango salad and spring rolls from My Thai (7 minute walk)

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What’s in a 15 minute walking radius? Farmer’s market, buck-a-shuck oyster nights at the Cambridge Mill, Dee’s Bakery, $16 burger and pint nights at Café 13, fish and chips, live theatre, picnics in Victoria park, a cricket pitch, a Jamaican resto, Indian, hand-pressed juices, Trans Canada Trail, antiques, Papou’s subs, galleries, library….everything, really.

I think about houses in terms of songs and famous people too. Everyone identifies their relationship by a song (first kiss, first dance at the wedding)—but shouldn’t your house have a song too? What would the soundtrack be? Clearly this house is The River, Joni Mitchell (or the syrupy Blue Rodeo version). Or, Glosoli by Sigur Ros.

If this house was a person, it would definitely be Robert Redford, Sean Connery, Helen Mirren or Emma Thompson. Solid, refined, timeless.

Oh, and I’d want a feature on realtor.ca where we could check out the neighbours. Who bakes amazing lime coconut loaf? Who makes Oreo-stuffed chocolate chip cookies? Who had a tile cutter that we can borrow, or an extension ladder? Who doesn’t recycle? Who plays Gloria Gaynor on repeat? Who owns a Jetta without a muffler? Who drives a transport truck and lets it idle every morning at 5am? Who leaves their Christmas decoration up until March? Who is planning on buying a big, ugly, piece-of-crap trailer that will never run but will sit and rot in the driveway? Who will buy a bus and let their son who just got out of jail live in it? (These are all past, very true scenarios to consider).

People should have to apply for houses, like they do jobs. There should be resumes and reference letters and interviews. It’s such a major decision and all you have to do is lay down the money or mortgage approval.

I have so many ideas. I need to be Prime Minister of realtor.ca.

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Categories: Home Sweet Home, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

House For Sale…Ours

Please spread widely and wildly.

We’re for sale. Will you be the next caretaker of history?

Suggestion: pour a potent cup of coffee (add cream and sugar as desired) or fill a glass with your favourite South African red. Get into the West Galt groove and imagine life untethered. Why be mortgage broke? Why believe that a backyard the size of a cat’s litter box is acceptable?

In West Galt you can find balance, restorative perennial gardens and a non-intrusive urban lifestyle in the historical downtown Galt. In a 15 minute walking radius there’s a farmer’s market (one of the oldest in Canada), a chocolatier, cheese boutique, Monigrams Coffee Roasters (best Americanos going), Crumb + Bean (tops for ginger molasses cookies as big as frisbees), Dee’s Bakery (gooey butter tarts just like your favourite Aunt made), Tiny Cakes (Elvis peanut butter and banana cupcakes!), Bricks + Mortar (like a micro Whole Foods), Thai food and a serious line-up of Ontario craft beers at the notorious Cafe 13 pub.

You’ll find the city pleasures you’re familiar with in the TIFF Cineseries sponsored by the local library, the Idea Exchange, just a few blocks away. In 2017, the former Galt post office will open its doors as the nation’s first all-digital library with a resto on the terrace, tablets, podcast recording studio and 3D printers in the maker’s lab.

The Trans Canada Trail cuts through Cambridge and the old electric rail line winds its way through Glen Morris, Paris and onward to Brantford. Hop on a bike and ride for miles in either direction in the company of willow trees, indigo buntings and monarchs. The Grand Trunk Trail will gently guide you to five diamond dining and the sweetest suites around at Langdon Hall Country Hotel and Spa (a Relais and Chateaux property). The 900-acre urban land trust that the adjoining RARE conservation group owns is popular for its community programming. Join naturalists at the Slit Barn for a tromp in the wetlands to find salamanders, sign up for an owl prowl, or snowshoeing, or check out their off-grid sustainable North House project where writers and artists can apply for residency programs.

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In Cambridge, you are in the epicentre of day tripping: St. Jacobs, Stratford, the Kissing Bridge at West Montrose, Elora Gorge and the lavender farms of North Dumfries are all less than an hour away. Be in downtown Toronto in an hour–or at YYZ in 45.

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We have bragging rights to Canada’s Heritage River–the Grand which makes its way from Elora to Lake Erie in Dunnville (299km). Drop in a canoe or kayak and see the underbelly of the river up close and personal. Did you know we have our own independent brewery here too? The Grand River Brewing Company offers tasting classes through the winter so you can earn a self-proclaimed PhD in Stouts.

Interior design mavens will be pulled in many directions. Southworks Antique Mall is one of the largest in Canada with a 30,000 square foot warehouse. At Cornerstone, the former Woolco offers two floors of contemporary finds (danger danger!). At The Art of Home, Blair House Gifts and Chair, Table, Lamp you’ll find whimsy, artwork, pillows and the unexpected.

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If you’re looking for a career jump, the University of Waterloo’s Architecture School is a 10 minute walk away. Want hand-pressed juices? Galt Juice Co. sells shelves of it and it’s like drinking a garden in a glass. Need a massage? The therapists at PUR Balance on Water Street will turn you into fondue.

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If you need an oyster fix, there’s buck-a-shuck nights at the historic Cambridge Mill (cocktails have never been lovelier–the cantilevered glass dining room leaves you perched right above the river at the Parkhill dam).

Here’s what you don’t know: Orioles do fly-bys in our backyard. You can pick strawberries nearby and buy local maple syrup from Diane just up the road.We grow lemon balm–you could make your own teas! Our house and gardens have been featured in Grand magazine, on the Galt Horticultural Tour and the annual Holly Jolly Christmas Tour (a local fundraising effort that supports women and children). You can hear church bells–on a still wintry night, there’s nothing as remarkable as that.

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It’s the bewildering kindness of this town that will amaze you. If you are looking for a home that is a sanctuary, a private backyard to reintroduce yourself to nature (and a few paperbacks), access to trails, exquisite dining, fun shops and something a little less hectic than the 416, this is it. This house isn’t generic, it’s oozing personality through its mortar and heart pine shake roof.

Come take a look inside our 155-year-old stone home and fall in love with it all, just as we did on the most miserable day in November, four years ago. Happiness lives here.

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Fine Print:

$439,900

2 bed/2 bath (carriage house had Murphy bed for possible 3rd bedroom)

Lot size: 82.04 x 133.58
Property taxes: $3,100
Square footage: 1556
Kitchen highlights reel: Black Fire Clay farm sink, Perrin & Rowe faucet, Cosmos black leather-finished granite counter, cathedral and tray ceilings in kitchen and carriage house (with exposed stone), frosted sycamore glass between rooms, built-in pantry, maple cabinets, dishwasher (all LG appliances included), custom 2″ black walnut breadboard table with custom fabricated metal legs
Main floor laundry (stackables in main bathroom), original stained glass window in main bath, hickory flooring (kitchen), original pine and oak floors 
Hot water gas boiler and radiators
Carriage house could be used as 3rd bedroom (has murphy bed) or office/studio space with exposed stone and Venetian plaster walls.
Crown moulding throughout, 10″ ceilings, 12″ baseboards, updated lighting, electrical and plumbing
Heart pine shake roof, cedar deck, outdoor stone table, storage shed
Aggregate stone driveway (2 parking spaces)
Rented equipment: hot water heater, Culligan water softener
Contact us at jtorti7@yahoo.ca

 

 

 

 

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The Three Little Pigs, Reimagined. In Prince Edward County.

The three little pigs were all searching for waterfront property in Prince Edward County. They were somewhat disenchanted with the housing market. The listings were slim and none of the pigs were interested in a generic split level or ranch-style home. Some listings were too close to the Loyalist (traffic), while others were total gut jobs.

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Photo cred: PJ Moore

Others were topping the million dollar mark and the three little pigs didn’t want to be house poor. They wanted balance, simplicity and a home that would be a sanctuary, not a money pit. They all decided to design and build their own homes after spending endless bleary-eyed nights scrolling through resale homes on realtor.ca.

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The first little pig had recently spent some time solo, kayaking the northern rivers of the Yukon. She lived on a commune for a while in Oregon and fancied herself a garden where she could grow her own medicinal teas, garlic, heirloom tomatoes and candy cane beets. She wanted to build sustainably, and after staying at the Owl’s Nest Bed and Breakfast in Prince Edward County, she became obsessed with hay bale construction.

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The straw and plaster would provide serious insulation for Canadian winters. She’d ditch energy bills for good and would be making a sound, renewable choice in straw. Finally, she’d be able to live off the grid with a passive solar design, just like the one she talked about with that South African Airstream owner at the Burning Man Festival five years ago. Life would become affordable again, and instead of sticking it out at a lackluster ad copy job in the city, she could focus on her creative writing (for a wildly popular vegan magazine) and do some glass blowing on the side.

She met a man with a load of straw in Hillier and bought the last of his stock despite his naysayer attitude. He scoffed at her hay bale design. Though he said she was being pig-headed (which was true in many senses) she bought the straw and set about building the house in Bloomfield with a few members of her hockey team who were willing to work for beer.

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Weeks later there was a knock at her door. She had advertised her hay bale home on Airbnb for $108 a night (including a refried black bean breakfast burrito with heirloom tomato salsa). Perhaps someone was in the area and needed a last-minute booking? She was just steeping some Sleepytime tea, burning her signature patchouli incense and reading a self-help book by Brene Brown about vulnerability.

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Photo Cred: PJ Moore

“Little Pig, little pig, let me come in.”

She knew it was the wolf. He had been all over the Yahoo News headlines as of late.

She replied with a chuckle, “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin.” Piggy just had electrolysis at the local spa and no longer had to worry about that pesky hair on her chin. She’d read a lot about this wolf guy in her social media circles. He was the tour de force behind “Pigging Out: Bringing Home the Bacon,” a blog about everything bacon that had 1.6 million followers.  The local pig community was not thrilled. She was a little envious of the wolf’s writing prowess and online success without banner ads.

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The wolf at the door was as persistent as an ex-girlfriend though. He huffed and puffed, took a swig of Red Bull and blew the house in. And he gobbled up the little pig with freelancing, glassblowing dreams. He even polished off her bag of stale sweet potato chips that he found beside her paperback and still-steeping tea.

The second little pig met a man with a load of barn board just outside of Carrying Place. This pig knew how barn board was trending. He watched a lot of HGTV and was a big fan of Chip and Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper and their whitewashed shiplap designs. Pig figured he could do the same and it would be a neat re-purposing story. The wood was from a Mennonite barn in St. Jacobs close to the farmhouse where he used to buy brown eggs and maple syrup. Pig liked to keep it local and even bought some extra barn board to build a cute chicken coop on the property just like his friends in Uxbridge had on their Caberneigh Farms property.

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Photo Cred: PJ Moore, Coop Design by Nicole Robertson & PJ Co.

He always wanted to have a few Plymouth Rock Barred cockerels. Soon he could sell his own eggs at the roadside, and maybe some honey too.

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The man selling the barn board was skeptical and told the pig to think twice about the material. The little pig was perturbed but not misdirected. He even bought some old pallets off the guy to replicate some outdoor furniture he’d seen on etsy. He paid for the wood, took a selfie with the load and went to work building the house with the help of his Pinterest board where he pinned houzz and Restoration Hardware designs.  He facebooked, tweeted, Instagrammed and blogged the heck out of the barn board house.

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Pig had just opened a growler of Holy Smoke Scotch Ale from Church Key Brewing Company when the stupid wolf aggressively knocked on his barn board door. “Little pig, little pig, let me come in.”

If it wasn’t the telemarketers, hounding about cleaning his ducts or Rogers to upgrade his internet and cable package, it was the wolf of Wall Street.

The pig poured a perfect pint and re-heated a bowl of butter chicken that he’d made the night before. The wolf knocked again, clattering Pig’s cool new door knocker nearly off its hinge. Pig refused to open the door. “Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin.” This little pig just landed gainful employment as a bar hop at the Drake Devonshire Hotel in Wellington. A hipster beard was a pre-requisite and this wolf wouldn’t be having an inch of it. Besides, it was the Stanley Cup playoffs too. He needed the beard, superstitiously.

The wolf was on a bender and bitchy about a nasty break-up that left him in a crappy rental on the east side. He lost a lot in the relationship when his wife saw his text messages, or, “sexting” as she called it, with the sly fox from the coffee shop in Picton.DSCF1768

“I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in,” the wolf promised.

The pig laughed it off. He had found some hurricane-proof R value 5 windows and the barn board came from a barn that had withstood everything from carpenter ants to tornadoes for 100 years.

But, the wolf took a long drag on the last of his medicinal marijuana joint (for vertigo), stubbed it out and then huffed and puffed and wheezed and blew the house in. And he gobbled up the little pig with some of the just nicely heated spicy butter chicken and Naan bread warm from the oven.

Now, the third pig and her partner (they had just met online through Tinder, but, things were progressing quickly. It was already their third date after all and they wanted to build a place of their own and stop paying someone else’s mortgage). The same-sex couple met a woman with a load of limestone and granite. “These stones will make for a remarkably sturdy cottage,” said the woman. Pig agreed. She had friends in West Galt who lived in a 150-year-old stone home for a few years and knew that they were invincible. She bought the stones and loaded them into their SUV and set about building the stone house with a sketch that the pig’s partner had drawn when she learned the art of sheep shearing in Ireland the previous spring. It was a small (7,000-square-foot) castle in Doolin, but, they would simply scale it down a little (700-square-feet) and build an outdoor pizza oven on the west side.

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“Nice and solid,” the couple remarked. It took a long time, carefully mixing the mortar and integrating the stained glass church windows they found at an auction. Adding the fireplace and pizza oven was easy after that.

They had just unloaded the U-haul and their French bulldog, Mr. Knuckles, when they noticed the wolf loitering about. The wolf was still hungry and asked the kind pig couple to let him in. The pig couple weren’t naïve.

The couple actually hated unannounced company. “Not by the hairs of our chinny chin chin.” They turned on their SmartTV and started scrolling through Netflix. The pigs were well aware of this wolf on the prowl. He updated his Facebook status more frequently than a Kardashian. They knew he was looking for fodder for his next Pigging Out post.

The wolf promised to huff and puff as per usual, wondering how Woody Allen would re-write his tired lines. Who would he cast to play the wolf in celluloid? He hoped Jake Gyllenhaal.

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The pigs sensed that the wolf was quite serious and asked him not to huff and puff on their new build. “We want this to be a heritage home one day!”

The wolf had earbuds in and couldn’t hear them. His barista girlfriend had created a new playlist for his iPod. Of course it included “What did the fox say?” by Ylvis. The song was like a cheese grater on his nerve endings.

The wolf huffed. Puffed. Nothing. The house stood firm as Pamela Anderson’s breasts. He blew again. It didn’t budge, just like Trump’s toupee in a gale force wind.

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“I have another tactic,” the wolf threatened. He hummed along to the Of Monsters and Men track. He really loved that song, “Dirty Paws” and maybe after all this huffing and puffing was done, he’d look on expedia for cheap flights to Iceland. He owed the foxy girlfriend a trip, for all the drama of the affair and his ex-wife’s ranting in the coffee shop when she discovered the sexting messages. She went ballistic and poured a latte in the sunroof of his girlfriend’s new Fiat. But, back to the task at hand the wolf reminded himself.

He asked the pigs if they’d like to go truffle hunting. Pigs were good at that and could never resist a good truffle hunt. However, the pigs noticed that Carol was now on Netflix and they couldn’t resist. They had a thing for Cate Blanchett.

They told the wolf they were busy, they wanted to watch Carol. “It’s a movie of glances,” pig told the wolf. “That’s what the CBC said.”

“Tomorrow then?”

The pigs agreed. The wolf would come around nine in the morning, which gave them ample time to snuggle and have Americanos in bed. They knew what the wolf was up to. Duh.

The pigs got up earlier—at six even. They sniffed out a dozen truffles and dashed back home on their Honda Ruckus. When the wolf arrived at nine, the pot of water was already at a boil.

“We couldn’t wait,” the pigs said.

The wolf was a bit disappointed, but accepted a cup of French press. “The coffee is from a women’s collective in the Congo,” they told him.

The wolf was impressed. It was better than Starbucks, no question. “Shall we go pick some dandelions to make wine to enjoy with the truffles?”

The pigs said they were too busy, tending to the boiling truffles. “How about tomorrow morning, before the dew burns off. I have to boil down the truffles first before I can infuse the oil to make the black truffle mac and cheese.”

The wolf was all over it. “Okay, I understand. Yes, let’s say six a.m. for dandelion foraging.”

The next morning the pigs were up at five and went dandelion picking with Mr. Knuckles, not the scheming wolf.

The wolf showed up early though, and had them cornered in the meadow. The pigs pointed behind the lilac bushes and said they had just seen a fox to distract him. They’d heard about the coffee shop affair, mention of his foxy barista would rattle his nerves. The pigs and Mr. Knuckles ran towards their moped and sped home in a cloud of dust.

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Photo Cred: PJ Moore, Sprinting Cred: to Olive, of Caberneigh Farms

The wolf was totally miffed now. He thought for sure he could have beat them in a foot race and gobbled them up with a few dashes of Marie Sharpe’s grapefruit hot sauce that he picked up in Belize. The fox thing did throw him off. He should have known his girlfriend would already be at work, baking pain de chocolat and pistachio macaroons.

The wolf took an Uber cab to the pig’s stone house and climbed the roof despite his vertigo and lack of medicinal marijuana at hand. He could smell that fragrant Congolese coffee from the women’s collective wafting up the pig’s chimney. He made a mental note to google a local location where he could purchase it, without telling his girlfriend.

“I’ve been nice long enough, pigs. I’ve followed you on Twitter and even sent you a friendship request on Facebook. Which you never replied to, but, no matter. I’m coming down the chimney to eat you both right now.”

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When the little pigs heard this, they put a big iron pot in their fireplace and quickly stoked the fire with those Instaflame logs that are made out of sawdust and stuff. “You’ll be delicious with a little hot sauce and a bit of whiskey.”

No truer words were said. Except the wolf came down the chimney and fell into the big iron pot boiling away with rosemary, bay leaves and Meyer lemons.  The pigs ate the wolf with truffle oil mac and cheese and poached quail eggs and candied his whiskers for dessert. They made a lovely wolf pate with elderberries and hickory ribs in a root beer and brown sugar glaze. It was so good they raided the fridge at midnight, and wolfed down the wolf while watching Modern Family, semi-sauced on their potent dandelion wine. They’d have wolf burgers with frites for lunch with some brie and crab apple compote.

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“And maybe a little bacon,” the girlfriend smirked. Even though it was wrong on several levels, they had to agree with the wolf, bacon was delicious. They couldn’t wait to post their snout-to-tail wolf recipes on his Pigging Out blog. Wouldn’t that be the kicker?

The pig’s girlfriend topped up their wine glasses and raised hers. “To stone houses,” the pigs cheered. Mr. Knuckles sighed, content with his pile of rib bones and new wolf-fur hooded jacket for inclement weather that he could wear with his tiny Hunter boots.

Categories: Home Sweet Home, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Buyer Beware: The House Hunting and Gathering Chronicles

House hunting and gathering is a dangerous sport. It involves incredible stealth, patience (especially when the wifi speed can’t keep pace), coffee (or, depending on the clock, wine), vision (sometimes X-ray) and the flexibility of a hot yoga instructor.

My parents are looking at properties too—which allows me to extend our search zone on realtor.ca to tease them with options too. Kim and I have honed in on Prince Edward County, Warkworth, Hastings, Trent Hills, Amherst and Wolfe Island and are open to an unexpected dream house on a tiny lake two hours from the airport in any direction, really. My mom? “We’re looking anywhere in Ontario.”

We’ve been chronically looking since last summer, but with reserve as couldn’t actively move until Kim’s official retirement. Which, is officially this Saturday—but, she will continue working until we have two sold signs (our current and future home/waterfront lot, airstream parking spot). Then the cork will fly out of the champagne bottle and we will move into our default setting: probably painting every surface, with headlamps on if necessary.

As we sift through listings, our greater fun has been in the shock and awe of the photos posted on the realtor.ca site. When they say, “buyer beware”—no kidding! Often it’s just a comical photo bomb of a cat or dog that is found in every room of the house, following the photographer around like static cling. Other times, the photos are a pure marvel. Despite a house’s exterior, inside is an open diary. A time capsule. Collections gone awry. Our greatest nightmare. Or, most often—a forehead-smacking, “What was the photographer thinking? Why would they leave groceries all over the kitchen floor?” I imagine the scene: “GET OUT! NOW! DROP YOUR GROCERIES AND LEAVE!” Did the home owner actually think, ‘Oh, what’s a few bags of groceries matter? People will understand. The house is lived in. What do they expect?’ Or, are potential buyers supposed to key in on that a grocery store is nearby? This is the vision I’m talking about.

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Here are some of our favourites, gathered over the last few months. All photo credit goes to Realtor.ca with kudos to the remarkable real estate agents who manage to sell such places without whiskey on intravenous.

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“Should I put the mop away, or do you think I should leave it so it will be in the photo?”

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Now here’s a stellar view. So practical. “Honey, let’s sit here in front of the railing and look at the ceiling.”

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The new buzz word: “Flex Room.” It’s not a man cave, but, if you like to drink Labatt 50 and eat pickled eggs while you spy on neighbours, we have a garage for you!”

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Find the cat…(it’s just like playing “Where’s Waldo?”)

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Find the cat, part 2.

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Vintage Dixie Cup dispenser, for a little Listerine, or a drink of water in the night. Who cares about a rainfall shower head or Japanese soaker tub when you could have this?

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If you have a demi-john collection, this house will suit your display needs.

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Look, it’s the very first treadmill and stationary bike ever made! Conveniently located beside the wine rack and armchair for post-workout recovery. (*Also note the faux port holes on the wall, to make your exercise room feel like a cruise ship!)

 

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Calgon, take me away! Like, far, far, far away.

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“Is my foot in the way?”

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Find the dog…

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Now here’s a DIY project gone wrong. “Honey, what do you think? If I buy a bunch of wooden spoons and make them into cabinet handles, will they notice the dated kitchen?”

toilet

Question: How many people have had a concussion after innocently sitting on this toilet?

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Snacks, laundry and TV–all in one convenient space.

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For those who love diamond-print socks and sweaters, we’ve lovingly transferred the tasteful design to our ceiling!

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Does the carpet match the curtains?

Categories: Home Sweet Home, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Our Love Affair With Galt, Ontario

“Why are you two moving anyway?”

The question is posed often. Why would we want to leave our sweet little stone cottage now that we’ve groomed the grounds and painted the entire square footage to our earthy palette specs?

‘Here’ was always temporary. We had to stay within a radius that was commuting-friendly for Kim—not some banging-head-on-steering-wheel drive that sucked up three hours of her day (*factoring in 12 hour shifts to boot). With retirement on the shiny horizon, we will be untethered. With friends and family scattered across the map with equal density, we’re truly free range chickens.

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In three years, we’ve taken full advantage of this area. Like small town Lonely Planet writers, we’ve been in and out of every curry house, bake shop and pub, scribbling our own notes (mental, and on tripadvisor). To live somewhere, anywhere—there’s a responsibility to deepen the relationship. And we have.

It’s the familiarity that we will miss—but, we also know that it can be created so easily with time, networking, serendipity and on-foot wandering. It’s reassuring to have that Norm (of Cheers fame) rapport, and connect. Whether it’s the bubbly as Prosecco staff at the liquor store, the smiley guys at the Diva gas pumps, the Home Hardware paint department or plugged-in librarians, we have built our own custom community framework. Each person has been like an essential Lego block in our construction.

Sure, there are many that we only know on a first name basis, but Franco (who is doing woodwork in the century home beside us—like clockwork…no, really. His station wagon rolls into the drive at 10:00am, departs at 12 for a 30 minute lunch and leaves again with precision at 4pm), Cheezy (not his real name—but he owns Cheezy’s Variety across the street), Dee (of Dee’s butter tart empire) and Nonna (not her real name either, but she’s the perennially kerchiefed Polish woman in the stone house across from us) are quintessential Galt. There’s John who lumbers down the sidewalk with his makeshift cart to collect beer bottles on recycling night, Heather the chatty pilot, the Quaker girls and our now departed favourite neighbours who went west by three blocks—Dawn and Eric.

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I’ve previously showcased Dawn as the baked good angel who actually smells like wedding cake and routinely drops off a dozen chocolate chip cookies—stuffed with Oreos. Or coconut lime loaves iced in heavenly confectionary. Then there’s a whole crew of dogs that make this neighbourhood distinctly ours. Meet Penny the Beagle, Porkchop the English bulldog, lanky Scout and two husky pups, still with little razor puppy teeth. They are pure Galt too.

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Even the squirrels are familiar here (I feel like Dian Fossey, recognizing and charting the squirrel family tree)—one of the grey brood has ears that are seemingly dyed Billy Idol blonde. Chipper the bachelor chipmunk, runs along the foundation of our house like a streetcar line. Margaret, the toad as big as a Whopper hamburger patty, spent most of the summer with us until she hopped somewhere new.

Our backyard has been a pure recalibration zone after being sequestered in a basement apartment in Toronto, and a suburban peekaboo in Oakville (where all surrounding eyes are upon you in a tiny no-trees-yet just-sodded backyard).

But the best part? Exploring and exposing. Moving is like opening a blank journal and running your palm down the seam. (*Here’s your preliminary homework: Visit Maclennan & Baetz Publishing House and purchase a hand-sewn journal online. As the founder insists: “Making notebooks in a garage in Waterloo, Ontario is our life’s work. You can fill them with yours.”)

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Start with a to-do list like ours, searching for the best tiny cupcakes and Jamaican patties in town. Sketch your favourite places like Joe Forte has done in Key West, Greenwich Village and Cambridge. (He took it a step further by living out of his van for six months at a time, all ink, passion and pro bono vino nightcaps from the neighbouring Italian restaurant). Go for a walk without destination.

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Certainly, moving out of this area is a swan song of sorts, but, it’s a dance that starts all over again. And, I’m no dancer, so that’s as far as that metaphor is going to go. A few weeks ago, Kim and I sat around our black walnut harvest table (that will come with us as a reminder of the mighty walnut trees rooted a century deep in our yard) and randomly started rhyming off all that we had done in this area. With the enthusiasm of Girl Guides trying to attain fifty badges in a summer, I think we’re close. And, it doesn’t matter where you live—stuff is there. You don’t need the neon lights, Michelin stars or trendy cafes or roadside attractions. Poke around like we did. This is what we did and found….and I challenge you to do the same.

Bat-tagging (yes, tagging bats to track their migration patterns) at Shade’s Mills Conservation Area. The Grand River Conservation Authority offer public programs that run the gamut from star gazing to crash courses on salamanders to snowshoeing. Or, owl prowls…see below.

Owl Prowls at Pinehurst Conservation Area—armed with flashlights and a throaty whistle, you can tromp into the woods and try to attract screech and great horned owls, responding to calls in defense of their territory or, hoping to find a sexy mate.

A Bee Symposium. At city hall, local honey producers and all-around bee enthusiasts and activists shared the skinny on how to attract bees to your garden and create orchard mason bee “houses” out of scrap wood or PVC pipes.

BEER classes! We attended every class (high achievers, I know) at the Grand River Brewing Company. Each night featured a theme from pilsners to spring beers to stouts and porters. For $20 a class, it was a near PhD dose of beer intel —paired with cheese from a local shop or catered by Kiwi.

Monigrams Coffee Roasters Backlot Sessions: Coordinated by local guitar hero Eric Bolton, the Backlot Sessions are an intimate experience, just upstairs from the hive of Monigrams coffee shop. Featuring local and travelling musicians like Glass Face, it’s the perfect venue to take in the acoustics and feel-good coffee sourced from a women’s farming collective in Burundi, Africa.

The Cineseries: My greatest trepidation in moving from Toronto was leaving the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, Queen Street Video and matinees at the Carlton. Lucky dogs that we are, the Idea Exchange (our local library), brings celluloid to Cambridge. We’ve been able to catch the TIFF film circuit just blocks from home.

The Grand River Film Fest: The venues this year expanded to include the U of W School of Architecture. Sponsored by Langdon Hall, the film For Grace (about Curtis Duffy, a Michelin-star ranked Chicago chef and restauranteur) was upgraded with the likes of caramel pumpkin-seed studded popcorn and Pellegrino from the Langdon kitchen.

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The Library: I have a serious love affair with this place. We’ve attended a dozen events—pop-up Christmas marketplaces, printmaking demonstrations, live music, poetry slams, live painting competitions—all part of their carefully curated Friday Night Art Live series—because who doesn’t love the idea of drinking beer, in the library?

The Lavender Farm: as part of a “Road Trip to Wellness” article I wrote for Grand magazine, Kim and I went to visit a nearby lavender farm—that was once a pig farm! The owners are in their sixties and, you can tell, are in their groove and happy to share their genesis story.

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Beer Baths: Technically these are outside our hometown boundary, but, just a half hour drive away on at the Grand Wellness Centre in Brantford. For $50 you can soak your weary bones in a cedar tub filled with lava hot water, two pints of beer, hops and hop flowers—all while sipping on a glass of Ramblin’ Road from Simcoe.

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LPGA at Whistle Bear. If you’ve only watched golf on TV (yes, nap-inducing, right?), it’s way more engaging up close and personal with the players. Sit at a tee box and watch the big heavyweights discuss clubs and yards with their caddies and watch the grass blades take to the wind with a Big Bertha.

Sheave’s Tower: Built in 1876, this tower was the powerhouse for the nearby Blair Mill. Painted oxblood red, it’s a secret sitting in the woods. And if you are a fan of bacon lore, the Blair Mill generated power to grind corn for Schneider’s peameal bacon.

Comedy at the Gay Bar: Now shuttered, sigh. The Robin’s Nest was a landmark, even for big city gays. The old agricultural building on George street housed a rough dance floor that saw many a line-dance courtesy of the DJ who still spun records well into the 90s (and her nineties I think). It changed hands and names to Sizzle, and then it went fizzle. The Nest was like the very best gay reunion on a wintry Saturday night. The ladies that owned it sold hot roast beef sandwiches at midnight and there was always an urn of coffee and store-bought cookies for designated drivers. The new owner introduced live music, drag shows and a comedy night, but steep and climbing rent snuffed the legacy.

Canoeing the Grand: There are few outfitters based out of Paris, and the float from the old Cambridge GTO gas station on Highway 24 to Paris is the quickest way to channel Bill Mason. The nearly 300 km long heritage Grand River (on its way to Dunnville where it dumps into Lake Erie) is swift and gorgeous as it cuts through the Carolinian forest of the area. In Glen Morris there are some Class 1 rapids even, to give your adrenalin a stir. Don’t miss pulling over to check out the German Woolen Mills on the east bank of the Grand near Glen Morris.

German Woolen Mills: You can also check out the historical walls and foundation of the mills on foot or bike by taking the Trans Canada Trail on the east side of the river to Paris. Kim and I have walked to the mills and, on one day, all the way to Paris (19km). We’ve seen American redstarts, Green-backed herons, deer and even an indigo bunting.

Ghost Tour of Old Galt: McDougall Cottage offers various walks that focus on the heritage and history of this area. We’ve walked them all—from the Dickson Hill neighbourhood to industrial Galt to the Halloween ghost walk. It’s a fun way to hear about all the hangings, murders, love affairs gone astray and lingering spirits of the town. For Joleen, the affable guide—this is her ultimate Jeopardy category. You can’t stump her on Galt history. The cottage has a broad program of Scotch tastings, live fiddle, odes to a “love carrot” (long story), and demonstrations on baking all sorts of marvellous things for a small donation.

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Jane’s Walk: The citizen-led tours in honour of social mover and shaker Jane Jacob take place in cities all over the globe. The humble purpose is to remind you to connect with your city and communicate with your neighbour. You’ll learn neat trivia and often, it’s those joining the walk that have lived in the area for seventy years that chirp in with the most surprising gossip.

Preston Heritage House Tour: I rounded up my mom and bro to join us on this self-guided house tour that let us snoop inside a stone farmhouse, famed downtown hotel/watering hole and church conversion. A house tour is like getting permission to read someone’s diary. Go!

Christmas Eve Cocktails at Langdon Hall: Add a just-fallen blanket of snow, soft carols and a snapping fire. Order something fancy from the cocktail list or a hot spiked beverage and take in the opulence, history and postcard that the country house hotel is. It’s been our tradition for the last three years.

Little Louie’s Burgers and Soupery: On the complete flip side, this kitschy joint is a wonderland for those who like burgs with a twist. Our real estate agent Jane Gardner, had insisted we go when we first moved in. It took us three years and now we are kicking ourselves—they grill the best burgers possibly ever (though I have special attachment to a reindeer burger from Hofn, Iceland). Load it up with Hickory Sticks, volcanic mayo, grilled pineapple or pulled pork. There are no rules, and for sub $10 you get a gut-busting lunch with a side!

Barnacle Bill’s Fish n’ Chips: Despite not having a religious bone in my framework, I’m all for the Catholic tradition of fish on Good Friday. Beware—this greasy landmark will leave you smelling like a piece of fried halibut—even if you take your order to go. There are picnic tables by the river—but we just walk the block home and let loose on the malt vinegar and double-dipping of the tartar.

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The Knox Church Christmas Bazaar: Again, one doesn’t have to be Catholic or Presbyterian to take advantage of all those sweet little church ladies selling their baked goods and preserves. Kim’s mom and aunts make divine mustard pickles and jams, but, visiting the east coast just once a year puts a damper on importing more as the rations run low. The Bazaar is our in-between for seedy raspberry jam, some imperfectly shaped shortbread and pickled beet jewels.

Music on the street: Whether it’s the Portuguese parade, Folk Fest or Galt on the Grand with Pauly and the Greaseballs cover band rocking it out, we’ve supported all the local fests, grabbed grilled cheese sandwiches and warm beers from the food trucks and mingled as one should.

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We’ve drank every craft beer on tap at our nearby pub, Café 13; picnicked at the lake at Shades, found 8 lost dogs, snagged hardware and corbels from Southworks Antique Market, pewter barn owl salt and pepper shakers from The Green Spot and kept our house chronically scented like a cedar cabin courtesy of Art of Home’s line of Whitewater poured candles. We’ve dragged out-of-town friends to our favourite shops: Blair House Gifts, Willow House and Cornerstone and the Farmer’s Market where they went home with an organic local turkey, a bundle of sunflowers, garlic dip and six chairs for their dining room table.

Gosh, we’ve earned our badges, haven’t we? I didn’t even mention hosting the Galt Horticultural Society tour (and 100 green thumbs—or, 200 I guess) in our backyard. Or, our participation in the Holly Jolly House Tour that saw over 1,200 people traipse through our house, tricked out for Christmas.

Have we done it all? Of course not. We still have to try the poutine at Stoli’s where they load the fries with stuffing and turkey gravy. And I would like to get to the drive-in theatre to kick it old school with a fountain root beer and butterball popcorn.

When we do move, it will be confidently, knowing we treated this little town like a new love interest: it had our undivided attention, curiosity and affection. It’s been a wonderful love affair.

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Forwarding Address

People often ask me what I think about all day—as a massage therapist you tend to have a lot of time…on your hands. It’s a solitary job, despite two people being in the same room. Just as you can choose a “silent ride” in a taxi, you can also choose a silent treatment. Clients are usually quick to say “I like to meditate during my treatment.” Or, they want to focus on their breathing. Or sleep. Which, is exactly what they are entitled to do. The flipside of the job with chatterbox clients is that I act as a semi-bartender/hairdresser/airline seat companion, listening intently, under the veil of an unusual and temporary shared intimacy.

So, this is what I think about, with the silent rides. I can’t speak to the majority of massage therapists, but they’d be lying if they said they were totally tuned in to your sternocleidomastoid for 55 minutes. I play memory games, my own personal version of Solitaire. Better than Suduko.

Most recently I spent an entire day thinking about all the streets I’ve lived on, chronologically, the houses (I can’t even remember the house numbers of half of them) and what I loved most. Midday I upped the ante and added a bonus level of reminiscing—what I loathed. Then I added a soundtrack—a specific song attached to that house and time. What I learned was that often, the actual bricks and mortar were not what my memory was affixed to at all. It was the feeling, the silence of the frozen river, a particular smell, Fleetwood Mac on the ghetto, the dogs or the blackberry bushes growing wild in the back alley.

Let’s scroll back.

Arthur Side Road, Brantford, Ontario: Peepers and Tobacco (1974—1992)

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My parents built our house—a red brick ranch on a two acre lot with our own personal stand of pines to climb and make crappy makeshift treehouses in. We were related to everyone on our road until the Kus family bought and built, ruining the road domination.

My teen bedroom was my parents former master bedroom—the mauve walls and purple shag were quickly upgraded to grass cloth wallpaper (that smelled like a Sunday drive through rural Alberta), a full wall forest mural (not unlike those that you would find in 1980s dentist offices), my beloved waterbed cranked to Florida temps, the southern hemisphere at 10pm on a summer’s night depicted in glow-in- the-dark stars on my ceiling and, an actual floor-to-ceiling tree, a plug-in faux fireplace, surrounded by actual rocks as though one were seated around a bonfire. With carpet.

If you ask any of my family members what we miss most about that house, we will answer the same. The spring peepers. Just across the railroad tracks was a still pond pockmarked by lily pads and shadowed by leaning willows. The peepers were always deafening, they made April nights electric with sound. All our bedroom windows would be opened wide, even with the bracing night air, to take in their triumphant song.

And there was that sweet smell, so rare in these parts anymore. The smell of tobacco curing in the kilns. We all grew up anti-smoking (thanks to a puffarama great grandmother who turned us off with her rolling cough and yellowed plume of wispy white hair. My mom said Grandma Grunt’s wrinkles were from smoking—and, she looked like an old dehydrated apple doll from day one—a cross between Willie Nelson and Mother Teresa). But, the smell of curing tobacco—nothing like a lit cigarette.

And, to be honest—nothing says home to me like the heady smell of pig manure (courtesy of my grandfather’s pig farm on the corner).

Loved: Our home was three corn fields behind the Sunset Drive-in Theatre. Somehow we could pick up the sound from the movies on Kleenex box-sized walkie-talkies my mom found for us at a garage sale.

Soundtrack: I blame my sister for this one—“Mr. Jones,” Counting Crows. She played that damn song on her purple ghetto blaster every morning before catching the school bus until Dax stole her precious ghetto plug.

West 27th and Macdonald, Vancouver, BC (August 1992-1993): Blackberries and Stevie Nicks

Holy bohemia, Batman. I moved to Vancouver at 18, eager to strike out and explore my “emotional geography” as my mother once said. I wanted new. New came in the form of about 23 roomies, a cat named Sushi (who disappeared into the heating ducts at any given chance), another cat who slept in a shoebox (Rick’s size 11 shoes), and a living room with a 6-foot under-construction paper mache penis in the corner of it. But that’s another story.

I shared a room upstairs with Rick, his canvasses (he was a student at the Emily Carr School of Art) and the shoebox cat, Cypress. I owned ‘nothing’ but a sketchbook, an Ani DiFranco CD (without a player), an indigo blue Canadian Tire sleeping bag and army boots. Talk about being ready for the lesbian movement!

I LOVED the bohemia. I was living the dream, freelancing for a magazine called Cockroach and learning the secrets of artists: heating the kitchen with an oven on broil in December and using melted cinnamon hearts as sugar substitute for coffee in February. Here, if you climbed out on to the roof, you could see the mauve Grouse mountain ridge turn navy with nightfall. And, those wild blackberries in the alley—Godzilla-sized.

Soundtrack: Thanks to Rick, on repeat—“What is Love?” Haddaway and “Go Your Own Way,” Fleetwood Mac. Occasionally, roomie Shannon’s Cocteau Twins cranked from her bedroom

Monteverde Cloud Forest and Alto Cuen, Costa Rica (December 1993-March 1994): Trench Foot and Canned Mackerel

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Totally off an flight-path, beyond any radio connection (because that’s the primitive GI Joe way we communicated with the head office of Youth Challenge International then—or not, because we never did find a connection).

My living quarters were actually tenths, not quarters. There were a dozen of us—Aussies, Canadians and two Ticos, a sack of rice, a pail of peanut butter, a dozen cans of mackerel and a hut with no walls, a palm frond roof and a family of boisterous pigs living underneath the raised floor.

Loved: Living by the sun, dependent on fire. Survivor-like before Survivor and the pleasure of being able to vote people off our island. This was House Hunters International: Off the Grid, but 20 years early.

Loathed: Trench foot, sour clothes (in a rainforest, the only thing that can be dry is your humour), parasites (everywhere—intestines, under your skin, in your feet).

Soundtrack: “Here Comes the Rain Again,” The Eurythmics

River Road, Dunnville, ON (1994—2000): Pickles and Pit Bulls

dunnville Dunnville is home of the Mudcat festival—an annual celebration of the catfish that involves drinking at various establishments around town, ie. The fire hall or Legion (pickled eggs for 75 cents). Inevitably, you would have more beer on you than in you at night’s end. Dunnville was also home to a Bick’s pickle factory (now closed)—on certain days, the whiff of gherkins was a pregnant woman’s late night crave dream come true.

Living on the river slowed life down to a poet’s pace. What I loved most was being so cosmically in tune with the seasons and the bird migrations. Every night a pair of green-backed herons would fly in and land in a skeleton of a tree. In the dead of winter, nothing was more brilliant as the darting burnt orange flame of a fox crossing the frozen Grand river.

Loved/loathed: the Croatian and Serbian couple who lived next door (yes, love against all odds!). Ziggy was always half-tanked on his homemade wine and owned a cranky pit bull that often escaped and threatened to attack. “If he attack, you do this—grab both his front legs and pull apart. It break his ribs and he no bite anymore.” The dog was all talk no action—but I preferred the African Helmeted Guinea fowl that Ziggy owned. They would race over, prison break style, and eat the stale cheezies and popcorn that I’d throw out on the lawn for the birds.

Aitkens Road, Dunnville (2001, briefly): One Wayward TTC Stop and 14 farm dogs (galloping)

This house was cool, but, wrong person, wrong time, wrong a lot of things. But, back to the house—it had an outdoor shower, a treehouse over the pond with a loft, and an old TTC streetcar parked on the property that was dubbed “Stealies.” It was soon filled with stolen beer glasses and other donations from klepto friends looking to offload guilt.

Loved: The laneway was storybook, crossing a stream and leading to the two storey home largely hidden from the road on a 14 acre chunk of land.

Loathed: the bike commute was tranquil and recalibrating except for the 14 farm dogs en route who alerted the next farm house to my upcoming arrival creating a non-stop chase scene, one colossal wipe-out on the gravel road, two broken shoelaces (from a dog tug-of-war) and punctured calf (and fancy spandex).

Soundtrack: “Closer to Fine,” Indigo Girls

Lighthouse Drive, Dunnville, ON (winter 2001): Sea Glass and Scrabble

Lake Erie in December is ghostly—frozen and fogged in, the earth seemed to end at the stairs to the beach. The fire here was always roaring—and the conversations that unfolded here led to many a splendored thing. There was a book on the old weigh scale table that you were supposed to turn the pages of daily. Each day had a thought, a musing. I’d read most of them before, but, it was something that we read aloud each day anew. Like a fortune cookie, a premonition.

I loved that Rene and Pat had stacks of dog-eared paperbacks and shelves of movies, Scrabble permanently at-the-ready and an “Elbow Room” full of neon signs, an ET figurine, sea glass, fish lures, carved shore birds, license plates, tiki lights, autographed KD lang posters and over 600 CDs. Rene’s son was a radio show host and DJ, and picking out tunes was like sifting thru the world’s biggest jukebox play list. Her impersonation of Macy Gray was head-shakingly good.

We ate a lot of shrimp cocktail and venison pepperettes listening to Shakespeare’s Sister and Amanda Marshall, challenging Scrabble words, comparing smooth jade sea glass finds after our walks.

Soundtrack: “I Try,” Macy Gray

Hyde Road, Burlington, ON (February 2001—September 2001?): Tom and Cruise

My brother had lived with Tom when he was on a university co-op placement. The rent was super cheap ($350) but everything else was annoying. Tom had a fox terrier named “Cruise” (yes) and that thing was a barking terror. Tom spent every Sunday preparing organic meals for the dog and organizing a month’s worth of supplements into daily containers—old film canisters.

He had terrible paintings, all lit with gallery lighting. My room came furnished and I had to take down the picture of the supped up Ferrari and galloping stallion oil painting. He smoked every night in the garage below my room—and thus, opened the electric garage door every night to do so. Around midnight.

There were notes EVERYWHERE in the house dictating how to behave. “Please squeegee shower after use.” “Please wipe microwave after use.” “Please do not touch thermostat.” He made all of these signs with one of those 1980s adhesive label maker things.

Loved: Kim. And, the TV in my room that had to be turned on with a screwdriver (volume adjusted the same way). Only highlight? Living close to Montfort’s and grabbing shawarma after ball hockey. We’d set up base camp on the bed with a bottle of wine (I had no other furniture and a French woman and an odd divorcee scientist monopolized the communal living room) to watch Queer As Folk with screwdriver in hand.

Soundtrack: “Save a Song,” Madison Violet (Mad Violet then!) and “Go West,” Pet Shop Boys (as I could never remember which GO train direction I was supposed to go to get home from Toronto).

Gloucester Street, The Village, Toronto (2001-2002? My years might be off): Sommeliers and Starbucks

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My first real, live apartment. I bought the best sound system going and quickly received a post-it note from the woman who lived above me in the brownstone on the corner of Church. “Your sound system is very impressive, but also very invasive.”

Because I lived about 50 feet from the best girl bar at the time, Slack’s…I became the drop-in zone for pre-drinks on Friday nights. I felt like Hugh Hefner for a while. My friend Big Dave (big in height, not weight), lived on the other side of the horseshoe-shaped building. It was like Friends, with Claire living directly across from me. She was a sommelier-in-training which impressed me until the week before Christmas when she suggested we go to Sotto Sotto to celebrate. She wanted to choose the wine—and she also wanted me to pick up the tab. Ka-ching. Merry Christmas, $88 for a bottle of wine!

Soundtrack: Sarah McLachlan’s Trainwreck on repeat. Woe is me. And, Juice Newton’s “Angel in the Morning.”

But this makes more sense, this quote. Just replace NY with Toronto:

“There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter—the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last.” –Layne Mosler, Taxi Gourmet

Parliament Street, Toronto (2003-2004): Smoke and Mirrors

toronto

The former Czech maintenance guy of the high rise lived in this apartment for a few years and had it so tricked out that it surprised everyone who cringed a little on the scruffy elevator ride up to the 14th (really the 13th floor. Did you know that superstition overrides elevators? I didn’t). The kitchen had black marble tiles, there was hardwood everywhere else and a GIANT mirror over the bed.

The cat de jour, Gnu, spent every night parked in the tiny hallway between the bedroom and living room (the place was 500 square feet, maybe), meowing some god awful guttural sound to something or somebody who also ‘lived’ there.

Loathed: The gunshots, the marital wars on balconies. The kids who played marbles above, all night long—and then soccer, off the apartment walls. Fire alarms went off in this building every other day. It eventually did catch on fire and the woman I lived with at the time had to crawl out on her hands and knees and lived in a hotel for weeks while the fire damage was resolved.

Other loathe: the laundry room. This was the first (and last) time I was ever subjected to coin-operated laundry and wanting to strangle young children who opened dryers and washers mid-cycle. I would return to the basement level laundry room an hour later to switch the load, only to find it stopped prematurely due to some curious rug rat.

Soundtrack: Kelly introduced me to BET. I had no idea. There  was a lot of Usher.

Earl Street, Toronto (2004): Cheerios and White Wine

Now this place oozed cool. The third floor was sun-soaked, I could tan in bed in the morning. I had a tiny balcony that was 20 pounds away from caving in, but I read here until dark whenever I could. Often my balcony neighbour would holler over (actually, no need to holler, he was RIGHT there) and beg me to join him for a glass of wine. I’d be just back from a morning run, eating Cheerios, but, why not?

The kitchen had a floating hutch—by unlocking a mechanism in the floor, I could swing the hutch and completely close off the kitchen. There was a Murphy bed and the bathroom door was almost five feet wide.

Loved: the walls were the colour of mushroom caps, the space just felt good and snug. I was a shaken , not stirred.

Loathed: N/A

Soundtrack: “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” KT Tunstall

High Drive, Abbotsford, British Columbia (August 2005—August 2009): Oprah and Tetley, Mila & Bently

My urban nerves were slightly shot—High Drive was a welcome respite with a backyard, genuine grass, and birds that weren’t pigeons. There were Stellar’s jays, woodsy trails and lovely dogs.

dogs

Mila and  Bently made this place. And Gillian, the tenant below. We’d throw dinosaur-sized bones to the dogs on the sunny days and sit with a pot of tea and chat about Oprah, Wayne Dwyer and Sylvia Brown for hours. Gillian was sixtysomething, skinny as a whippet and whenever I picked up date squares or peanut butter cookies—anytime of the day—she would put the kettle on and suggest we eat them immediately.

Loved: It was the smell there, in all of BC—wet cedar, earth, worms.

Loathed: It was too much wet. Even though BC brags about the balmy, I felt too soggy. I didn’t want tulips in February, I wanted 30 degree summers.

Soundtrack: Oddly, “My Immortal,” Evanescence. Gillian would sometimes blast this—unaware that I was home. It’s like slashing an artery and bleeding out. A dramatic take on how I felt living in Abbotsford. And Jann Arden’s “All the Days,” because I heard it there first and sobbed the very first time I listened to it.

The Chimp House, Lugard Ave, Entebbe, Uganda (September 2008-January 2009): Thunderstorms and Chapatis

Gin, tonic—and all of Lake Victoria still and distant before me. When I volunteered with the Jane Goodall Institute, I bunked at what was affectionately known as “The Chimp House.” I kept great company—three dogs (Scrappy, Levi, Tinker) and two cats (Juwa and Pops) and a slew of in-and-out volunteers from Poland, Australia, New Zealand and the states). My room was probably 5’ x 8’ but I revelled in having so little. A few changes of clothes, a few books, some dried mango, a DVD of Grey’s Anatomy season 3 in German subtitles and the sheer glow of HOLY CRAP I’M IN AFRICA! filling the room and pushing the walls even further apart. And when those African thunderstorms rolled around—picture those three dogs and two cats, all curled up like shrimps and shivering with furry fear in my single bed with me, under a mozzie net.

ruth

LOVED: Waking up to the total ruckus of African birds—plantain eaters, hornbills, sunbirds. I also woke up to the roar of the African thunderstorms moving across the lake and wind on full throttle at 2am. And the bats! Every night at 6:05 they’d start bumbling about in the attic and then stream out and pinwheel low in the sky in a feeding frenzy. Oh, and the JGI housekeeper—Ruth—her chapatis. Sigh.

Loathed: The grid would be shut down every Friday. The power would surge and spit. The internet ground to a halt. The electricity often out for days on end.

Soundtrack: “Since U Been Gone,” Tokyo Police Club

Lubumbashi, The Congo July 2009: Breakfast with the Chimps

It was only a month, but it counts because it shook up my world. I was volunteering at a chimp sanctuary owned by a Belgian couple (they were in Belgium at the time). I stayed in their 10-year-old boy’s bedroom and his tiny single bed with cartoon sheets, stuffies, rubber monsters and insects.

The electricity was dodgy here too and boiling water was an hour-long effort on the stovetop. But, the stories, bringing home a tiny rescue chimp each nite—feeding Mikai yogurt by the spoonful in the morning. It was so beyond my Arthur Side Road daydreams of what “I wanted to be when I grew up.” I was making breakfast for 23 chimps like a windblown Starbucks barista. Hot milk, bee pollen and just a bit of honey.

africa 3

In our down time (after feeding the bushbabies a few boiled eggs and some fruit at sundown) Chantal and I ate the most divine frog legs, banana and ham pizza, goat testicles even. She found the best Belgian beers for me and savoury farmer’s pate. It was gourmand, soul-satisfying and the most nourishing place I had lived.

Loved: the exhaustion from sensory stimulation.

Loathed? Nothing. Leaving, I suppose.

Soundtrack: that buzz of happiness

“There was no disorientation, I decided, like the disorientation of reducing your possessions to a suitcase and a carry-on and showing up in a new place where your life had no pattern, no rhythm, no rots, no relationship to any other person’s life. And there was no way around it, this disorientation—no way to skip over it or rush past it. The only way was through.” ~ Layne Mosler, Taxi Gourmet

Dax’s Couch on Wellesley Street, Toronto, ON (6 weeks, August—September 2009): Floored

My kid bro kept me well-fed and well-drank as we watched sci-fi, shook martinis, listened to Lily Allen, Franz Ferdinand, The Beautiful South and bitched. By day I looked for both a job and a place to live, having just re-transplanted from the west coast. Are you following the bouncing ball? Anyway, Dax made the best stovetop burgs, balsamic reductions, pillowy pancakes and baseball-sized banana-choco chip muffins.

dax 1

The cranky boyfriend at the time made me sleep on the floor so I didn’t ruin the couch. Three weeks later he relented (due to Dax) and let me sleep on the couch cushions, on the floor. Beggars can’t be choosers, but, my spine was never straighter. And, I had an ocean view. Of his 200-gallon salt water fish tank.

toronto 3

Soundtrack: I went for a 5km run through Cabbagetown with my ipod and stopped at Church and Wellesley to walk the rest of the block to cool down. I didn’t realize until that moment that I hadn’t even turned on my ipod. I had my ear buds in—but had so much white noise in my head that I didn’t even realize the music wasn’t on.

Winchester Street, Toronto, ON (September 2009—November 2010): Cabbagetown Chronicles

This place was so gorgeous that I convinced my ex long-removed to come live with me. It was $2000 and a stunner. Two brothers had renovated the hell out of the Cabbagetown Victorian and after seeing over 30 crappy rentals, this had to be it. There was a new shiny singing Samsung washer and dryer, heated floors in the bathroom, a claw foot tub to soak in and a magazine spread-worthy kitchen. There was even a bath tub in the backyard.

boston

Loved: All except that shower curtain sticking to my body in the fancy claw foot tub. Dog-sitting Marlon Brando.

Loathed: Putting together an Ikea Billy bookshelf with a butter knife until the brothers saved me and I plied them with beer (enough to encourage them to help assemble the Ikea dresser as well).

Soundtrack: “Heart of my Own,” Basia Bulat

Dalton Road, Toronto, ON (November 2009—January 2012): Living below a Sumo Wrestler

I said I’d never live west of Yonge. And no way—I’d never live in a basement. Or in a place without a backyard. But, this place—it was a deal-breaker, or maker I suppose. There was a pot-belly gas fireplace and an exposed stone wall. That’s what sucked me in. The ceilings posed a problem for my brother and dad (6’2), but, they could sit.

dalton

I didn’t notice the rumble of the subway when I moved in, or the zero soundproofing between floors. Enter the tenant with cinder blocks for feet and her affection for Adele and YoYo Ma.

But, I was in the pounding heart of the Annex. Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, Book City, Future Bakery, Big Fat Burrito, shrimp chips and boiled chestnuts from Superfresh. Movie rentals at 7-24. The Wine Rack.

Loathed: No backyard. Cinder block tenant above. Those basement bugs that look like Colin Farrell eyebrows.

Soundtrack: Tucker Finn, on repeat. The best tunes to paint walls by.

Grand Ave South, West Galt, ON (January 2012—current): Tiger Balm and Crow Bars

Well, you know the love affair we have with our darling stone cottage here. We have been the caretakers of history. We have tended and calmed the Amazonia of the backyard. We have realized that we can spin a house around with a lot of sandpaper, Tiger Balm, love, trail mix, gallons of paint, Kim’s drill bits, CLR, crow bar, wood chips and beer.

Kim and I (2)

Next stop: Prince Edward County. Though I’m really sucked into the listing for a $9,950 white clapboard church in Coleman, Prince Edward Island.

Soundtrack: That annoying House Hunters decision-making backbeat…”What will Kim and Jules do???”

 

Thanks for traipsing through all the neighbourhoods of my personal Monopoly board. You should do the same. It’s the best place to get lost in your thoughts.

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