Posts Tagged With: Cambridge

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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Categories: Home Sweet Home, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

The Good, Clean Country Life

I feel like I’ve been a participant in an experimental urban detox plan.

Trailed by our moving truck, Kim and I drove out of Toronto on the frosty morn of January 24th and haven’t been back since. A few weeks before the move I had drawn up an extensive list of necessities. I would definitely have to subscribe to Toronto Life and The Grid.  I doubled up on Jimmy’s Coffee beans with reassuring plots of how I could get city friends to visit and bring bean cartel. But, where would I rent my indie movies without Queen Video a block away? Where was my Bloor Hot Docs cinema equivalent to be found? Were there any Vietnamese Bahn Mi subs to be found in the 519 area code?

I knew I would miss elements of the city, because, it’s simply unnatural to not miss a place.  Despite all my whining about being rained on every day on the west coast, part of me misses the intensely heady smell of wet cedar that permeates the air. Oh, and that coconut curry stew at the Thai hole-in-the-wall on South Fraser Way that I can no longer remember the name of. Places should leave indelible marks.

I don’t miss Toronto in the proportions I thought I would though. In fact, I find myself living a more cohesive lifestyle in Galt. The list of what I don’t miss escalates. In an email to my friend Suzanne, I shared my quiet thrills—like watching the movement of the full moon through the silhouette of our black walnut trees in the backyard. Just months ago I had no moon view. From my basement apartment I had a clear knee-high view of pedestrians and the local bottle collectors rooting through the recycling bins parked outside my window.

065Here, we have front row seats to unbridled nature. The path behind our house connects to the Grand Trunk Trail which winds along the river to my workplace, Langdon Hall Country Hotel & Spa. Though my commute has doubled to a 16 km route on foot, there is a delicious pleasure in walking along the Blair road and spotting eight deer and passing by wetlands vibrating with spring peepers and red winged blackbirds. The chatter of chickadees is the best noise pollution around.

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As of late, my morning commute has involved dodging nesting Canadian geese. Vocal and hissing, the male is not so pleased that my path crosses his. But, this is a far cry from downtown crackhead encounters, oblivious texting-obsessed pedestrians and dodging piles of post-nightclub barf on King street sidewalks.

Living on the Grand river brings such welcome intimacy with nature. My new reality show is the watching the drama unfold between the black, grey and red squirrels seeking backyard domination. I can bird-watch from our en suite toilet for crying out loud (which might be too much information to share). But, I am in my birding glory with all the white breasted nuthatch and cedar waxwing fly-bys. The machine gun-like chatter of kingfishers induces an immediate smile.With the returning migrations, our gardens are finally giving way to a greener palette. The snowdrop blossoms are holding their heads high despite the monsoon rains of late. Purple crocuses and irises are pushing the mulch aside to show off their spring pride.

There is such primal joy in getting grubby in the gardens with soiled denim knees. For those of you who are unaware, beer tastes even better outside, chugged with a dirty work glove on, with thorn and rose bush lacerations burning your forearms.

015The previous owners of this house apparently never raked. We thought we might uncover buried treasure (or buried bodies for that matter) under all the debris. A dozen stuffed yard bags later, we’re still trying to make headway.  I’m patiently waiting for warmer temps so I can finally pull out the hula hoop that is frozen inside the compost pile.

Having a yard is so paramount to happiness though. In the Annex, though there was a backyard per se, it was the home owner’s domain. I’d have to find my green a few blocks away at the local parkette—and, given the shadows of nearby buildings, the sunshine timeline was at a premium.

Now? Sunshine, no shadows. Green = ours. Coffee outside? Just a step away. Yes, small but hugely gratifying pleasures, indeed.

I routinely read the entire newspaper now—a miraculous feat. In fact, I read not only the local rag The Cambridge Times but The Waterloo Record, and courtesy of Kim’s sister, I also have The Ayr News delivered to my house. Even the news is better here! The Ayr News reports on all the ham suppers and spaghetti dinners in the area. And, there is amazing journalistic coverage of euchre tournaments and tundra swan sightings. Oh, and how ‘bout so-and-so’s daffodils! They’re up two inches already!

Somehow, we’ve found more time in Galt. Time to entertain, read, cook, take long walks without watches.  Time to be present. I’ve read more books in the last two months than I did in nearly a year in Toronto. The librarians know me by name…just like Cheers, but, different.

Not working until 9 or 10 o’clock at night has introduced me to a brand new world of eating at a respectable hour. Before,  I convinced myself that I was simply very European in my habits. Surely other people sat down for dinner at midnight.

Now I’m actually working my way through the pile of recipes I’ve clipped out. I’ve found my inner Julia Child in Galt and have wooed guests with stuffed lasagna rolls, turkey pot pie, jambalaya and French onion soup. And, while in the kitchen, I have a view and natural light to boot. Not to trash talk by previous digs, because, the place had its merits, but—one could have fried eggs atop the non-energy saver pot lights. The oven was the equivalent of cooking over an open fire with unreliable random broil-like temperatures. And, any cooking was always performed under the duress of the lead-foot tenant upstairs who made the above-mentioned pot lights flicker with her footsteps.

Ahh, yes, the good, clean country life.

013I work more reasonable hours now and don’t feel like I’m financially treading water. In Toronto, I worked more than I ever had, somehow earned less and forked out more just to live. I felt like I could have cut my paycheques into confetti and tossed them in the air. I’m not in that same fatigue fog that the city seemed to facilitate.

If this is urban detox, I would like to be the poster child. It’s so nourishing for the soul.

Please, come visit us and experience life as it should be. Though, we might hand you a rake upon your arrival.

Categories: Home Sweet Home, Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

When a House Becomes a Home

I have been to Home Hardware more times in the last month than in my entire life. It was the dreaded stop when we were kids, “running errands” with my dad. Every Saturday seemed to involve a haircut at Caesar’s barbershop (worst outdated magazine collection to date—TIME and Macleans equalled a double snore at age 8), Canadian Tire and/or Home Hardware and some transaction at the bank that took eons. We banked a lot of childhood time swatting at each other in the back of the Cutlass Supreme desperate for the errands to come to a wrap. We were usually handsomely rewarded for our patience though, in the form of Kentucky Fried Chicken 2-piece snack boxes or a split box of greasy George’s chip hut fries.
I still like to be rewarded for my patience, but, Kim and I maturely lean towards a cold beer after running similar errands and sussing out the next project on our domino To Do list that comes and grows with home ownership.
What I have learned in our 20+ visits in the last few weeks is that Home Hardware serves free, relatively decent coffee (with real cream not the powdered crap), every day. Saturdays, dedicated customers like myself (and even one-off customers who don’t even necessarily buy anything) are treated to free bags of hot and incredibly salty popcorn.
The sawmills that we have been frequenting in search of our ultimate tabletop lumber pale in the free beverage and snack department—but, the learning curve has been uncharted. I have talked to half a dozen dudes over the phone about socket depth, breadboard ends, claves and the durability of accoya wood versus Douglas Fir. Oh yeah, I’m well-versed in burls, veneer finishes, purpleheart wood. sap lines and matchbook applications for table tops.

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However, Kim is still CEO of the biscuit joiner and circular saw duties. I am the designated ‘holder-of-all’ and she suits me up accordingly in regulation ear plugs, safety eye wear if necessary and gives me a warning before a loud noise because she knows I tend to be jumpy. When I am not the holder-of-things I do double-time as the precise placer-of-things. I am routinely seen meandering room to room with various items: beluga whale vertebrae, a salt candle from the Siwa Oasis, a stack of National Geographics—searching for the “a-ha” position of the treasured items.
009We’ve massaged a lot of life back into the bones of this 150-year-old stone cottage. There were some long-neglected areas (ie. The basement that had historical 150-year-old cobwebs clinging to every joist).There was five pounds of dog fur in the freezer and clogged in the rads. Fifty-eight paint cans waiting for a trip to the dump. Old air conditioners, a dehumidifier that weighed more than a piano. All relics of the previous owner which we are slowly decimating in overtaking the OUR-ness of the house.

025The previous palette (derived from those 58 paint cans), which seemed initially liveable was deemed undoable once our stuff arrived. Cowhide does not pair well with mint. All our taupes and dark espresso wood looked misplaced. So, Kim and I went full-force in some unparalleled painting frenzy. One room forced us to do the next. The bubblegum pink and Thrills mauve of the guest bedroom was a no-brainer. The heritage blue of the master seemed too Grandma once our headboard and black and white prints were unloaded. The master bath was probably a pristine white at some point—but, we agreed, was now smoker’s yellow. Which was obliterated with a tasteful powder grey which led to the living room being repainted as well. While some friends saw a pleasing moss colour, I saw hospital green. Easter mint green. Ugh. Gone.

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The floors have been mopped, the drains de-haired, the faucets returned to their natural shine with the unnatural super powers of CLR, the inner organs of the rads have been de-furred, the insect collection dumped from the (indoor) light fixtures, the dangling webs swept from the impossibly high ceilings. By god, we even figured out how to hook up the flatscreen, the BluRay and the soundbar without a mass murder. The wi-fi even works. And, the pet bat that we had welcome us when we first moved in has flown to higher ground.
I have lived in many houses, but, this one is different. I want to know the inner workings of the boiler and the water softener. I want to read up on our fancy Frankie fire clay apron sink andhow to best preserve its finish. What will grow around our towering black walnut in the backyard? I find myself Googling stone home construction and “re-pointing” (which I thought was something we just did a lot as kids—blaming the other by “re-pointing”). I voluntarily read more about our pine shake roof and why it is a better choice than cedar. I’m subconciously grooming myself for a job at Home Hardware!

003I still feel like we are on some kind of outstanding holiday, relaxing at a really comfortable bed and breakfast while we plan our outings to the farmer’s market, debate the merits of Mexican or Thai for dinner and make note of local entertainment listings  in the paper.

At night we lean on elbows into the deep window sills and gaze at the shadows of the black walnut across our snow-blanketed yard. A yard! A real yard! Toronto doesn’t have yards. And, for Kim, her suburban backyard meant you always had a dozen eyes on you, a dozen dogs barking at you and two dozen yelping and screeching children interrupting your idyllic backyard fantasies. Our only intruder and pair of eyes now is a nervous rabbit who comes by like clockwork. And, my god, we can actually see the moon and stars now.
I thought I would have deeper pangs for Toronto and that bustly city life that had become my second skin, but, I don’t. Those pangs have been replaced by more intense nesting instincts, a big dose of nature and the wonderful balm that is “change” and “new” and feeling, finally, at home.

Categories: Home Sweet Home, The Kitchen Sink | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

“Home is the nicest word there is.”

Writers do have a license to exaggerate, but, when I say that my partner and I looked at 3,489 house listings on MLS, the truth is hot neon pink.

Since April, we have combed every neighbourhood in Dundas, Waterdown and Guelph. In weaker moments, we (mostly I) looked at prospects in St. George, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Paris and even Dunnville (lakefront!).

I turned my nose up at Burlington because it was too generic. Kim put the brakes on my escalated searches in Westdale, the fancy-pants area of Hamilton. “Babe, it’s Hamilton! We don’t want to live there.” Kim grew up in Hamilton and I grew up in Brantford. I didn’t even breathe a word about checking out Brantford properties, so, we called it even.

Our initial MLS prowling was casual and happy-go-lucky. We cruised around Waterdown and Dundas, slowing down to marvel at houses that weren’t for sale—but ideally what we were looking for. The first two-storey stucco charmer (with a For Sale sign) was on Melville Street in Waterdown. It sold before we even had a chance to get a sneak peek at the interior. We kept tabs on a few Dundas properties and discovered Collins Brewpub and Detour Coffee Roasters in between. I was set in the critical beer and coffee department.

We didn’t become die-hard buyers until Kim sold her Bronte home in June, after just five weeks on the market. We’d heard and read horror stories about carrying two mortgages and come May, the real estate market was already beginning to flat line. Once we had the green light to buy, every morning coffee was downed in front of my laptop, driving around the MLS map. I considered commuting back to Toronto for work, and with some clever transit-hopping, I could probably do it from Dundas. Kim liked the prospects of having a sub-twenty minute drive to her job.

Fast forward to the end of July—and then the end of August. We hesitated in booking a planned trip to Iceland in the fall thinking the September market would be hot. We willed ourselves to consider a house in Morriston (which I had never even heard of), because it was a bloody gem. But, my pedestrian-friendly lifestyle would be void. The job prospects for me were relatively zero. Kim and I drank cheap beer on the deck of the token Morriston Chinese restaurant, reading our fortune cookie messages aloud. Mine alluded to buying the house (that we could see from the deck of the restaurant). I figured I could work in the kitchen and learn how to make those really tasty pineapple chicken balls once and for all.

Boo to the Highway 6 traffic that took this Morriston gem out of the running.

Of course we loved the Morriston house. It was a jaw-dropper by all accounts, but, the annoying drone of Highway 6 traffic and the airbrakes of trucks at the only stoplight had me agitated in under five minutes. It’s not that we were being picky, but, noise pollution was not going to be tolerated—even if it was a really dreamy dream home.

I sold Kim on the idea of Guelph. It had all the pizzazz of the big city because it was a university town. There was Thai food, hiking trails along the river, a covered bridge just like the one in Bridges of Madison County, a bookstore with an arty movie theatre, golf courses galore (the way to my gal’s heart) and, c’mon—a donkey sanctuary(the way to my heart)! We spent a night at the swank Norfolk Guest House to fully immerse ourselves in the city. Could we live in Guelph? Yes! We picked up a 6-pack of the local Wellington Arkell Bitter craft beer. Kim adopted a donkey from the sanctuary for me for my birthday. It all seemed to be falling in place.

First there was the brick home on Tiffany. The stunner on Suffolk. The sweet serenity of the 1920s cottage on King.. The cozy spell of Powell. I was certain we’d be calling Guelph ours in no time. I was ready to ditch my massage therapy career for any kind of job at the donkey sanctuary.

We drank more Wellington Arkell so as to not jinx anything.

Tiffany had a suspicious bow in the exterior wall. Suffolk had a conditional offer seemingly overnight. The King cottage had nowhere for a hockey bag, snow tires, golf clubs or, overnight guests for that matter.  Powell had a basement designed for Smurfs (and a dodgy foundation to boot) and a backyard  that had a view of the adjoining neighbour’s sloppy carport and the unfinished siding of the adjacent house. Too close for comfort.

With our opposing schedules, Kim and I had to capitalize on our days off (which seemed to be falling every other week), madly texting MLS numbers to our no-holds-barred agent, Jane Gardner, to arrange viewings.

Kim took advantage of weekend open houses while I toiled in the spa, wondering—could this be the one? I gave her full permission to buy on the spot. I’d read enough about bully offers and bidding wars in Toronto Life and The Grid. HGTV Realtor Sandra Rinomato was our gospel. We knew we’d have to act pit viper-quick and go in with a killer offer.

Falling in love with houses (repeatedly) was like playing dodge ball with an emotional wrecking ball. We gave up on Guelph and decided to take off to Texas. We needed a house search sabbatical and the balm of a beach and some serious sunshine.

We’d been through over 20 houses and the cons of each sunk the shining pros. Yes, we were becoming disenchanted.

We joked about my near-career at the Great Wall Chinese restaurant. But, it was beginning to look like the most promising option. Kim reminded me that we had to stick to our guns and not sacrifice what was most important to us: quiet, privacy, personality, possibility. We wanted a home that was “us,” and my mom insisted that we would know. “Your knees will knock and your heart will stop.”

Kim was still waiting for the knocking knees. I amended my mother’s statement and suggested that knee trembling could be the sign too. Were we being too picky?

I started looking at industrial lofts—really gorgeous spaces with exposed brick and cathedral ceilings but no outdoor space and $600 monthly maintenance fees. Kim gently axed the lofts and a fixer-upper in the Grange in Guelph when we did the Google map street view. Unless I was eager to start dealing drugs, the hood was more grunge than Grange. Another gem was immediately shut down when we learned that a high-rise sat to the left.

There was always something. Barrie street had a pool (ugh, no and groan). A hot tub (even worse!).The Park Road one-bedroom in Dundas would be a bitch to re-sell (but, it was a magazine spread with a fairytale creek in the backyard). There was urea formaldehyde foam insulation. There were train tracks too close to the house. Bulldozers clearing the land for a new subdivision. Neighbours with a jacked up 1992 Tempo with no wheels in the driveway next door. Listings for $449,900 that still needed massive kitchen renos and bathroom overhauls. What, no shower? At all? Or, the house in Guelph with so much wood panelling it could have doubled as a sauna.

And, I’m not even addressing the state of “decor” in many of these listings. When was red carpet ever okay? Why have flowers thrown up on every wall in the house? Why the Pepto pink tiles on all surfaces of the bathroom?  Why are you collecting rocking horses??

Kim and I can easily scare the life out of each other with some detailed accounts. Like the bathroom with eight light fixtures and Roman-esque pillars. Or the basement with the “tomb” at the end of it. Or the other basement with the dirt floor covered in mysterious tarps. The floors of the house on the hill in Dundas that tilted every which way but level. And, don’t even get me started on the knickknacks.

By October, we were ready to call the house hunt quits for the winter. We digested the idea of staying in my Annex apartment until spring—the market would kick-start again by the end of March. As Kim sleepily printed out another street parking pass, I hoped she wouldn’t have to slog from Toronto to Hamilton for work much longer.

And then, it happened, when we had really resigned ourselves to a spring market. We were going to visit Kim’s sister (who, lucky dog, looked at ONE house and bought it, just like that) in Ayr, and had decided to scan the nearby Cambridge listings to coincide with our visit. Maybe we could find a home on the Grand River? Why not Cambridge? We’d scoured everywhere else.

We booked a day of four showings and fell for the first one. The 1861 stone cottage had to be ours. The exposed stone, studio carriage house (with a tie-up on the exterior for the horses), deep windows, wide plank flooring, leather-wrapped granite counters and 12 -foot ceilings…screamed us. Kim was sketching designs for a kitchen island that night. I was already set up in the studio, sipping French press coffee and writing about St. Lucia. We could see our friends in the backyard, circled around the bonfire. Our joined family clinking glasses at Christmas as the golden bird emerged from our double-oven (Mom, you’ll do the turkey, right?).

For a week we mentally moved furniture in but reserved our excitement for the inspection. We paced back and forth to the FedEx on Bloor, scanning documents and agreements to our realtor. We drank wine until we got the go-ahead to pop the champagne.

And then, 3,489 houses later, we had found ours.

Home.

As Laura Ingalls Wilder said, “Home is the nicest word there is.”

 

Editor’s note: Want to buy or sell a house in the K-W region? Check in to Jane Gardner’s site at Royal LePage. (ps. THANK YOU JANE!)

Categories: Home Sweet Home, Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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