Posts Tagged With: cottage life

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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The Cottage Montage: The Summer House at Argyle Shores, PEI

We always wished we had a cottage growing up. I’m not sure where the notion came from because we didn’t know anyone that had one. We’d never been to one—until the soupy summer a motley crew of extended family ended up at a hunting shack of sorts near Orangeville. It belonged to perhaps a great uncle? What I do remember is that it was a wood panelling special of the 70s with zero fanciness. A Stephen King set at best. My sister cried because there was no TV. It was so dark during the day you needed to turn the lights on (with your sleeve pulled over your hand, lest a tarantula or wall-climbing snake attacked–) and it smelled like my aunt’s wet cocker spaniels and gorgonzola. Though, I probably didn’t know what gorgonzola was at age 8.

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Luckily that experience didn’t cloud my shiny cottage future. I am still attracted to the lazy lifestyle, mesquite and marinade-heavy menu and wet dogs that are generally synonymous with cottages. I read Cottage Life as though I own one. We watch Sarah’s (Richardson’s) Cottage and hatch design plans. I like the intense Canadiana behind them, the Hudson Bay swag, the antlers, the ships in bottles, the mismatched cutlery, the ambitious “learn astronomy” plans via a clunky telescope, the bird guides at the ready, the bags of potato chips, tchotchkes, Scrabble boards missing “Q” and cards stuck together by a long-ago root beer mishap.

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It’s a glorious departure from rules, diets, schedules, traditional exercise, Netflix and sophisticated reading (bring on the Judy Blume, gossipy mags and summer fluff). Itineraries revolve around the sun, shade, gin runs and the shift from the dock to feeding a fire long into the night.

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Kim and I decided that we’d spin our annual trip east to visit her parents in Prince Edward Island from the norm. Also, selfishly, we couldn’t imagine sleeping on her parents new pull-out couch again. We’ve renamed that cursed thing the Taco. It envelops you in the night, pressing its coils into your hips and ribs until you find yourself trapped in the mattress valley. The only thing that falls asleep in the Taco are my arms and legs, not me.

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To avoid the Taco accommodations, a cottage just made sense. Since Kim’s parents downsized to a condo, Murder She Wrote can be heard from any inch of the square footage. Also heard at 6:30 am: Kim’s mom unloading the dishwasher, vaccumming and tending to the recycling—directly beside the Taco room. The reprieve is the balcony, though it is skinny. Dominated by geraniums, if four people are on it at once, you have to sit like you are riding a bus, in a line, straight across.

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So, we rallied the siblings with the cottage concept and booked the Summer House near the Northumberland Straight in Argyle Shores. In addition to Kim’s brother, sister, brother-in-law—we’d be possibly entertaining 100 people for their parents’ 60th wedding anniversary on the Sunday. When we innocently placed a “Anniversary Cake and Coffee Reception” ad in the Stratford church bulletin, we had no idea that it was circulated to three other churches! Had we just invited the entire island? I had visions of a Papal visit—except it would be Kim and I waving to the masses from the cottage balcony with a bbq flipper and Rolling Rocks.

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We did have enough baked goods to feed all the disciples for sure. Judy, Kim’s mother, has a freezer routinely packed solid with Amish friendship loaves. She triple wraps them in foil and at first glance, they look like dozens of cocaine bricks. And then there are the oatmeal raisin cookies, cinnamon pinwheels and biscuits to be drizzled with molasses. Her ‘granola bars’ are chocolate bars in disguise. Her bran and date muffins are delicious laxatives in muffin wrappers. She is like a factory outlet of baked goods.

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We arrived at the Summer Garden Summer House in two vehicles (50% of the load being pastries). Gail and Joe Kern, the cottage owners, embraced us in true Maritime style—with hugs. We later learned that the ‘retired’ couple were part of WWOOF—World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The organization has created a network for travellers with a back-to-the-land curiosity with outposts from New Zealand to the Netherlands. In exchange for 30 hours of work on the farm (which can involve everything from sheep shearing to fruit tree pruning), WWOOFers get a snug place to sleep and often, meals included.

Gail and Joe were pure loveliness, inviting Kim and I in for a glass of wine and conversation on a few occasions. They’d stop dead in their tracks, regardless of what they were doing to ensure that we were okay or help better our stay.

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Now, if only they could build tiny mosquito machine guns. They were vicious and travelled in a cloud in Argyle Shores. Gail and Joe had long adapted and succumbed to permanently wearing mozzie shirts with the hoods—startling us at first as we thought angry beekeepers or fencers had found us in the woods.

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The Summer House was just as it appeared online—which was an enormous relief. Kim and I know only too well about misleading hotel pictures, i.e. Alexandria, Egypt where the bed looked like a body was stuffed under the mattress. It was actually humped up like a turtle shell. The room that was supposed to have a King bed, en suite and malecon view but instead had three single turtle beds and a bathtub down the hall that was so rusted and ringed you’d have tetanus or hydrophobia or something after spending any time in it.

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But, back to the Summer House. The sun was actually shining—the skies were indigo blue (the only time this happened during our week there)—Kim and I were ready to move in, forever. There was a jar of homemade organic granola on the counter, PEI organic coffee beans, a jar of honey from nearby Canoe Cove. The fridge was stocked with cartons of orange juice and milk. The bathroom had verbena soaps that left you smelling like a slice of lemon meringue pie. There were red clay and kelp soaps from Moonsnail.

Kim’s mom quickly set up shop in the kitchen, assessing where all the pots and pans were. The cottage even came with an oyster shucker!

All the cottage staples were here—books on sea glass, lighthouses, fishmonger memoirs, Maritime cookbooks, dominos, kites, Chatelaine magazines, wildflower guides, a baseball glove, a kite. The DVD collection covered my top ten classics from Steel Magnolias to The Big Chill. Judy and Earl were rest assured to learn that the satellite picked up Murder She Wrote and Coronation Street. Whew. It would be a merry time after all.

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Base camp was gorgeous. The view was rolling jade, many mornings the fog hung in the fields like low-lying clouds. Hummingbirds jetted around the deck, a token fox streaked past.

And it rained. Like, for 36 hours straight. The mottled sky brightened to an elephant grey during the cake and coffee affair. Thankfully not all of the devout church attendees who received the bulletin came to the cottage. It was a very full house though, full of that east coast unity and bloodlines that knot as tight as moored ships.

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While the Kenny’s carried on with euchre and bridge games, maintaining stamina with Clamato and boxed chocolates, I ran to the shoreline, red dirt streaked on my calves. Like Ireland, the rain and moody skies of PEI seem to make the place all the more authentic.

The roadside was dotted with burnt orange bursts of devil’s paintbrush, coltsfoot, yarrow and purple tufted vetch. Only the ravens carried on as per usual in the soggy afternoons.

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Nearing the end of our stay we tripped out to Victoria-by-the-Sea (a twenty minute pastoral drive). The year-round population of the village is just under 200—how ideal! Though the 2% chance of sunshine and 98% chance of bitchy mosquitoes is off-putting.

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We did as tourist brochures dictated and visited the Island Chocolate shop, Red Sand studio and The Studio Gallery. We tried the potato fudge for $1 and ordered deep fried bar clams with horseradish aioli at the Lobster Barn Pub.

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We drank blueberry beer with Homer the cat at the Landmark café curling and poked around the lobster traps at the marina. As rain pelted down I quickly snapped a picture of PEI’s biggest tree (an American Elm with a circumference of 21 feet!).

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The Summer House Summer Garden was as a cottage should be. A place quickly entrenched deep in our minds, a place to drift to with a smile, in the moments before sleep.

Even if it’s in the Taco, or on a turtle-shaped mattress.

Wanna stay? Check out the cottage availability. $150/night for 4 guests, $15 plus HST for additional guests.

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Our Journey As House Hunters and Gatherers

We’ve somehow become house hunters and gatherers. Obviously, after finding our stone cottage on the river in November of 2012, we went on a realtor. ca hiatus. The real estate site is like a step into quicksand. Hours later you can find yourself cross-eyed (and a bit tipsy–unless it’s morning, then most likely, hopefully, wired on caffeine)  and already packing virtual cardboard boxes.

PORT STANLEY, ON–not for sale, but spied upon from our beach towel

Our revised master plan is to find a knock-out property that will gel more with our retirement agenda–which involves winters anywhere but here, doing meaningful things. That’s the easy part–whether we volunteer at a sloth sanctuary or count migrating wildebeest, we first need to find a three season property that doesn’t have abandonment issues.

SHREWSBURY, ON $169,900 (we’re not sure if this has a roof or not–oh well!)

Yes, we love and adore our house and the sanctuary that we’ve transformed it into. But. This 153-year-old home is like a finicky supermodel. She needs lots of attention and manicuring. We couldn’t take off to walk the Camino de Santiago for two months without the perennial gardens turning into the likes of the Amazon. The boiler system simply can’t be shut down for the winter so we can document Zanzibarian sunsets from our hammock office.

THE ROCK, ZANZIBAR (probably the best perch abroad)

So, the search begins again, with a less frenetic pace and without the confines of work parameters and perimeters. Kim laughed at my range before–I had a mere 70km radius to scan then (to keep her commute reasonable. For me, as long as I was under the 10km mark, I could walk-run-bike to wherever I might find gainful employment).

ATHOL WARD, PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY $349,900

And now? We’ve already been combing the Saugeen Shores, Prince Edward County and townships we hadn’t even heard of from Wellington and Athol Ward to Bayham. We cruise the shorelines and rivers for listings. Often, Kim has already tucked into bed (a 4:30am alarm trumps my 10am wake-up call). I’ll leave an excited note for her to find in the morning before I cozy up beside her: “Oh my god, I can’t believe we’re moving to Amherst Island!” (Or, Selkirk! Arran Lake! Southampton! Keppel Township!)

PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY, ON

There is great hilarity to be found in looking up these tiny places on Wiki. Often the town’s claim to fame is an annual Port-a-Potty race down the main street. Or, a nail-driving contest. Or, it’s home of the world’s biggest deep-fried-pickle monument (I made that up, but surely there is one. Most likely in dear Nashville.

FORMER GRIST MILL, PAISLEY, ON, $1.2M

 

STELLA, AMHERST ISLAND, ON $184,000

Amherst Island gut job ++ $119,500

AMHERST ISLAND (gut job +), $119,500

What we’ve learned is that what you think is necessary in a potential area (coffee house for a Papua New Guinea bean supply, microbrewery, cheese shop, take-out Thai food, cinema) usually pales. Often those things are replaced by the unexpected–long walks on trails through the Carolinian forest, dew worm vending machines and the best butter tarts outside of grandma’s kitchen at Dee’s on St. Andrew’s. Having a backyard fire pit or hand-built pizza oven is critical though. And better yet, a wood-burning fireplace inside…

WAUPOOS ISLAND, $500,000

Moving from Toronto, all the glittery city spoils were within reach. Toronto has everything–except for what we have here. A full-sun backyard, indigo buntings, peaceful sleeps–even church bells sounding across the river. As I type this I can hear an osprey cry out as he zooms along the water behind our house.

I don’t need bookstores, necessarily. I’ve become a mad library lover instead. I thought I’d be at a complete loss without my go-to in the Annex– Queen Video. Ha! The library has loads of DVDs (even Sons of Anarchy), documentaries and indie flicks.

GALT, ON $389,900

I thought I would miss my weekly entertainment fill with copies of NOW and The Grid. For anyone who follows me on Facebook, you’ll know that there’s a lot of comedy to be found in The Ayr News, The Cambridge Times and the Waterloo Record. Between the “For Sale” and Personals ads, I’m set. Not to mention the listings for ham suppers and the Gay Paranormal Society ghost tours. I still don’t know if they are looking for gay ghosts or it’s just gay people who like ghosts.

ARRAN-ELDERSLIE, ON $285,000

Anyway. It’s obvious–Kim and I can live anywhere. I know this for sure. We’ve lived in 900 square feet, we’ve slept in our rental Suzuki in an Icelandic hurricane…a pup tent suits us just fine. We stay up to ungodly hours because we never run out of things to talk and dream about. We genuinely love and thrive in each other’s company–so, if our dream house is off the flight-path or wi-fi, bring on the remote. (And I don’t mean the television remote).

What we do like and need is a patch of grass (less than an acre), a place with a cool exterior–we can work magic with the inside guts. Something on the water (lake or river, we’re versatile) pointed west for serious sunsetting. Maybe a wrap-around porch–though Kim could build that in a pinch.  A church conversion would be awesome. A lighthouse would be better yet. And I’m a sucker for anything with a barn–even if the living space is an actual barn. And an attic loft? Complete swoon. Maybe there’s a vineyard nearby and we can offer picking and responsible sampling services during the summer months.

THE WAUPOOS ISLAND $500,000 MONEY PIT

 

ALLENFORD, ON (formerly known as “Driftwood Crossing”) $109,900

FORMER SCHOOL HOUSE, BRIGHT, ON $399,900

We know family and friends will migrate to wherever we end up. We’ve actually seen my parents more frequently since they moved two hours away–more than we ever did when they were just half an hour from us. My brother Dax will bitch about anything that involves public transit, but, he’s getting accustomed to hopping in a cutesy Fiat rental for a weekend to  get out of the 416.

PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY, ON $249,900

There are just so many dynamic, inspiring places to live in this world. If you’re bored, disenchanted, restless or the opposite– happy, flexible and simply eager for shiny new horizons more cohesive to your lifestyle and game plan…it’s time to enter the danger zone…realtor.ca

And share your finds! What’s important to you? Where do you need to live NEXT?

KEPPEL TOWNSHIP, ON (near Georgian Bay) $299,000

 

Categories: Home Sweet Home, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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