Posts Tagged With: heritage homes

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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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A Merry Little Condensed Christmas

When the Christmas SWAT team came a knocking, it was completely unexpected. It was an innocent July day—there was nothing Christmasey about it, except for the fact that Kim and I loosely agreed to be part of the “Jolly Holly Tour” in November when asked point-blank. We had been cornered in our backyard while drinking beer, intermittently digging up coneflowers and wayward Bachelor Buttons between gulps. We were deep into summer, sweat stinging our eyes, shirt sleeves rolled up, flip flops kicked off. Why wouldn’t we want over a thousand strangers to traipse through our house? Surely that wouldn’t entail much work to prep for. We warned the organizers that we had about four decorations between the two of us, but that didn’t seem detract them.

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Our vivacious neighbour Dawn had nailed us as a target. She had watched us industriously transform our gardens into near Buckingham for the parade of 150 Galt Horticultural Society members in June. We seemed like an approachable couple, eager to have mass amounts of people traipse through our backyard—and, why not inside our house too? Dawn wooed us with fall fair-winning lemon loaves and chunky oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Plus, she somehow always smelled like vanilla frosted cake, putting me under a cosmic cake spell to anything she asked.

“We usually sell about 1,200 tickets a year for the event.” My god, Kim and I and our little stone cottage were going to be like a rock concert—1,200 was half the capacity of Massey Hall!

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It all seemed so far, far away and we joked about our commitment to something so Christmasey. It wasn’t our nature–our family members and friends roared with laughter at the prospects. Coming off the tsunami of relief after the garden tour, we didn’t fret about Jolly Holly until we found ourselves in mad decorating brainstorming sessions in at the end of August.

To clarify, our idea of the perfect Christmas is four decorations and on the eve, a bottle of champagne, cheese, charcuterie and watching Love Actually for the bazillionth time. Christmas Day we make the pilgrimage to my parents’ house in Walkerton where Christmas comes alive and we can simply immerse ourselves in the holiday spirit courtesy of my mom’s splendid decorations. It’s like walking into a glossy December magazine feature complete with clove-studded oranges, reindeer of wood, wool and silver, nutcrackers, whimsy and gravy-scented rooms.

Dawn brought over a stack of House & Home mags for inspiration. Her holiday sidekick and designated sparkle guru, Kathy, pulled out her iPhone and showed us her ideas gleaned from Restoration Hardware. They already had our house wrapped up in black tuile and were losing sleep over mercury owl placement and dogwood planters. Kim and I were not losing sleep. Yet.

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The Jolly Holly Tour is an annual event hosted by the IODE—Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire. I kept referring to the group as the IUD which raised a lot of eyebrows, but also attracted interest. In 1900, Margaret Polson Murray recognized the need to support Canadian troops departing to fight with the Empire forces in South Africa. She formed a group in New Brunswick that urged the human condition basics: loyalty, patriotism and service. They sent parcels to the troops while providing for families in need at home. The IODE has evolved its mandate to “women dedicated to making a better Canada.”  Dawn and Kathy were apparently part of the “Make a better Christmas at Kim and Jules’ house chapter.” We made them promise not to barf Christmas all over our house. We couldn’t say no to a group that just oozes good.

The IODE donates to the Cambridge Memorial Hospital’s children and maternity ward. They give to summer camps, support suicide prevention and bereavement counselling programs, the local hospice, the food bank. They donated Canadian flags to local elementary schools, reading programs, crisis shelters…

We said yes to the dress—despite realizing that our house would have silver sparkles dotted around it for another 153 years. For the tour, five local houses would be decorated to near National Lampoon standards. If you build it, they will come. For $20, holiday flockers spend a day touring around the homes to get in the Christmas groove, looking for inspiration coupled with a little bit of permissible nosey-parker-ness. Who doesn’t want to snoop around somebody’s home? How else do you get the opportunity? The IODE raises over $20,000 from the house tour event alone.

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The bombardment started before Halloween with the assembly of the tree in the carriage house. Dawn and Kathy, the holiday drill sergeants, enlisted other members. Dawn’s sister and a cousin joined the crew and soon we found our minimalist house feeling very maximalist.

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We’re not talking Clark Griswald though—the women kept to our simplistic, subdued, rustic request and created a lovely condensed Christmas. Kathy must have cut down a swath of cedar, birch and pine from her property to deck our halls. And this woman had balls! A lot—red, silver—bowling ball-sized. The balls and glitter found homes with the rest of their combined Christmas cartel.

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I littered Facebook with posts on the process—who had we become? Kim was hanging garland the day after Halloween!

Kim and I transformed into Christmas zombies about four days before the show. In the midst of all this we had our en suite shower glass installed, bagged 23 bags of leaves, painted the hallway, the back door, installed a new light fixture and medallion in the guest bedroom (in the dark, with headlamps on), vacuumed and scoured to the standards of a Queen’s visit. We even met with our investment advisor to see when exactly we could retire–maybe we were holiday decorators at heart, stymied by our full time jobs.

The bottles of wine were like downed bowling pins with sleepover guests. We had a few nights of cheese and cracker dinners around 10:30pm.

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The show was an immense success—and, as part of our evacuation plan on Sunday, my parents joined us on the tour of the showcased homes. (Side note: with a pit stop for the best bison burgers at the New Dundee Emporium!)

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A huge thank you to the IUD for keeping us sane and calm during the invasion. Thanks to Monica and Graham at Monigram’s for jumping in last minute to showcase Galt’s best coffee beans and merch on our countertop. (*And for those perky Americanos that you delivered to our house during the set-up!).

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Thanks to Hercules at Grand River Soap Company for supplying the generous stack of lavender studded and lemon balm sensory appeal in our main bathroom. Calgon, take me away!

If you missed the show, here’s the virtual tour—and as you walk through, consider giving handsomely to the IODE as they do keep it local and make life sunnier and hopeful for so many.

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Dirt & Demolition, Renewal, Repurposing & Refining: Adventures in Gardening

When we bought our stone cottage in the near dead of winter, the backyard’s long-neglected seasonal perennial jungle was half-composted into the frozen ground. When we moved in at the end of January, the snow was a lovely duvet fluffed over what would emerge come spring. And emerge it did.

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My mother advised us to “let everything come up. You have to see what you have and then you can be selective.” Kim and I, minimalists to the core, were frightened at the prospects. We were already sneering at the single aliums and wayward tulips that squirrels had probably plopped into the ground cover and iris clumps with a snicker.

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Neighbourhood informants let us know that the previous owners had “really let the place go.” Really? If you’ve read any of the posts on our home, you’ll nod with two simple words: dog fur. Finding dog fur in the freezer and halfway up the Hunter Douglas blinds was a dummy indicator of what the backyard would reveal. “Oh yeah, they never even took the storm windows off.” We soon found out why–the screens stored in the shed had provided snacks for the squirrels. Half of the screens were eaten with holes gaping enough to kick a soccer ball through.

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I’ve already mentioned the appalling state of the shed–which had at some point become the black walnut warehouse for all squirrels living in this postal code.  The aftermath–of us, below.

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The planter boxes behind the house were a soupy mess that smelled like swamp and cat shit. The grass was a patchy ruffian mess and we couldn’t wait to scale the walnut tree to hack down the broken duct-taped swing from our view.

The dog fur inside had a parallel dog shit bingo equivalent outside. We found an old rad, piles of laminate flooring, cracked rain barrels (“Oh, you can keep the rain barrels!”) and other hunks of junk that we turfed into a rented Bagster.

But, back to the gardens. We let everything came up as suggested, knowing we would have to tame the herd sooner than later. We did everything you shouldn’t do. I’m sure our master gardener neighbour, Liz, was shaking our head as we yanked yard bags full of growth out. And it was just that–growth. Kim and I, as Capricorn and Virgo stalwarts, rearranged “families” of bachelor buttons, lungworts and peonies. We couldn’t wait until fall when you are supposed to transplant. No, by midday July, humidex full force, we had to smarten the garden up. We split hostas, knowing they were great space hoggers. We removed lonely singles and posted a slew of photos on Facebook, begging botany-blessed friends to help us out with the likes of Siberian Squill, Pasque flowers, Leper’s lilies and Jerusalem Sage (thank you Kay, Connie, Tanja and Beth!).

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Kim was well-versed in hostas while I was more experienced in serious grass cutting. I’ve mowed so many acres in my life. If all the hectares were added together, I have probably cut a swatch across Canada by now. In sharp contrast I can whip through our patch in 20 minutes flat versus 5 hours and 6 acres on the John Deere.

This year’s backyard theme has been less about demolition and damage control. The shed is tidier than the White House with everything in its place. The storm windows are off and the screens resurrected. The swing is down (thanks to a quick $20 handshake to local city guys cutting down stuff on the street who I begged to help us out).  We’ve added 75 bags of black earth, probably just as many bags of black mulch, fixed the floating fence panels that were going to be flat after one more westerly gust and planted six cedars. The Saab has become an unexpected workhorse, reliably shifting from a sporty coupe into a semi-tractor with a load of 40 retaining wall stones in the trunk.

Being asked to partake in the Galt Horticultural Society’s annual Open Garden Tour certainly put us on full tilt mode–once the perma frost began to thaw. We were thrilled that our dodgy transplanting techniques took root–the hellebore and turtleheads look bone meal happy! Our tulips, aliums and day lilies came up waist-high this year…despite us plucking leaves with mild sunburn and the slightest wilty posture. Our bear’s breeches and its four offspring have become legendary Chia Pets.  The peonies have gone bananas, and despite popular belief and suggestion–we have trained them to grow in shady conditions as well. A rosehip that we clipped to Edward Scissorhand specs has bounced back from near-dead–and stumped a few avids who wondered why kind of rose standard we had.

On  Monday we had over a hundred esteemed members of the Society cruising through our gardens. We picked their brains and learned that we had a mock orange tree (and, members, can you believe the blooms rocketed out the day after the tour?).

It was reassuring to get an official pat on the back from the experts who praised us for our commitment and eagerness to maintain the perennial zoo. They were probably more amazed at our progress from the daffodil level of identification.

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What we’ve appreciated the most this season has been our opportunity to make our creative footprint. Yes, every gardener edits a space to their liking and leanings (which explains our African daisies, fingerpaint coleus and lavender plantings). But, a garden is truly like snooping in someone’s medicine cabinet. It’s as revealing as a shopping cart’s contents.

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We needed to make the backyard our own and we plugged along finding purpose for found and free objects. The Weston bread baking tray became a herb planter.

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A window frame that my mom had intended for a stained glass project was resurrected to frame the poppies. Kim put her brick-laying skills to the test to complete the unfinished patio stones beside the shed with the pile we had dug up last year in the gardens (especially because after a dozen stores, we couldn’t find patio stones that matched the size we had).

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The post from the front veranda of our home that was found behind the shed became the post for our travel signs. The signs were painted on scraps of barnboard from my childhood kitchen walls.

The wine box planters were derived from a wooden wine box Kim and I found two summers ago walking through Kensington Market in Toronto. We put together the arbour that Kim had moved garage to garage without assembling over the years due to not having adequate or appropriate space.

The birdcage was found buried at a creepy but awesome junkyard off Highway 24 near Brantford. We begged the owners to sell us a bike buried by twenty years of stuff in their metal graveyard behind the house.

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Everything just came together. Lost, found, repurposed. We hammered a collection of bottle openers on to the shed and let the cracked mirror live a longer life outside (the only item broken in our move). The planter boxes were dismantled in favour of a cedar deck that Kim designed (thanks to the biceps of our backyard interns Dixon and Tommy).

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The firepit went in immediately, because, it has always been around a fire that Kim and I have nursed glasses of wine and talked about our schemes and dreams–most often until dawn.

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And, now we are sitting in the very dream that surprised us both. Living in a stone cottage built in 1860 on the banks of the Grand River in Galt. And hosting a hundred members of the Galt Horticultural Society in our backyard.

And now, for the parting before and after shot, for those who find themselves in a similar state of weeds, neglect, bewilderment and overwhelmedness:

November 2012

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Spring 2013

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Late spring 2013, sans composter

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Late spring 2014. Fence repaired, cedars planted, mulched, tamed, etc.

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Spring 2013. Planter boxes removed, deck plans in the works. Tommy drinking beer and selecting tunes.

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Funny how this photo is applicable before and after. Recreational reading and cocktailing in the sun, my default status.

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Massaging Some Love and Personality Into This Old House

When you are selling a home, real estate agents will advise that you should bake cookies prior to an open house. The sensual and sinful lure of just-baked cookies makes people want to buy houses. In a pinch, you can add a sachet of yeast to warm water. The smell of just-baked bread also makes people want to buy houses. Despite the lack of just-baked bread or cookies permeating this house when we first looked at it, we fell in love–even though it smelled like ten wet dogs instead.

For our friends and family abroad, who don’t have the geographical ability to pop in for a cocktail, come on a virtual tour. Here’s the transformation from November 1st, 2012 when we had our first house inspection to just yesterday when I snapped every room of the house for this post.

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Notice urgent change in lighting–now there’s clearance for people over 5’5 in the kitchen!
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The picture below–we studied the thumbnail that was posted on mls.ca and were still completely baffled by the “thing” that appeared to be a beer fridge. Was it an over-sized bread box? A repurposed console TV? Oh, a craft centre…of course.

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This is actually the carriage house–now decluttered. We wanted to place attention back to the exposed stone wall and reclaimed wood shelving. This room and it’s potential and breathing history alone was the clincher for us.

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When you are looking at a house, you really have to don your xray vision glasses to see the bones and avoid all eye-contact with such things as heffalump couches, too-highly-hung art and, ugh, curtains that belonged to the pioneer era.

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The curtains came down within minutes of our possession of the house. We cracked beers and made a beeline for the rods, then dismantled the makeshift desk in the carriage house with a sledge.

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If you’re feeling brave, ask Kim about the wall repair invovled after the previous owner removed his fine art collection.
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If you’re feeling even braver, ask me about putting together this %$@# Ikea bookshelf for the third time. It has seen two rebuilds in Toronto apartments and now, this sucker is staying with the house, never to be disassembled and reassembled again.

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Originally, we thought we’d only have to paint the guest bedroom due to the non-jiving super mauve and My Pretty Pony pink. This turned into a landslide–the only room we didn’t re-paint was the kitchen. The “sombrero” and “straw hat” yellow were agreeable with our palette. And, once Kim was able to remove the chair rail from the bedroom (affixed to the wall with 578 nails AND Gorilla glue), we went painting ballistic.

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The master bedroom–previously Grandma Blue and feng-shui-unstable.
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That didn’t last long.
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Nor did the flatscreen TV mount. Absolutely no TVs allowed in the bedrooms in this house.
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Before…the elephant Mennonite chest in the room:
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After–and, the Grandma blue that carried into the ensuite was carried away in favour of what we’ve deemed “wet clay.”
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Gone are the out-dated, dog-fur-lined curtains that blocked the view of visiting birds and resident chipmunks and cottontails.

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Doing dishes is a genuine pleasure after years of being below ground level in Toronto.
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The laundry is main floor, in the master bathroom and not shared. There’s no digging for quarters or hauling baskets up and down the stairs. For anyone who has ever rented, you will sigh in relief with me.
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Of course, we are always refining. But, we’ve moved outside to do battle with the perennial gardens and deck construction. However, there is immense joy in coming back inside. Coming home from work to this sanctuary makes me toe the line of becoming a recluse.

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Thanks for visiting. And, if you really do visit, we’ll be sure to bake bread or cookies, but, the house isn’t for sale.

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This Old House

Buying a house runs almost parallel to an online or blind date. At face value, from the carefully selected MLS listing pictures or deceiving match.com profiles, a potential house and date present the same. As the relationship evolves, the secrets are revealed. The skeletons in the closet get dragged out into broad daylight. Physical remnants of previous relationships are etched deep into the mortar and veins—sometimes we hear the story at full-length. Often we’re left to guess.

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This particular old house stands like a nomadic camel on a never-ending caravan. Loved and mistreated in equal parts by different owners over the century and a half, each floor joist, pine shake shingle, chunk of limestone and black walnut tree represents a historical milestone in the genesis of William Webster’s homestead, the stone mason who probably broke his back making this unruly riverfront plot a home.
It reminds me of Elspeth Huxley’s memoir, The Flame Trees of Thika. Readers are introduced to a bustling colonial Kenya, rich with promise built on a foundation of hope. The book opens with Huxley’s father’s desire to create a successful coffee plantation on a plot of land he bought “in the bar of the Norfolk Hotel from a man wearing an Old Etonian tie.
“Thika in those days—the year was 1913—was a favourite camp for big-game hunters and beyond it there was only bush and plain. If you went on long enough you would come to mountains and forests no one had mapped and tribes whose languages no one could understand.”
Huxley’s family didn’t traverse that far, though, they were two days’ journey in an ox-cart.
Those were the days of gumption! Imagine buying a parcel of land, sight unseen (no realtor.ca! No real estate agent to point out the waving red flags), all with the hopes that a river runs through it and that your steed and family can survive not only the elements, but, your vision of a dream. All with pennies in pockets. And, sometimes, a piano and Pekinese dogs to bring some semblance of home to a savannah laced with coiling pythons and hungry hidden leopards and lions.

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I feel a little bit Huxley in our move to Galt. Our steed was a Saab and surely, the 100km journey from Toronto is the 2013 equivalent of a two day ox-cart ride. Instead of a coffee plantation, I was content with finding a cozy coffee shop with Frisbee-sized ginger cookies and sunny tables for spreading out newspapers. And, I did find one—a three minute ox-cart (or donkey, our preferred mode in Egypt) ride away. The Grand Cafe.

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Though we visited the house twice before we had possession (see, buying a house is really like dating! Especially if you’re talking about lesbians—you definitely have possession after two visits! And then, of course, you move in on the third).
We had drive-by’s (similar to online cruising of profile pics). We snooped via our agent for more dirt on the history and reassurance, just like serial daters. We Googled our stone mason and Galt and surmised that whatever magnetic pull Webster had in 1867 to this area, the attraction was identical to ours.
It’s a gentle conquering, to have an empire of dirt in Kenya or Galt. Despite the lack of a coffee plantation and pecking hens and Masai warrior ready with spear in hand. (or, cell phone in this case).

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There’s undeniable responsibility here, to sustain a 150-year-old home that has weathered more than just the angry floodwaters of the turbulent Grand river. To plant a tree deep in the soil here, we are contributing to the time capsule, a property that remembers each of its tenants—via crocus blooms, cobbled walkways and Japanese blood grasses and butterfly bushes.
A new massage client recently asked what prompted our radical move from Toronto. I explained our love-at-first-sight encounter with the stone cottage. I also said that a neat event had occurred with the purchase–because it was a heritage home, that we had also become caretakers of history.
“Oh, so you have a home cleaning business too?”
I laughed, but then realized, as caretakers, yes, we sort of adopted that part-time job too.
The black walnut trees, which I like to think William Webster planted, are the favoured hangout of Downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches and roosting grackles. The squirrels stake claim over the chipmunk, but in the end, it is a time share, with each bird and mammal taking turn amongst the branches throughout the day.

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Like us. It’s our turn in the branches. I imagine grand garden parties, theirs and ours. With soft fairy lights, and socialites tipsy on juleps or gimlets, a la Gatsby. I picture hot orange campfires licking at the night sky, pheasants golden on the grill, long-winded toasts and promises to do it all over again, sooner than later. Then and now.
We are learning a lot in this new relationship with our home. The now-predictable post-midnight clangs and pings of the old rads no longer give us a synchronized stroke. The lay of the bedrock in the basement is becoming familiar—I have all the potholes mapped out. (But, there will always be a token whack of the head every other time I go down into the far recesses of the basement—a reminder that I’m not 5’5).

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I love that we’ve become part of such a story. That we’re sharing turf with a stone mason and his steeds. We’re becoming quite intimate with our blind date of a house. It only took us one visit to want to make the commitment.
And, now we commit to the storied past and a remarkable future in tandem.

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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

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