Posts Tagged With: moving

Putting the ‘Real’ Back Into Real Estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the grill: beer can chicken or Cajun catfish

House wine: Karlo Estates Quintus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House For Sale…Ours

Please spread widely and wildly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fine Print:

$439,900

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

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

 

 

 

 

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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

Forwarding Address

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

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

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

Let’s scroll back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soundtrack: “Closer to Fine,” Indigo Girls

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

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

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

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

Soundtrack: “I Try,” Macy Gray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loathed: N/A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lubumbashi, The Congo July 2009: Breakfast with the Chimps

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

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

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

Loved: the exhaustion from sensory stimulation.

Loathed? Nothing. Leaving, I suppose.

Soundtrack: that buzz of happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soundtrack: “Heart of my Own,” Basia Bulat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim and I (2)

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

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

 

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

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Toronto Expats: Leaving the 416, 519–and onward to the 613

When you write, there is a literal paper trail that recounts a ticking heart, forgotten impulse and mindset. I was digging through emails, retracing our stone cottage purchase back in November of 2012. I wrote something about leaving my “beloved 416” area code sometime soon after that for Toronto Life magazine, though it went to a slush pile. All of it rings largely true (including the church bells in West Galt that sound off every hour). It reads like familiar, dog-eared diary pages–all that I still boast about is here.

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It’s no big secret that we want to pull our mini tap root here and plant ourselves in the clay loam of Prince Edward County. After reading Geoff Heinricks A Fool and Forty Acres, I kind of want to grow pinot noir grapes too.

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Everyday begins with a coffee and a scan of properties in the County. I cruise a little north to Meyers Island and Hastings, a little east to Napanee and Amherst Island, but, the County has a firm grip on us. Who knows? We might secure a woodsy plot of land and build something dynamic. We might just find that perfect church or abandoned school house or barn conversion. If it’s a water tower, a silo or a lighthouse or something off the cuff, or off the grid–we’re interested.

photo credit: realtor.ca

photo credit: realtor.ca

But in the meantime, come back to that ticking heart, impulse and frenetic mindset of 2012, when we boxed up our Toronto lives and became expats in a place with dew worm vending machines.

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It’s been two years (*three now at time of printing) since the U-Haul trundled down Spadina and pointed due west for the 519. I was leaving Toronto and my safety net of Banh Mi subs, Jimmy’s Coffee, utopian bookstores and Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. I looked at the gauzy skyline in the rear view mirror with equal parts trepidation and elation.

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I had somehow convinced my partner that our dream home was a 150-year-old stone cottage located in West Galt, Ontario. Despite being the handy, power tool-skilled one in the relationship, Kim had only lived in brand new suburban builds in commuter bedrooms like Oakville and Burlington. On the flip side, I was like a heat-seeking missile for “urban rentals with personality” in Cabbagetown and the Annex. I fawned over brownstones with Murphy beds, Victorians with claw foot tubs and beat-up hardwood floors. Places that needed work, and power tools.

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The stone cottage needed a little cosmetic love and affection, but not a reality show gut job. Painting wasn’t daunting for us; Kim and I have painted the equivalent of the Great Wall of China at a combined thirty-six addresses. We could do cosmetics. Maybe we’d replace the en suite shower in time and build a deck come summer. When the house inspector gave the structure an A+ and fawned over the repointing of the mortar and underpinning, we said yes.

In turn, Kim gave up the convenience of a garage and storage for her golf clubs and hockey bag. Her workshop had to move to the bedrock basement (at a height designed for Smurfs). I agreed to walking 8km to work while Kim would brave a 4:30am alarm to drive 45 minutes to the steel mill in Hamilton for a 12-hour shift. Negotiations were seamless.

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How West Galt became the marriage of both our needs and wants no longer puzzles our city circle of friends. In fact, they come to us—seeking somewhat of an organic internship (or, that’s what we deem it). We arm them with axes and wheelbarrows and push them into the jungle foray of perennials. Our property is like an all-inclusive experience for condo dwellers limited to growing cat grass and oregano in a window sill.

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We have become caretakers of history (with a little help from our friends) in buying the limestone and granite house that stonemason William Webster cobbled together on the Grand River in 1861. The carriage house still has a rusty hitch on the side wall where his horses would have been tied. The black walnut trees wouldn’t have been tall enough to provide any shade then. Webster probably planted them.

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My urban skin shed so quickly in Galt that I worried that I was in denial. What about those Banh Mi subs and pork-stuffed sticky buns on Dundas? Didn’t I miss the bleary-eyed chatter with the hung-over baristas at Jimmy’s about where and when we spent Saturday night?

I knew what I didn’t miss immediately—living in 700-square-feet with an upstairs tenant who apparently had cinder blocks for feet. Now I could fry up crab cakes and not climb into a bed under a duvet that smelled like the Atlantic Ocean due to the proximity to the kitchen. When you make butter chicken in close quarters, even the towels in the bathroom smell like curry. And Irish Spring.

We now have space to make curries without a trace, and a patch of terra firma that sees the shadows of trees, not high rises. Everything I thought I would miss was quickly replaced by exploring our adopted hometown. I felt like a modern day Chris Colombus when I “discovered” the stiff Americanos at Monigram’s Coffee Roasters. We’re just minutes from a microbrewery where we can grab growlers for under fifteen bucks and attend beer classes on stouts and porters. There is a tiny cheese shop, a Jamaican take-away and the library regularly screens selections from tiff.

All my boxes have been ticked.

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Kim and I eased into the groove of small town like chameleons. After the 24-hour neon rhythm of the Annex, it was initially odd to see downtown stores closed at 6pm, or shuttered on Sundays. In exchange we can slip into the Carolinian woods on the rail trail to our coveted picnic spot by the remains of the old German woolen mill at the river’s edge. If we ever decided to take up fishing, we even have a dew worm vending machine at the intersection of Parkhill and George.

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I thought we’d be back to the city bi-weekly, like boomerangs, desperate to fill the culture and gastronomy gap. However, more often, we are driving directly to the airport, not downtown at all. It’s difficult to leave this soundtrack. From the back deck we have front rows seats to a steady flight path of orioles, osprey and chatty cedar waxwings. Our yard vibrates with bumblebees and hummingbirds. Church bells sound on the hour and the haunting echo carries along the storied Grand.

Of course, I still pick up back issues of Toronto Life as a tether to the 416 I know and love, but, I’ve become a full-time ambassador for the 519 now.

(*Editor’s addition: that is, until we adopt 613).

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Microadventure: Prince Edward County

Have you ever worried that maybe you’ve over-romanticized a place? Did nostalgia and gauzy honeymoon love make it something it wasn’t?

The last (and only time in this decade) that Kim and I were in Prince Edward County was a miserable September weekend in 2010. The skies were bruised with clouds and rain spit on us the entire time. Winter felt like it was breathing down our tanned summer necks too soon. We drove around the County on a whim with a crude map and followed even cruder signs to the emerging wineries in Wellington. We hadn’t booked a hotel and spent a few hours backing out of B&B’s with no vacancy, crappy panelled cottages that smelled like wet dog and instant coffee and lacklustre waterfront hotels. The Waring House was the perfect weather shelter with a Jacuzzi tub and on-site pub (check, check!).

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We loved PEC from the get-go, despite the drizzle and slop. It’s hung in the recesses of our mind like a retired jersey. There was a hesitation we were nervous to address. What if it wasn’t what we painted it to be? (And, in our nostalgic minds, all the colours–oils even–were streaked across the canvas like fireworks). What if we were just glassy-eyed from Malbec and our proposed area of relocation was a lunchbox letdown?

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Whew. Crisis averted. We are even deeper in the love quicksand now with our pastoral affair. We picked up a stack of local glossies and real estate guides before lunch. I was already in fast-forward mode, dog-earing pages, telling Kim about the local farm where we could go see alpacas get sheared. September was the big cheese festival in Picton. In the fall we could go to the observatory and help band migrating saw-whet owls. We could sleep in prospector tents and learn how to make beer and pluck our own greens at Fronterra.

Yeah, hooked.

The County is vibrating with everything from leggy wines to sausage makers to beekeepers to lavender fields. The entire area is perfumed by lilac forests. There are cutesy post offices, tiny library branches, bike trails and independent bookstores (wow!). Kim pictured us stand-up paddle boarding and walking the 49km Millennium trail end-to-end with some re-fuel stops offering Brut.

The thing is, PEC is a hotbed of creativity. Everyone here is chasing a dream or already sinking their teeth into it. There are countless galleries, colourful cafes, bike shops and over 40 wineries. There are bed and breakfast owners building octagon-shaped homes with straw bale insulation. North America’s first off-grid vineyard is here. Karlo Estates is North America’s first vegan certified winery. Stuff is going on. People network here and know each other by their dog and beat-up pick-up. The passion is tangible—this is a community populated with a surplus of talent, knowledge, nerdy obsessions and ambition. We want to live there.

There’s a silent handshake in PEC, a collective agreement to help buoy everyone in full dream pursuit. The very land is appreciated for its bounty and I believe, will be protected at all costs from wind turbines or horizon-clotting high rises. As we drove from Carrying Place to Bloomfield, we noticed several barn walls acting as open-concept galleries.

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The Barn Quilt Project was formed in late 2013 in recognition of Ontario’s disappearing landscapes: old timber-frame barns and farms. The movement kickstarted in Ohio in 2001, and has had a bucolic ripple effect. There are over 60 ‘barn quilts’ across the County, most measuring eight square feet. Pulled from traditional quilting patterns, the design of a single quilt block is painted on MDO (medium density overlaid) plywood. They create a true rambling outdoor gallery—you can even pick up a map and follow the trail.

Kim gushed over all the leaning barns—all that precious barn board! Her woodworker brain was on fire with possibility.

Obviously, as owners of a 153-year-old stone cottage, we pride ourselves in being caretakers of history. Seeing neglected barns being repurposed as gallery spaces, airbnb hotspots and wineries is a full circle win.

The Owl’s Nest B&B

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For our microadventure, we had very micro time to suck up the macro scenery and scout out real estate. Our home base was the Owl’s Nest B&B in Carrying Place. Janna and Jake have created a homesteader chic suite amongst the stands of lilacs. The welcoming committee are Pajamas and Slippers (not to put on, but they will be on you). The dogs are as affable as the owners who immediately invited us in to check out their main living quarters (wow!). Janna was quick to write out her faves in the area (I love when residents are such proud ambassadors) and we liked the idea of beer-battered perch at the Agrarian in Bloomfield. Ten years ago there was talk of the “100 Mile Diet.” Here? It’s the 10 mile diet, or, one mile with the owners sourcing as close to the restaurant as possible. (There’s even a market downstairs from the Agrarian where you can stock up on hotel room charcuterie and cheese.

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We dumped our bags inside the Nest (not before grazing on half a Mason jar of complimentary house made granola studded with cashews and dried apricots). The fridge was generously stocked with milk, cream, OJ, fresh eggs, strawberry preserves and half a loaf of whole wheat bread. In the freezer there were black bean and egg breakfast burritos laced with cheese and chili if we wanted—yes! We needed more time to eat!). The space is the perfect crash pad with coffee, tea, hot cocoa, toaster oven and stove top. It’s a B&B but without that awkward morning situation of small talk with other guests, or sleepily conversing with owners. You’re in charge of breakfast here.

The shower is a rainfall dream (Janna, a mad potter, has tricked out everything in clay here–from the shower tiles to the lamps to the coffee mugs), the bed a total cloud to sleep upon. The extras are all here: a selection of herbs, hot Dijon, soya sauce (for the sushi set), a small cooler for daytrippers, flashlights, bug spray, live clean body lotion, alba honeydew shampoo and a fun collection of books. The categories were a jumble—everything from philosophy to carnival worker memoirs, The World According to Gorp to How to Knit Your Own Dog.

I’m skipping ahead, but, I’m the writer here, so I’m in charge. That night we had a laugh going through Janna and Jake’s in-house DVD collection. What a gender blend of The Family Guy and the Sopranos to Bellydance Techniques, Yoga by Candlelight, Sex in the City, Fleetwood Mac in concert and Terminator. (We settled on Sideways as the vino-centric movie seemed appropriate and necessary viewing).

We were totally kitted out at the Owl’s Nest and hated to leave the zen-oozing grounds, but…

DSCF9251Karlo Estates

Kim and I have a picture on the bedside table of us in the just-opened barn studio space of Karlo Estates from 2010. The upstairs loft was full of easels and paintings in various stages. The surrounds made you want to paint alpacas and inhale (not the paint—it smells like history and legend at Karlo).

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In 2010 we bought a bottle of Malbec that was like drinking red brick and horse blankets. Nothing has come close since. We drank it back in my Annex apartment by the fire, probably listening to Jann Arden and Tucker Finn on repeat. We celebrate a lot of things, chronically, so, the occasion in particular that made us open the bottle is amiss, but, it’s reassuring to know that in the near future we’ll be in closer proximity to the liquid velvet that they bottle.

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When we walked in to the tasting room I tried to not be all teenage-girl-Justin-Bieber-screamer-like, and elbowed Kim as we passed Doug Gilmour. Doug Gilmour! My dad is still envious that I met Janet Jones (Gretzky) back in highschool (skipping out before exams to go for Shirley Temples at Callahan’s). She signed my fluorescent pink Vuarnet t-shirt and I think my dad paid me $20 bucks for it. Still has it too. Crap, I should have had Doug sign my tee or blot me with red wine.

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Calm, cool and as collected as early morning wine tastings allow you to be, we allowed congenial Karlo staff member Liza to walk us through a proper tasting with Little Bug, the resident Karlo cat, curling around our wine glasses. The nibbles here really put the other wineries in the dust. Liza paired the flight with varietal IQ, laughter, asiago, cheddar, bleu, garlic stuffed olives and fat walnuts. The Sangiovese took my first place ribbon while Kim leaned toward the cab franc and Quintus blend. The VanAlstine white port (yes, there is such a divine thing) with a bite of bleu cheese was a surprising encounter. Fireside, lakeside, bedside, anywhereside, this port-style wine is like Riesling’s sweeter and sexier cousin.

And then, you know, sometimes it is about being in the right place at the right time, with garlic breath from that garlic-stuffed olive that seemed great at the time. With a Cheshire cat smile, Doug pulled us into his circle with a generous pour and  introduced us to his sophisticated line-up of Gilmour Wines: Corazon (“heart” in Spanish– a broad-shouldered tobacco and dark chocolate red), Orus (“leader”—think tangerine, silk, melons and meadows), and, your new summer prerequisite: Maddison (named after his daughter) rose. This one is the al fresco ticket.

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We left Karlo knowing that we’d had a rare sneak peek on the dynamic partnership between co-founder and owner Sherry Karlo and Doug. Why be legendary in just one niche (Sherry is a visual artist with serious accolades while Doug and his #93 Leafs jersey need little intro.)? Even rock ‘em-sock ‘em hockey player Kim would agree that a sun-soaked vineyard and conversation over pinot grigio is a palatable transition from the adrenalin and sweat-choked arena locker room (Though Doug still hangs out near the ice, coaching the Kingston Frontenacs.)

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Somehow we squeezed in The Grange, Three Dog Winery and smoked meat sandwiches with briny pickles at the Agrarian. We’ll have to return for the beer-battered perch on a bun (sold out). The place transforms into a speakeasy on weekends—another reminder of the ever-present coolness of the County.

Before turning homeward bound (a three hour slog), we drove around Consecon and Fish Lake, Ameliasburgh, Sophiasburgh (and a few other burghs) nodding in agreement that we’d be mentally well-nourished and stimulated in the County. We’re ready to take pastoral to the next level. Yes, there will be rosemary growing, beehives abuzz and, one of us will probably be glassblowing in no time. This is what happens here.

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So, now we just need a place with a sumptuous sunset view, on some body of water (pond, lake, creek), maybe walking distance to a winery and wood-fired pizza oven. Polished cement floors with radiant heating, a Japanese soaker tub, some Carrera marble, fieldstone fireplace, loft bedroom, bookshelf with one of those sliding ladders, a Wolf stove, a workshop that is a little taller than Smurf-height for Kim, floor-to-ceiling windows that retract and open up to a cedar deck and that above-mentioned mill pond, lake, burbling creek…that’s all.

We definitely need a place with an outdoor fire pit so we can look up at those stars and watch them realign as they always do for us.

Stay tuned.

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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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On Becoming a Garden Gnome

On a very snow-spanked January 24th, I would not have agreed with my current (June 7th) belief that the best time to move is in the winter.

However, after surviving harrowing highways and a pending moving truck cancellation, the severe weather watch tamed to a gentle snowfall, the kind they portray in romantic movies and Hallmark commercials.

When you move in the winter, you are held hostage by interior work—which, I am now grateful for. My indoor painting work ethic is much stronger when the sun and humidex isn’t being all seductive and alluring. We painted every inch of our house in February. We sucked up 150 years of spiderwebs in the bedrock-floored basement. We tended to neglected toilets like they were part of a fine porcelain collection. All the while, it snowed Andes mountains kind of proportions.

And, now? We can almost bask in our preferred barometer reading. From March until yesterday, Kim and I have transformed into garden gnomes on a clear-cutting mission. We came, we saw, we mulched, we conquered. God bless yard bags, landscape fabric and my massage therapist at Sentio. And Wellington Brewing Company.

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But, back to winter being the optimal moving time. Yes, everyone touts spring and fall as the time for renewal and change, and, I’m sure we would have jumped on that bandwagon given the opportunity. We didn’t find our house until the drizzly, funeral-skies end of October though. Our deal wasn’t finalized until mid-November. Our first real, semi-unhurried visit to our home kept within the wet and grey theme—when we looked at the backyard it was seen through rose-coloured glasses (and, also, glasses of rose-coloured champagne) as a promise of privacy, space and serious sun-tanning potential (void of shadowing high rises and monster condos). There were several scrubby flowerbeds that had long since wilted and were more sideways than upright. We had no idea what was going to emerge in the spring.

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When you purchase a house in the summer, you have a reliable idea of what it’s going to look like in the snow-laden months. Everyone can picture a snow-buried yard and snow heaped to the sides of a driveway. But, if you’ve never seen a yard in its spring prime—wow.  The surprise element is worth schlepping flat screens and boxes of books through the snow with chapped hands and streaming nose.

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We’ve had front row seats to all the perennial beds coming to life. Snowdrops and daffodils announced spring, closely trailed by intoxicating hyacinths, Siberian squill and an Eastern Red Bud (my favourite tree)—its cotton candy blooms cheerleading warmer weather.

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Lilies of the valley, cheery alium (those purple pom-pom thingies) and delicate forget-me-nots filled out what we thought was an overgrown and composting heap of nothingness. Given the inside condition of the house when we moved in, we had zero expectations of anything but a field of dandelions and waist-high weeds in the flowerbeds. Thistles and burdock and barbed wire if you will.

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Instead, Pepto-pink peonies and scarlet poppies mingle with impossibly blue spiderworts. Bachelor’s buttons add purple punches to the lower tier. Japanese blood grasses are taking on a serious rouge fringe and the hostas—they could double as elephant ears already.

Amongst the velvety lamb’s ear and bounty of hens and chicks, we are the lucky recipients of a birder’s bonanza—because of the come-hither gardens. However, when my friend Kay suggested leaving sliced oranges in the yard to attract the orioles closer, we only managed to attract ants from six neighbouring counties.

016 Cedar waxwings do fly-bys, a flicker frequently stops by for a worm survey and white-breasted nuthatches creep up and down the walnut trees regularly. Yes, I’ve found bird nirvana in Galt!

The flora and fauna acts as an anti-inflammatory to my years spent in the city. My mom is eager for us to plant a garden. Oh, how our family of resident bunnies would love that! This year we’ll keep to thinning the perennials before embarking on edibles. Maybe we’ll do some dill and basil. There are already chives and lemon verbena in the verdant perimeters.

rabbit and flowers 008My brother, Dax, was keen on us going all factory farm with the tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini too. He is wise to the rewards from a childhood spent tending garden. Even at age 8 he had entrepreneurialism coursing through his veins. My mom purchased all the seeds from Stokes catalogue, set Dax up with my grandfather’s rototiller and a truck load of pig shit–and then Dax turned around and sold the produce back to her. Visitors to his garden in those organic-before-organic-was-cool days will remember his fairy tale sunflowers (seriously 15 feet high) and embarrassment of raspberries. The asparagus row was to be envied and he could have won a World Fair ribbon for his curly cukes or bat-like zuchinnis.

I know my sister has different garden memories which involve abandonment in a vegetable patch. We were told (daily) not to run through the gardens that belonged to Gramma Grunt (our great-grandmother who lived directly beside us). Of course we ran through them, even more so (they were a beeline shortcut to the house, duh!). On one terrible soggy day, Kiley went knee deep into the squash row and couldn’t be retrieved. Her rubber boots were like suction cups pulling her the opposite direction, to China. She couldn’t be saved and when we heard the slam of Gramma Grunt’s aluminum screen door, we had to abandon Kiley and run for our lives. Flat on our bellies in the wet grass by the tracks, we watched Kiley’s arm nearly come clean out of its socket as she was pulled out of her boots. “You kids are ‘rangatans!”  Gramma Grunt was like Willie Nelson—she looked like she was 100 for the last 30 years of her life.

Editor’s note: Sorry about that abandonment, Kiley. But, look at you now with your community garden plot in Banff and all!

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As much as I’d like to brag, “I had a farm in Africa,” I think saying “We had flowerbeds in Galt” is the equivalent. And, when you see them, you’ll approve of us buying our veggies at Sobey’s. For now. And, on the occasions that we manage to wake, caffeinate and be mobile by noon, the local farmer’s market. (Couldn’t somebody invent a marketplace for people who want local honey and Mac apples but would like to sleep in a little? Oh. I guess that would be 24-hour Sobey’s. Case closed.)

023Special thanks to my friends with huge botanical brains: Connie Lockwood, Kay “Cornflower” LeFevre, Judy Leitch-Beal and Laura Halladay. Collectively they saved a lot of spiderwort from the weed heap. And, they have been an integral part of our flowers remaining perennial.

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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

Sifting and Sorting: The Emotional Attic

Any traveller will nod in agreement with this statement: when you are away from home for more than three weeks, you can quickly define what’s essential in your life (lip balm and Q-tips, really). When you have a house for more than three weeks, you can easily be persuaded into different thinking because the space is there and it’s not being hauled around on your back. Having a home base facilitates collecting, gathering, storing/hoarding. However you like to classify it, it’s easy to cloud your streamline stance on “essential” when there is enough square footage to allow for all whims and wants.

Not that Kim and I have become collective since we moved in. On the contrary (we’ve been hawking excess wares on Kijiji)—in fact, the only hoarder on our property is the black squirrel who has turned our backyard Bunkie into a black walnut cache. For any other squirrel who happens upon that shed, they will definitely think they’ve gone to The Other Side with the heavenly hoard inside.017

With serious thoughts of moving from the home they’ve been in for 13 years, my parents have a serious winnowing process underway. We’ve passed our house-hunting/moving baton on. Name an obscure place anywhere in Ontario, and my mother has found a house listing there. They have been renting cars for recent house pilgrimages because the mileage they’ve covered already would have taken them to Anchorage, Alaska had they been driving in a straight line.

My parents moving translates into the great-unearthing-of-nostalgia, buried for a solid decade in their attic space. At first the queries came in a phone call format. “We’ve got your old trophies. You still want them don’t you?” Even though I have more square footage than I’ve had in a long while, I still don’t have space (or desire) for trophies. My dad seemed disappointed when my response was so immediate. “Oh god, no! For what?”

And, so, despite my firm “no,” my dad thought I still might like the engraved plaques from each of the trophies, illuminating my soccer, badminton and running career. Surely I’d want the mini-plaques. They wouldn’t take up much space at all.

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Next came the call about the papier-mâché collection. I didn’t even realize my parents still had them holed away. And, by papier-mâché, I don’t mean a misshapen grade 3 heart-shaped ashtray and miniature swan. We’re talking larger-than-life size creations: an orange octopus, a hamburger (as big as a coffee table with foam dill pickles to boot), a panda bear and a mosquito with a lethal chicken wire proboscis. “You want them, don’t you?” (Insert melancholy here: part of me will always be disturbed by the anthropomorphism of the Toy Story toys. But, at least the papier-mâché family travelled together to the local dump after one last photo.)

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When I calculated the age of the papier-mâché collection, I pegged some of them to be vintage 1987. The hamburger and mosquito were high school art camp creations carted back on a bus from Camp Walden in northern Ontario. Too bad there wasn’t a Mâché Hall of Fame to donate them to.

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Then came the cardboard boxes of Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume paperbacks, my dog-eared Golden readers and Beatrix Potter hardbacks. I picked out my all-time faves (Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse, Pepper, Flicka) and displayed the Golden Guides that were my flora and fauna bibles as a kid. But, to keep all of them? My mom insisted I return the ones I didn’t want. Which still makes me feel like guilty for adding to their nostalgia cargo.
I struggled more with the grainy old pictures of school chums and road trips to the Grand Canyon. I’ve carted around my own stacks of pictures for years—the stories diminishing and the faces losing familiarity. I had to do a Facebook poll. The verdict? If you can’t name anyone in the photo, it’s safe to turf the pic.

But the newspaper clippings–those were an easy keep. My parents had saved the complete history of my early writing and sporting career as documented in The Brantford Expositor—skipping fundraisers, soccer goals, badminton tournaments, cross country runs. I tell you, I was at my peak at age 11. Hell, I even won a city-wide April Fools joke contest and $25 bucks which must have seemed like a bazillion dollars then. Apparently, I was also the national grand prize winner in Cappy Dick’s cut-apart puzzle contest (no cash– I won a Marvin watch and an Owl Pen according to the article). The Nobel Prize for puzzles I’m guessing.

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For several years I was a member of the very prestigious (cough-cough) Expositor Jr. Reporter Club and all my amateur drawings, poetry (oh, ugh) and pre-teen stories of wisdom were highlighted here. I’ve kept these gems for comic relief—and when I eventually get around to writing a memoir, I’ve got proper sources to cite!

Through this whole process of my parents’ attic being brought to life, I’ve realized that living is all about continually sifting and sorting. Emotions, stuff, homes, jobs, friends, lovers. Always refining, reconsidering, choosing the very best of all categories to move forward with.

I’m glad my parents have kept all the treasures they have. (But where is my Owl Pen? I have zero recollection of this one.) Our childhood is well-chronicled, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to graze through my past with so many tangibles.

What have you kept? What do you wish you still had? How big is your emotional attic?

Categories: Home Sweet Home, Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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