Tuesday, December 21, 2021

THE CHEAP PHYSICAL RELATIONSHIP

Don't even ask what got into me last week. A magazine arrived in my rural mailbox (which by some miracle is still standing, having twice been hit by snowplows in recent winters). This magazine, entitled In The Hills, is a large local publication, and when I first moved here and started receiving it, I confess I rolled my eyes, thinking it would turn out to be some third-rate magazine full of spelling and grammatical errors. With some retrospective shame, I admit that nowadays I really look forward to its arrival, four times a year. The articles are interesting, spelled well, and timely, the photography is good, and it has some of my favourite things: local real estate listings, together with colour photos. Needless to say, I dropped the rest of the mail on the kitchen counter, sat down and dug right in. And about half way through the magazine, there was a photograph of a beautiful stone building. I am a sucker for stone buildings, and for buildings that don't look all residential and boring.
This one ticked all the boxes. Old, a former schoolhouse, plenty of beautiful windows, stone, red trim, a bell on the roof...this building had curb appeal, which, in my books, is right up there next to sex appeal. I could just picture myself sitting out front on a spring day with a cup of tea and a magazine called In The Hills. Eventually I obtained the address and pulled it up on the computer. It was for sale. The interior photos did not have quite the same effect on me. In fact, they made me feel a bit uneasy. Why? Let's start with the kitchen. It was a sizeable room, recently renovated, but the layout appeared to be dreamed up by someone from a far-off galaxy where the inhabitants neither cook nor eat. It had a farmhouse apron sink (another box checked) but it was located on the far right hand side of a very long counter, right in the corner, with a window on its right side. At the far left side of the counter was a fridge, and directly to the right of the fridge was a stove. Who puts a fridge and stove side by side? At midpoint on the counter was a dishwasher and a cooktop. The cupboards looked like they had been dropped into place through the ceiling by a helicopter delivering unfinished kitchen cabinets from Home Depot, and then abandoned. It was the weirdest kitchen layout I've ever seen. Another photo showed a large bathroom that had a stone woodburning fireplace in it (another box checked). The main level of the house had 14 foot ceilings (yet another box checked!) But for every positive element the house contained, there was an equal and opposite element that made me suspect that the homeowners fancied themselves amateur interior designers: a very odd spiral staircase to a loft bedroom, for example. I'm pretty sure the bedroom furniture was installed before the staircase was installed. I talked it over with a few friends, but eventually concluded that I was infatuated with the idea of living in a house with curb appeal. Now, nobody would ever accuse Five Acres of having curb appeal. It looks much better from other angles than it does from the road. In fact, when I first came to see it, I drove right by, thinking this could not possibly be the house I'd come to see. And yet here we are! So, as a punishment for indulging in this fantasy relationship, I am now painting the interior of Five Acres. It's not going well, but at this rate, spring will be here before I'm finished, and once spring is here, it'll be as though I'd been shot out of a cannon. I will neither know nor care what colour the inside is painted, because I'll be outside on those five acres having fun.

Friday, December 3, 2021

BATS IN THE BELFRY

Recently, I noticed some round holes high up on the loft wall, just below the roofline. They looked as though four golf balls had perforated the wall, and slightly lower, there was a fifth hole, which may have been an oval shaped knot in the wooden exterior that had fallen out. Soon after, I was outside at dusk and happened to glance up at the wall. I was astonished to see 13 small birds fly out of one of the round holes. They were like a synchronized swimming team. I am no ornithologist, but wondered if they might be swallows. I do know it's illegal - and mean - to harm migratory birds, so I waited until they had plenty of time to abandon their nest. Meanwhile, I started to hear weird scrabbling noises in the ceiling of the loft early in the morning. It sounded like squirrels at a rave. So I called in the big guns: Wildlife Control. Ken came to the rescue, armed with a 40 foot ladder. He closed off three of the holes with metal plates and installed one way doors over the other two holes. Ken got a kick out of the Holzhausen, and joked that I had bigger problems than birds and squirrels, if the beavers had built such a big dam on my driveway. If a red squirrel has invited you to a rave tomorrow morning at Five Acres, don't bother showing up with your glowstick. It's been cancelled.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

NOT JUST A LEGEND. NOW: A DESTINATION

When the City of Toronto named a lane after Ivaan in 2017, I figured it wouldn't be long until someone built a laneway house on Ivaan Kotulsky Lane, thus turning Ivaan into someone's home address. Well, it's happened. The new owners of 1067 Shaw Street, a semi-detached house right around the corner from ATELIER IVAAN, took down the garage that backed onto Ivaan Kotulsky Lane and replaced it wth a two-storey house with a built-in garage. The address is 26 Ivaan Kotulsky Lane. It's a very sweet modern house. I have no doubt that in the next year or two it will be followed by a few more laneway houses. Ivaan would have been thrilled to know he's become a destination. I know I am.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

THE FIVE-YEAR PLAN

Recently I was chatting with a neighbour about projects I'd like to complete on the property. Living in relative isolation on a rural property teaches you many lessons, and if you don't learn them in a hurry, you're not going to manage well. I've always prided myself on being organized, knowing where things are, remembering details, and having my to-do list close to completion. I don't mind not knowing what I'll be doing next. In my previous life, making jewellery, I've often had to sleep on a problem to come up with a good solution, and I've come to trust that the solution will present itself when I need it. Out here, the problems tend to come at you in bunches. Sometimes you're busy being proactive on one thing, and feeling rather pleased about being so on top of it, when a crisis occurs somewhere else. Invariably, this intervening problem is going to be urgent, expensive to fix, and very unsettling to live with in the meantime. There have been a few occasions where I've so badly needed some distance from a problem that's cropped up that I've nearly gone and booked myself a hotel room somewhere else. My most important principle living here is "you're going to fix it yourself". That doesn't mean I'm going to take up plumbing, though I did repair a leak from a bathtub into my basement ceiling. It also means I'm not going to become an electrician, though I do move electrical outlets around when required. I've learned pool maintenance, though I live in perpetual fear of forgetting everything I know over the winter. I once fixed the propane furnace myself, and if you ever want to feel powerful, fixing a furnace will give you that. But I digress. There I was chatting with a neighbour about something-or-other that I wanted to get done, and she asked, "Where is that on your Five Year Plan?" I was gobsmacked. I've been here for over two and a half years, and it has never occurred to me to develop a Five Year Plan. I have vague aspirations about removing the rest of that gravel down there, dumping a ton of soil and compost and stuff where the gravel used to be, and growing a field of lavender in its place. I want to dismantle the old solar heating array for the pool and plant something in its place. Something that requires a lot of sun. I'd like to replace all the eavestroughs and downspouts on the house. But it's a big house and it's a big expense for something that is not strictly necessary...yet. I started the project this summer, replacing everything on the south wall, and my intention is to do a section every summer, till one of us - me or the property - is done. I'm genuinely delighted with how much I've accomplished so far, and I love using my winters to plan what I'll do next summer. What I now know for certain is that, whatever I have planned, what I'll actually be doing is something bigger, unexpected, more urgent, far more expensive, and well above my pay grade when the summer of '22 rolls around.

Monday, October 25, 2021

A MITZVAH

Two of my paternal cousins share with me a deep interest in our family history. Both my parents were very tight-lipped about revealing anything concerning their families. If I pried any information out of my mother, it was generally reliable as far as it went, but invariably it lacked some essential detail. My father was steadfast in his unwillingness to divulge any family history and was quite prepared to dissemble to throw me off the scent. My cousins Keith and Ann were slightly more fortunate. Keith's Dad and Ann's Mum were my father's youngest siblings. They remembered a fair amount of what must been a very unstable childhood marred by both the Depression, World War Two, poverty and being members of an Orthodox Jewish family in east end London, and they were slightly more willing to tell their children what they remembered, although they didn't understand why we were so determined to dredge up unhappy memories. They shared fond affection for their mother who - daringly - had worked as a typist in a newspaper office before her arranged marriage, who was musical, who became a mother of five and who had once entertained the revolutionary anarchist Emma Goldman at her home. Of their father, none of them had anything good to say. He'd been a military tailor during World War One and had found his way to England from Eastern Europe illegally. He moved from England to Wales and back. He'd later abandoned his wife and young family, likely due to the immense pressure of having to support them during the Depression. Our grandmother had died a few years after the end of World War Two. She was buried in a large Jewish cemetery in London in a marked grave that was likely paid for by her better-off brothers. She was missed by her children but never lived to meet any of her grandchildren. In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, women and girls did not attend the funeral and her daughters did not know where she was buried. My cousin Keith was the one who located her grave a few years ago. He's a couple of years older than me and he's the primary keeper of the family records. He has invested a great deal of time and money researching family history and obtaining records: birth, marriage and death registrations. A couple of years ago I mentioned to Keith that I'd like to find our grandfather's grave. Keith is very busy caring for his Dad whose health is failing but was exceedingly helpful whenever I presented what I thought might be a possible death record, and eventually was able to confirm that I'd found the correct unmarked grave in the same Jewish cemetery where our grandmother was buried. My next plan was to have the grave marked. I consulted my siblings and our cousins to see if they had any objection. There were none. I wanted a simple marker giving his name and his death date. It's fair to say my own father would have objected had he still been alive but I simply felt that, although I probably wouldn't have liked our grandfather much, I wouldn't be here without him. It felt like a Mitzvah, or Commandment. Keith very graciously offered to share the cost of having the marker made and installed and he handled the administrative side of things from his home in England. When he sent me the photo of the marked grave I felt a sense of completeness that I hadn't felt before. I still believe it was the righteous and just thing to do. So, to my supportive cousins, I send my sincere thanks. And to my paternal grandfather, the late Henry Grundland, whose Hebrew name is Chayim, which means "lives", I'd simply like to say one word: Shalom. It means Peace.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

29 ROOFS

Last winter, one of the challenges I set for myself was to write a piece of non-fiction within a one-week deadline. To keep myself honest about the deadline, I had to submit it somewhere for publication by the end of the week, so that I couldn't make any alterations. Non-fiction is hard to write. If it's too personal, you risk alienating people you care about. The writer Ann Lamott says, "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your own stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better". I definitely find as I age that I am far less willing to "go along to get along". I speak up, emphatically, for myself when the occasion warrants it. I generally try to be courteous and respectful, but depending on one's sex and birth order, one is more, or less, likely to have one's voice heard, and one's opinion valued, in a family. Parents set the tone for how to treat one another. When they don't model respect for each other, and for their children, the children don't automatically learn to respect each other. I'd been puzzling over an incident that occurred when I was three. My father claimed it never happened, but he also marvelled that I was able to recall the exact layout of our house and its furnishings, since we moved from that house shortly after. I decided to write a story comprising vignettes from 29 places I'd lived, including the one my father denied having happened. They were just isolated incidents I remembered, but once I'd written the story, I realized they were interwoven in surprising ways. It almost wrote itself; within a week it was at a literary quarterly's offices, and the next day I'd been informed they were purchasing it. It came out this week. It's called 29 Roofs.

PLAN B

It's been over two years since I wrote a blog post entitled WOODSHEDDING (October 10, 2019). If anyone told me that it would be this long till I picked up the thread of that blog post, I wouldn't have believed them. I didn’t mean to leave the drive shed without a roof for such a long time. To be honest, it does have a roof of sorts, because I covered the shed in heavy vapour barrier and stapled it to the frame of the roof. It has made a splendid cover, which has the benefit of being transparent; therefore I haven’t needed to install lighting in the shed. Today I awoke with more energy than I've had in weeks. It was a warm, sunny day at Five Acres, and I hadn't finished raking the leaves on the driveway. I'd been chatting and laughing with my friend Natalka in the morning. We'd been talking about death, and I said if I thought I was about to die in the next minute or two, I'd get the heck outside, because a corpse on the floor is never much of a selling point for any house. So, after we stopped laughing, I went outside to rake the leaves, and wandered over to the shed. There's a pretty dead beech tree right beside it, so close, in fact, that it would be difficult to install a new roof: the tree is shaped like the letter Y, and both of the trunks overhang the shed. Since I was already outside, I figured I didn't have to think about death so much, and I began to wonder how I would take down the tree, if I absolutely had to. I devised a plan, Plan A, that involved cutting through one of the forked trunks first, at a vertical angle that would permit the trunk to drop straight down if necessary. Luckily my larger chainsaw was sharpened, oiled, and the battery was charged. Plan B was that the trunk would fall against the roof frame of the shed, which was near enough that the trunk would not have time to pick up much velocity. We went with Plan B. Two minutes later, that trunk was lying across the shed roof like a pair of antlers.
Best of all, no vapour barrier was harmed in the process. A few quick cuts and that trunk was next year's firewood. I charged up the chainsaw battery, took a few photos, and I was back for round two. The second trunk was much taller, quite twisted, and it looked as though it had been hit by lightning. This time I opted to cut it horizontally, four feet from ground level, where it was just one thick trunk. This was a much harder cut, so I decided to cut through 85 per cent of the trunk and see which way it started to lean. Frankly, as long as it didn't lean in the direction of my car, I thought I'd cope. The saw cut widened almost imperceptibly, indicating it, too, would fall towards the shed. I got my smaller chainsaw and made tiny cuts on the 15 per cent of the trunk that was still attached. As soon as I heard the slightest cracking sound from that trunk, I jumped far away from the tree, and in a moment or two, the trunk severed on its own and this very substantial limb landed neatly, perpendicularly across the peak of the shed roof.
I decided to come inside and not tempt fate any further. Tomorrow's another day.