Sunday, December 27, 2020


One of the beautiful things about winter at Five Acres is that the snow, when it falls, tends to stay in place, perfectly clean and neatly draped over the landscape, until spring comes and thaws it. One of the less beautiful things about winter at Five Acres is that some of the snow, when it falls, tends to land on the driveway. Driving off the property is easy: it's downhill. Getting back onto the property can be a challenge. You need to gear down to first gear and then gun the engine a bit, praying you won't slide sideways into one or the other of the large wooden gates that I never bother to close. I like shovelling, for about five minutes, so it may be spring before I ever get the driveway shovelled. Before it snowed, I had bought batts of insulation for Bleak House. They were huge and heavy, and I left them in the carport. But as the snow started coming down and the temperature dropped, I began to worry that chipmunks might take refuge inside the batts and be unable to get out again. So I started to scheme about the best way to get the insulation down to Bleak House. Realizing that there's a toboggan in the garden shed, I thought I could slide them down one at a time on the toboggan. I got the toboggan out, loaded one of the bags onto it and slid the toboggan over to the top of the first hill, just beyond the driveway. I hadn't counted on the fact that, just before the snow fell, it had rained heavily for a couple of days. I pushed the toboggan out onto the hill. Naturally, as it descended, the load of insulation tipped to one side and landed on the snow. I headed down the hill to load it back onto the toboggan. That's when I found out about the sheet of ice covering the hill, about one foot below the snow. I descended more quickly than I had intended, and only partly on my feet. By the time I'd reached the bottom of the hill, I was splayed out on the snow like I'd been involved in a tragic but not fatal skydiving misadventure. Some of my language was not fit for the ears of small children. I looked longingly back up the hill at that nice, warm house, and that's when it occurred to me that eventually I'd have to get myself back up the hill, and if I needed help doing that, my mobile phone was inside the house on the dining room table. I reloaded the insulation on the toboggan, made the executive decision to go the long way around Pond One, where the ground was flat, so I wouldn't have to wipe out on the next hill and possibly end up in Pond One, which is not yet sufficiently frozen to support me. I made it into Bleak House with the insulation, and without further injury, brushed the snow off me, and surmised that if I insulated quickly, I could always shelter in Bleak House till spring came and melted the snow and ice. And that's when I discovered I'd bought the wrong width of insulation. I'll still be able to use it, but I'll need to cover it with vapour barrier. However, Bleak House is starting to look pretty excellent, at least on the inside, and once it's insulated I think I'll be able to continue working on it during the winter. I just have to string a rope between the trees to enable me to pull myself uphill if needed. Stand by for photos.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

BLEAK HOUSE: The Laws of Subtraction and Gravity

 I'm pleased to report that the extension to Bleak House is history.

If you've been following along, my last post showed the peaked roof was the last remnant of the bump-out still in place, and removing it was turning out to be a lot of work.  Four layers of asphalt shingles adds a lot of weight. A few days ago, I laboriously removed one side of the roof and discovered three field mice huddled inside the remaining side.  I decided to give them a one-day Stay of Eviction so they could find a new home, but cold weather set in and my heart is not so hard as to evict someone on a cold day.  Also, cold weather makes me lazy. 

Mother Nature has rewarded my kindness with two warm days, today and tomorrow, so this morning I went down to see if the tenants had vacated the roof.  They had.  As an added bonus, gravity had assisted me by loosening the rusty nails holding the remainder of the little peaked roof to the outside wall of Bleak House.  I gave it a few mighty pulls and the entire thing, wood, nails and asphalt shingles, crashed to the ground.  The wood is going in the fire pit. The shingles are going into yard waste bags, after which they'll be hauled up to the Belwood Transfer Station for disposal.

Here's Bleak House without the bump-out:

I'm  pretty excited by this progress.  It was more work than I imagined it would be.  I really like that it has a house number on the right side of the doorway.  I think it would be funny to close off the doorway permanently but ask my brother to paint a trompe l'oeil door there instead.  But the smart money says I should get a roofer to re-do the asphalt shingles before it snows again. We'll see how I feel in the morning.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

BLEAK HOUSE: Back To The 80s.

Five days ago, I was contacted via social media by someone who told me she has a family connection to my property. It turns out her late father owned this property for about 35 years, right up until the date of his death in 2010.

I still have no idea how she came to be in touch with me. I'm guessing she must have done a Google search on the names of members of her family and hit upon my blog, which mentions the names of former owners.  From there, it's a hop, skip and jump to social media, and thence to me.

I was glad to hear from her, because I'm inquisitive by nature, and very curious about this property.

She searched through her old photographs and came up with several photos that were taken on the property. Some were particularly fascinating.  First, her Dad looked exactly as I imagined he would look.

Two photos were of Bleak House.  The first she dates at approximately 1980.  Can you see it there, on the far side of Pond One?  This is before the bump-out was added on.  Also absent is the screamed-in porch, though close inspection shows pillars in front of the door, so the entrance must have been partly sheltered.

The second photo dates from 1984.  It shows the extension and the full-size screened in porch.

The third photo that really caught my attention was one of the big house on the hill.  I would not have recognized it.

You see what looks like a separate little building on the right side of the photo?  That is no longer there.  In 2005 a very striking two-storey addition was built onto the house. Like the whitish-looking house you see in the photo above, the board-and-batten exterior is now stained dove grey, but the very tall second storey has a sharply angled roof, huge windows and tons of skylights, making it both modern and rustic at the same time. 

A picture is worth a thousand words

 And yet from the street, you'd scarcely notice it behind the tall Brandon Cedars that line the west wall.

As for Bleak House, I now know what I'm planning to do: I'll take it right back to its original sweet glory, with the pillars out front narrowly sheltering the entrance. 1980 was a good year. 

I'm really grateful to SRW, the family member who contacted me.  I look forward to speaking with her at length in the near future.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

BLEAK HOUSE: Going Back In Time

 On November 4th, everything changed.  By everything, I mean the weather.  We'd already had snow twice, I was back to wearing my motorcycle jacket all day and everywhere.  But on November 4th, summer returned, and it still hasn't left.  Let me tell you, it was like I'd been shot out of a cannon: every minute from crack of dawn till the sun abruptly set at five p.m., I was outside doing heavy stuff.  

I finished sawing up an apple tree on the north property line.  I  put my motorcycle away in the basement.  I moved all my piles of firewood from around the property to the carport.  I split logs.  I gathered and bagged twigs for kindling.  I had a bonfire on the island.  I cleared the entire south property line.  I put away my gardening tools.  I painted the eaves on the south side of the house. I brought in the boat and put it away in a newly-swept-out shed.  I cleaned the carport.  I sharpened my chainsaw multiple times.  I even had a sunny afternoon with a large cup of coffee and a date square sitting on the bench on the island.  There was no stopping me.

And every so often, I'd go over to Bleak House and do a little more work on demolishing the walls of the little bump-out. It was tough sledding.  It was impossible to get a secure footing and even more impossible to avoid all the nails.

It's been a glorious week: the kind of week I'll look back on in February with huge delight.  

I think tomorrow is the last of the warm days, so I'm pleased to tell you that I finally finished demolishing the three walls of the bump-out on Bleak House. All that remains is for me to take down the little peaked roof.

You see that little opening just below the point of the peaked roof?  I cut that out so I could see if the exterior wall of Bleak House had been left in place.  Luckily, it has.  But this little peaked roof has been home to squirrels or chipmunks or something.  They've made a nest in the fibreglass insulation and left a ton of droppings up there.  Tomorrow I'll start removing the four layers of asphalt shingles and take a chainsaw to the wood underneath.

Remember, a few posts ago, I was saying how horrifying it was for me to go inside Bleak House?  It's actually quite comforting to be in there now.  Best of all, for a reason I'll explain in my next post, I'm feeling quite confident in what I'm doing to this little building.  I now know for certain that I'm bringing it back to its original form.  Stay tuned, if you're curious to learn how I can be sure of this.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

BLEAK HOUSE: The Disappearing Bump

 It's Hallowe'en and down at my little haunted house on the hill, I was waffling about whether to get back to work. I don't like working in the cold and this morning the thermometer read seven below zero.  I woke up to frost all over the ground.  Even the ponds were frozen, and some Canada Geese were acting as icebreakers on Pond Two. Eventually I decided that I'd go out and split some logs in the carport and if it went up to five degrees Celsius I'd get to work on Bleak House.

By two p.m. it was warm enough.  I got to work.

My job this week is to finish tearing down the bump-out on the west side.  It was an addition to the original house and I'd like to have a word with whoever constructed it.  This is what I'd like to say:  a four-by-four is not the same thing as two two-by-fours.  No matter how much you like pounding nails into two-by-fours,  could you please just get up off your backside, go to the lumberyard and buy yourself some four-by-fours for the corners, next time you want to frame out a tiny addition to ... well, just about anything really.  Thank you.

I spent at least an hour alternately pulling nails out of two-by-four framing, hammering them all the way in, and bending them into an L shape.  It was the most wasteful waste of time.  Here's the scene of the crime.

Ripping the wood siding off the addition is not too difficult, but avoiding all those nails in the framing is almost impossible..  I wish a giant magnet would swoop down from the heavens and suck all the nails out.  I've got an electric reciprocating saw and two chainsaws on the job, a claw hammer and a crowbar, yet progress is glacial.

Here's a view from the rear:

And here's a general view of the demolition site from half way up the hill.   On the left is the stump of the maple tree I had to take down.  I'm beginning to wish the maple had crashed down on the roof and demolished the entire building.

I don't think I realized how much lower the interior of the bump-out is than the outside of the building.  Here's a view down into the excavation.  This chilling aspect gives you an idea of how badly I want to demolish it.

At a certain point as I proceed with my labours, the shingled roof is going to collapse.  It's got four layers of asphalt shingles on top of rotting plywood.  That stuff can hold a lot of water.  But I hear in about ten days it's going up to 15 degrees, and I can't wait to show you how excellent the interior of Bleak House is beginning to look.  

Stand by.


Thursday, October 22, 2020


I bet you thought I would quit.

Yesterday I realized that it was going to be hard to replace the roof on Bleak House because one branch of a nearby maple tree was closely overhanging it. I studied the problem and realized that my only option was to take the tree down.  This maple tree was half way up the little hill into which Bleak House is cut.  There was perhaps a 30 degree window of space for the maple to fall after I cut it.  If it fell to the right, it would crash through the roof.  If it fell to the left, well, frankly, it wouldn't fall.  It would get trapped in the branches of another maple tree beside it.

One of the ways I relax is by watching YouTube videos of chainsawing techniques, so I knew precisely the sort of cuts I'd need to make.  The pressure to do it right was on a little bit, because some workmen were excavating on the property to the north of me, and I knew they had a clear view of what I was doing.  It wasn't a huge tree, maybe 22 feet high, with a ten inch diameter.  So I planned out my cuts, took the chainsaw to it, and in five minutes the tree came down perfectly in the perfect location. I expected a round of applause.  None came.  I cut it up the branches, put down the chainsaw, and went into Bleak House.

I always knock on the door before entering.  This is a bit superstitious, but I'd rather give any visiting wildlife notice of my arrival so they can make a swift exit.  

And then I decided I'd finish the job of gutting the little house, then and there, if it killed me.

The electrician is coming tomorrow to put in a new outlet so I can plug in power tools.  I wanted it to look presentable for him, so he doesn't think I'm a slob.

It took me two or three hours, but I'm thrilled to report that it's done and dusted.

You'll notice that I used some of the wood panelling to block off the little bump-out addition to the left of the window.  I'm planning to tear that down from the outside.

And here's a view in the other direction.
This is the north wall.

This is the south-west wall, the scariest wall of all.  I imagined it was going to be much worse.

And this is the east wall.

Today is a milestone.  I've hit rock bottom.  Nothing I have to do to Bleak House will be more horrifying than the work I did today.  From this point on, it's going to be uphill all the way.  Tomorrow when the electrician comes, I'm going to tear out all the old electrical wiring and start repairing the exterior shell.  I look forward to having a light and the ability to use power tools.  And I've decided on an exterior colour scheme.  The walls are going to be cream-coloured and the roof is going to be green.  I'm thinking of doing the inside in cedar shiplap.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?

Saturday, October 17, 2020

BLEAK HOUSE: Beyond the Screamed In Porch.

I was dreading my trip down to Bleak House today.  In fact, I avoided it for so long, I had to put my work jeans into the dryer to warm them up to encourage me to put them on and get to work.  That did the trick, and by two p.m. I was masked, wearing eye protection and walking bravely through what I now call the screamed in porch.

First, I'll tell you that leaving all the windows open was brilliant.  The little house is much less oppressive now that air is circulating.  It's also brighter, and that's important, because all the electrical power to the house is shut off.  Here's a photo of the view out the south window onto the little hill into which the house  is built.

So that's a cheering-up sight.  I'm delighted to say that all the news today is good news.  I finished pulling the sheets of panelling off the walls of the first room, and made a couple of excellent discoveries.  First, there is a partition wall separating the two rooms.  Removing the panelling from the partition wall was incredibly difficult.  Eventually I realized why: because it was covering a wall that is actually in good condition.  My heart soared when I absorbed this happy news.  See that?  It's dry, it's white, and it's in good condition.

That wasn't all the good news, either.  You see the rotten wooden joists on the wall where the window is?  I bet you think that's a problem, don't you?  It's not.  I know how to "sister" joists to solve that problem, and I have some old-style two-by-fours here that I can use to do the job in no time and at no cost.

Now, you see what looks like moldy white boards at the base of this wall?  I inspected them carefully to see what I needed to do to replace them, and guess what?  They're not boards.  It's a poured concrete foundation wall. You have no idea how thrilled I was to see this.  What I thought were roots that had grown through the wood are not roots at all.  They are probably just a rotten four-by-four.  I'll crowbar that sucker out of there so fast.  You have no idea how much I'm going to enjoy this part.

My nephew Sam dropped by this morning to pick something up. Because he often works in the plumbing trade, I asked him what was the fastest way of disconnecting the pumping equipment in the second room.  He suggested that I saw through the thick hoses.  As it happened, I had taken a hacksaw down to the screamed-in porch, and it was even simpler that I'd ever imagined to saw the hoses in two. 

See what I did?  That blue tank is no longer there.  Now it's lying on the lawn, waiting to be disposed of.  I'm tempted to call an electrician to help me disconnect the thick red cable running from the electrical panel to the green pump.  I know all the power to the cottage is shut off but it's a pretty thick wire, and it's red, and you know what colour a stop sign is, don't you?

I downed tools at six p.m. as dusk was falling. I can hardly wait till tomorrow.

Friday, October 16, 2020

BLEAK HOUSE: The Journey Begins

If I don't document my progress by way of blog posts, I worry that I am going to lose my nerve and turn back.

I took a couple of days off, but I am planning to continue tomorrow. Yesterday it rained heavily, and the rule around here is: when it rains, I clean the house. It's a large house, but it's easy to clean, and I enjoy doing that in bad weather. Today, on the other hand, was sunny and dry, but surprisingly cold, so I went out to the carport to split some apple and cherry logs. This is what my late father would have described as "sorting my paperclips according to size".  I was procrastinating.

I had promised some people I know in Toronto that I'd bring them a load of fruitwood for their backyard meat smoker, and it was really pleasant sitting on a stool in the shelter of the carport splitting logs.  It takes no effort; you just put a log on the splitter, push one button and one lever, and four tons of hydraulic force shows up and splits the log for you.

In less than an hour, I'd split perhaps 120 lbs of fragrant fruitwood.  The carport smelled glorious.  I loaded it up in four heavy bags.  Then I walked out onto the driveway and marvelled at what a beautiful day it was: cool, crisp and colourful.  A gorgeous day for a drive.  And the car hadn't been out on the highway for quite a while.

Next thing you know, I'd texted the people with the smoker to say I'd do a fly-by at their front door at 2:15 p.m., loaded the bags of wood into the car, and I hit the road. It was a perfect highway trip, and an hour later I was in downtown Toronto unloading bags of fruitwood onto their porch.  After a brief stop to buy some vegan doughnuts, I headed home.

So you see what I'm doing here:  I'm still procrastinating.  When I got home, the carport still smelled of apples and cherries, so I split a few more logs, went inside and lit a fire in the fireplace.  I had dinner sitting in front of the fire, which is not strictly permissible in my nice clean living room.  But I was being good to myself, as the real work starts tomorrow.

I'll break you in gently.  This is the screened-in porch.  

You can probably see that the first step was to remove the screens to create some air circulation.  And the next step was to bring garbage bags.  There's not much inside the house, but whatever there is, I sure don't want to keep it.  You might observe that the screened-in porch is only meant for small people.  The ceiling is less than 6 feet high.

I was surprised, once I ventured inside, to notice that the front door was fitted with a deadbolt.  I'm very doubtful that anyone would want to lock themselves  in.  Anyway, we're inside now.

The house has two rooms, plus a little addition on the west side.  The first room is grim, but it's the more luxurious of the two.


You still with me?  I'll describe the decor, just to ensure you get the full picture.  There is wood composite panelling on the walls and a concrete floor.  First step is to remove the panelling.

Under the panelling, there's fibreglass insulation. It's surprisingly dry till you get to three feet above the ground.  Below that, it's not so much damp as it is decomposed.  It has broken into clumps and is lying on top of some roots which have grown through the exterior.  The roots are surprisingly hard to remove.  So I move on to the next room, which contains the pumping equipment.

Honestly, if there were a lightning storm tonight and the little house caught fire and burned to the ground, I would not even call the volunteer fire department.  And if the gigantic gnarled willow tree beside the house blew over and landed on the roof, the only tears I'd shed would be tears of joy.

I suppose you think I'm going to quit, don't you?  Let's see how I feel about it tomorrow.

Thursday, October 15, 2020


There's a tiny wooden cottage on my property.  I've been avoiding it like the plague.  If you are short-sighted and squint your eyes when looking at it from a distance, it looks almost charming.  On closer inspection, it's not.

Words like squalid, derelict, neglected and horrifying come to mind, the closer I get to it.

Part of the problem is the location.  It sits at the east end of Pond One, at the bottom of a hill.  In fact, its south wall is built right into a hill.  Looking out through the south window, I can almost imagine Peter Rabbit, Mrs. Tiggy Winkle and Tom Kitten going about their business on that hill.

The first spring I was here, the land around this cottage flooded badly, almost knee deep.  It was August before the water had dried out enough for me to come close to the front door.  I imagined that the flooding was because the water level in Pond One was especially high, so I built a partial stone wall around that edge of the pond to keep the water back.  It worked only to a degree, and this year I was still ankle deep in water till late summer.  

The cottage had a poured concrete floor and a screened-in porch with patio stones on top of a cement foundation, and though there was moss growing on the patio stones, the floor of the cottage was elevated and was perfectly dry.

My first instinct was to remove the screening from the porch.  Birds flew in regularly and couldn't find their way out.  It was distressing having to remove the ones that had died in their vain attempt to exit.  The absence of screens helped with air circulation.

In recent years, the cottage has been used as a pump house. There's an elaborate underground network of thick hoses on the property, which enabled former owners who were avid gardeners to water the grounds with pond water.  This meant, though, that one room in the cottage was devoted to pumping equipment, a tank, and lots of heavy duty plumbing.  

There are only two options if you have an outbuilding like this on your property: one, you can have it demolished and hauled away.  It will cost you several thousand dollars and you will have nothing to show for it except a patch of concrete.  Two, you can gut the interior, do whatever repairs you wish, and put a new roof on.  This will also cost you several thousand dollars. Then you can paint the outside and hope that the next owners will be short-sighted and squint a lot.  What you cannot do is nothing.  

I decided on Option Two.  Option Two meant that I would have to summon up the courage to go inside.  Option Two meant that I would have to shed several thousand dollars. I do not like to waste money.  I like to use money for worthwhile causes,  I like to give money away on occasion if it will cause someone to feel loved or happy or both.  But I do not like to throw money at lost causes.  

I summoned up my courage.  I went inside.

I promptly revisited my principles about wasting money, and let it be known that I'd pay one thousand dollars cash to anyone who agreed to gut the place for me.  That involved pulling off the wood panelling, removing the insulation and the pumping equipment and sweeping it clean.

There were no takers, and honestly, can you blame them?  So I hired myself.  I'm no stranger to hard work. First I went inside and opened all the windows.  This is a project that's going to take me a while.  Luckily it's going to rain for the next few days, which means I'll be spending my time in the nice big house on top of the hill, cleaning.  That's what I do on rainy days.  I clean. Meanwhile, I'm summoning up the courage to start disconnecting the pumping equipment in the second room of the little cottage.

Follow along for updates if you are curious and have a strong stomach.  Otherwise, it's been nice writing to you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020


The first sign that a scarecrow had come to live at my new home was in late June, 2019.

An early morning phone call from my neighbours to inform me that a snapping turtle was laying eggs in the middle of my driveway had me at the gates to my property clad only in the very first items of clothing my eyes had fallen upon:  an ancient forest green terrycloth bathrobe in a herringbone pattern that had belonged to Ivaan, and a pair of black rubber boots.

The only reason I still had Ivaan's ancient bathrobe was because if I was having a restless night, putting it on was a surefire way of falling back to sleep. It was like a security blanket, and like security blankets, it should never have seen the light of day.

But I had never seen a snapping turtle, I didn't know how long it took to lay turtle eggs, and I figured if my neighbours were calling me at crack of dawn (okay, maybe it was nine o'clock), the least I could do was show up.

If the neighbours were taken aback by my informal appearance, nothing about their demeanour suggested it. Frankly, we were all more excited about the egg-laying than anything else.

As spring turned to summer, I found that once the swimming pool was up and running I often didn't bother to fetch a bathing suit when I wanted to go for a swim.  I wrapped myself in an old orange silk Japanese kimono that my sister-in-law had left here, ditched it on the diving board, and dove right in.  If I had guests or family visiting, of course I went upstairs and got a bathing suit to wear, but if I had guests I  usually wasn't swimming at all. They were swimming, and I was either cooking, doing dishes, or both.

I learned very quickly that mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours, so I collected whatever white clothing I had and earmarked it for work wear. It didn't stay white for long, because I quickly gave up sorting laundry. I had a pair of heavy denim jeans, rubber boots, white T shirts and enough insect repellent that I pretty much applied it with a paint roller.  There was one kind that I put directly on my skin, and a much stronger stronger kind that I sprayed on my clothing for extra protection.

Visiting family used to look horrified at the idea of using insect repellent.  Didn't I have something more natural, more organic, more attractively packaged, more delicately scented?  No.  Quite frankly I didn't.  But I had 18 infected mosquito bits on my stomach alone, and if they knew anything about country living, they'd know that mosquito bites never itch till 4:30 a.m.  This explains why I sometimes needed Ivaan's old bathrobe to help me get back to sleep.  Last summer was a horrible year for mosquitoes.  It was also the year I learned to mix baking soda and water into a paste and to coat myself with it before bed to stop the itching.

Last summer was perhaps the most exciting summer of my life.  I learned a million things, I made a million and one mistakes, and I worked incredibly hard.  I also perfected a work outfit.  It consists of my heavy duty denim work jeans, my rubber boots and a blue and white striped men's shirt that I bought at a vintage clothing show.  The shirt has pockets big enough that I can button my phone into one of them if necessary, but generally I don't bother bringing a phone with me when I'm out on the land working.

Here's my outfit:

As you can see, the knees of the jeans are worn through in multiple places, so this year I've upped the choreography by turning them into cut-offs, and last week I bought a new pair of jeans just in case anyone comes over, but my preferred work outfit is the cut-offs and the shirt.  I have a well fitting straw hat for keeping the sun out of my eyes.

By my calculation, I've worn a dress three times in the 16 months I've been here.  I've worn stockings twice and high heels once, for a trip into town.   But mostly I'm comfortable in my work outfit.  And since 2020 is the year that there were fewer mosquitoes but tons of crows, it's just as well that there's a living, breathing scarecrow that comes with the property.