Tuesday, December 21, 2021


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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.

Saturday, October 9, 2021


It's a special day here at Five Acres: Ivaan's 77th birthday. I woke up to emails from two of his longtime friends, Bill D. and Myron D., wishing him a happy birthday. I had hoped to visit the cemetery today, but it's raining, plus I had visitors, and I had the sense that I'd be better off avoiding the highways on a rainy day. Once the ground dries up a bit, I'll probably trek over to the island, feed some bread to the birds and squirrels, and tell them it's from their good friend Ivaan. Their good friend Ivaan would have eschewed anything but fresh bread, and by 'fresh' I mean it came out of the oven this very afternoon, but the wildlife will have to make do with some bread rolls that were fresh when I put them in the freezer last week. 77 seems like a big number, and I'm pretty sure he would have preferred not to reach a number that big. He wasn't too delighted about turning 64 two months before his death, and I've just realized that by dying at 64 he never got to receive his Old Age Security pension which doesn't kick in until 65. It's funny: when I moved up here, I swore I would never make another piece of jewellery. Now I'm not so sure. I've done a couple of pieces for people recently, and I might start tinkering with jewellery over the winter. At least I could polish the pieces that are packed away. And I could laugh at the memory of Ivaan exhorting me, "Polish harder! Don't just make the scratches shiny! Get rid of them!" All of which reminds me that I still have to do some succession planning with respect to his art. I should have done it long ago, but I'm going to find it so hard to let go of the things that were his life's work. Yet I've pared down my own jewellery and wear the minimum. Maybe I'll enjoy wearing it more over the winter when I'm not so worried about losing an earring out here at Five Acres. Here's us at our wedding reception.
Happy Birthday, Ivaan. I still miss you.

Sunday, October 3, 2021


This weekend I had a visit from my nephew Ivor and his partner, Laurie. At 23, these two are a going concern. They've finished university, Ivor in Engineering and Laurie in Biochemistry, they're both a year into their respective professional careers, and they are already homeowners. I was beginning to doubt I'd ever see either of them again, because I know how time consuming home ownership is, especially in the first year. But they decided they needed a break from tearing up broadloom, painting walls, sanding floors and sweeping, so they came to Five Acres to enjoy the kind of work that consumes our time in the country: chainsawing trees, hauling and stacking firewood, splitting logs, falling dead asleep at ten p.m., then getting up and repeating the process the following day. Their final act last night was to finish building the Holzhausen. It only needed one more foot of height to complete it, but I was only too happy to unload the responsibility onto them, so they trucked a trailer load of logs up from the island, split them, and added the top layer to the Holzhausen. Last Friday, my firewood delivery man, Peter, arrived with his dump truck and deposited a bushcord of seasoned ash logs in my driveway. He looked admiringly at my Holzhausen and congratulated me on the job I'd done. I didn't let him look at it for too long, lest he notice that it was more oval than round, but I was careful to mention that it was my first ever Holzhausen, and he seemed duly impressed. Ivor and Laurie have headed for home now, but the memory of their visit will keep me warm for a long time. They took down two trees on the island: one a very straightforward job and one, a silver maple, that was an absolute beast of a tree, having grown at an alarming angle. And here's the Holzhausen. It's as tall as Ivor, though not nearly as handsome.


The other day, I was thrilled to receive a text message from Katarina and Josh, telling me that Katarina had passed her M2 motorcycle exam. She didn't waste any time! I'm willing to bet that more than half the people who take the exam fail it the first time, but I kind of get the sense that Kat is a bit of an overachiever even on her worst days. It was exciting to learn that she'd aced it, and that she and Clyde are now officially a team. Here's what Kat had to say: "The course was a lot of fun. I was quite nervous at first but after practising for a while and getting more comfortable, everything came pretty naturally. Clyde is such an awesome bike, I'm going to keep him for a very long time. Thanks again for sharing such a huge part of your life with me. Can't wait to ride up there this spring with Josh and say hello; perhaps help you saw down some trees?" Now, you see, Josh and I had been joking about what other hidden skills Kat had: should we maybe get her trained up on the tractor or should we hand her a chainsaw and point out some trees that might need to come down? She could probably do both without batting an eye. I had explained to Kat that one thing women motorcyclists face regularly is comments from other women telling us that riding a motorcycle is dangerous, as if we had never contemplated that fact before. I'd told her my usual response to well-meaning naysayers, which is: "Making toast is dangerous. If you operate a toaster with wet hands, you can get an electrical shock. Yet nobody makes you take a training course and pass an exam before you can make toast. You just start making toast." Anyway, here's Kat and Josh on their bikes. You've got to admit, this woman and her bike look like they were made for each other.

Sunday, September 19, 2021


I bought my beloved motorcycle, Clyde, on impulse. In 2015 I was innocently looking online at what type of bike I would buy if I were in the market for a motorcycle. That's when I saw Clyde, only back then he was just some nameless Suzuki Marauder in mint condition at a downtown bike and scooter shop named Motoretta. I remembered something one of my staff at work had told me the day I took early retirement to care for Ivaan in his final illness. No one would give this guy marks for diplomacy, but what he said really stuck with me. He said, "The day after the funeral, you'll be the woman in the red dress at the motorcycle dealership". Nearly seven years had passed since Ivaan's death, and I thought it wouldn't hurt to look. I went down to Motoretta and basically it was love at first sight. There were all kinds of problems to overcome, such as the fact that I didn't have a garage to park a motorcycle, but I bought a folding aluminum ramp from a business that sold products for disabled people. That meant I could keep the bike in my shop. The young salesman who sold me the bike was named Clyde Gray, and since the bike was grey, and it was kind of retro looking, Clyde seemed like the right name for the bike. I still had my black leather helmet (circa 1992) and some Fiorentini and Baker biker boots. I got a new black leather motorcycle jacket and some riding gloves, and instantly I was a biker again. Out in the country, a motorcycle is not a serious method of transportation. Back in Toronto, if I needed to make a bank deposit, I'd hop on Clyde and I'd be there and back in a flash. Out here, if I leave the property, it's either because I need a couple of 5 gallon jugs of chlorine for the pool, a 20 kilo sack of water softener salt, or a few two-by-fours. None of these essentials can easily be transported on a motorcycle. I wondered if I could maybe get a sidecar. A combination of events made me realize that it was time to hang up my spurs for good. First was the expense of the doomed solar array for the swimming pool. I'd pretty well used up a year's property maintenance budget on that folly. Selling Clyde would put some of that money back in the coffers. Second, although I'm otherwise as strong as an ox and as tough as nails, my heart has been broken too often and too badly to be anything but the weakest link in my chain. I realized that if I didn't start paying attention to the condition of my heart, it was going to stop paying attention to me. So with a heavy heart (pun intended), I put Clyde up for sale. I hoped no one would buy him, but if someone did buy him, I hoped it would be a girl. The first people to come and see Clyde were a middle-aged woman and her husband. She didn't yet know how to ride a motorcycle, but she was registered to take the motorcycle course in two weeks. The minute she sat on Clyde, my heart and the shock absorbers sank in unison. Clyde looked like he was suffering. I felt relieved when her husband said he didn't think it was the right bike for her. This meant I didn't have to say it. The next customer was a very nice young guy who lived with his wife in a student housing building I was well familiar with in downtown Toronto. Clyde was above his price range but he really liked it. We were still in talks when I got a message from Josh. Josh was young, funny, confident, and he knew bikes. Actually, he was very funny and we exchanged quite a bit of banter before he ever came to see it. Best of all, he was helping his girlfriend, Katarina, choose her first bike. As soon as I met the two of them, I just knew Clyde had met his new owner. Katarina has long legs and she's slim, so she didn't even make a dent in the shock absorbers. Josh took Clyde for a spin, came back and said he was happy with it. I asked Katarina to take a photo of me sitting on Clyde for the last time, and then I took a photo of her on Clyde, with Josh standing proudly beside her. Katarina says she's going to keep the name Clyde. Josh and I are already joking about what's next for Katarina: should we train her up on the chainsaw? If so, I have just the tree in mind. Here's me, looking like I'm trying not to cry.
And here's Katarina and Josh. See what I mean? Something tells me she and Clyde are at the start of a beautiful relationship.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021


One of the excellent things about being female and having hair that is naturally grey is what I call The Cloak of Invisibility. Especially because I live in the country and rarely leave the property, I really enjoy the sensation of not being recognized. But a few days ago, I was out buying vegetables from a local farmer's roadside stand and someone asked me, "Are you the woman who moved up here from Toronto and...?" I was quite startled, because at the time I hadn't even seen this little item on the final page of the August issue of Toronto Life.
And now, back to my regular, anonymous life.

Saturday, July 24, 2021


I've been unusually cranky this week. It's not hard to put my finger on just why, and it's because of magical thinking. Ever since my teenage years, and probably well before that, I've had an idée fixe that even when something seems impossible, I can accomplish it by means of sheer tenacity. I probably had an incipient version of this condition even in childhood, although I had almost no scope for exercising it until I started earning my own money at age twelve. I remember my first job. An older lady who lived a few doors away asked me if I would do yard work for her. The grass in her back yard was really long and all she had was a rusty push mower. Although it took me hours of backbreakingly hard labour, I got it done. I think she paid me five dollars. The following week, she wanted her exterior windows washed. They were really dirty and it was an awful job, but again, I stuck with it. When I was finished, she asked how much she owed me. I said, "five dollars". She objected, claiming it wasn't as hard as mowing the lawn, and gave me $2.50. The injustice impressed me deeply, and I'm sure she realized this, because she never asked me to do any work for her again. But the most valuable lesson of the whole experience was learning the worth of my own time. I worked at various things in my early teenage years and most of them were lessons in power dynamics: the babysitting client who, at the end of my shift, would suddenly ask if she could pay me "next time". Next time the same thing happened, and I learned not to accept babysitting assignments from ladies who tried to pretend we were friends as a means to run a babysitting tab. As I got older, I learned to pick my battles, which greatly increased my chances of being successful at whatever windmill I was tilting at. (Don't get that reference? Read Don Quixote. A thousand pages from now, you'll understand.) A good example of this would be the gutting and rebuilding of The Adam Vaughan, the once-derelict boathouse on my property that occupied my every waking thought for months. I look at the entirety of the problem, feel overwhelmed and tell myself I cannot possibly take on anything this monumental, and then I break it down into bite-size pieces and imagine how I'm going to handle this tiny portion. Then I move on to the next section, until eventually the whole job is done. I think I may have met my Waterloo in the long-abandoned solar heating system for the swimming pool.
When the young fellow from the pool company came in late June to open the swimming pool for the season, he glanced at the decrepit solar array and said off-handedly, "You could probably get this up and running for about two hundred. It's just some cracked pipes that need replacing, you know." Next thing I knew, another employee of the pool company showed up to estimate the cost of getting the solar heating system up and running again. When the estimate came in at just over a thousand, I started to hear alarm bells in my head, and they only got louder when the owner of the pool company phoned to say this was just an estimate, and if it went over the estimate, it would not be by much. The voice of reason told me not to proceed, but the thought of lounging in a 30 degree pool warmed solely by the heat of the sun drowned out any reservations I had. When the bill came in for the restoration, it was a lot of money. Two mornings later, the pool was a few degrees warmer but the water level had dropped several inches, enough that the filtration system was struggling to work. I turned on the hose to top up the pool using well water. A few hours later, I was cutting the lawn near the south fence line, glanced up at the solar array, and it was effectively raining over there. I got off the tractor, phoned the pool company, and they sent the installers over almost immediately. The weight of the water running through the black tubing was so heavy that it had shifted the entire solar array and caused it to leak in multiple places. Some of the tubing was so hot that the installer burnt his hand touching it. That's when the voice of reason kicked in. I told them I was accepting responsibility for the failure of the system, but the reality was, a pipe that hot on an ancient plywood base was going to cause a fire, and I live in the country, far from a fire hydrant. They tried to persuade me that they could fix it, but the engineer in me stepped in and insisted that this was a fool's errand. I asked them to disconnect both the new motor and the controller, which alone had cost me over a thousand, and I would have to try and find someone to buy them both, because this is one project I'm not going to spend another dime on. And that's why I've been cranky all week. My blood boiling should be quite enough to heat the pool for the rest of the summer.

Thursday, July 22, 2021


Exactly 25 years ago, Toronto Life magazine published a photojournalism spread by Ivaan that went on to win two National Magazine Awards: a gold and a silver. It was entitled No Fixed Address and it was as timely then as it is now. It was based on a collection of photographs he had taken of some of the people who live their lives on the streets of Toronto. They're not necessarily homeless, but it's safe to say they live a more transient life than most of the people who subscribe to Toronto Life. Ivaan had named his essay World Class City, but that was quickly axed and changed to No Fixed Address. It caused quite a stir, both positive and negative. Some people celebrated him for taking a close look at some of the people whose faces don't normally grace the pages of an upscale magazine. Others castigated him for taking advantage of his photographic subjects. Sadly, you could update the text and reprint that article today and it would highlight the exact same problem. An article recently appeared in Toronto Life Magazine's online site recently that may have caused less of a stir, but it has highlighted one of the pressing issues of the day: people leaving Toronto. It's something to speculate on: whether this will still be an important subject a quarter of a century from now. It's debatable whether any of us will be here in 25 years. I'm pretty sure I won't be. Yesterday I took my motorcycle out of the basement and, since it wasn't running, I tried to push it up the short hill from the basement walkout to the driveway. To my chagrin, I couldn't. It was a moment of awakening for me, and I have been asking myself since then why I even bother to have a motorcycle that I can't push uphill. I could do it last year, no problem. I'm one of the strongest women I know, of any age. But time marches on. So here's the first page of the article that appeared in the digital edition of torontolife.com on May 11th. If you want to read more, you'll have to do the Google thing.
It was, apparently, surprisingly well received by the readers of Toronto Life, so much so that an abbreviated version of the story appears in the print version of Toronto Life, on the Memoir page in the August issue. Meanwhile, here at Five Acres, life goes on as before. Many thanks to my good friend and neighbour, Cathleen J. Richards, for taking some good photographs of me.

Saturday, July 3, 2021


I fly a couple of flags indoors here: the flag of Scotland, naturally, and the flag of Iceland. Both are beautiful flags of simple elegance. But recently I've been feeling the need for a flag of Five Acres. First I checked to ensure that the design I had in mind was not the flag of any existing nation. I'm safe. It looks a bit like the top left corner of the flag of Greece, but the shade of blue is darker in my version. It also resembles the flag of Switzerland, except that the Swiss flag is red and white. I first painted the flag of Five Acres on a piece of plywood I had cut to fit over the electrical panel in The Adam Vaughan. It was easy. I cut and sanded the wood, painted the centre with a few coats of white primer, and when that dried, I cut two pieces of masking tape and positioned them like a plus sign right in the centre of the piece of wood. Then I painted the remainder of the piece of wood with a deep royal blue. It was the paint left over from when I painted the front door. A couple of coats of blue, then I let it dry overnight. Next morning, I peeled off the masking tape, did a couple of touch-ups by hand, and boom! there was the flag of Five Acres, flying high over the electrical panel.

Friday, July 2, 2021


A very big preoccupation for rural dwellers who heat their homes with a woodburning fireplace is collecting, splitting, seasoning and storing firewood. It's not just a fall-and-winter preoccupation. It's pretty much all year round. You want to make sure you have an ample supply of wood that was cut last year, or even two or three years ago. You want to ensure that it's a good type of wood for burning in a fireplace, and that it has dried out sufficiently so that you're not wasting energy boiling moisture out of your logs on a cold winter day. One method of stacking firewood is the Holzhausen, or log house. It is between seven and ten feet in diameter, and about the same in height. The logs are laid out in a particular pattern, but the most important thing is they have to be split logs, because tree bark is like a raincoat, and you're not going to dry logs properly unless the inner surface of the wood is exposed to air. Think of a Holzhausen as like a giant beehive in appearance. The logs at the top are laid out with their bark on top, forming a kind of roof.
A seven foot wide Holzhausen uses approximately two bush cords of firewood. A ten-foot Holzhausen uses about six cords. Neighbours who heat exclusively by burning wood can use six cords. Last year, I bought one bushcord and cut and split another half a bushcord by myself, and as it was a mild winter, I still had some left over. I stored it on a retaining wall in the carport and it took me an entire day to stack it once it was delivered. There were 802 logs in that bushcord I bought. This is my first year building a Holzhausen. I'm going with the seven foot model. First you put a concrete block in the centre of a circle on the ground that is six feet in diameter. You put a long pole in the centre hole of the concrete block, and you paint a line 4/5th of the way up the pole. Then you lay split logs end to end around the perimeter of the circle. The next layer of split logs points inwards towards the concrete block. You just keep on adding logs to the circle, and every so often you add a layer of shims, end to end around the circle, to ensure the logs are not too slanted towards the centre. The space in the centre is filled with logs laid vertically which act as a chimney and provide stability to the structure. The first two layers of logs seem to take a long time to complete, and after that the structure starts to grow surprisingly quickly as the diameter becomes smaller and smaller. My Holzhausen is less than two feet tall so far, because I have to stop and split the logs before I add them to the structure. I'm building it out of firewood that I've cut and split myself. It's a combination of pine, beech, maple, apple and black cherry. I have a ton of wood already cut on the island, waiting to be brought up to the house and split. This takes a lot of energy, as the trip from the island to the house is steeply uphill. Once I hook the trailer up to the lawn tractor, I can position it at the top of the hill and haul back quite a few logs at the same time. You have to do it on a dry day when it's not too hot. I'll post some photos of my Holzhausen as it progresses. But I promise you it won't look anything like this lovely one.
I'll just be glad to have a big pile of logs in my driveway getting me ready for winter. I'm like a squirrel storing acorns.

Friday, June 25, 2021


There's good news: The Adam Vaughan is finished. At least, it's as finished as it's going to get this year. The moss-covered roof will hold till next summer, I hope, and while the windows aren't perfect, they're holding their own. The rest of it? Beautiful. I was down there today, and it's so calming and soothing being inside, it's tempting to while away an entire day there, doing nothing. I moved in a rattan chaise longue last night, and there's a stool to sit on. Next up: a table. I'm thinking of making a collapsible table from a couple of sawhorses and a beautiful piece of good-both-sides half-inch plywood. But I'm mindful of the fact that finishing The Adam Vaughan has taken so much time away from other work on the land that if I don't get moving on other projects I'll regret it once winter comes. So I headed for the island with a couple of chainsaws and started the process of clearing the perimeter of dead wood. I'm very lucky that the water level is so low this summer. It means I can pull fallen tree branches up onto the island from the ponds and saw them up. Last year they'd have been submerged in water. I took down two trees this morning, sawed them up, and as soon as I headed back to the house to recharge the chain saw batteries it started to rain. Around here, rain means I should be cleaning the house. But five hours later it's still raining and I haven't started cleaning. In fact, I'm writing this blog post to distract myself from the necessity of cleaning. A couple of hours ago, I ordered groceries online to distract myself from cleaning. An hour ago I moved all the furniture so I could start vacuuming. But I haven't vacuumed a thing. I'm writing to you, instead. I suppose you want to see the evidence. Sadly, you won't get to see the sweet little painting I made on a scrap of plywood, as a cupboard door for the electrical panel in The Adam Vaughan, because these photos were taken before I even got the idea to paint anything. It looks like the flag of Switzerland, except it's blue and white. Trust me: it fits right in. It's the flag of Five Acres.

Saturday, June 19, 2021


It's been a busy couple of months, and I have the hands to prove it. They look like a couple of baseball gloves that someone left out in the rain: stiff, weatherbeaten and a size Extra Large. On April 19th, this was the status of the exterior of Bleak House:
By June 6th, it looked like this:
As you can maybe see, it has a name plate. It's now renamed The Adam Vaughan. Adam is the Liberal Member of Parliament for Spadina Fort York, and he holds the housing portfolio for the federal government. I first met Adam outside my house on Portland Street many years ago, when he was a candidate for Toronto City Council. I'd already made up my mind who I'd be voting for, but after chatting with Adam for a few minutes, I agreed to give him a chance. That was probably 15 years ago, and he won't remember that, but he soon switched to federal politics and he's worked hard on the housing file. I'm not about to offer you a précis of his career accomplishments, but one day on Twitter I was debating whether to tear down Bleak House or to rebuild it. Adam weighed in and said that if I tore it down, I'd be squandering all the time, effort and resources that had gone into building it in the first place, and it wasn't environmentally responsible to consign all those materials to a waste facility. Words to that effect, at any rate. This really resonated with me. His opinion convinced me to rebuild it, and that's why it now bears a name plate with his name. It's also the 50th anniversary of the successful campaign to Stop The Spadina Expressway, something his late father, Colin Vaughan, was passionately involved in. The Spadina Expressway, if allowed to proceed, would have split Toronto in two on a north to south axis by means of a highway going downtown, and demolished hundreds of houses in many neighbourhoods in the process. Toronto was very fortunate that then-Premier Bill Davis put a stop to the proposed Spadina Expressway. Now, you're probably desperate to see the interior photos, and I can say beyond any doubt that the work on the interior took 20 times as much work to complete as the exterior. I still have a few touches to put on, but already it's become a serene, rustic place for me to retreat to on an almost-daily basis. I still have work to do: it will need a new roof, and I have to restore three windows and replace the fourth, but I think I may leave those projects for next year. So check back in next week for some photos of the interior. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and slather a vat of lotion on my hands. I won't be posting any photos of them.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


Temporarily, I've had to suspend operations on the interior of Bleak House. There's a pandemic raging. (You may have heard about it). With most stores being closed, I'm unable to go and select the lumber I need to finish the job, and I'm far too untrusting to purchase lumber sight unseen. When I went outside yesterday morning, it was a delightful spring day. I could've gone for a boat ride, or gone over to the island to finish chainsawing a beaver-damaged beech tree, or I could've gone down to the boathouse and repositioned an electrical outlet. By the time I'd walked down to the boathouse, I'd changed my mind. I was going to tear down the screened-in porch. Not much of it was still screened in, because birds used to fly in there and be unable to fly out again due to the screens. I found it distressing having to remove deceased birds, so I'd ripped out the screens to give them a fighting chance at regaining their freedom. Bleak House may be looking pretty good inside, but outside it still needs a lot of work, and the porch wasn't contributing anything to its appearance. The roof of the porch was starting to cave in and I accepted that the rest of it was likely beyond repair.
In addition to the square footage (it's about half the size of the entire boathouse) it is also incredibly heavy. The thick wooden roof is covered with at least three layers of asphalt shingles. I started by bringing a ladder and trying to remove some of the shingles but the size of the roof quickly made that impossible.
Realizing I'd have to bring the roof down to ground level before I could remove the shingles, I took my larger chainsaw and cut through the pillars supporting the roof. At first glance, it looked like I'd proven gravity was a hoax. The roof held firm and the top half of the pillars hung there like stalactites in a cave. Occasionally, when I'm working alone on a physically demanding project, I wonder if I've reached the point where I ought to call someone to come over and spot me, in case I get into difficulty. This was one of those points. However, there were a couple of two-by-fours bracing the roof from inside the porch, and they were holding firm. I decided to proceed on my own.
The most expedient solution was to chainsaw through about 80 percent of each two-by-four, then get the heck out of the porch. Nervewracking? A bit. Once safely outside, I picked up a length of scrap lumber and used it as a battering ram, to hit each of the partially sawed through two-by-fours in turn. As soon as they began to buckle where they'd been cut, I knew it was time to reach for my phone and start to videotape the collapse of the roof. I wasn't fast enough. The roof uttered a soft groan, and wafted gently toward the ground, like a leaf descending gracefully from a tree in autumn.
Cutting it up and removing the asphalt shingles was the easiest thing I'd had to do all day.
And cleaning up the debris field will be a task I'll leave for the next warm day. But I'm thrilled with how much I prefer the look of Bleak House without the screamed-in porch. It's got a sweet little patio outside and lots more light gets in the windows.
All in all, it was a good day's work.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021


It's embarrassing to admit that although I've lived here for over two years, there's a part of my property that I've never explored. It's at the eastern boundary and from my property it's only accessible by boat. Dick, a neighbour who owns the land to the north of mine, once walked me there, crossing over his land, soon after I moved here. He pointed out the orange survey stakes showing the northeast and southeast corners of my property, but since then I've never been back. I'd hoped to walk across the Group of Seven Pond while it was frozen, but I managed to talk myself out of it as I hate getting cold. So I contented myself with waving my arm in the general direction of that piece of land whenever people visited, saying nonchalantly, "Yeah, I own the land over there, too" and hoping they wouldn't inquire further. But last week my neighbour to the south, Cathy, mentioned that there is a white chair on top of the highest elevation of that land, and from that chair it is possible to survey the entirety of the Group of Seven Pond. It's a huge pond that Dick, Cathy and I share. I'm the only one that calls it the Group of Seven Pond. Cathy calls it The Wetland. Cathy and Dick both have dogs and they and the dogs sometimes hike back there. They also cut trails and it's a generally accepted principle that we share use of the land, which is great. I went out in the boat last week and saw the white chair, and that got me curious. Cathy offered to go and get some trail tape, and she kindly marked two trails to guide me as I explored. One was an ascent not unlike Mount Everest; the other was a gentle, meandering climb. So I put on my hip waders, rowed over in the Good Ship Louise, found the Mount Everest Trail, tied up the boat, and began my climb. It went surprisingly well, and I'm glad I did it on a warm April day because it would have been less fun with mosquitoes acting as Sherpa guides. Sure enough, at the highest elevation there was the white chair. It was a humble white plastic chair, and Cathy had kindly marked it with some trail tape. The view from the chair was quite remarkable. Next day, I resolved to go back over to the Far Side and explore the land more thoroughly. I rowed over to where the southeasterly corner of my land is marked by a survey stake, and found that Cathy had marked that area with trail tape also. I tied up the Good Ship Louise, climbed out and headed up a much more gentle incline. By the time I got to a road that had been cut, I'd seen some very unusual looking trees and was amazed at not having known that this excellent place existed and that I owned it. Suddenly I was aware that someone else was walking in the distance. I caught the flash of a blue jacket on a tall, spare person. It wasn't Cathy or Dick. I kept on walking and again caught sight of the person, walking with two dogs who came over to greet me. I'm not really a dog person, but I do know four neighbour dogs: Jem, Sunny, Laila, and Trixie. These dogs were none of the usual suspects. I called out hello, and stopped to introduce myself to a woman named Karen who lives on the next street over, behind Cathy's place, and who regularly walks the trails with her dogs. We parted company after a friendly chat and I started walking again. It took me a while to realize I was lost. I could no longer see the pond, but I was on the road, so I knew if I just stayed on the road I'd either end up at Cathy's or at Dick's, depending on which direction I was headed in. Suddenly, up ahead I spied Cathy's tennis court. It's so huge, you could see it from space. So that meant that I was headed south. I looped down and around, crossed a little bridge and in a short time I could see the pond again and there in the middle distance was the Good Ship Louise. I gratefully clambered back down the hill, got back into the boat and headed for home, feeling not unlike The Great Gatsby, "come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens".

Tuesday, March 16, 2021


A recent burst of spring-like weather brought two of my nephews to Five Acres for a visit. We've been very cautious during the pandemic year about being together in person, but we keep in regular touch through phone calls and text messages. However, you can't sign off on a newly insulated wall without inspecting it in person, so since it was warm enough to go down to the boathouse, the nephews showed up, armed with permanent markers, prepared to inspect the wall of vapour barrier installed in honour of their late Dad, and sign off on the job I'd done. I noticed they circled some areas of concern, primarily where I'd removed misplaced staples, but they seemed to think on the whole I'd done a passable job. To be honest, I'd have preferred a little more enthusiasm from them about the quality of my work, maybe a little gushing about how well I'd managed to accomplish it on my own, but one of them is an Engineer and the other is a Pilot with some experience with renovation work, so I already knew I was playing to a tough crowd. Here's Angus' and Ivor's certification:
The next step after certification was to install some of the one-by-six pine boards that were going to clad the interior of the boathouse. Luckily, one of them is right-handed and the other is left-handed, so one held the boards in place while the other nailed their side of each board to the studs. Normally, woodscrews would be the preferred method of installing wood cladding, but none of us wanted to go back up to the house for the electric drill and it was kind of fun watching them at work. The nails won't show on the finished product. As we worked, we wondered how many years from now would it be before someone removed the boards and saw their certification. We found drawings and signatures of kids dating back to 1952 on the walls of the boathouse. It was fun to be adding to the history of the place by having their signatures added to the wall, in memory of their Dad, the late, great Joe B.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021


I can hardly believe that it's been nearly seventeen years since The Sensitive Guy married the girl he first met and immediately fell head-over-heels in love with at someone else's wedding. The Sensitive Guy, you ask? Yes, that's what Ivaan called him. Never great at remembering names, Ivaan could remember a face he'd last seen in Grade Two, but his series of strokes only added to his trouble recalling names. So when we started making an engagement ring and a pair of wedding rings for Peter and Gina in 2003, Ivaan was very touched by something Peter said: that he wanted a wedding ring with which he would form an emotional bond as a piece of art, a little sculpture, quite independent of its role in symbolizing his soon-to-be status as Gina's husband. Ivaan could recognize Peter's face instantly, but whenever he mentioned him to me, he couldn't come up with a name. He did, however, remember what Peter had said, so he dubbed him The Sensitive Guy, and to this day the ring Peter chose as his wedding ring is called The Sensitive Guy ring. In due course, we finished all the rings, and Peter and Gina were married, and Ivaan never forgot them. He remembered who referred them to us (a really nice couple called Lou and Kerri), he remembered funny details about them such as Peter's elaborate surprise proposal over dinner. He even remembered that Peter worked with highly specialized light-reflecting concrete. And that turned out to be important. Seventeen years later, the underside of Peter's wedding ring was worn to a frazzle - probably because of all that concrete - and Gina's rings, which she had cared for beautifully, were nonetheless in need of a cleaning and polishing, and while we were at it, she was hoping they could be enhanced with a sprinkle of little gemstones on the shoulders. So even though I had told myself I would never undertake any jewellery projects, I felt strongly that Ivaan would approve. I used the gold of Peter's original ring and added some more, and the new ring came out beautifully. My photography doesn't do it justice. But The Sensitive Guy is good to go for another seventeen years.
And that takes us to Gina. Her rings were quite a pleasure to work with. Style-wise, they really stand the test of time. They did the right thing by choosing substantial rings for her in the first place. Many brides choose skinny bands and as the years pass, they stop wearing them, either because they start to look worn, or because their hands no longer look the same as they did on their wedding day. Gina is a pianist, and she has long pianist's fingers, so she's used to having hands that work and is conscious of how they look. They chose rings for her that look as good on her today as they did seventeen years ago. And with that added sparkle of dewdrops from the new gemstones, they look spectacular. I hope she looks at them on her hand in my favourite lighting: outside, under a streetlight, on a rainy night. Second choice? In an elevator. Elevators have the second-best lighting for jewellery.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021


Today is the first anniversary of my dear brother-in-law Joe's death. Joe has been my brother-in-law for about 45 years, and you have to admire tenacity like that. He was remarkable in so many ways. His thirst for knowledge was unquenchable, and a quick glance through his pile of certificates and diplomas illustrates that in no uncertain terms. He also coached his two sons through ten years of violin each, without actually playing the instrument himself. He was an amateur astronomer, a writer, a birder, a hiker, a reader, a computer programmer, a sometime actor and theatre hand, a newspaper correspondent, an income tax specialist, a maker of wine, a student of languages including Japanese and Russian, and a home renovator. This final skill was, in my eyes, the one for which he had the most natural advantage. Joe was tall. Standing 6 foot 5 when slouching, he rarely needed a ladder. When Joe and my sister bought their first house in the east end of Toronto, Joe decided he was going to renovate it. This was before the days of computers, but Joe's most natural habitat was the library, so he took out books on every aspect of home repair: carpentry, plumbing, electrical, bricklaying, roofing, foundations, insulation. You name it, Joe had either done it or knew how to do it. And he had the tools to prove it: often he had two of the same thing, one brand new in its original box just waiting for the first one to break down. In my opinion, Joe's specialty was insulation, and his sub-specialty was vapour barrier installation. I once dropped by their house during the reno and saw Joe taking down an entire wall of vapour barrier that he'd just installed over the insulation. His jaw was clenched and he wasn't saying much. Innocently, I asked why he'd taken down the vapour barrier. He showed me a double puncture mark made by a staple gun. Yes, he'd inadvertently placed a staple in the wrong location. He explained that cold air could get through the holes left by the errant staple so he needed to replace the vapour barrier. No masking tape over the holes would suffice. Joe was a perfectionist and his family was not going to live in a house with unnecessary cold air coming through a wall. I've always remembered that about Joe, and so when it came time to insulate the boathouse, I decided I'd wait till the first anniversary of his death to tackle the vapour barrier. Here's one of my favourite photos of Joe:
And here's the newly installed vapour barrier on the Joseph B. Memorial Vapour Barrier Wall.
More than a couple of staples were removed and reset during this installation, but I've promised my sister I'll caulk over every one of them. And I'll hold off on the installation of the interior cladding till one of Joe's sons comes over and signs off on the vapour barrier. It's the least I can do for my longest-suffering brother-in-law.

Saturday, January 16, 2021


The calendar may have flipped over to 2021, but here at Five Acres, everything is much the same. Outdoors, the land is blanketed with perfectly white snow, although I notice today there are tracks of various creatures: me, the deer, coyote, and my next door neighbour Cathy's dog, Laila. Although Cathy is my next door neighbour, it's still a one kilometre drive from her place to mine. Laila covers that distance on foot in about one hot minute when she smells that something interesting has walked over my land. She's like Sherlock Holmes in black fur with a red bell around her neck. I'm not a fan of getting cold, and most of my forays outside are to bring in more firewood from the carport, but I like to look out the window and marvel at the changing scenery. Down at the boathouse, I've started insulating, but naturally I bought the wrong size insulation batts. I plan to use them anyway but I'm going to need vapour barrier to secure them in place. There's not a lot I can do down there in winter, but I thought I'd post a couple of photos, before and after, of the boathouse interior. Once the insulation is complete, I'll probably be fine working down there, and soon I'll be able to call in the electrician to install permanent light fixtures, which will make it much easier to work, because I won't need to plug in my collection of trouble lights and can use the electric outlets for plugging in power tools. Speaking of power tools, Cathy dropped by today. She's borrowing my chain saws for the remainder of the winter. It was so strange to be talking to another human face to face. We were outside in the carport, masked, gloved and distanced, while she practised her chainsaw skills. She got the hang of it quite quickly and she plans to take down a couple of small pine trees tomorrow. She's a real outdoors person, and she and Laila pretty much hike the back forty every day. Here's a photo of the boathouse interior, facing west, taken the day I started working on it.
And here's a photo of the boathouse interior, facing east, the day before I started insulating. This may illustrate why I'm totally comfortable being in the boathouse now, and why it creeped me right out at first. Three and a half months from now, I'll have lived here for two years. It's been an excellent experience, and I was reminding my nephew Philippe the other day how I came to be here. He played a significant part in that and I'm always grateful to him for his wisdom.