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.