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Not working on our to-do list

24 Jul

Living room

Buying a fixer-upper is tough: there’s so much you want to do, versus so much than needs to be done, versus what you can afford to do. It’s a rare situation when all of those things align.

We don’t even have it that badly. Our house was totally liveable from the start, and the cosmetic changes we’ve made (patching holes, painting, tearing up rotten carpeting) haven’t drastically changed the look of things. Would our basement be less damp (and growing fewer vines INSIDE of it) if we’d replaced the eavestrophing right away? Would it be nice to have windows that weren’t caulked shut so we could enjoy this summer’s awesome breezes? Sure. But the other thing a fixer-upper teaches you, in the most real way possible, is patience. And patience means enjoying things as they are, right now, because they’re not going to change anything soon.

Because sometimes it takes months for contractors to call you back, to get a gas line installed, to figure out that no, your reel mower isn’t going to cut down those really tall, ugly grassy stalks that make it look like you never ever mow your lawn.

So the long and the short of it is that nothing much has changed over here. We bought a fire pit and some chairs. The kitchen is getting the most minor of facelifts, and we’ll post photos when it’s done. Yesterday, I scored a sweet coffee table off Kijiji. We’re going kayaking this weekend, and I’ve managed to figure out how to incorporate garlic scapes into almost every meal (they make the BEST pesto). And we hope you’re making the most of your summer, too.

Introducing Sharkey Grey

23 Dec

When we moved to Marmora, we were four: Leigh, Andrew, Lou the greyhound and Artie the cat. We are thrilled to say that we are now a nice, uneven five! This is our newest family member, Sharkey Grey, so named after our favourite paint chip (It’s been all about paint around here lately. Very exciting stuff.) — though more recently, he’s taken to circling around us on the floor, tail in the air, much like his namesake…


Sharkey came to us via our neighbour’s tree. The previous night, we had two people come to the door asking if we’d lost a grey kitten; one was a stranger, the other our neighbour’s son, who had never seen our cat, Artie, and thought he might have escaped. We had friends in for the night, so we said, no, thanks, and didn’t really think of the cat again until the next day…

When we went outside and heard constant mewling. We checked our garage, a notorious haunt of the neighbourhood outdoor cats, and not finding anything, went out for the afternoon as planned. We got home around four, and could still hear a cat, somewhere. And as our small little hearts had grown two sizes that day, we thought we might go to the neighbours and see if they wanted us to take in the grey kitten until its owners could be found. Andrew went over to talk to them about this arrangement…

Shareky Grey

And promptly came back with good and bad news. The good: the kitten was ours if we wanted it. The bad: it was currently stuck about thirty feet up in our neighbour’s tree, at the base of which was chained their (slightly ferocious) former auto shop guard dog. It was going to get dark soon, and figuring that the kitten wouldn’t last the night in the tree (it was November, and it’s been an anything-but-warm fall), we marched over to another neighbour’s house, borrowed an extension ladder, and headed back to the tree to rescue the kitten…

We failed — neither of us having climbed an extremely shaky ladder into an extremely high tree in recent memory — but our neighbour Norm persevered. He scaled the ladder, plucked the kitten off the tree branch and plopped it onto his shoulder like a parrot, and headed back to the ground…

Where the kitten promptly dashed off across the lawn. I scooped him up before he could get too far and we carried him home to an indifferent Lou and a traumatized Artie…

Sharkey + Artie

But that only lasted a couple of days. They are now the best of brothers: fighting over food, ambushing each other over the scratching post and various toys, snuggling up in the sun in the same cat bed. We tried to find out if Sharkey had owners, as he’s such a sweet and loving kitten, but no one has come forward so we’ve declared him one of our own.

To-do List

29 Nov

We’ve been here for about two months now — and now that we’ve spent some time living in this space, our original to-do list is totally out the window. There are still a couple of big items that are works in progress; we won’t be switching to natural gas this winter (due to the natural gas company’s insane bureaucracy), but we’re having a new furnace put in soon that can handle both natural gas and propane, so propane it is! It’s much cheaper than oil,  we avoid the 20% insurance premium that comes with oil heat, and we get the illegal oil tank out of our basement. All pluses.

Other big items on our to-do list: replace the metal roof on the back half of the house, install snow guards and eavestrough (we don’t have any!), and close up our basement escape hatch and regrade the backyard. Those are the to-dos we moved into the house with, along with fixing the mechanism in the upstairs bathroom window (so it could actually close) and stopping the downstairs toilet from running.

So far: Andrew has fixed the window.

(To be fair, the toilet would have been easy to fix if it wasn’t a million years old and didn’t require installing a new water shut off valve, sawing off copper pipe, etc., etc. Instead, we’re just getting a new toilet. Because fuck repairs.)

What we’ve learned is that fixing/installing things takes way more time and money than we could ever anticipate (go ahead and gloat, family. Now’s the time!), but it’s kinda fun and super satisfying when things do go your way and you actually repair something. So, we thought we’d share our mega-to-do list, and we’ll provide updates along the way when we either a) accomplish something or b) fail miserably but get a good story. Here you go:

  • Tear up upstairs carpet (it’s unsalvageable) and paint original wood floors (they’re not worth refinishing and we’re too poor to buy flooring) — this one’s a work in progress
  • Replace original windows on the main floor (right now, they’re all caulked shut)
  • Remove ancient beast of air conditioner from stairwell window
  • Change lock on front door to make door useful (we don’t have a key right now)
  • Tear down vines (they’re beautiful, but eating our stucco)
  • Build a garden
  • Paint all of our dirty, wallpapered walls
  • Later, tear down lathe-and-plaster walls, reframe and put up drywall
  • Replace hideous tile on downstairs ceiling
  • Replace downstairs bathroom toilet
  • Replace downstairs bathroom window
  • Renovate upstairs bathroom (it’s totally liveable, but needs some TLC)
  • Replace dishwasher (for those in the know, yes, we tried to clean it, but it turns out the damn thing doesn’t work anyway — it just makes this grinding noise that sounds like it will smash our dishes)
  • Replace fridge and stove (eventually — unless they stop working)
  • Fix handle on hall closet
  • Get stonemason to fill in exterior basement door
  • Paint rear roof and install snow guards and eavestrough
  • Replace ‘shed’ with something structurally stable, possibly even a real garage (this one’s insurance-mandated)

This list is for sure gonna grow… I think it already has since I’ve gotten to the end of it. We’ll post updates (and hopefully fun photos and/or graphics!) as they happen. Stay tuned…


17 Oct

One of the things moving to Marmora means is that Andrew and I are spending three days a week apart. (On the glass-half-full side, though, it means that we’re also spending four days together.) I’m driving to/from Toronto one morning/evening a week. I’m fortunate to have the very best friends in the world, who thus far have welcomed me with amazing hospitality, and flexible work hours to account for the thousand accidents that happen every day on GTA highways and which inevitably make me late. Therefore, commuting is much less stressful than it could be otherwise, than I’m sure it is for the majority of people on the roads with me.

I know almost everyone we’ve talked to thinks this is an insane thing to do. But I love driving; it’s my guilty pleasure. I expect that it will wear in the winter, on snowy roads and when I have to be even more flexible in terms of scheduling (note to future Leigh: pack extra clothes/underwear!). Until then, I plan to enjoy every last bit of time behind the wheel. Highway 7, from Havelock to Norwood to Peterborough, is easy on the eyes in the alternatively bright/gloomy morning light and there’s just enough space between each town to pass the slow transports and make up time. The Ouse River between Norwood and Peterborough is one of my landmarks; it’s where I’m either saying goodbye or hello to home.=

Once I’m on the 115/35 south from Peterborough, I’ve had a third of my thermos of coffee and am awake enough to deal with real driving, and traffic, though there’s hardly any traffic outside of Peterborough. This stretch is the easiest place to make up time on the drive, in either direction. In the morning, I’m usually surreptitiously checking Google traffic maps, trying to plot my route around the red and yellow slow areas. I never make the right choice between the collectors and the express, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

My 401 landmark is the sign for Farewell Creek in Oshawa. It’s funny how certain signs and places worm into your unconscious and stick, little benchmarks of who-knows-what progress. One of the reasons I like driving is that it’s so measurable. Familiar landmarks are reassuring milestones; when you’re in motion, they’re stable. Present in a way you aren’t.

Other reasons I like driving: I get to be alone. I like alone time almost as much as I like driving (and hot baths; another note to future Leigh: actually install hot-water-heater solar panels), and it helps to counteract all of the time I spend with people in the city. I get to listen to the radio and sing out loud to bad music. I get to be silent or yell at other drivers, depending on whether I’m on the 115/35 or the 401. I get to pack way more than is actually necessary: shoes, coats extra books, meals, bike helmets. I get to buy things in the city to bring home to Andrew: craft beer, albums, vegetarian lunch meat, fancy shampoo.

It’s hard being away from a home that doesn’t quite yet feel like a home because it’s half-painted and half-cleaned and half-unpacked. It’s hard to not know whether to say hello and goodbye to Andrew and Lou and Artie, and to always be half-living out of a backpack. I’m living half-lives, but each half feels like a full life of its own, and I can’t think of anything better than that right now.

What goes around comes around

4 Sep

The original Drafty Farmhouse blog petered off into oblivion near the end of our French sojourn. We got caught up in the hustle and bustle of Parisian life, and then real life, and never really wrapped up our trip for you, dear readers. Mostly, things got a bit ugly between us and the homeowner once we got home, and we thought it best to lay low while we reacclimatized to modern plumbing and heating on this side of the pond.

In the meantime, we’ve adopted our own version of Gimley — a lovely, lazy Greyhound named Lou — and two cats, Pete (who left us too soon for the big treat bag in the sky) and affable Artie (and — spoiler alert! — potentially a third cat, the mysterious Mr. Fernleigh). We’re MFA grads and we’ve each published a book of poetry (his and hers). We’re starting up our second writing/editing company and reinventing our chapbook press. We’ve travelled back to Europe and across Canada by train. We’re running half-marathons.

And we just bought our very own drafty farmhouse!

Home sweet home

This one isn’t in a medieval village, isn’t located in a valley’s smudgy shadow, and features a functioning shower and furnace. It is located in the small town of Marmora, Ontario, a two-hour drive from Toronto. It’s move-in ready, but would benefit from lots of TLC. It’s bright and airy (ahem… drafty), with the perfect yard for a vegetable garden, close to beaches on the river and lake, and biking and hiking trails. Check out that antenna! We love it already and we haven’t even moved in yet. (Speaking of which, if you’re free on September 29th, you’re hired.)

We had so much fun writing the original blog to keep family and friends up to date on what we were up to that we thought we’d revive it for our next adventure: going from Toronto city dwellers to small-town Ontario century home renovators. We hope you’ll keep reading.

The end of the line

19 Jan

Well, today was our last day of French farmhouse living. And, for the first time since we arrived, it rained all day. What a nice way to bookend our trip! At least it was warm – we hear that snow is going to greet us in Paris. It’s strange; the weather here has been perpetually fall. It’s snowed exactly once, and only for a half-day, though there has been frost most mornings. When we’re able to venture out from our smudgy, dark corner of the valley, the sun is warm and the ground is dry. I have a feeling I’ll miss that when we make it back home.

You may have noticed that we neglected to rank the dogs, as Andrew so thoroughly did with the cats. There are reasons for this, namely that the dogs, with the exception of Gimley, who is consistently the best, are all jockeying for last place. They whine all night and keep us awake, they all have to be let out at least twice in the middle of the night, they literally climb up onto the counters (all four legs, it happened this morning – and they are BIG dogs), they terrorize the cats, they pee in the house if we leave them (well, just Spike, but I’ve never wanted to be that person who had to take their dog everywhere, and after living it I’m even more convinced), and and and. Of course, there are times when I know I’ll miss them, like right now. They’re all pretty cute cuddled up together, and when they play …

So it’s 1:23 am here and we have to be up to venture into Limoges and to the airport. Hopefully this will be smoother than the Toulouse trip. And then, to the train station, where we will be whisked away to Paris and the marvels of indoor heating and plumbing. Sante!

I’m sure we’ll toss up a post or two in Paris, just to show off how much fun we’re having. Maybe, there will even be pictures! Till then, adieu.


15 Jan

Today, we took a field trip to Rocamadour, the land from which our favorite cheese comes. It was absolutely epic, like a fairy tale – photos have been added on the left.

Rocamadour is a fascinating place. It’s built, literally, into one side of the rock face of the Alzou valley, and in three levels: the medieval city, the sanctuary made up of a collection of chapels, and a castle at the very top. The history is mostly religious:

According to legend, Rocamadour was the home of an early Christian hermit named Zaccheus of Jericho. It is believed that he died in about 70 AD and had conversed with Jesus himself. According to some accounts, this Zaccheus was the husband of St. Veronica, who wiped the face of Jesus as he climbed to Calvary.

At some point after the hermit’s death and burial in Rocamadour, the site became a place of pilgrimage. Some claim the town was named for the hermit, a “lover of rock” (roc amator).

Zaccheus is said to have brought with him to Rocamadour a statue of the Black Virgin, though the statue is generally dated to the 9th century. Due to the double attraction of the tomb of Zaccheus and the statue of the Virgin, pilgrims began to flock to Rocamadour. Many reported experiencing miraculous healings and conversions at the shrine.

Today, 216 steps lead to the top of the rocky plateau on which the Chapel of Our Lady is located. As an act of penance, pilgrims regularly made the entire climb on their knees, and some still do today – nuts.

The shrine eventually became so famous that kings and bishops began granting special privileges to those who made the pilgrimage.

Many notable people visited Rocamadour over the years, including St. Bernard, St. Dominic, St. Louis, King Louis XI, and possibly even Charlemagne, on his way to battle the Moors in Spain. In fact, there’s a sword stuck high into the mountain side, within the chapel complex, that is said to be the Durandal, Roland’s sword.

In the 11th century, Benedictine monks took over the little Chapel of Our Lady of Rocamadour.

A major event occurred in 1166, when an ancient grave and sepulcher containing an undecayed body was discovered in the cliff of Rocamadour, near the Chapel of Our Lady. This was believed to be the early Christian hermit St. Amadour, who is often equated with Zaccheus.

Over the next few centuries, the numbers of pilgrims continued to increase. The town suffered with the general decline of pilgrimages in the 17th and 18th centuries, but it was heavily restored and revitalized in the 19th century. Today, the site receives thousands of devout pilgrims each year.

One recent notable pilgrim to Rocamadour was the French composer Francis Poulenc, who stayed in the city after a religious conversion he experienced here, and in honor of which he composed his Litanies à la Vierge Noire (Litanies of the Black Virgin).

The best part, though, when the weather was bad at sea, sailors would pray to Our Lady of Rocamadour to save them, or to grant them safe passage. An ancient bell, believed to date from the ninth century, hangs from the ceiling of the Chapelle Notre-Dame. The bell was reputed to ring of its own accord when the Madonna replied to distressed sailors’ pleas to her. Monks would dutifully note the hour and date when the bell rang, and would subsequently consult these records when the rescued sailors undertook a pilgrimage to Rocamadour in thanks.

We spent the afternoon making our way up through the city. It was extremely quiet; this is one of those tourist towns where all the hotels and shops close up as soon as the season is over. There were workmen everywhere, and the main staircase up to the sanctuary and chateau was closed – they were pouring new steps. But the emptiness made it kind-of better, in that we weren’t fighting to see the sights, and we got to stand alone in each place for as long as we wanted, to soak it all in. Tours guides just come up and offer to show you around on a whim, and let you dawdle. Most of all, though, it’s really just relaxing, like a vacation should be. 

Did I say vacation? We’re working. We swear.

Moules Frites a Aux Chants des Oiseaux

11 Jan

Gagnac, being the small, sleepy town it is, has only one restaurant/B&B called Aux Chants des Oiseaux, and even that’s only been open since June. It’s run by a couple of British expats who moved here with their three children; they fell in love with the area after taking their honeymoon nearby about five years ago.

They originally bought and renovated the property with the intention of running a B&B – that is, until the townsfolk started questioning them as to when they were re-opening the bar (it closed about six years ago after the death of the previous owner, an old lady). So, they decided to re-open the bar and restaurant.

Once open, the original intent was to have a menu that changed daily, to keep people coming back for more. One Friday, in keeping with the changing menu, they decided to serve moules frites (mussels and french fries). The following Monday, they received a phone call from someone who wanted to reserve a table for the next Friday, for the moules frites. The next day, the same thing. And so Friday came to be moules frites day … and as it came highly recommended to us by Charlotte, we went in for a lovely evening out.

The nice thing about the moules frites here, as we were assured by Justin, the British owner, is that he gets the mussels fresh from a local shop in Biars every Friday morning; they’re shipped down fresh from the Normandy area. 

Andrew’s going to do a post on the ensuing social awkwardness that we experienced, so I’m going to focus on the meal. We were one of only three tables in the dining room – this is the slow season, and apparently in the summer they’re turning people away – and I can see why.

The building is lovely and right downtown, and the entrance, bar, and dining room were simply decorated with wooden tales and chairs, white tablecloths and christmas lights. There was also a new woodstove keeping the place toasty – it’s the warmest we’ve been in four weeks.

There was a bit of initial awkwardness with Justin – who seemed to be the waiter but who turned out to be the British owner – over whether or not we spoke French, and how good his French was – we bumbled our way through the apertifs and then realized we should all just speak English to each other and make it easier. One of the other dining couples was British too, and then there was Luc and Genevieve … but Andrew will talk about them.

We each had a Kir as an apertif, which is white wine and cassis liquor – delicious! Then ordered a jug of red wine for four euro, and we were brought bread and a bowl of almonds warmed in butter and salt. Heavenly.

The main meal was a fixed price of 20 euros and included of a very full bowl of cauliflower potage (a thick soup); a ‘salad’ consisting of a giant deep-fried wedge of cheese, some greens, tomatos, and beets; moules frites – the mussels came in a giant black soup pot, and the french fries came in another smaller pot for use to split; another cheese plate with a selection of five local cheeses and more bread; and finally, dessert – a peach and apple crumble with ice cream – and an espresso.

We were there for three hours and rolled out of the place after eleven. It was so delciously gluttonous, and there was so much for food than we could have ever dreamed of eating; well worth the 50 euro bill. It was also nice to be in the company of other people, as we’re getting a little stir-crazy out here, I think. Only eight days left, though …

Chateau Castelnau-Bretenoux

7 Jan

Big day today: we made it out to our first tourist attraction, the Chateau Castelnau-Bretenoux, France’s second-largest castle. It’s only a 17 minute drive from the house, just on the other side of Bretenoux, in a town called Prudhomat.

Some history: Situated on the furthermost bounds of the county of Toulouse and the Aquitaine, the castle of Castelnau reflects the continuity of a long noble lineage from the Quercy region. It is now the result of many construction programs.

Towards 1,100, the first barons of Castelnau had a fort built on the model of “new mansions” (with a main tower), following that of motte castles. From this original stronghold remains the seigniorial dwelling (second half of the 12th century) and the square keep (beginning of the 13th century).
Headquarters of a mightier and mightier feudal power, the castle was soon surrounded by a small village. Thanks to skilful marriages, which enriched the family heritage, the castle was constantly enlarged and fortified. Therefore, behind its defensive walls equipped with firing rooms, a wide moat with bulwarks and high curtain walls linked to each other by circular angle towers, the castle turned out to be impregnable. In the 17th century, it was made more attractive by the construction of richly decorated drawing rooms with high windows, porticoes and balustrade balconies.

From 1715, after the last member of the Castelnau family died, the castle experienced a long period of damage, which came to an end in 1896, when the Opéra Comique singer Jean Mouliérat purchased it and started to restore it. He managed to gather a great collection of furniture, tapestries and sacred art pieces. The castle was then given to the state by the owner, when he died in 1932.

It’s been quite cold here for the last few days, but sunny, so it was a great day to visit the castle. The most wonderful thing about visiting tourist attractions in the off season is that they’re empty; over our two hours there we saw three other tourists. This resulted in some absolutely amazing photos (the link’s posted on the left) and an almost surreal experience, as we truly were alone in a massive castle.

As we were finishing up our roaming, coming down from the one main tower that was open to climb, a man standing in the middle of the courtyard waved us over. He was the tour guide, and he he set about leading us into the one furnished wing of the castle. He asked us what language we wanted our pamphlets in, and we replied English; he then told us that he didn’t speak English, but headed off down a hallway like we were to follow him anyway. So we did.

He was great; gruff, but good-hearted. Since he couldn’t speak English, he opened up the barriers in the rooms for us to go and wander around and look at the furniture and art object up close – pretty amazing.

The best part, though, was when he pulled a thermometer off the wall and pointed to the two degree celsius showing on it, and shivered. Andrew and I, having woken up this morning in a house that was five degrees, didn’t quite give the reaction he was looking for. Our house was only three degrees warmer than an unheated castle perched on a windy cliff. Dear god.

Village vs. Town

6 Jan

Because this keeps coming up, and we’re halfway into a bottle of Beaujolais and both don’t feel like working, I’ve decided to investigate this village vs. town conundrum. Courtesy of one random blog, here’s what (apparently) makes the distinction – and I’m only including it because it seems logical, to me:

In the old-fashioned way of judging these sorts of things, it used to be that a village had to have a church, a town had to have a market and a city had to have a cathedral, but that no longer applies, since towns can now simply apply for city status. It probably harks back to this system, though.

So, there you go. We’re solving all the problems of the world, right here.


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