One Year Later

One year ago on August 29th we were nervously waiting in our fancy Oakville lawyer’s office to hand over the biggest cheque we’d ever written and to sign the final paperwork for our house. I still maintain that you can get really far into the home-buying process before you have to pay any actual money; aside from our deposit, nobody asked for anything until we were ready to pick up the keys. Paperwork signed, we hit the road for Marmora, where we picked up the keys (and some delicious tomatoes and cucumbers) from our real estate agent. We drove into town, buzzing with excitement: this was our town, our house, our home.

IMG_2970And once we opened the door, we totally deflated. The place was a DUMP. The previous owners hadn’t cleaned a thing before leaving. The kitchen cupboards were sticky, the greasy walls full of holes, the upstairs carpet covered in mysterious stains. The floors were more crooked, the wallpaper peeling more than we remembered. The ceiling tiles in the living and dining rooms were nicotine-stained. The downstairs toilet wasn’t even working. We wandered through the house in shock. I cried, sitting on the big old desk left behind in one of the dining room’s bay windows, convinced we’d made a horrible mistake that we couldn’t take back.

Beautiful, dirty details

Beautiful, dirty details

So we walked downtown, ordered a pizza and picked up a six-pack of Muskoka Weiss from the LCBO. We ate the pizza and drank the beer sitting on the desk (the only piece of furniture in the house aside from our blow-up air mattress). The initial shock wore off. This house was our house, albeit a very dirty house. Fact: pizza and beer can solve anything.


The magical time before we knew how long the grass would take to cut.

Later, we sat on our back porch and drank the bottle of Veuve Cliquot given to us at our wedding, and listened to the live music drifting over from the Marmora fair. We schemed and wandered in and out the house, marvelling about how much space we had (both inside and out), picturing our condo-sized couch in the living room, planning which improvement projects we’d do first: paint (over the wallpaper, because it was holding up the plaster walls underneath), get rid of the oil tank, find a way to un-caulk the sealed windows on the first floor. Clean everything very, very well.


Our first sleepover, in the dining room.

What have we done, one year in? We’ve painted most of the house. We’ve replaced the oil tank and furnace, first with propane and now with natural gas. We’ve refinished our kitchen cupboards and bought shiny new appliances. We’ve torn out most of the carpeting upstairs and painted the floors. We’re upgrading our fuse box to breakers next week (cross your fingers) and we’ve finally found a contractor to close up all the holes in our basement and roof, install some operational windows on the main floor and put up eavestrough so our basement ceases to be a swimming pool. It’s only a little bit, but it’s progress, and having these things lined up has really made this house feel like a home. So here’s to year one: it’s had its lows, but we’re pretty optimistic about year two over here already.


Not working on our to-do list

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

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

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…



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

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

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.