Saturday, 27 August 2011

Project Pretty Face

Despite what seem like long days of back-breaking work, my lengthy to-do list seems only to grow longer. The house has some, err, how should I put it - character. Yes, character, which includes a small electrical job that is now stretching into a third week (not consecutive days, thank the gods), a grotesque fake brick facade in the living room and a bathroom roughly the size of the trunk of my car. Did I mention the dynamite boxes that served as cabinets in the kitchen? 

So, given the many things to do before the snow flies I've come up with the only reasonable strategy I can think of - I've given up all hope. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and I have a hammock! Hence, I've abandoned the interior renovations and commenced with Project Pretty Face. So far, in addition to the hammock, PPF includes staining the deck and planting flowers. Phase II will start today with bird feeders. I like birds.

In truth, I haven't completely turned my back the inside of the house, I've simply left it for the most part in the hands of my main contractor. He is also known as my dad, and he works for coffee and cashews, so it's a win-win for everyone.

In fact, Dad and I have probably spent more time together in the last few weeks than we have ... maybe ever?! Growing up, he worked long hours and often out of town, and there was no Oprah or Dr. Phil to espouse the important of quality father-daughter time so his weekends off didn't involve any bonding shopping or fishing trips. I left home a month after high school graduation for a student exchange in Europe and returned sporadically through the travelling/university/working years for visits and Christmas, but Dad has never been as talented in the telephone arts as my mother, so I can't really say we kept in particularly close contact over the years.

A typical telephone conversation with my dad involves a 20 to 30-second conversation about the weather, possibly 20-30 seconds on the "G-D rain," the "G-D snow," or the "G-D heat" and ends shortly thereafter with: "Well, I better letcha go, then."

It turns out, dad and I work pretty well together. We don't need to talk a lot, just hammer away, cut, paint, trim and, in my case, fetch. I now know what a Phillips-head screwdriver is and the difference between metric and "normal" tools.

In any event, the contractor has the day off today, I think. He could also show up any time now with a Tim Horton's coffee in hand, ready to get to work. Until then, the birds are waiting for me. Take care.

Monday, 22 August 2011

A berry good time

I remember walking along a trail in St. John's, Nfld., once and finding a Saskatoon berry ripe on the bush. As I popped it in my mouth my friend gasped in disbelief that I would EAT something I just FOUND out in the woods like that. She certainly didn't find it as funny as I when I silenced her lecture on the perils of poison by shoving one of the plump purple berries in her mouth.

Growing up in an extremely rural setting - Huck Finn didn't seem that strange to my brother and I - I have never feared the forest and wide open spaces as much as most. Yet after decades of concrete living the closest I was coming to the natural world was eating blackberries during my daily bike rides along Spanish Banks and up to UBC in late summer. I barely knew my huckleberries from a hole in the ground.

So I was eager to go picking chokecherries with my sister-in-law, whose kitchen concoctions amaze me and have become some of my most treasured Christmas loot: zuccini relish from her own garden, crab apple jelly from the tree in my parents' yard, canned salmon from the Fraser River fall fun.

My aunt showed us where to find the chokecherries, small, tart red berries that makes delicious syrup and wine but could set your mouth in a permanent pucker eaten right off the tree. Guess which I plan to try to make? Yes, wine.

My three young nephew helped us pick the berries. Okay, in all honesty ONE of my nephews helped us pick the berries while the others two ate raspberries faster than we could pick them and found the biggest caterpillar I have ever seen.

My nephews played a large part in my decision to move back home, along with my sister-in-law, my parents and all my other relations. In the city, I lived within shouting distance of people I wouldn't have recognized in a police lineup. Here, I'm surrounded by people who I'll eat Christmas dinner with.

So as I stripped the red berries from overburdened branches, I realized THIS was truly coming home - not to a place, but a way of living and being with people who make living worthwhile.

I'll let you know now the wine turns out.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Welcome Home

The first night in the new house, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. The sun was beaming through my window and I had no idea what time it was. All around me there was the sound of silence. Two weeks ago I could rely on the back-up beeper of the Safeway delivery truck or the binners digging through the recycling in the alley out behind my building to get up me up in the morning.

Out here, I have one neighbour in sight but if it weren’t for their rather delusionally protective little dog, I’d think they were on vacation.

It was the quiet and solitude I was after when I asked for a one-year unpaid leave of absence from my job as the news editor for The Canadian Press in Vancouver. Now I wonder how I’ll get used to this deafening silence after 20 years of city living.

My house near Horse Lake
I’m not a morning person but I roll out of bed because the moment my eyes are open a long to-do list appears in my head. A loooong to-do list that makes me wonder if, in just one year, I’ll ever reach the end of it.

I fell in love with the house as soon as I opened the gate and walked up to it last spring. A hectare of trees and raspberry bushes and a tree fort that, for my three nephews, is the highlight of the whole package.

They just might be right.

Horse Lake looks a lot closer in real life. Really.

The house is shy of 600 square feet, which is small even for a long-time apartment dweller like myself. The kitchen is so small I’ll have to watch my weight so I can fit in the narrow galley between the 50s-era stove and the wooden shelf that seems to serve as a counter, and the shower doesn’t appear to be working at the moment. The insurance company laughed when I told them what the house inspector said about the electrical system, then made me swear a blood oath to have it fixed immediately before charging me an amount of money that would make a Vegas loan shark feel bad. It seems the previous owners might have searched the Earth high and low for the ugliest and most mismatched ceiling fixtures they could possibly come up with in order to hang them in the most awkward and useless places in the house – an ultra-modern black-and-chrome ceiling fan? Really? Did I mention that the “cabinets” in the kitchen are old dynamite boxes?

Yes, a loooong to-do list ahead.