Archive for Getting Here

The Pros and Cons – Reflecting on the Year

April 1st marks our first anniversary of moving to the Queendom. I still catch myself telling people that we just moved here but, like newly-weds, that status only lasts 365 days. In that mysterious way of time, this year feels like it has passed in both a blink of an eye and a lifetime. So long ago, we were staring wide-eyed at the immensity of it all – the pond, the acreage, the too-large house, the space, the wildlife, the quiet – and now we continue to stare widely at it but in a more understanding way. Now we have figured out what things need to be done regularly and we fall into step with our unwritten after-work chores and weekend tasks. When we look out across the pond or walk the property, we expect to find something new and exciting.

The point of this blog has been to help us remember the events of our new-found life. But, there have been more events than time permitted to sit at a computer and write. Here is the reader’s digest version of the pros and cons we discovered here:

Pros

unbelievable peace and quiet

we discover something new around here almost everyday

easy access to multiple trailheads

endless trail systems to explore (see alongapath)

short commutes to work

surrounded by trees – not a building in sight

easy access to delicious real farm food – veggies, fruit, meat, seafood, cheese, eggs, etc.

ducks, deer, birds, mink, bears, owls and frogs live here and are sighted often

new chicks and the hope of our own fresh eggs by summer’s end

a regular feeling of satisfaction from completing projects

the brewery is almost complete and the taps will be running soon

groceries, hardware and all other shopping is less than 10 minutes away

endless  possibilities for the Queendom – more so than we ever imagined

Cons

unpacking – it seems to go on and on! So much space and distractions have allowed us to be lazy on that front

the landscape project is huge, very long-term and often daunting

our landscaping crew from last summer did a merely passable job and charged too much money

invasive and unwanted plants are difficult to deal with and chronic, it seems

often a big effort results in a minuscule difference (such as digging out thistles and alders)

the property is wet, marshy, swampy and ugly in places

drainage issues have had us on high alarm a few times (not yet documented!)

our list of potential construction projects is long and very involved (deck, hot tub, garage, chicken coop, island bridge and pergola, etc.)

we are far, far away from our friends and we haven’t really connected with people here

time does not move slower out here.  We need more of it

Not surprisingly, the Pros out-count and out-weigh the Cons. There have been many things happen that we didn’t expect and a few true surprises, both positive and negative.  But we seem to have struck a balance with managing it all and are trying to keep our to-do list short and within reason. Neither of us would go back to our previous life. This smaller town/bigger space lifestyle suits us both so well and our only wish is that we had started on this rural path long, long ago.

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The Tale of the Reluctant Landlords

Once upon a time, FM and I lived in a big city far, far away called Delta, BC. Our castle was a beautiful place in a convenient location with easy access to highways, shopping and reputed schools.

Our Home; Our Castle

Our Home; Our Castle

When we first acquired this castle, we could see that he had good bones but the sponge-painted walls and thick shag carpet gave a window to the neglect he had endured through the previous inhabitants.

The Castle before we updated all the windows, doors, roof and exterior colour

The Castle before we updated all the windows, doors, roof and exterior colour

Not afraid of dust nor hard work, during our first year, FM and I took on the challenge of repainting his entire interior, putting in birch hardwood floors and swapping out old appliances for modern ones with new-fangled gizmos.

We installed birch hardwood floors, a pellet stove,a  maple mantle and a stone hearth

We installed the birch hardwood floors, pellet stove and stone hearth and had the maple mantel custom-designed

We had help redesigning the kitchen layout with cork flooring, maple cabinets and glass backsplash

Our kitchen renovation included redesigning the kitchen layout, putting in cork flooring, maple cabinets and glass back splash

We gutted this bathroom, put in all new fixtures, custom tiled the walls and added a glass wall

We gutted this bathroom, put in all new fixtures, custom-tiled the shower and added a glass wall

This type of modernification carried on for the entire 9 year span that we were keepers of the castle. From new bathroom fixtures to a redesigned kitchen, from a new 50 year roof to a new exterior paint scheme, from an English Country garden to productive raised veggie beds, we did it all – with minimal help from professionals. The castle had entered the 21st Century with all the bells and whistles and he truly shone.

Corn, beans, potatoes, chard, kale, garlic, spinach, etc....

Corn, beans, potatoes, chard, kale, garlic, spinach, etc….

Broccoli, cauliflower, beets, kohlrabi, and the occasional self-seeded sunflower

But, about a year ago, FM and I got the itch and we decided that city living was not meeting our dreams. Despite our love of the castle, we could no longer suppress our need for space, quiet and endless puttering. Sooner than you can say “You better think this through a bit more thoroughly”, we jumped ship and headed off to the Queendom, in search of a simpler, quieter life on a remote island.

The life we imagined -  sipping a G&T on the Queendom's pond

The life we imagined – sipping a G&T on the Queendom’s pond

But what about the castle, you ask.

Sadly, he was left behind. He was left decorated with a ‘for sale’ sign out front and nothing more. His halls were bare, his appliances turned off and his gardens left fallow. He patiently awaited new keepers but none came. A few slightly interested folk came to admire his perennial gardens and his updates, and a few even proposed tearing him down to build a more modern mansion, but no one fell in love with him enough to make an offer. Months went by. Spring became summer, summer turned to fall and finally winter set in.

Don’t think for a minute that FM and I abandoned the castle during this long period. The truth is that we visited regularly, about once each month, to upkeep the gardens, polish the doorknobs and sweep up after the potential new residents. We even reglazed a bathtub, repainted the interior in a (boring) neutral tone and had staging furniture brought in for a few months. But our efforts made no difference to the fate of the castle.

Surprising as this may seem, FM and I do not have endless riches, even though we lived in a castle and now reside at the Queendom. The costs of holding the castle in limbo were weighing heavily upon us and causing each of us to spend long nights walking the halls in search of enlightenment. Finally we decided that the real estate market had plateaued to such a degree that we would be fools of the court to continue waiting for someone to pay our asking price. It was time to take action and the action to take was to find tenants for the castle.

But the action of renting can be a scary thing. I witnessed my parents struggle as landlords of a quadraplex at Whistler. I still have vivid memories of my dad coming home from a long day at work and heading straight out the door again to drive two hours to the cabin to deal with a clogged toilet or some such nonsense. I was raised on fearful stories of rental houses being turned into brothels and landowners being unable to evict the tenants. But our lack of endless riches forced me to downplay these stories and embrace the idea of bills being paid and cheques coming in.

On New Year’s Day, the ‘for sale’ sign was taken down and the ‘for rent’ listing was put up on craigslist. In no time at all, renters were lining up with references in hand, hoping to be the chosen ones – the stewards of the castle. Interviews were held and the selection made.

A hard-working, reliable, middle-aged couple with both a college-aged daughter and a mother-in-law were found to be the most worthy. Their obvious admiration for the finer details of the castle were noted and their references seemingly glowed. They wished to be deemed stewards for at least three years and even made mention that they may possibly want to be full-fledged keepers of the castle at some point in the future. That is a story yet untold and much of that story will depend on the recovery of the lower mainland real estate market and our financial security.

Until then, FM and I can rest more easily with fewer late night walks in our halls, although I am sure they will still occur. The honour of being the keepers of the castle resides strongly with us and its obligations weigh heavily on us still, but the decision to find renters was the wisest choice in light of the options we were given.

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The Sound of Silence is a Puzzlement Indeed

It was a sunny weekend in mid-spring and it was lunch time. After a morning of busily unpacking here and organizing there, we convened on the porch for lunch. A few bites in, FM says

“Shhh.  Do you hear that?”

I stopped chewing and strained my ears to hear what he was hearing.

 “It sounds like traffic on the highway”, he coached.

Now I could hear it too. It was far away but there was a definite whoosh, as if cars were driving quickly on a rain-wet road. There is a main road just to the east of us which does get the odd car driving at 80+ kph but this whoosh was coming from the west.

“Could it be the Island Highway?”

But that didn’t make sense either since it is about 6km west of us, too far for sound to carry.

“Maybe if the wind was blowing just right, we could hear the highway”

“But it hasn’t rained recently.  The highway would be dry”

“Maybe it is the Tsolum River.  It isn’t far from here.  Maybe it’s a big river.”

We carried on listening and trying to figure out if this was a sound to be concerned about. In a way, I didn’t want to find the answer because FM tends to fret about noises. His tolerance of noise (like airliners flying overhead or traffic on a highway or car stereos thumping) is low and we had moved here specifically to get away from the stress that noise brings.

He decided that further investigation was required so we put on our running shoes and went on a neighbourhood run. The key purpose was to check out the Tsolum River, which flows about 3 blocks west of our house, and to see if water was the sound we could occasionally hear. To our surprise, we arrived at a municipal park that had a sign describing a community clean-up of this river and park in 1986. We happily left the pavement and hit the trails, heading down to the river’s edge. There we found a small trickle of a stream. Even after the heavy spring rains, the Tsolum river remained shallow and could easily be forded with three or four wet steps. This could not be the source of  ‘the noise’.

After a lovely run which helped to further develop our understanding of our new surroundings, we arrived back home. As we removed our shoes, I listened again for ‘the noise’.

“I think it is the wind swishing through the poplar leaves”

Copse of Poplar trees on our island

Indeed, the copse of poplar trees on our pond’s island is now fully leafed out. When a gust of wind comes, the leaves seem to instantly come to life and then, as quickly, become still. With your eyes closed, it is easy to imagine that a car is driving by, but with your eyes open you are treated to the spring green leaves fluttering before you can even detect a breeze yourself.

The deafening noise of the wind in the poplar leaves

FM and I had a good chuckle over this discovery. In this moment, I realized that it will take a while to shed off the stress of city life. We still seem to be on guard for something to go wrong with this move. The saying goes “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. Give us a little bit longer to figure out if the saying is true or not.

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The Essential Rider Mower Tractor

The saying goes (in your best hilly-billy voice), “I cain’t read nor write, but I can drive a tractor”.

We hadn’t been in our new place a week before FM started hinting that we will need a tractor.  During our daily (!) visits to the Home Depot , he would wander in the rider-mower aisles, reading feature sheets, comparing prices and questioning the sales staff.  I was surprised at the suggestion, not knowing how such a gas-guzzling machine would have a part in our back-to-nature lifestyle.  In hindsight, I’m pretty sure that he had decided long ago that a tractor would be a key part of the Queendom.  I made quiet protests, pouted a bit (not really!) and made him justify his argument on a few occasions.  I pointed out that we aimed to only have a little buffer of grass close to the house – something easily handled with the push-mower which has served us so well on our city lot.  Our plans here are to re-landscape 3 of the 5 acres, letting it grow back into the forest  that it used to be.  So what purpose would a rider-mower serve?

Wouldn’t you know it but the Home Depot was having a massive sale on big equipment as part of their Spring Fling.  The timing of this sale somehow co-ordinated with our move.  Next thing I know, we are the proud owners of a John Deere D170 rider mower.

Preparing for the first drive

The much-debated rider-mower tractor arrives at the Queendom

"It's got a cup holder!"

“It has a cup-holder!!”

Little did I know that it can do so much more than cut grass.  With the lawn blade removed, we are able to get just about anywhere on these 5 acres.  With the trailer attached, we have been able to saw up the fallen trees and haul the log rounds back to the outbuildings.  It really did not take long for me to realize that this funny little machine will save our backs and hours of time.

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The Landscape Plans (aka the 20 year plan)

When we were looking for a house on an acreage, it seemed that all our searches led to either renovations needed in the house or landscaping needed on the property (or both).  When we opted for the Hellicar house, we chose a long-term landscaping project.

The first thing that we did upon moving in was consult a landscape designer.  Cassandra from Paradise Plants came for an hour walk-around, listening to our wish-list and giving her first impressions.  Our main wish is to have a big deer-fenced area for all our vegetable beds and fruit trees.  We voiced our concerns about the drainage issues on the front of the property.  We are also keen on letting most of the acreage go back to nature – with tall trees giving canopy to thick undergrowth.

A few weeks later, she gave us her landscape drawings.  She warned that these plans are long-term, as in a 5-year plan in order to plant it all, but at least it is a starting point for us.

Property overview

PROPERTY OVERVIEW –  This shows mostly the big trees that we will plant in the naked front area to give some privacy to the house. Once we have some canopy, the undergrowth will be encouraged to go back to natural rainforest, with huckleberries, salal, mahonia, and whatever else chooses to grow here. We are not keen on the hedging she proposes on either side of  the driveway but we are super keen to plant a bunch of giant sequoias and weeping willows!

House area

HOUSE AREA – This area will hopefully give me my fill of flower beds and weeding. There is quite a complex legend that goes with this (let me know if you want the list) but mostly it consists of shade trees and deer-resistant shrubs and perennials. One change we will make to this drawing is the proposed car port. We will eventually build a car port/garage but it will be attached to the workshop instead. In that place, I am keen to build a small fenced area to hide the compost bin, the yard bags and extra patio chairs. We also want to make some small garden beds on either side of the entrance steps.

Veggie Garden

VEGGIE GARDEN – This area is on the sunny south side of the workshop which we will protect from deer with 9 ft fencing. Hopefully, it will grow enough beans, peas, kale, chard, broccoli, tomatoes, etc. to keep us fed. There is a greenhouse (P) and some fruit trees too.

Cassandra left us with the name of a company who can help us solve the drainage issues, re-grading and excavation.  We contacted Dallas at Oasis Hydroseeding and he was super keen on redesigning the land. Once he heard that we didn’t want 5 acres of golf-course grass, he was full of ideas on how to make the land usable and beautiful. His plans are much more vague than Cassandra’s since he uses a lot of terminology that we don’t yet understand but it is obvious that he has done this before and knows what he is doing.

During his two scouting visits, the land was super wet and soggy. He figured that he won’t be able to bring his large machinery in until late June, since they will just get bogged down in the muck.

His main proposal is to (1) install drainage under the garden area (2) re-grade the area around the house and add 4″ of topsoil (3) hydro-seed the area immediately around the house with grass  (4) install drainage from the driveway to the pond and re-grade part of the front area.

I feel much better about this project now that it has been cut into workable chunks.

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The Song of 10,000 Frogs

When you buy a house, you know only a tiny bit about your new environment before you jump in.   High emotions cause you to overlook some aspects and to completely ignore others.  Luckily, we have discovered few surprises since moving in, and the surprises we have come across have not been insurmountable.

One discovery was made on our first evening in the new home – before the moving truck had even arrived.  It was March 31 and the evening was dark and cool.  It started at 7:45 pm – the first rib-bit.  We looked at each other and laughed since neither of us had realized that the large pond contained any life at all.  Soon the first call was answered by another rib-it and within 10 minutes, the air was thick with the croaking, cricking and creaking of frogs.  There must have been hundreds and hundreds of them.  We stood out on the balcony and took it all in.  I am not exaggerating when I say that we had to raise our voices to hear each other above the sound of the frogs.

[audio http://www.californiaherps.com/sounds/pregilladn306short.mp3]

As the evening wore on, the sound remained constant and I began to wonder if I would be able to sleep through it, but their sounds blended into a pleasant white noise that easily lulled us both to sleep.  In fact, when the frogs stop singing, about an hour before sunrise, the lack of singing wakes me up.

A little research around our pond and on the internet taught us that our pond is host to the Pacific Chorus Frog (or Pacific Tree Frog).  They are tiny little fellows, around 5 cm long, who can be vivid green or brownish-gold.  Their presence speaks volumes of the health of our pond water.  We have read that they will move on once the early spring mating seasons ends, but their tadpoles will grow here and they will return each spring.  Yahoo!

Pacific Chorus Frog

Pacific Chorus Frog – introducing ourselves to our neighbours

Pacific Chorus Frog#2

I’m with the band

Pacific Chorus Frog #3

Basking in the sunlight after a wild night

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