Archive for Getting Here

We Were Good In Bed

Garden bed, that is!  I like to think that we are both accomplished gardeners.  In our previous home, FM had been in charge of the vegetable garden and I had the reins of the flower garden.  The flower garden gave us nine months of beauty each year and we ate heartily from FM’s veggie garden through the summer and fall.

Here are some photos of what we left behind:

Close to the house we had Japanese Maple (x2); Viburnum; Red Leaf Maple; Rhododendrons; Azaleas; Hardy Fushia; Globe thistles; Lilac tree; Jackmanii clematis; etc.

In this pic, the veggie beds contain fall rye, but earlier in the season they had carrots; hop vines (yum!); kale; swiss chard; spinach; broccoli; pole beans; onions; potatoes; snap peas; etc.

Dwarf Jubilee apple tree; Lady’s Mantle; Gooseneck Loosestrife; with veggie beds behind

Dwarf Golden Russet apple; Balloon Flower; Burning Bush; Lamb’s Ear; Phlox; Dianthus; Hydrangea; Mallow; Euphorbia; Dwarf Cox’s Orange Pippin apple; Spike Speedwell; Japanese Anenome; etc.

Hydrangea; Sweet Autumn Clematis; climbing rose; Mallow; Blue Oat Grass; Golden Russet Apple; star Magnolia; etc.

These photos help me remember the green thumbs that we possess.  It will be a long time before either of us weed our new garden since it only exists in our minds at this point.  Until then, we have a long list of things to do which include excavating, drainage piping, re-grading, log removal, saw-milling, deer fencing and a bunch of other things I haven’t learned about yet.

Adopt the pace of nature:  her secret is patience.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The Move

Moving is a bitch.  I hope that writing it here will help me retain that fact so that I never do it again.  It is impossibly exhausting, both physically and emotionally. Important decisions are made at lightning speed.  Even though this move represents an exciting choice for us, the minutiae just about put us in the looney bin.

One difficult aspect is sorting through all the old crap.  Should you sort it before you move it or should you sort it once you have the luxury of time on the other end?  In theory, I believe that you should purge things before they have a chance to clutter up the new space.  Otherwise, you end up moving boxes of stuff that never got unpacked from the previous move.  But FM is of the other mind-set.  He thinks that you should wait before throwing things away because you never know what things will suddenly be important in the new place.

Well, time is the ultimate decider in our case, so no sorting took place.  Before the ink had even dried on our real estate contract, I landed a teaching job with the Comox Valley School District.  I had applied for a job with little optimism and somehow managed to get an interview for it.  Next thing you know, I resigned from my amazing teaching position in Delta, packed up a suitcase or two and moved in with distant family in Comox in order to start this new teaching job.  All of this happened between February 20 and March 12!  My entire career did a backward somersault in a 3 week period.

Suddenly I had no part in the of the packing up our old house and readying it for the real estate market.  FM was left with all the decisions about moving companies, real estate conveyancing and bank financing while I was left to begin exploring our new town on my own.

FM had movers come in and do a partial pack, which helped to remove the main clutter around the house and get it ready for a professional photography shoot.  He had all the paperwork drawn up and, when I would arrive home for a weekend, we would go to a string of appointments with banks and lawyers.

On the first day of a 2 week school spring break, FM came over to the island with a trailer full of valuables and breakables.  We drove up to our new home and walked in, trying to take in this new reality.

Arriving Home

Home Sweet Rural Home

We spent the next day scrubbing, washing and cleaning. We wandered the land.  We slept on the living room floor and ate casseroles that I had made earlier that week.  We had no range, since we were moving ours from our old home so we had to be creative in food preparations.

Happily scrubbing

Have you ever seen such a happy cleaner?

King of all he surveys

FM surveying his newly acquired Queendom

Back to the mainland we went to oversee the frenzy of packing and the loading of the moving truck.  As the movers packed everything, we followed behind with cleaners and vacuums.  Once the moving truck left, we headed back over to the new place to start the process of moving in.


Waiting at the ferry terminal on our way to meet the moving truck

William's Moving and Storage

Here comes our 16 000 lbs of stuff. It was a bit tricky for the truck to negotiate our driveway entrance.

We used Williams Moving to pack and move our stuff and they were great.  All of the team members that unloaded this enormous truck were energetic, enthusiastic, careful and patient.

Living/Dining Room

Let the fun begin!


“I just want something cold to drink…”

We both had the luxury of 2 weeks off to deal with the move and start the unpacking process.  Luckily the house is spacious with lots of storage space so we were able to get a big chunk of it done in a short period of time.  (Although I don’t think the workshop will ever be unpacked)

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The Find

As we drove around for house showings, we came across a few places with ‘for sale by owner’ signs posted at the end of the driveways.  On one occasion, while driving around with our realtor/bro-in-law, we stopped at such a sign and bro-in-law called.  The woman on the other end was hesitant to give info but said that their listing was up on craigslist, complete with asking price and photos.  All we had to do was put  ‘courtenay acreage’ in the search field.  I had never thought of looking for a house on craigslist and so a new search began.

We found about 10 acreages listed there with widely varying descriptions and information.  We entered addresses into the GPS and did drive-bys of most of them.  By this time, it was late in the day and we had to start making our way back to the ferry so we didn’t have time to call or follow-up with any of the craigslist homes we had seen.

That week, I wrote email inquiries to two of those listings.  One of them never responded (your loss, Ledingham!) but the other replied quickly and gave a good amount of information.  Here is the craigslist entry:

This property is quiet, peaceful and close to town. Zoning allows for two houses. Septic system already built for second house. Property is cleared with just the right mix of towering fir and maple trees remaining. The house is 2 years old, 2700 sq ft, 2 story, 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom, 5 stainless steel appliances, heated floors, wood stove, heat pump, Hardi Plank siding and black metal roof. The shop is 18ft x 30ft with 14ft high walls and was originally used as our residence during construction of the house. The shop has its own 200 amp service, is insulated, has a 3 piece bathroom, wood stove, washer/dryer hook up and sink. This house and property is ideal for a small hobby farm, horses or for an extended family wanting to build a second house.

When I further inquired about seeing some photos of the interior, he was able to send some that had obviously been taken by a real estate photographer.  We set up an appointment for our next trip over and left it at that.

HELLICAR!  View from the road. The lot has been over-cleared and the house is very exposed. As you can see, the ground is really wet and has drainage issues but the photo was taken in early February.

HELLICAR!  From the road, the house was a large sage-green box, sitting out on a mostly cleared 5 acre lot.  Although it sat well-back on the property, it was exposed to the road – at least it was a dead-end road.  There was a lot of big equipment and machinery around the place.  But the interior, from the photos, was what piqued our interest.  The rooms seemed large and airy.  The finishing colours and details showed that there was no need to do work on the interior.  The kitchen was enormous with wall ovens, lots of counter space and part of a great room.

2 weeks later, we went to see it.  Mike, the owner, gave us about 2 hours of his time with a complete tour of the property and the house.  He explained that he had cleared the lot and built the home himself.  He built it for his family and used the best materials available because they planned on living there permanently.  Unfortunately, through the course of building it, his marriage fell on hard times and his wife left the scene.  (although I don’t know how long I would have lasted, living in the workshop with 2 small kids while it was built).  A big feature of the property is the pond.  Mike used his excavator to dig out a marshy area and create a pond, which takes up about 1 acre.

FM and I were both really excited about the house, knowing right away that we had found our new home.  We called his brother/our realtor and asked him to fly over the next day to look at it with his unbiased construction/real estate eye.  To celebrate, FM and I went to Local’s Restaurant for a fabulous multi-course meal.  The next day, we got to roam the property again, looking more carefully at details and listening to our realtor’s feedback.  Mike was there to field questions about the well, the septic system, the pond and everything else we inquired about.  When we left, we let him know that we would be in touch shortly with an offer.  Two days later, the papers were signed and we had 6 weeks until possession.  Just like that.  I’ve spent longer deciding on a pair of jeans.

View of the front door and wrap-around deck. The driveway to the road is off to the right of the photo

View from the back fence, looking towards the road. The 1 acre pond is a big part of what attracted us to this place.

Kitchen – view #1

Kitchen view #2 The windows overlook the pond. We’ll be sipping morning coffees in this room.

Bathroom – All the counters in the kitchen and bathrooms are formed concrete. Pretty slick-looking!

Ensuite bathroom has 2 shower heads! and heated tile floors.

Crawl space is about 4 ft high and bone dry.

Mudroom – a big space to be messy with practical slate tile flooring

Outbuildings – The foreground building is a garden shed and the rest are wood storage and big tool garage bays.  The excavator in the distance wasn’t part of the sale.


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The Search

House hunting is difficult when you don’t know anything about the town you will eventually call home.  I had never been to Courtenay/Comox and FM had only been there during the hiring process, which was a very limited visit.  We knew that this seaside town offered easy access to the ocean and the mountains.  We knew that the airport served the military base as well as civilians, with multiple daily flights around the island and over to the mainland.  With our recent obsession with flight paths, we soon learned that bigger airlines were now flying out of Comox to Calgary and even had charters direct to Mexico.

We studied maps of the two towns and surrounding areas, trying to figure out how far away outlying communities were from the downtown core.  We endlessly plugged addresses into google maps in order to see what kind of commute different areas would have.  Our #1 priority was quiet – away from highways, airports, railway tracks and people in general.  But from there, we couldn’t decide whether we wanted a piece of  land or views of either mountains or water.  It was time to visit and have a look-see.

Over the course of January and February, FM and I made 3 trips over to C/C.  Each time, FM’s brother set up  real estate appointments at a number of houses that had caught our interest.  The two of us (sans agent) would show up at the set time and usually let ourselves into the unlocked house for sale.  We would explore a bit and then leave, making notes and taking photos as we went.  We were able to get a feel for neighbourhoods and communities, as well as property size and views.

Over time, we narrowed our search to chunks of land – an acre or more – rather than views.  We decided that we are fit and active enough to go and see wonderful views from the tops of mountains.  Maybe we will invest in view property when we are old and no longer able to seek it out on our own.  An acre or more would act as a buffer (see priority #1) and get us away from the centre of town.

Here a few photos of our favourites:

STAPLEY! We loved the rustic charm and atmosphere of this house but it needed a lot of TLC and renos (including a new septic field!) before it would be worth the $$.

Inside Stapley! Look at the beautiful wood windows, floors and beams!

ASTRA! A really unique house with exposed logs inside and beautiful landscaping outside. But – near the runway and a strange industrial business as a neighbour.

COTTON! An unobstructed mountain view and a great custom kitchen but too close (really close!) to neighbours on one side and a public pitch n putt golf course on the other.

QUADRA! What an amazing home! It had been gutted and redone with no cost spared. But the lot was small and it backed onto a public walkway. And the indoor hot tub made the whole place smell like chlorine.

WILDWOOD! This was a 20 acre property but its closest neighbour was a sand and gravel pit with an iron cross logo at the end of the driveway. Also the outbuilding had been used as a grow-op a few owners ago. Hmmm…

There were many other places that we looked at but those didn’t even make the cut for this blog.  There is a lot of crap out there and a lot of people who put ZERO effort into making their house ready for showings.  And cats – everyone has multiple cats – which does nothing for FM’s allergies.  Every house we visited had at least one cat.

Yet after much searching, we did have some luck.  Tune in next time.

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The Decision

In October 2011, FM and I headed to Victoria for a get-away – a birthday re-do weekend, since the attempt to celebrate my 40th year had been plagued with sickness.  We stayed at the beautiful Inn at Laurel Point and spent the weekend sampling fabulous brews from local brewers, strolling through farmers’ markets, putzing around shops and indulging in the early chill of looming winter.  At one restaurant, we discussed the laid-back, charming atmosphere of the island and wondered aloud what it would take to relocate here.  Refreshed from four days of paradise, we headed back to the mainland rat race with that thought at the forefront of our minds.

Once back at work that week, FM had a look at job postings on the island and there – right there – was a job posting which described him and his qualifications to the letter.  He came home bursting with the news of this job prospect.  It seemed positively eerie that a fitting job was waiting in the wings like this.   The more we discussed it and analysed the job description, the more we felt that he would be a shoe-in if he submitted an application.  We knew that we had to think through all the possibilities carefully because once this ball started rolling, its momentum would carry us far.

And so the questions begin.  Where exactly is Courtenay/Comox?  How is it that we have never ventured to this seaside town?  What is with this double-barreled name?   As we brainstormed, we realised that we already knew 3 couples who had moved there over the years.  We were familiar with the local ski hill, Mt. Washington, having snowshoe raced there a few times, but we had always stayed in Cumberland, which is closer to the highway.  We learned that it is in the rainshadow of Mt. Washington, giving it a dryer, warmer and milder climate than the Lower Mainland, despite being on the 50th parallel.

The idea weighed heavily on our minds and dominated our conversations for a few weeks.  The job posting remained open.  We talked about my job and what it would mean to start all over in a new school district.  We looked up maps of running, biking and hiking trails in the nearby area.  We researched farm markets, CSA farms and CSF boats to see who could provide us with fruit, vegetables and fish in the high season.

In mid-November, we went to a presentation called FEAT (Fascinating Expedition and Adventure Talks) where a few ultrarunning friends were speaking about their latest adventures.  But surprisingly, the speaker who caught our attention was Philip McKernan, a motivational speaker who spoke about overcoming obstacles in order to achieve dreams.  His speech was geared towards athletic pursuits but both FM and I applied his theory to our current state of indecision about this looming job application.  That evening, we talked about how easy it would be to stay on the path that we have been on, living a mediocre life in the city.  Philip had likened it to looking out a window, seeing what is possible but deciding instead to pull the covers up and stay the predictable course.

With that thought, we decided to take this risk, throw off those covers and jump into this opportunity.  FM submitted his application and, within 2 working days, his new employer made contact, set up phone interviews and eventually flew him to the job site to see if it met his approval.  We got the ball rolling and started an avalanche into a completely new life focus.

Although our decision to make the rural move seemed to happen quickly, we spent 4 weeks closely analysing this particular opportunity and close to 20 years waiting for the stars to align.  If you ask me, it has been a long time coming.

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START HERE – The Background Story

As a couple of suburbanites, we resigned ourselves to our urban existence years ago.  We both have well-paying jobs that challenge us and allow us to live a more-than-comfortable life.  We have a beautiful home that we have renovated to meet our contemporary needs and a garden which gives us year-round pleasure and nourishment. We travel to races at the drop of a hat.  We make online purchases without barely a second thought.  We have both sets of parents and most of our siblings close enough for family get-togethers.  The good aspects are good and we usually manage to overlook the negative.


Urban Retreat

Our roots grow here

The fact that the flight path recently moved directly over our home is something that we quietly grumble about.  Fabulous Man’s transit commute is taking longer each month and all those buses and skytrains seem to be filled with coughing, sneezing, sick people.  Our ventures into the local mountains to run on sweet trails are becoming harrowing commutes as well.  Sometimes the time to travel to a trailhead is longer  and more exhausting than the run itself.

At least once each year (usually in November) for a few weeks, we entertain fantasies of leaving the big shitty behind and finding a new home in some small town.  During those weak moments, the realtor page sits open on the computer with the ‘acreage’ field selected and some treasure of a rural home left open for the other to peruse.  We keep tabs on the markets in Okanagan and Nelson, but we aren’t fussy about the locale.  It just has to be quiet.  I fondly remember an old friend saying that he would never live in a place that had a traffic report.   That’s all we want.

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