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Home at The Grange – Part 1

Would you leave a very comfortable house in the city – a mansion, even by Toronto standards – to live in a dilapidated 1800’s farmhouse in the middle of nowhere?

I, as you know, have lived in interesting places. But when former model and media manager Wendy Boothman told me what she did 31 years ago, even I was surprised. 

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In 1986, the Boothman family decided to move to the country. They found a large log house in perfect move-in condition. Wendy’s husband and children loved it.

Blog Photo - Doors Open The Grange Wendy and Nick2 by Hamlin

But Wendy wasn’t sold. Without telling her family, she kept looking. She asked the realtor to show her a place in Kendal, a hamlet northeast of Toronto. They toured the property.

It was a hot August day and the poor realtor was in his suit and tie. I had no idea what 140 acres meant, so we ended up walking and walking.”

They also toured the house. Wendy said she loved the place.

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The shocked realtor replied: “Wendy, it’s so dilapidated! Look at the holes in the floors! You have 5 children and a housekeeper. You can’t live here!”

Husband Nick saw it next. An international fashion photographer and audio-visual director with a Toronto studio,  he was stunned.

“Woman!” he said. “You’ve finally flipped. I refuse to set foot in that house!”

Blog Photo - Doors Open The Grange Barn Inside and Hay Hamlin

Wendy showed him the huge wooden barn with cathedral ceilings. Then she drove him up to the highest point of the property and showed him the view.  He was impressed… somewhat.

“We’ll renovate the house to what we want,” she reassured him. “We’ll design the garden to what we want. But most importantly, the children will be part of the designing. They’ll decide on the pool, their rooms, and so on.”

Sounded nice. In theory.

“If you think the children are going to want to leave a Toronto mansion to camp out  here while we do all the work required, you have another think coming,” Nick protested.

This was a daunting challenge.

~~~

Then Nick relented. “If you can sell the kids on this move,” he told her, “we’ll do it.”

One Sunday in August, Wendy and Nick took the kids on a long drive, turned off a country road and drove up to a hill with an impressive view of the area.

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The children asked:

“What are we doing here?”

“We’re having a picnic in the country!” Wendy replied, smiling. “We’re moving to the country, so we may as well get used to it.”

After the picnic, the seven of them trooped through the fields and peered into the forest, excited.

Walking down the other side of the hill, the children spied a house and asked if they could look inside — not knowing their mother had a key.

They saw the tiny rooms, the old kitchen, the holes in the floors… the whole catastrophe. 

But when Wendy took them into the barn, they were awestruck.  

Blog Photo - doors Open The Grange Barn Ceiling Hamlin

Wendy seized the moment.

“We can move into the log house… or we can get this place and design it together. Your friends can come on weekends. We’ll have horses – you can ride. Can you imagine if we had a pool on the side of a hill and gardens?”

They returned home to Toronto, and started drawing up plans together.

~~~

They moved into the house on Halloween that October.  Wendy, who knew nothing about school buses, sent the 2 younger kids to the wrong school the first day.

That winter was full of challenges. For one thing, the house was freezing cold. 

Both parents still worked nearly 2 hours away in downtown Toronto — Nick at his studio, Wendy at her media management and design office.  Every morning, he drove the 3 older children to school in Toronto. Wendy picked them up every afternoon.

A year later, she decided to move her business to her home, creating one of the first “virtual teams” in Canada.

That eased a few challenges on the home-front. But renovating the house and landscaping the grounds would become a huge, 4-year project.

Photos by Hamlin Grange

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Flowers, Memories, Diaries

Memory is the diary we all carry about with us, wrote Oscar Wilde.

But for me, diary is memory. Years of memories.

Family, home, garden, daily life.

Diaries played a small role in my overall life, but became a huge part of my post-accident experience. With little sense of time, and often no memory of events just minutes after they happened, I started writing in my journal again.

Little things. Big things. Write it down quickly. 

Blog Photo - Journals

A doctor played a key role.  She told me to record events as they happened, figuring I could share these entries with the  medical professionals I visited.  My memory and speech problems were so bad, she noted, that “No other specialist will take two hours to try to figure out what you are saying. Write.”

Of course, that’s not word-for-word. But I scribbled down her order.

I returned to keeping journals. Some of the entries were so painful, I vowed to never re-read them.

The best? Entries about time with family.

Blog Photo - Rainy Garden with Flowering shrubs

Next best: time in the garden.

I used to keep a journal to track my gardens’ progress. The major triumphs and minor tragedies, the plans carried out and those forgotten.

Now, no longer able to garden, I was reduced to observing.  But observing led to writing and writing led to “remembering”.

The first spring bulbs to bloom.

Blog Photo - Crocus in Spring

The first night-bloomer of the season.

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The first time the fern-leaf peonies – presents from friends Les and Sandra – bloomed.

Blog Photo - Fernleaf Peonies

The hollyhock that bloomed in two colours.

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The mysterious flower that showed up one summer.

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Red currants, seeds planted by birds or breeze.

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When your brain doesn’t work efficiently, you misplace things. When you’re in too much pain to move, you can’t go looking for things somewhere else.  So I learned to keep the garden journal on the verandah, and other journals in every room of the house.

Blog Photo - Verandah chairsAn onlooker, seeing me writing on that lovely verandah, might have thought: “What a charmed life.”

But as my mother always said : “Never envy others. No-one knows what troubles they have.” I was – quite literally — writing to save my life.

Looking back, I’m astonished at some of the lovely things that happened. Things to be grateful for. People to be grateful to.

I’m shocked at the development of this garden, as captured in my journals.

Grateful to my husband, for building arbours, dividing plants, maintaining the garden — in addition to everything else that landed on his plate.

Blog Photo - Garden Bridal wreath

Some of what I read evokes real memories. They bring tears, laughter, delight, wonder.

Some of it is not at all familiar. It’s like reading about someone else’s life, but knowing it’s yours.

Interesting, that.

Photos by Hamlin Grange

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In A Dark Garden

Have you ever walked in an early-morning garden after the rain?  

It’s dark, fresh, cool. And quiet. Even the birds are still taking cover.

Blog Photo - Rainy Peonies

Blog Photo - Rainy Day Lily leaves

Everything’s drenched.

Blog Photo - Rainy Rhodo Bloom

You squint at something pink  in the darkness….

Blog Photo - Rainy Columbines in dark

… ah, columbines. And you think how wise this first clematis bloom is, so nicely sheltered against a wall.

Blog Photo - Rainy but sheltered clematis

You’re lost in admiring this flowering shrub.

Blog Photo - Rainy Garden with Flowering shrubs

Its branches are so rain-heavy, they’re almost touching the ground.

Blog Photo - Rainy Branches over Hosta

You’re wearing sensible shoes, so your feet don’t get wet. But next thing you know, you brush against a wet branch.

Blog Photo - Rainy Burning Bush Leaf

And another.

Blog Photo - Rainy Pine needles

Turning away, you almost collide with a horse.

Blog Photo - Rainy Horse Weathervane

Your hair, face, nose and shirt get wet.

But the air is cool on your skin. Fresh and earthy to the breath.

Blog Photo - Rainy Yellow hosta

And one intrepid bird starts to sing.

Blog Photo - Rainy birdbath

You softly walk around in the dark garden, thankful to be alive.

To hear, see, feel,  smell, almost touch this morning.

And to take a few pictures, even though you once failed photography.

Twice.

Dedicated to all early risers, including my beloved husband who takes care of our garden and takes much better photos than these.

 

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At Home With Valerie Rowley – Pt. 2

Interior designer Valerie Rowley and her husband Chris took a big risk in 1993 when they bought their future home.  For one thing, the countryside house north of Toronto was quite run-down.

“We immediately saw the potential but we hadn’t sold our existing house and it was during the recession.  So did we play it safe and wait?   Nah!  We bought it and just fervently hoped our other one sold (we were up against another bidder so really had no choice).”

The other house sold, in the nick of time.

Blog Photo - Val house steps with flowers Looking at the house today, you wouldn’t know all the work Val and Chris took on. Blog Photo - Val Patio “We virtually rebuilt the interior of this home.  And made the garden almost from scratch – unless you count the few scrubby six-foot cedars that we inherited. It took many years which is why we feel we have so much of ourselves invested in it.” Blog Photo - Vals Kitchen Val’s favourite interior spaces are the kitchen and sunroom.  Blog Photo - Val Sunroom“The sunroom is full of light all year round. It’s also where I raise my vegetable and flower seedlings, grow watercress, herbs and salads through the winter, take cuttings of summer geraniums. To have this area full of pink, salmon and red blooms through the snow season makes the monochrome of winter bearable.” Blog Photo - Val Homegrown SeedlingsFavourite outdoor spaces?
Blog Photo - Val flower Bed The garden is an important part of “home” for Val and Chris. Blog Photo - Val Peonies on hillside “Luckily, Chris enjoys physical work a lot more than I do, so it’s a good partnership.   I grow things and prune and he digs holes and chops down branches.  And we have a young weeding lady who is also a budding opera singer!” Blog Photo - Muskoka chairsIn late summer and early fall, there’s the harvest. Blog Photo - Garden Produce
It takes work. But as you can see from Chris’ smile, it’s work they love doing. They plan to keep doing it for as long as possible.

Blog Photo - Chris Apple Picking

Many people today are drawn to houses that look like they belong in a glossy interior design magazine. Valerie, an interior designer, and her husband Chris, a TV producer, didn’t do that.  They bought a run-down place and worked hard at it for 20 years.  Today, for this couple, this place is  — quite simply  — home.

“I guess because everywhere  I look, what I see is immensely satisfying to me,” says Valerie.   “The flowers (growing, not cut) that I always have everywhere, the artifacts that Chris and  I have accumulated from numerous foreign countries over the years, the carefully chosen furnishings and the general knowledge that we have constructed a home  that is very personal and comforting to the two of us.  It all works.”

Blog Photo - Val Home2

“We have no intention of leaving,” says Val, “ until we physically can’t handle the work it entails – and it does entail work!”

“It’s about staying as healthy as one can as one ages,” says Val.   “I think it’s important for everyone to realize life doesn’t have to stop when the wrinkles and aches and pains start. “

Bravo, Val and Chris. You’re an inspiration.