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A Sweet Sound

Twang, pling. Pling twang.

Pling, twang. Pling, twang.

Pl–ung???

My daughter is learning to play the guitar.

Blog Photo - Playing guitar 1

I knew she was committed when she bought her own guitar less than a week ago.

Next she cut her beautiful fingernails. One by one.

Then she watched a YouTube tutorial and downloaded a guitar chords app.

Pling pling. Twang twang…

Blog Photo - Guitar Playing CU reverse shot

She sings softly, willing her fingers to follow her tune.

Pling, pling, twang twang, twung…. Shi….!

She senses my presence and doesn’t finish that word.

She utters a loud sigh instead, rolls her eyes, shakes her head.

Blog Photo - Guitar playing with sky reflected

I’ve joined her on our farmhouse verandah. The day is crisp, cool, but beautiful. (Can you see the blue sky and evergreen spruce trees reflected on the front of her guitar?)

Birds are singing, her father’s gardening and our daughter’s little dog Mr. J.  stops and listens for a moment to the guitar playing, before running off to bark at yet another squirrel.

Blog Photo - Guitarist plays, Mr J watches

But Daughter is entirely focused on the guitar strings.

Head down, dark hair falling forward and almost covering her face, she returns to a wordless, intense concentration.

Pling, pling… 

She keeps going, singing and strumming, no mistakes this time. Even the flowers in the garden bed nearby seem to be bopping along to the tune.

Blog Photo - Tulips in garden near verandah

I applaud when she finishes.

Blog Photo - Fernleaf Peonies

In her twenties, she’s learning to play a new instrument.

How to hold it.

How to position her left hand, her right hand.

What to do when her fingertips get tender, even sore.

Soak them in cider vinegar,she says.

“Oh!” I’m surprised to learn there’s yet another use for cider vinegar. “The thing’s got as many lives as duct tape.”

“It really works!” she says, smiling. “It helps me to keep going till my fingertips toughen up. Smells awful, but it’s soothing.”

It was the same routine the day before.

Her father, who has his own guitar but hasn’t played it in almost a year, stuck his head out the door, saw her strumming and disappeared inside.

He came back a minute later with his guitar. Soon they were strumming together.

Pling pling, twang twang. Twang twang, pling pling.

Another stray twung (or maybe it was a plung) sneaked in and they started all over again.

Finally, they were playing in tune.

“We’ve got a jam-session happening right here on our verandah,” I thought.

One of life’s sweet moments.

Today, Daughter is practicing again, and — hooray, she plays the song perfectly, again!

Blog Photo - Daughter plays guitar long shot

She’s conquered the tune to this good, simple, 3-chord song for beginners.

Amazing Grace.

And I listen and think, without saying:

How sweet the sound.

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At Home with Author Donna Kay Kakonge

Canadian Donna Kay Kakonge is a prolific author whose range includes memoirs, how-to books, academic tomes and others.

Blog Photo - Donna Book 4

She’s published dozens of books.

Blog Photo - Donna Book2

Donna also paints, teaches creative writing, and has just completed her Ph.D.

Blog Photo - Donna Book 3

She makes the time to support other authors – especially first-time authors and those who are independently published. She mentors them, lines up readings for them, and shares her own experience.

“If you know you want to write, if you really, really know that you do …. new writers of all ages…then just do it! Write! Make sure you do. And coupled with this you MUST make sure that you also read. Imagine a musician that does not listen to music. This would be laughable. You must read in order to write.”

Donna also runs Creative Writing Workshops. The next one is at the Toronto Public Library in June.

She does this in her spare time. She has a full time job with Mobilman Management Inc.

Blog Photo - Donna LR2

Much of Donna’s writing in the past ten years has been done in her downtown Toronto apartment , “900 square feet with a washer and dryer included”. Her home is filled with paintings – some of which she did herself.

The apartment is home.

“I love my home. I didn’t show my bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, laundry area or my home office, but they are also lovely. I feel very lucky to have this place.”

It’s home not just because her possessions are there, not just because this is where she writes her books, but because her family and friends live on the same street.

“My sister and my nieces live across the street. I have a friend from my undergrad days who lives down the street. My father lives next door. He’s been living in this area since 1981 and owns seven houses in this area.”

Donna likes her street because it’s “quiet and safe”.  Because it’s centrally located and has several  grocery stores in the area.  And because almost everybody knows everybody. Most of the neighbours know each other.

Blog Photo - Donna living room

“What a lot of people don’t always think about is that it truly can take a long time to make a place feel like home. Even though I’ve grown up in this neighbourhood since 1981  — and went through a period of time where I was moving in and out of this neighbourhood — I have traveled and lived enough in other areas of Toronto to learn to truly, truly appreciate my home. I feel excessively fortunate!”

So much so that Donna says she doesn’t plan to move – ever.

“I have finally found my home – and it’s right in the city where I was raised – imagine that!”

MORE ABOUT DONNA’S BOOKS

Donna’s latest book was published in March of 2014, under the title:

Young Black Women in Toronto High Schools: Portraits of Family, School and Community Involvement in Developing Goals and Aspirations

Her books are in both of Canada’s official languages, English and French. Among the titles available in French:

Comment Écrire Non-Fiction Créative (How to Write Creative Non-fiction)

Qu’est-il arrivé à l’Afro (What Happened to the Afro)

Comment à parler Crazy People (How To Talk To Crazy People)

All are available on Amazon, or through Donna’s website at: http://www.donnakakonge.com

Thanks to Donna for the photos of her home.

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Drum Roll, Please! John’s House Pt. 6

Ladies and gentlemen!

— Drum roll, please —

The Library is now complete!

The ceiling is done….

Blog Photo - John's Library Ceiling

And the walls are painted.

Blog Photo - John's Library Walls Painted1

Even the floor has been swept.

Blog Photo - John's Library floors

And with that, all of the repairing, re-plastering and repainting of the rooms has been done.  Year One of John Garside’s incredible 3-year mission to restore his large old house, coach house and grounds in Prince Edward County, Ontario, is almost over. And this means that he and his wife Ann can finally move in.

(Gee whiz – I feel like stopping everything right now and having a celebratory drink myself – and it’s not even my house!)
Blog Photo - John's House - Front

But before we get too excited, I have to tell you there’s still a bit more to do.

Like putting in the baseboards (skirting) around the newly installed floors on the third floor.

And removing all the scaffolding and tools from inside the house.

Blog Photo - John's House Scaffolding

And paint cans from the kitchen.

Blog Photo - John's Kitchen

And then the big clean-up.

All that before Move-In Day on May 7.

But even during the push to finish it all, John’s feeling delighted with what he’s accomplished – by himself.

“For example, the quote I got to repair the plaster ceilings and crown moldings was $5,000 a room.  Instead of going down that path I invested in $50.00 worth of materials (per room) and did it myself.  The results are truly amazing!  Even the local contractors are impressed!”

Blog Photo - John Red Room Finished

He still arrives at the house a little after 7 each morning and works steadily till 4 p.m., stopping only for a light lunch.

“All is on schedule and all deadlines will be met!  Ann will be arriving on Sunday (May 4) to help with the final cleanup of the house just before the movers arrive on Wednesday.  Great happiness!”

When I told you that John was doing all this work by himself, I wasn’t joking.  His wife Ann, a partner in an accounting firm, has been in Toronto, more than two hours away. This is the busiest time of her work-year – tax season – and Ann’s been working flat-out at her job.   She hasn’t been to the house since mid- February, when she made “a flash-visit”.

Blog Photo - Picton Staircase 2

So how does this work for them? How does Ann know she’ll like what John has done?

“Lots of pictures are sent each day to provide Ann with the state of affairs at 27 Centre Street,” John explains.

“Does she trust you THAT much?” I ask John cheekily.

And he replies: “That is why I send the pictures each and every day . . . Feedback is always good!”

Blog Photo - Picton Staircase

On reflection,  I’m really liking the sound of this arrangement:  Husband does all the hard and dirty work, while wife stays away from all the chaos and white dust, returning when the work is done.

Hmm… Ann, you’re a girl after my own heart.

Way to go, Ann!

Ooops! I really meant:  “Way to go, John!”.

 **

 Photos by John Garside

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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.