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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.

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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.

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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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At Home with Andrea Torrey Balsara

Two years ago, Andrea Torrey Balsara and her husband Nav bought a grand Victorian home surrounded by lawn, woods, and big old barns.

Blog Photo - Andrea Trees in Morning

“To me, the greatest wealth is to have nature around me. To now be on a property where there are old trees, squirrels, wildlife…it is such a blessing that I had given up on ever having.

“This place came out of the blue for us, as we had resigned ourselves to subdivision living. Initially, the property was what attracted me, but I have since grown to love the old house, too; there is a spirit and charm to it that really touches me. For the first time since I was a child I feel I am truly home.”

Blog Photo - Andrea view to the barns

Blog Photo - Andrea and Maisie

Andrea is a storyteller – she writes and illustrates books for children. Characters include Greenbeard the Pirate Pig and Happy the Pocket Mouse.

Blog Photo - Andrea Swashbuckling Guinea Pig

She fell in love with pictures early.

“One of my first clear memories is at 6 years-old, reading a picture book. I say ‘reading’, but really I followed the story by the exquisite art. I remember a feeling of yearning come over me to make pictures that were so beautiful. I also grew up on Donald Duck comics. I didn’t realize until many years later that I never usually read the comics, just followed the pictures. The visual sense of humour that I have in my drawings is totally influenced by the cartoonist Carl Bark’s Donald Duck comics.”

Blog Photo - Andrea Mouse Vacation

“With my picture book, Greenbeard the Pirate Pig, I was finally able to write and illustrate a book. Since then I have also illustrated the Happy the Pocket Mouse series, written by Philip Roy, through Ronsdale Press. Book 4, Mouse Vacation, came out in October 2016. Illustrating without writing the book is a whole new experience, and one which has taught me a lot about collaboration.”

Blog Photo - Andrea in Office

Andrea calls her work space her ‘art loft’.  “Really, it’s the former servants’ quarters. The stairs going up are grooved from the generations of servants going up and down the stairs. I love feeling connected to the history.”

From the window, she sees an expanse of trees, yard and old barns.

“I can’t believe I have barns!”

Blog Photo - Andrea Barns and hydrangea

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Knowing her passion for art, you may be surprised to learn that Andrea once dropped art altogether after getting a C in Grade 8.

“It was so devastating to me that I vowed never to share my art again. A drastic reaction! At that age, my sense of confidence was non-existent, so the grade felt like a defining moment to me. I avoided art classes after that, as I didn’t want to have my love of art taken from me. Odd kid-logic, I know.

“Now I feel I have so much catching up to do with people who have gone through art school; it’s made it a much longer learning curve for me to learn how to illustrate a book.”

Blog Photo - Andrea in Living Room

Writing and illustrating children’s books — here, in her beloved home — is a blessing. Andrea doesn’t only produce them — she loves reading children’s books.

“I guess because in many ways I still feel like a kid myself. I went through a traumatic experience as a small child, and a part of me is still that age. I don’t relate to many of the books meant for adults as I often find them cynical, incredibly violent, and gratuitously sexual. I love the innocence and openness of children’s books. There is a joy to it that writing for adults doesn’t have.

“In children’s books it’s not only okay to have hope, and to believe that the world is a place of beauty and love, it is essential. Even the books for adults that I love come from a place of childlike innocence and the belief in the nobility of the human spirit.”

Blog Photo - Andrea Trees in spring

As with her art, care for her home has been a labour of love. She loves the living room because it now feels homey. But the house is old and required a lot of work.

“It took me time to love the house, as initially it smelled musty and the windows were decrepit, with bugs living between them and the storm windows. It was sweltering in the summer and infested with cluster flies. I bought a vacuum I could strap on my back, with an extension wand to reach the high ceilings, and wielded it like Luke Skywalker fighting the Evil Empire. Then, in our first winter (last year), we froze. I now own several sets of long underwear (thank-you, old house!)

Blog Photo - Andrea Living room

“Thankfully this winter, with the new radiators we had installed, it has been snug. Now that we’ve sorted out some of its issues I love our old Victorian home’s uniqueness.”

Here in this unique home, Andrea is also completing a young adult novel called The Great and the Small.

It’s about a colony of rats, led by a charismatic chairman, who are waging a war to exterminate humanity using the bubonic plague. The only thing between annihilation and life is the chairman’s nephew Fin who is rescued from certain death and nursed back to health by a teenage girl. Fin grows to love the girl, and realizes that what his uncle has told him about ‘two-legs’ is wrong. Now he has to choose: follow his uncle whom he adores, or turn against him and rebel.”

Home, family, art — Andrea appears to be in a very good place. Her husband Nav and daughters are her greatest supporters. And there’s other joyful news: her older daughter will be married at the beautiful family home this fall.

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Decorating With Memories

We prepare our hearts and homes for Christmas. My prayers are more reflective now, my gratitude expands. It’s the season of Advent, the weeks before Christmas.

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Photo by Hamlin Grange

Photo by Hamlin Grange

We also decorate our home with memories of those we love. Each activity, each object reminds us.

Like the year I proudly set the table — and my husband decided it was blah. Out came red and green candles and Christmas glasses instead. Now it’s tradition.

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By early December each year, the memories start nudging: it’s time to decorate. 

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Older daughter and son-in-law couldn’t make it from the US, but memories of the whole family together always return on the day we decorate the tree.

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Husband, younger daughter and son-in-law haul in the fresh Fraser fir, haul out the boxes of decorations, string up the lights and we all sip hot cider. The family room’s a happy mess.

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We laughingly remember previous Christmas trees: too small, too thin, or lopsided. But this year, we got it right.

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The ornaments also bring back memories.

My mother’s gratitude and wishes for the following year are written on a scroll in this cylinder. How we all miss her!

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My times working in S. Africa, where these Ndebele dolls were made.

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Some ornaments are just for fun. Like “the disco ball”, that always makes us grin, with memories of the disco days.

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Memories upon memories.

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Tiny Mr. J.C. finally gets tired of all the activity and lies down to sleep, paws up. *Can you see him on the sofa below?* It’s our first Christmas without his best friend Dawson, who would have been asleep at this point too. 

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Blog Photo - Julius and Dawson Sleeping

Do dogs miss their companions? We do. 

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All is calm now. Extra-special thanks are given.

And, as the fire glows in the hearth…

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Santa and the angels look on approvingly, I think. They, too, have kept us company through many a Christmas.

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Blog Photo - Christmas ornaments Peace Angel

From our home to yours, wishing you peace this Advent, good memories, and joyful times at Christmas.

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This, That and The Ebor

 

There’s this: a crop of summer-blooming Amaryllis, a huge flower that normally blooms in winter — unless you’re like me and forgot the bulbs in the cold room until recently….Blog Photo Red Amaryllis2

Blog Photo Amaryllis Red and White

Then there’s this darling photo of Mr. D. and Mr. JC. 

Blog Photos JC and Dawson

Then – for a change of pace – these two vintage cars….

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In front of my favorite 17-room mansion, Ebor House…

You may remember that time I got lost and ended up sipping tea in a stranger’s kitchen in his beautiful old mansion…. 

Ebor House was built in 1868 by the Farncombs, a remarkable English-Canadian family which counted two Lord Mayors of London, England, as close relatives.

Blog Photo Doors Open Ebor House

Well, there I was at Ebor House again last Saturday, and this time, for a very different reason.

Ebor House was a highlight of Doors Open Clarington.  The architectural conservancy event features many beautiful heritage buildings in Clarington. And I was the author guest, invited to speak about my books, share my knowledge of Ebor House and also the Farncombs’ history.

Blog Photo Farncomb Legresley

While I was in one room, “Farnie”, great-grandson of the Farncombs, was in another room, charming visitors with tales of growing up at Ebor House. He inspired me to keep going: his energy was so radiant! 

Well over a thousand visitors — including a few cyclists- visited Ebor House. 

Blog Photo Doors Open Cynthia

It was a lovely day.

The volunteers (including Leo Blindenbach, who was in charge of the Ebor House site) were organized and gracious — as were the owners, Andrea and Nav.

Thanks to MaryAnn Isbister, whose excellent work turned my 6-part blog series on Ebor House into a full colour booklet for the event. Organizers Bernice Norton, Marilyn Morawetz, Leo and the rest of the team should be very proud! 

Bravo, all of you!