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The Porch – by Guest Writer Heather Beveridge

Dark green paint was the colour of almost every two-story house in Toronto’s east end.

Blog Photo - old semi with green front porch

If you were very bold, the house was painted deep red with an ecru trim.  My mother didn’t want to stand out in a crowd or cause a row in the neighborhood, so she insisted that our house exterior be painted the standard dark green trim with a white porch. The porch floor was painted grey.

Painting the outside of the house was always a big job. First, the extension ladder was borrowed from my grandfather’s garage. Extension ladders in those days were not light aluminum ones; nevertheless, my father would walk to my grandparents’ home at the top of the street and come home carrying the wooden ladder while I sat on the porch and waited.

Blog Phot - Father and children on porch steps

No one ever painted over the old paint. Perhaps there were too many layers. A blow torch was used to soften up the old paint. The torch had a brass barrel, never as shiny as the ones that I see at auctions.

Next came the lighting of the gas.   This wouldn’t have stuck in my memory if my mother hadn’t been such a worrier. My mother expected an explosion whenever there was fire, gas, or even matches.  My father would quietly ignore my mother’s admonitions, light the torch and begin peeling the paint. It gave off a beautiful smell like burning leaves on a fall day.

Peeling the paint was right up there with helping my grandfather shave wood. Over and over, my Dad and I would clean off the old paint from the porch. Twisting off those silky strips of glistening paint and pulling ever so gently and slowly to try to get the biggest curl of paint yet.

Our porch served many duties. The huge baby pram with its great big belly like a whale was always on the porch. My baby brother always slept outside during the daytime – even on the coldest winter days – buried beneath piles of blankets with an old coat thrown over the top of the pram. It was Nana’s idea of child-rearing:  she insisted that children must sleep outside even in winter, and my mother had no choice but to follow her determined mother’s ideas.

Blog Photo - Baby in pram and Heather

The porch was also where I was put on house-cleaning day:  “Here – take your toys and play on the porch. No, you can’t come in until the floors are dry.”

There was no furniture on our porch. At the time, I never questioned why – but I remember the Duncans’ house down the street had a glider on their porch with striped cushions.

Ours was a ‘playing porch’ – an open porch with steel-grey painted wood floor and bars of white cut-out shapes with a smooth enamel green railing on top. The railing was just the right height for me at five years old to imagine that I was standing on board my pirate ship and waving goodbye to all those scalliwag friends of mine.

Out I would go into my land of adventure, sticking my head in every so often for more toys. Especially on rainy spring days, my friends and I would gather on the porch.

Blankets dragged from the house and kitchen chairs became Indian tepees or, more often, a pirate ship. The enemy was hiding just around the corner in the alleyway and the tepee or ship had to be put in just the right place so the baby carriage wasn’t bumped, setting off wails. Occasionally, we ventured off onto the lawn to retrieve weapons tossed overboard in the excitement of the moment.

That porch served us well as children. I couldn’t imagine a house without one.

It wasn’t until our own home was built that a glider was installed on the porch. It wasn’t quite the same with railings that were laminate and no paint to peel. And a cement floor would never be as fine as the shiny warm planks that served double duty as a pirate ship.Blog Photo - Porch Exterior Wide shot

THANKS TO HEATHER FOR THIS STORY.

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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.

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The Dreaded Knob and Tube (John’s House, Pt. 3)

Ever heard of knob and tube?

Old knob and tube along with new wiring
Old knob and tube along with new wiring

It’s the kind of wiring used in old houses.  Like John Garside’s.

The gracious old house in lakeside  Prince Edward County, Ontario, has beautiful features.

Blog Photo - Picton Staircase 2

But behind those lovely features is knob and tube  — on the second and third floors of the beautiful home.  And that old knob and tube wiring can be dangerous.

Blog Photo - Picton House Exterior 2

“I knew the wiring was not quite fine,” John says.  “The chief electrician, Dan, and I spoke about the house and the work.  My comment: ‘ I want it to be beyond code’.  He replied: ‘very good’. ”

Blog Photo - Old wiring

It made sense to go above the basic requirements, or “beyond code”.  John didn’t intend to replace the new wiring for a long time.

He knew the  job would take a lot of time and involve “lots of new switches, plugs and all new wiring everywhere!”

Blog Photo - electrician and red walls

Which meant punching holes in beautiful plaster walls.

“Yes.  The holes are 4 inches in diameter and these allow them to fish the wires through the ceiling and around the joists.  Very complicated and very time consuming.  But it saves the plaster and the crown moldings!!”

Blog Photo - electrician working on ceiling

Blog Photo - Yellow room,s econd floor

The plaster and crown moldings in most of the rooms are remarkably beautiful.  (I’ll show them to you in next week’s story.) They’d cost a ton of money – and time –  to replace today.

But boring 4 inch holes isn’t enough access to remove and replace all of the wiring.  John had to rip up the floors on the third floor.

Blog Photo - Old floors more ripped up

“To get rid of all the knob & tube wiring on the second floor it was a better to remove the 3rd floor flooring so we would have access to the ceilings and walls of the 2nd floor”, John explains. ” That way the new wires could be sent up from the basement to the third floor, then dropped down into the appropriate room on the second floor.  This saved a great deal of grief!”

I think I understand that…..

Electricians Bob and Brian did the wiring work.  That left John to do the rest… the re-plastering on the second floor,  the replacement of the  flooring on the third.

“I am working on it right now!” John says.

Blog Photo - Old floors and work stand

Blog Photo - New Floors in progress wide shot

He’s working hard.  Time flies when you have a promise to keep.

Blog Photo - John's third floor - new floors in progress

John  promised his wife Ann that they’d move in by the end of April.  That’s three weeks away.

And there’s still a lot to do.

So, fingers crossed…..

And good luck to John.

Photos  by John Garside.

 

 

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Author MT McGuire At Home

Author MT McGuire is one of my favorite bloggers. That’s partly because I never know what MT will write about next.  Or how.

Like the time she went metal detecting and found “a strange um…. thing.”  Well, with an opening like that, don’t we just need to press on, to figure out what the um… thing is?

The Thing
The Thing

One day she’s unearthing an 800 year old object and the next she’s breaking your heart with her worry about her parents’ health.

My Mum was 80 a few months ago. She told me, gently, that her father didn’t survive to see 81 and I had a horrible feeling that she was telling me she thinks she mightn’t be around for long.  And I think this is the root of it all.  That my parents are knocking on, and soon they won’t be here.  And I want their last years to be happy, and for life to be kind to them, and while I think they are happy, I know they are struggling.

So I suppose I’m just scared.”

That ability to confront both the weird and the deeply moving may help explain the appeal of MT’s  K’Barthan Trilogy.

Blog Photo - MT Few Are Chosen
 She describes the young adult fantasy series as:  “Above all else, a romp. If it makes people laugh, then — to be honest — anything else is gravy. There are bad jokes, silly names, an unspeakable baddie, flying cars, flying car chases, exciting fights and a smattering of romance.  But I’m hoping there might be the odd universal truth buried in there somewhere, even if it’s only by mistake.”

MT McGuire’s self-description?   “A 45 year old who still checks inside unfamiliar wardrobes for a gateway to Narnia.”

Any luck with that?  “None yet.”

One day, I checked MT’s blog and discovered a wonderful old building where she and her family lived while her father was housemaster of Gibbs House, at Lancing College in Sussex, England.

Gibbs House, Lancing College
Gibbs House, Lancing College

Here’s how she describes it:

“Miles and miles of corridor and a couple of enormous rooms (you know, bed in one post code, wardrobe in another) and a couple of tiny ones just big enough to fit a chest of drawers and a bed, on each floor. You have the spare room; the dormer up top (horrible room, we thought it was haunted – so we kindly put our guests there – phnark).”

Lancing was definitely not a “normal” environment for a young girl, since it was mostly a boys’ school.

“If your life is not like other people’s you end up with an alternative perception of what normal is.”

You also learn to see things that others may miss.

“There were always the lads who were having a hard time at home. They were the ones my parents were extra kind to and for whom they went the extra mile. I never knew what was going on in these boys’ lives but there was something unmistakable in all of them.  So, I guess I developed an eye for people who were hauling baggage which has helped a lot with the characterisation in my books – not to mention day to day life.”

Lancing College Chapel
Lancing College Chapel

So – back to the pictures of Lancing College. They reminded me of another fantasy series — the Harry Potter books.  And sure enough,  Lancing was the producers’ first location choice.

“The school was offered a lot of money to be the ‘film-Hogwarts’ but declined. The headmaster at the time said that it was a place of education and not for Hollywood. He is a charming and mild mannered man.  I wonder what on earth they must have said to him to get such an uncharacteristically pompous rebuttal.”

Back Garden

Today, MT, her husband (“McOther”) and young son (“McMini”) live in another old building (above, built in 1800).

Blog Photo - MT Stairs to Landing

She loves it, despite the fact that the plumbing and heating systems and the plastering need repairs.  MT says it’s like owning a 1960’s Rolls Royce.

Blog Photo - MT Office via landing

Blog Photo - MT LRoom comfy corner

“Sure it needs a bit of care and tinkering but it’s like living in history and it’s so beautifully made. The banister rail is beautiful and the doors and the floors are lovely.  The look and feel goes with our furniture, which is mostly family stuff, generations of hand-me-down antiques and some nice modern things McOther and I have bought.

Blog Photo MT LRoom red sofa

Comfort matters.  “I like a well cared house, but not too neat. It has to look lived in or it makes the guests nervous and then they are far more likely to spill stuff and break things. Well, OK — I am, if I’m your guest. It may be different for normal people.”

Blog Photo - MT Stairs

For MT, home is a place, but, above all, it’s the people who love and understand you.

“Someone as well as somewhere to come home to. When I was a kid it was my parents and brother. Now, it’s McOther and McMini. Unless they are in it with me it’s not a proper home. I guess they are my home in many ways.”

MT McGUIRE’S BOOKS

There are 4 books — not three — in The K’Barthan Trilogy.

(MT cheerfully admits:  “Unfortunately, I’ve never been very good at maths”.)

The books are sold on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the other online booksellers. To learn more about MT and her books, please visit:

Blog: www.mtmcguire.co.uk
Website: www.hamgee.co.uk/books