A Good Home, Couples, Following your dreams, Home, Home Decor, Homes, Inspiration, Interior Design, Life in canada, Lifestyle, Prince Edward County, Renovating, Restoration, Spring, Woodwork

Part 2: John’s House in Prince Edward County


John Garside and his wife Ann sold their home in big-city Toronto last year and bought a house two hours away in Prince Edward County.  They’ve been living in a condo nearby while John renovates the house.

image via prince-edward-county.com
image via prince-edward-county.com

Prince Edward County is known for small towns, farms and lakeside living.  In the last decade, its vineyards and wines, fine cheeses and restaurants have also become popular. The County is a well-known mecca for artists and weekenders.

John has bravely promised Ann that they’ll be able to move in by the end of April.

Blog Photo - Picton House Exterior 2

But their “new” home  is more than a hundred years old, huge — almost 4,000 square feet —  and needs repair.   John, who has never taken on a project of this scope, is doing almost all the work by himself.

The first room he tackled was “The Green Room” on the main floor.

“It was the worst room in the house, ”  he says.  “A water leak from the 1980’s had caused a great deal of damage to the plaster ceiling, walls and the crown moldings.”

Blog Photo - Green Room in Progress

John took on the challenge –– very carefully.  He rebuilt ceiling, walls, and even the crown moldings.

“I repaired what others would have scrapped, and I did it all by myself!  And I had never done anything like this in my life!”  You can hear the joy in his voice.

Blog Photo - Picton Green Room 3

Every time he looks at the room,  John feels “a glow of satisfaction and a sense of oneness with the house”.

Blog Photo - Picton Green Room

The house is full of beautiful features worth preserving.    John has to proceed cautiously.

Blog Photo - Picton Window

He says, “You think about each action a great deal before you act. That way the unpleasant surprises are held to a minimum.”

Blog Photo - Heritage Sign

The skills he learned from his grandfather — extreme patience, careful planning, attention to detail and observing safety rules –are all essential right now.  ‘Measure twice, cut once’ is the rule.

“You must understand,” he says,  “that the project you are working on is not modern, but 100 years old. So you must take time to think about what you are about to do, and plan in detail how you are going to achieve success.”

John puts in 8 hours every day — and no slacking off.  After all, the end of April is just around the corner.

Will he make the deadline? We’ll keep checking in.

Original Photos by John Garside

A Good Home, Book lovers, Garden, Homes, Inspiration, Nature, Photographs

A Reader Writes

“As I sat down each time with your book I was curious as to where you might be taking me in the next chapter or two.  There were so many surprises and turns.  Life is full of them, I know, but yours are so well written of, they seem to be real and much more.  Almost a window of opportunity: a window for your reader to look out of, to see his or her world in a different and better light.” Reader review by John Garside.

Umpteen readers have emailed me with their responses to A Good Home. Some send photos as well. Philip Young created an image that celebrates A Good Home:

Book - Philip Young's photo

Thanks, Philip. And your wife Marje, for reading and loving the book. And for this interesting image!

John Garside,  a gardener, avid reader and editor from Prince Edward County, Ontario, took A Good Home with him on his canoe trip in a remote part of Ontario. Seems the book made good reading when he stopped for lunch, eating his bagels, etc.

Book - with bagel and gloves in Johns canoe

When John returned home, he sent me photos and his review of A Good Home:

“I find time with a book a very rewarding experience.  The book I read just before opening the cover on yours was ‘Half Broke Horses’ by Jeanette Walls published in 2009.  I then read yours, and then the next in line was ‘John Cameron’s Odyssey’, transcribed by Andrew Farrell and published in 1928.

I now have finished his book and find myself looking back on all three books and saying to myself, “What a wonderful reading time I have experienced!”

Now I would like to talk about your book.  There were several things that I really liked about it.

The first one was the topic.  “Homes” are made from “houses” and not everyone can do this and not everyone is aware of the transformation of a house into a home.  The “Home” topic really interested me as I have lived in several places and it is interesting how attached you can get to a home.  For me it can be the actual house or more recently something outside the actual house, the garden!  So the topic was just the thing to read as I was leaving my former home for a new place.

The chapter length was excellent.  Short and to the point which is something that Jeanette Walls also did in her book “Half Broke Horses”.  With a busy life you sometimes only have thirty minutes to read so a nice short concise chapter is just the ticket!

I enjoyed each chapter as it started and ended within my grasp of time.  Long chapter books are nice but I find I sometimes have to backup and re-read from the start of the chapter to get into the swing of the book again.  I did not have to do that with yours.  Each chapter was a nice fit and I could see the “Home” being built one chapter at a time.

Your book is very much like a piece of stained glass.  Each piece speaks to you and is wonderful as it stands.  Then when all the pieces are put together the picture is much more clear and I could see your path from Home to Home to Home and beyond.

Your snippets of early life were very interesting and it is most unfortunate that more people do not or cannot remember some of the finer points of their youth.  I can remember things that happened to me when I was three, and feelings and a sense of the world when I was two and a half.  You too have this gift and sharing some moments of your Jamaican childhood was very eye-opening for me, someone who was born and raised in Toronto!

I also found it interesting how you decided that Jamaica may be “home” but not your future.  It takes a very mind-centred person to do this as most of us are more than happy to stay where we are.

Book - Johns lake and trees

You mentioned that coming to Toronto and going to Ryerson was quite an experience.  As I read these pages I really felt for you as I recall when I went off to university in Hamilton (McMaster). I was surprised to see so many foreign students.  Now being a curious sort of person I was always interested in their story.  I made many fascinating friends and look back on my university days as eye-opening not only for what I took in my courses but also what I learned from my many foreign friends.

Your journey in faith is also well described as it is something that not everyone is comfortable in writing about.  The church in Brooklin must have been quite a change for you from Jamaica!

I also enjoyed your look into homes as a place where you live.  Your homes have been that, a place where you and your family live their lives and take care of each other.  The seed is planted early in the book and continues to grow through to the end pages.

By the end of the book, each home is special in its own right but all are equal in their own gift to you and your family.  I feel the same way about the various homes that I have had; they have all given to me and my friends a life-giving joy.”

Storms, Surviving a Blackout

At Home During the Storm

The thunderstorms rolled in.

The lights went out.

The rain fell loudly on the roof.

Lightning flashed.

It was only about 5 p.m., but it looked like 9 o’clock.

“Where are the flashlights?” we asked each other.

“And where are the lamps?”

There it was: that moment, at the start of a blackout, when you feel just a hint of panic, but decide to steady yourself. After all, we know where the flashlights and lamps are. We just have to find them. We hope the gas-fuelled lighter is where we last saw it. And that the batteries in the flashlights are still good.

“What did people ever do before electricity?” my husband mused aloud as he hurried into one room and I another, searching for the stuff we’d put away for such emergencies.

I found two oil lamps. The first lit without a problem. The second didn’t. The wick was too short.

I hadn’t lit this lamp in years. I finally tried sticking my fingers down into the lamp to pull the wick out – them realized that the whole thing can be taken apart and the wick pushed up. So I did, and lit the wick. A tall flame shot up, sending a plume of smoke into the ceiling. The wick was now up too high.

No problem, I thought. I’d been raised in the countryside, in a time and place where the lights often went out at night. I swiftly opened a kitchen drawer, grabbed a tablespoon and used it to try to push the wick down.

It didn’t work. The spoon only got hot, my hand nearly singed.   Yikes!

And then I remembered: Blow it out! I huffed and puffed and blew the flame out, reviving a memory of my mother or older sisters doing this many times when the lights had come back on in my childhood home and it was time to put out the lamps and candles.

Meanwhile, my husband was rummaging through cupboard doors, looking for the ‘big lamp’ he’d saved for just this purpose.

“I know I put it in this cupboard!” he declared, and, in the lamplight, I could almost see the bemused expression on his face.

Whenever he does this, I usually help him to search, because sometimes a thing is staring you in the face but it takes someone else to see it. But it wasn’t there. We rummaged loudly through some more cupboards, found two flashlights in their usual places, but no Big Lamp.

By now I’m sitting in the living room, two lamps lit. He comes through the doorway, carrying a strange-looking object. The size of a small TV set, this portable multi-media machine was a marvel ten years ago when he bought it on a trip to California.Image

It’s got everything from a TV, radio, CD player, to a siren, flashing lights and even an electronic mosquito repellent. It’s part of the survival kit our family put together when a blackout hit the Eastern seaboard area just a few years after an ice storm did some damage in our part of the countryside near Toronto.

We responded to these two scary acts of nature by assembling our own Armageddon box. We stocked The Box with everything from water supplies to candles and crackers and canned meat and various sizes of band-aid and surgical supplies. And, of course, batteries — of various sizes.

But it’s been years since we had one of those scary Mother-Nature-having-a-bad-day experience, and we’ve gotten soft. The batteries in this multi-media contraption have also gone soft. It takes nine C-size batteries and we can only find eight. My husband inserts the eight new batteries and reinserts one of the old ones.

We huddle around the coffee table in the living room, trying to coax the thing to life.

The TV screen does not light up. The radio sputters to life, sort of, giving off a strange crackle and spit. The CD player doesn’t play. Even the flashing lights don’t work. Only the siren does. But we are definitely not at that stage yet.

“Maybe the mosquito repellent works,” I tell my husband. “How would we know though?”

“Well, you don’t see any mosquitoes in here do you?” he teases. “So it must be working!”

We sit there and gaze into the darkness. The rain and thunder are still at work, just outside our windows. I walk over to a window to look outside, but the lightning flashes again and I draw back, wondering if anyone has ever been struck by lightning through a window pane.

“What did people ever do before electricity and all these gadgets?” my husband wonders again out loud as I return to my seat on the sofa.

“They used lamps and candles for light,” I answer. “They talked to each other. And they went to bed early.”

“Probably why they had so many kids,” he replies. “If this blackout goes on into the night, there’ll be a spike in the conception rate. It never fails!”

We laugh in the semi-darkness. Without the hum of appliances and other electrically powered machines around us, our laughter sounds louder, somehow, but also more intimate.

“When radio became widely available, people stayed up listening to it,” I said. “Maybe that’s when people started having fewer babies.”

We suddenly remember a tiny, wood-clad transistor radio that my husband’s hosts had presented him after he gave a keynote speech in the Netherlands, and he runs upstairs to get it. In no time, we are listening to one of several available radio stations. It’s loud and clear.Image

“We remain under a serious thunderstorm warning this evening,” says the weather reporter on one station.

“Incredible, Claire. Thank you,” replies Robert, the radio announcer.

We learn about a commuter train full of passengers “heading home in the rush hour”. Water, the reporter says, has flooded the train “up to the seats”. We worry about the passengers, when we hear that “one passenger jumped out of the train and swam away”.

Elsewhere, the radio tells us, people are stuck in elevators.  Gary, an expert, says “For anyone who knows someone who is stuck in an elevator, please keep in touch with them and reassure them.”

One assumes that this reassurance should be given by cell phone.

Claire comes back on the radio to warn that there are “three more storms coming our way, bringing a lot more rain.” We worry about the people trapped in the train, on the flooded roads, in the elevators.

I pick up the hand-held phone but it, too, relies on electricity and there’s no dial tone. I head to the kitchen in the darkness and pick up the receiver of what is now becoming an ‘old-time’ instrument, and call my daughter for the second time this evening. She lives in an apartment in mid-town.

“Are you okay?” I ask anxiously. “How are you coping?”

“Our lights never went out”, she says. “The TV is on and I’m watching the news. But one street over, all the lights are out.”

“Glad you’re safe,” I say, relieved. “But keep a flashlight and candles handy. And stay away from the elevator, just in case.” I can’t resist that motherly piece of advice before I hang up the phone.

Another expert on the radio says people shouldn’t use cell phones unnecessarily in this emergency.

“Push comes to shove, we can always charge our cell phones in the car, you know,” my husband reassures me.

Outside, there’s a lull in the rain. My husband picks up the useless multi-media contraption and leaves the room. Minutes later, he’s back, hauling it with him. “It works,” he says triumphantly. “It runs off the cigarette lighter in the car.”

But I’m glued to the little wooden radio from the Netherlands.  There are more interviews with people trapped by the flood, and experts telling us all to stay calm and “be patient”.

Another hour passes. Near the radio is a mystery novel I’d been reading. I flip it open, wondering if I can read in this light.

“No wonder so many people had to get glasses,” I say, as I put the book aside. “If you wanted to read at the end of the day, or knit a scarf or something, this was all the light you had.”

We call the rest of our relatives to make sure they’re okay. Some have electricity and some don’t. But all are coping.

So are we. After all, we’re indoors. We’re not on the road, or in a train, or stuck in an elevator.  And, despite this brief reminder of times past, we’re here in the 21st century.

After about three hours, we blow out the lamps, turn off the little radio and go to bed.

Globe and Mail

My mother-in-law’s home remedies are absolutely foul. And work like a charm


The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, May. 08 2013, 1:17 PM EDT

I know grown men who, when sick, cry out for their mothers. But my husband begs: “Please, whatever you do, don’t call Mom!”

I’m not sure what scares him more: her showing up with a bag full of foul-tasting home remedies, or the fact that the remedies always work. They do. The fouler they taste and smell, the more effective they are.

And now his cough is dragging on, keeping the whole household awake at night. I have to phone his mother.

“Boil some ginger, some garlic, some honey and some apple-cider vinegar,” Mom instructs, passing on a remedy for her son’s bad cold. She uses the no-nonsense tone I imagine her using with junior colleagues before she retired from her beloved profession, nursing.

I never wanted to be a nurse, and I don’t know the first thing about making home remedies, either.

“How much ginger and garlic?” I ask. “And what were the two other things?”

“Why don’t you get a pen and paper and I’ll tell you,” Mom suggests.

You’d think I would know this recipe by heart. I’ve heard it before. But Mom is full of recipes, most made from Jamaican, African or Middle Eastern ingredients with unspellable names, and I dread this almost as much as her son does.

“Grate some ginger.”

“How much?”

She thinks a moment. “About a tablespoon,” she says.

“Is that before or after it’s grated?” I ask.

Mom sighs, the sigh of one who never gets used to the fact that her intelligent, accomplished daughter-in-law is secretly an idiot.

“It’s about an inch or so of peeled ginger,” she says patiently.

It’s the “or so” that always gets me. I want exact measurements.

“About the same amount of garlic,” she continues. “Grated.”

Next, she tells me the correct amount of honey and cider vinegar needed. I read the ingredients back to her and ask: “And then what?”

“You put it in a small pot, and simmer together on low heat till they’re all mixed together nicely.”

I’m about to ask how you know when it’s “mixed together nicely,” but Mom’s read my mind already.

“You’ll know when it’s ready from the smell,” she says. “It smells very strong.… Then you wait till it cools a bit, and give him a tablespoon, and another tablespoon before bed. Let him keep taking it till it’s finished.”

I thank her, and joke: “Well, Mom – at least this time I know every ingredient in the remedy. And it’s all healthy stuff.”

She laughs, and declares, “You young people don’t know anything. Every remedy I give you is made from healthy stuff.”

I set to work immediately. Garlic, ginger, honey and cider vinegar are ingredients I always have on hand.

I watch the golden-brown liquid simmering in the pot, giving off vapours that stink up the whole kitchen. Mom’s right: It’s a very strong smell. It floats ahead of me as I enter the bedroom. My husband dives under the covers at the first whiff and pretends to be asleep.

“You have to take this,” I coax. But he doesn’t emerge from under the thick, downy comforter. He’s playing turtle. Or possum. Or something dead. But I’m not having any of it.

“I know you’re awake,” I say. “I just saw you sitting up in bed a few seconds ago.”

I bend over him, holding the tablespoon and mug of potion cradled on a saucer with upturned edges. It’s extra protection against spills. This stuff doesn’t only smell and taste awful, it looks as if it might stain anything it touches. But I’m convinced it’s good for him. Mom’s “meds” always work.

It takes long minutes for him to peep out from under the bed cover, checking to make sure the danger is past. But I’m still standing there.

“Go away!” he whispers in what sounds weirdly like both an order and pathetic begging. I stand my ground. He tries another tack. “Leave it here on the bedside and I’ll take it when I’m ready.”

He’s almost whimpering, now, but I am unmoved. All the store-bought medication has failed. It’s come to this. I have to administer the potion myself, because I don’t trust him to do it. I dip the spoon into the still-warm liquid and tell him to sit up so I can bring the spoon to his lips.

“Open your mouth,” I say. Speaking those words reminds me of the many times our children refused to take their medicine or eat Brussels sprouts.

He opens his mouth, glaring at me and the spoon the whole time. And makes the most awful grimace I’ve ever seen on a human face. “What the hell is this?” He demands. “It’s horrible!”

No argument there, I think. But this patient does not need sympathy. He just needs to tough it out and take his medicine.

Two days later, he starts to recover. The cough is less frequent, less violent, less loud.

“You’re improving!” I say, delighted. But the man has a one-track mind and it leads straight to mother.

“Don’t tell her! Don’t tell her it worked.”

“But she needs to know that it worked. She’s been so concerned.”

I start for the phone on a small table across the room. He grabs my arm, pleading.

“It’ll only encourage her,” he says. “She’ll never let me forget it. And the next medicine is going to taste 10 times worse!”

I don’t mean to laugh, but I can’t help myself. I sit on the bed, pat his leg and laugh.

“Glad someone thinks it’s funny,” he says petulantly.

I kiss him on the cheek and go to call his mother.

Cynthia Reyes lives near Toronto.