Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rainy day road trip

It rained heavily all day Monday. I had to take my truck into the garage for minor repairs and the garage gave me their loaner for the day. I went over to Lin's for breakfast and we discussed real estate. A couple of weeks ago we looked at a cabin on the South Mountain with a real estate agent and we both agreed that we liked her, if ever either of us were looking for an agent we would probably like to deal with her. So I phoned her and she was in her office doing paperwork. I said I'd like to look at some houses for sale and she invited me to her office to discuss it. I asked Lin if she wanted to tag along and she said she would, but she needed to get ready so I should go see the agent at her office first and pick her up later.

I went to see the agent and we talked about what I was looking for and she showed me what was currently listed on her computer. I picked a few that I was interested in and she checked to see if they were still available. They were. So then she put together an itinerary for the afternoon. All of the places I had picked turned out to be currently vacant so she didn't have to book in advance, we could go right away or whenever we liked.

I said, Oh goody, a rainy day road trip! and she laughed. I think she was up for an afternoon tour in the rain. I called Lin and arranged to go for lunch with her first and then we would meet the agent later at the first house on the list.

The first house was not really on my list as a serious prospect, it was out of my price range. But I told the agent that I was curious about it because I used to own it when I lived here in the '80s. She thought that was a good enough reason to put it on our list, and it was the closest to her office so we would start there. She arranged the list so that we ended up at a house near where she lived and also near the garage where my truck was, so she could go home and I could get my truck.

I probably shouldn't have gone to see my old house, it was probably a bad idea. I never wanted to sell it, I knew when I moved away that I would eventually be back and I had hoped to hang onto the house until then. But being a long distance landlady was just way too stressful and eventually I sold it. The new owner did substantial renovations on it and had repeatedly tried to sell it over the years (the agent looked up the history of the house for me). Apparently there were no takers.

I liked the changes the owner had made to the house. Except maybe the windows in the master bedroom which are smaller than the old windows, and the stairwell in the kitchen. But everything else looked nice. And the row of pines I planted on the north side of the house, there had been ten of them but only three survived and they are now taller than the house. They were only four inches tall when I planted them. More trees had been planted, including a dogwood and a maple in the front yard. And the driveway is now paved.

The fatal flaw of that house though was the leaky basement. It always leaked when I lived there, and I just made sure nothing was in the way of the water. It came in the east wall and flowed across the poured concrete floor to the drain. But the new owner has completely finished the basement with three rooms with laminate flooring. I think it has been set up as a rental apartment. And in one corner of the bathroom you can see a little water staining and I don't think that is from the shower, I think it is coming in from below. The leak is still there, under the flooring. That's probably not a good thing.

Nevertheless I liked the house, I felt right at home there. Surprise surprise.

Next we looked at a brand new as yet unfinished house on the North Mountain. It is located in a place with a fabulous view of the valley below. The owners were in the process of completing this house when something happened and they had to stop and sell. So it is not complete, it still needs about $25,000 worth of finishing. But it has a well, an approved septic system, and all the basics. The owners even had quotes from various trades to back up the cost estimate for finishing the house. However, it felt cramped. It was being built as a summer place and you could tell, it did not have a lot of storage space, the bathroom had space for a shower but not for a bath, and the kitchen livingroom area was very small. It was awfully close to the road, and that road is fairly busy because of the view and the campground just down the way. I didn't particularly like it, but both the agent and Lin did.

The final house was in a small town on a small cul-de-sac near the downtown area. It was over a hundred years old, with wooden shingle siding and virginia creeper growing up one wall. It is walking distance from the town shopping area, the grocery store, the drugstore, the coffee shop and the library. And it backs onto the property of Lin's boss. Well, he is Lin's boss in name only, in reality Lin is his boss, she tells him what he is going to work on and when.

From the photos on the internet, it was clear that someone had done a lot of work on this house. No septic to worry about, it is on town water and sewer. According to the description there are fruit trees in the yard. It has a solarium in the front and a covered open porch in the back. But when the agent unlocked the back door we were greeted by a strong odour of furnace oil. Not good. The ground level looked good though, nice exposed plank floors and thermal pane windows. A propane fireplace in the livingroom, solid wood cabinets in the kitchen. A lovely staircase to the second floor. On the second floor there are two bedrooms and a large bathroom, including a huge clawfoot tub in good condition. There were skylights in the bedrooms with no drips or leaks, new carpeting and the ceilings appeared to be insulated.

But the solarium on the ground level had two leaks in the rain. It had been freshly painted, you could still smell the paint, and the drips from the ceiling beaded on the newly painted floor.

The basement was dry and in good shape, we could not locate the source of the heating oil smell. It was most likely the tank which may be at the end of its lifespan or the furnace itself. We couldn't tell. Lin called her boss to ask him what he knew about the house, the agent discussed strategy with me. We walked around the outside of the house as well to see what shape it was in. Half the house had been recently painted, the other half had not. The roof was so-so but clearly there was a problem with the solarium roof. Lin thought it was a flashing issue.

I asked the agent if she had to choose, which house would she go with, the first or the last one.

She said, Are you serious?

She thought it was no contest, the last house was clearly the superior deal. She said the smell was fixable, so was the roof, the house was a find. Which is why I should never have gone to see my old place, I was completely sold on it, leaky basement and all.

It makes me think of relationships. You date and look for the guy who is going to get your juices flowing, not for the guy who is reliable, a good find. I want to walk into a house and feel excited by it, not just that it is sound and a good deal. Is that a good idea? Is romance a necessary pre-req? Or is that being blinded by fleeting emotions?

Not being an expert in such things I have no idea. But it was a fun road trip.

I definitely like the agent. She made the whole thing fun, I felt like I could trust her and she was very informative.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Junco babies

I was away for a few days, when I came back yesterday I saw the junco still sitting on the nest. A couple of hours later I noticed she was gone and took a peek at the nest from a distance. The eggs are gone and there are a few tiny junco babies in the nest. I couldn't count, I think at least three, and they weren't moving so I think they must just have hatched.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Last night I went for a walk in the woods. It was quite wet out so I wore my gumboots. Nevertheless my pant legs got quite wet from wading through dripping ferns.

After walking around in the woods along the vault for awhile, I came back out onto the road and walked down to the clearing where the house I built used to be. It burned down seventeen years ago. The clearing has been maintained by its current owner as a grassy meadow with flowers: lilies, foxglove, mallows, forget-me-nots and lupins.

I went into the clearing and walked around, finally coming to the place where my house used to stand. I built it in a spot surrounded by beautiful white birches, but those birches were badly scorched in the fire, and now they are all dead. I feel bad about that.

As I was standing there, I thought I could make out the outline of the walls of my house. It was a hexagon, six-sided, and I could make out the six walls as faint lines in the grass. I stood at the spot that would have been the front door. When I built it I put the door in the wall facing the road, but a later owner moved the door around to the opposite wall. I stood where I put the door. I turned around to look at the view, where the path was to the road, where my outhouse was, where the slashpile was beside the house.

And then my father walked by me, from the right to the left, and disappeared. I don't believe in ghosts, but I could see him there, walking by my front door. He died three years after the fire.

It gave me a bit of a chill, a cold sadness for things lost. I could never live there again. Don't think I haven't thought about it, but not now.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Here's to you, Mr. Gnarr

How do I get to be an Icelander?

The more I hear about that country and its people, the more I like it. I want to be there, I want to be one.

The latest is this article in the New York Times, "Icelander's Campaign Is a Joke, Until He's Elected", about the new mayor of Reykjavik, Jon Gnarr. He's a comedian who ran for mayor as a kind of joke, but actually got voted in. He led the Best Party, a bunch of punk rock musicians, and he made campaign promises like free towels at all public swimming pools, a polar bear display at the zoo and a drug-free Parliament by 2020. He has zero political experience, quit school at age 16, and considers himself an anarchist. And apparently is drop-dead funny.

His ideas sound silly, but the free towel thing is to promote tourism: in order to be considered a spa, European Union rules require a pool to provide free towels. Icelandic pools have seawater and sulfuric baths, but not free towels. Easy fix. The polar bear display is another easy fix: lately six polar bears swam to Iceland and were duly shot. Mr Gnarr proposes that Icelanders stop shooting the bears and put them up in the city zoo instead. And a drug-free Parliament? Well, why not?

Mr. Gnarr, lacking political experience, proposed a coalition government with any party that could prove it had watched all five seasons of The Wire, and the Social Democrat party qualified, although he suspects they got an underling to watch and make notes. Gee, I would qualify, I watched all five seasons and frankly I think it is one of the best dramatic TV series I have ever seen. What a great criterion!

I wannabe an Icelander...

Friday, June 25, 2010

The hummingbird

For various reasons I have not put up any birdfeeders this summer. So the blue jays don't come and I hear other birds but rarely see them. The occasional warbler and of course the junco. And the hummingbirds.

Lots of people around here have hummingbird feeders so I am not too worried about them, but I guess they remember my feeder from last year because they still come around, presumably looking for it. I don't see them but I do hear the distinctive hum of their wings.

This morning I was standing under a tall spruce beside my house and I heard a hummingbird. I looked up to see if I could see it. And I did! It was of course looking for the feeder in the general vicinity of where it used to hang, but not finding it I think it saw me and was trying to check me out without me seeing it. So it was flitting around just beyond the spruce branches, kind of peeking at me between the branches. It did this for several seconds, finally coming within five feet of my face, hovering in the air looking directly at me.

Later in the day I was in the back door shed and I heard it again. This time it hovered just outside the doorway and looked in at me. For a moment it looked like it was considering flying right in, but it flew away instead.

I think it was trying to tell me to put up my feeder again.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The junco

There's been a little junco hanging around my front door. Juncoes (juncos?) eat stuff off the ground, you won't see them too often at a birdfeeder, they pick seeds up off the ground. This little junco was hanging around the front door, sometimes actually under the house. I'd see it flying away when I came up to or out of the front door.

Then I noticed that it seemed to have a resting spot under a rock in a little embankment about ten feet from the doorway. A couple of times I saw it fly out of there, as if it were erupting from the ground. I looked but couldn't figure out which little indentation it was coming out of, there were several rocks sticking out and just enough space under them for a little bird to get itself out of the rain.

So I kept watching. I was curious which rock it was hiding under, and what it was doing there.

This morning I found out. I walked over there and the little bird flew out and I saw which rock it flew out from. I looked under that rock and there was a tiny nest with five tiny eggs in it.

I went back into my house and looked out the kitchen window, I could just make out the five little eggs, now that I knew what to look for, and where. The little junco was sitting on a low branch of a nearby baby spruce tree, her back to me, seemingly ignoring me.

I finished my chores and got my bike out to go meet the dogwalking ladies of the Harbour. I met them on the road heading into the woods and I told them the story of the little junco. Valerie likes to come in to my place to use my "throne"---she loves the little throne house I built last year. But I said that as long as the junco is nesting there, I can't have the dogs come in, so I was very sorry but she wouldn't be able to use the throne for awhile. She said that was OK.

When I got back from the dogwalk, I put my bike away and went indoors, not looking at the embankment where the nest is. But I went to the kitchen window and could not see the eggs. The junco was sitting on top of them, but she is so grey that I can't see her at all. Except when she turns her head, and I see the movement of her tiny yellow beak.

I have another close neighbour. Well, there are the squirrels of course, but this year they are not staying in the kitchen door shed where the antlers are. They obviously spent the winter there, but they are gone now. No, my neighbour is a little snake. He is brown, just over a foot long, and he lives under the house. On sunny days he comes out to sleep in the sun on the bedrock at my front door. Other times I see him slithering around the woodpile, or in the grass behind the house. But I am pretty sure he lives under the house. Not ten feet from the junco's nest.

I don't think this will end well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Barred owls

This is a Barred Owl I saw in the ravine behind Carolyn's house. Its distinguishing feature is the alien-like large black eyes.

When I was walking in the ravine, I passed this owl in a tree and it flew out and down the path in front of me. It landed in this tree and I took a photo of it. But I was uncertain whether it was facing me when I took the photo, so I tried to get a little closer to take another photo. He didn't like that, he sidled further out the branch and reached up with his beak to grab the end of the branch and pull himself up, then tipped forward and silently glided away down the trail.

I guess I was lucky to get this photo, it was the only one he allowed.

We have Barred Owls in the woods here in the Harbour. Some years ago the boy scouts put up some nesting boxes and the owls use them. One nesting pair has produced a baby this year, Ruth and Mike saw it on an evening ramble in the woods recently.

I hear them sometimes in the evening. The parents hoot and the baby mewls, a bit like a lost cat. It's nice to know there's a baby owl out there.

Real estate business

I made another offer and then revoked it. This time on a house in the Harbour.

It is a nice little house sitting on 19 acres of land, mostly abandoned pasture grown up in alders and a little bit of forest that has been clearcut. Its fatal flaw though was a drilled well and septic tank less than twenty feet apart. The water tested clean, it may be fine, I just don't know and I don't know how long it will be fine. Maybe forever. The not knowing, and not knowing even what it would cost to do something about it is the scary part.

Or one of the scary parts. The other scary part is the finances. I don't even know now whether I can afford to buy a home at all. If I had done it last year, I might have been OK, but this year the real estate market in Nova Scotia has taken off, prices are rising and I think I am being priced out of the market. I think I missed my window of opportunity.

So, I am thoroughly frustrated and depressed. I am even losing weight, a sure sign of things not being right in my little world!

When I started the process of making an offer on this little house in the Harbour, a friend and neighbour volunteered to inspect it for me and give me his opinion of its strengths and shortcomings. I appreciated this kindness very much, even though his opinion was ultimately fairly negative. He burst my little balloon of excitement about the place.

Later, when it came time to withdraw the offer, it turned out my offer to purchase contract required a signed statement from this friend stating what the problem was. My friend was a little reluctant---to say the least---to do that. I don't blame him at all, but it did put me in a bit of a bind. So yesterday, the day I was supposed to sign the termination papers, was probably the most stressful day of all, trying to gently convince my kind friend to sign on the dotted line to get me off the hook.

An onlooker, a mutual friend, listening and watching this whole process was wisely refraining from expressing an opinion on the matter, although at one point he ventured, You're looking to buy a place?

I turned to him and said, No, right now I'm looking for a hole to crawl into and hide in.

You know how when you get depressed everything in your whole life is connected and it's all bad? Right from the day you were born into this sorry world on down to the burnt toast this morning at breakfast? OK, it's like that.

I have two failed offers to purchase under my belt in as many months. Is the universe trying to tell me something? Other stuff as well, which I won't get into here.

Not to mention the rehash of the state of my finances and coming to the conclusion that perhaps I am screwed. Perhaps the recent stock market mess really did bite me harder than I thought. Can't buy, can't rent, and too many "assets" to even get into seniors' housing. Seniors housing! My god, has it really come to that? Never mind, I can't get in anyway.

Stupid thing is, I have all these friends here trying to help me. Friends I don't even know. When I was first realizing the septic-well issue, one friend said, Oh, you need to talk to Brian, he's the go-to guy on all things septic.

So on my way back up the Mountain, I stopped at Brian's house and his wife gave me his phone number to call later because he wasn't in. At supper time I called him, and he said, I'll be right there.

And not ten minutes later he was at the property in question examining the situation. This guy never even heard of me till I phoned him, and he drops everything to drive seven miles to check out a suspect septic.

Brian gave me his opinion of the situation, from both the legal and the "under the table" perspective. He actually was fairly optimistic about the solvability of the problem. He liked the property, thought it was worth trying to fix. I agree with him, I just don't have the resources to take the risk that the solution might turn out to be more expensive than I can afford. It's one of those things, it could be real simple or it could be real complicated, and short of actually doing the work, there's just no way to tell which way it will fall.

When the deal fell through, another friend got on the internet and immediately dug up another prospective home and even called the real estate agent to get the details. She printed off the pertinent info and got in her car and drove back in the woods looking for me. She insisted I go look right away.

By this time I had no appetite for anything real estate-related, but it's hard to resist the insistent kindness of a friend, I dutifully trundled off to look at this house.

The new option is a tiny house on the edge of the one town in the Valley I wouldn't mind living in. The instructions are to knock on the door of the neighbour to the left who has the key to the house. I pull up in front and before I am even half way across the road, the neighbour to the left is on his front porch enquiring, You lost? You lost?

I tell him I have come to look at the house for sale, he scrutinizes me for a minute, then looks at the for sale sign out front, then back at me.

Oh yes, it's for sale, the old lady just died. Go look around, I'll call the agent.

He goes into his house to phone, I walk around the house for sale. It is tiny tiny, the pink paint is peeling, and all the blinds are drawn on the little windows so you can't see inside. I walk around a couple of times before the old man comes out again and squints at the for sale sign to read the phone number of the agent. He dials the number. His wife comes out to see what's up. She sits down in a chair on their porch and proceeds to tell me the story of their lives.

They bought this house shortly after they got married over sixty years ago, and have lived there ever since. They love it there. Quiet road, close to town, nice place, nice neighbours. You know, they leave you alone unless you need them, then they're right there. Couple next door pretty much the same as them, bought the place almost sixty years ago too. They adopted a kid, raised her there, she got married and moved away. Then a few years ago, he died and she stayed on in the house by herself. Not a lot of money, couldn't afford to fix it up, lucky to have a home at all. Now she's gone too, died in the hospital only a couple of weeks ago.

The old man speaks to the phone, tells whoever is there that they need to send someone right away to let me into the house. His wife watches. She turns to me and says, All the men are dying. They're all dying off.

She shakes her head.

I'm not lettin' this one, gesturing to the old man on the phone with her chin, go so easily.

In a few minutes the real estate agent drives up in his red convertible sports car.

He gets out and shouts at the old man, Why'd you hang up on me?

The old man says something and the agent says, Why didn't you let her in? You have the key!

The old man looks a little sheepish.

The agent comes and shakes my hand and goes to unlock the door. Turns out he's never seen inside this house either. It is dark and smelly and small, the windows are tiny and they don't let a lot of light in. The kitchen is big but there are five tiny rooms arranged around it, it's kind of crazy inside. The house is essentially sound, but it clearly needs work, and it's right on the edge of affordability for me. I can't afford the work it will need. It is a good deal, just not for me.

God help me, I am eyeing the other house where the old man and his wife live and wondering how long before that one comes up for sale, that one I might actually consider.

This real estate business makes me feel like a damn vulture.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

In a while, crocodile

Everything is fine but I just don't have time to post here now. I'll get back to it when the dust settles. Sorry about that. For folks wondering, I'm fine, my kids are fine, my grandkids are fine. I'm just busy and pre-occupied at the moment.

And I don't have a phone or internet hookup.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Change of scene

I left Toronto just after rush hour on Monday and made it as far as Cornwall before stopping for the night. The next day it rained almost the entire day, so I didn't dawdle, there was nothing to stop for. I should really have stopped for the night in Fredericton, but I didn't and that last hour or so of driving was pretty bad. Heavy rain, low visibility and feeling very tired, it was a struggle. But it meant that on the third day, Wednesday, I had only a few hours left of driving to do.

Dropped by Sheila's place and gave her the beret I knitted, she loves it but refuses to wear it, she says she's going to frame it! I guess I should feel honoured, but I kind of wanted her to wear it. Sigh...

I have jumped feet first into house hunting, have already made an offer on one place which has been accepted so I am working on the subject clauses. It's all very stressful and nerve-wracking, I am not sure of myself at all. The Pros and Cons lists are not helping, I really wish I had a bed to hide under.

To top it off I got word shortly after arriving here that my grandson is in the hospital with suspected meningitis. It takes a spinal tap and 48 hours of culturing the results to confirm or deny the diagnosis, but apparently the doctors think he has the more benign viral form. Sometime tomorrow they will know for sure. In the meantime he is set up in his own room (he's in isolation) with a TV and a Wii and all sorts of toys, his symptoms have subsided so life is not too shabby right now.

Apparently I promised to drive to Halifax with a friend in a couple of days, she reminded me this morning. It completely slipped my mind that I might have said such a thing, so we agreed to check in later on the prospects of such a trip. I am so wound up I can't keep anything straight.