Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Garden Weeds

In declaring my independence from the city and moving to the country, I felt a sense of renewed freedom that was truly hard to describe.

Regular readers and my inner circle of friends will recall that in the city, I have had more than my fair share of lousy neighbours. Over the years, I have endured blaring music till all hours of the night, my backyard being used as a dog’s toilet and my driveway being used as a visitor’s parking spot, among other not-so-neighbourly infractions.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had exceptionally lovely neighbours as well and I miss them dearly, but the nuisance ones occupied significantly more of my head space than the delightful ones.

The move to a rural property meant less need to compromise and to accommodate the impingements of self-entitled neighbours in the name of “staying on good terms”. With so few neighbours, I had the distance I needed to breathe and to heal.

But in the country, there is a different impingement that has become an almost daily preoccupation: garden weeds.

When we arranged a first visit to see this property, it was mid-February and the 1.4 acre parcel of land was covered by snow. We knew that the place had a garden, as the listing referred to the patio as an “oasis”, but that was the extent of what we knew about the state of the landscaping.

Fast forward to our closing date and our first visit to the property, we were delighted to see the home surrounded by flower beds and shrubs…. A multitude of flower beds and shrubs…. Endless flower beds and shrubs. It begged the question, how much free time did the previous owners have to maintain all of this?

The glorious array of flowers and greenery was a beautiful sight in itself. But once we got past the first impressions, a closer look revealed overgrown shrubs with no sense of boundaries, dead branches embedded in each tree, and garden weeds growing wildly in every flower bed.

While I looked forward to adding gardening to my hobbies in retirement, I didn’t envision it as a replacement for my full-time job.

Up until that point, my points of reference for weeding gardens were minimal at best. In childhood, the small number of small flower beds we had around our suburban home were what I would consider to be reasonable and manageable, for two working parents and a kid whose main hobby was television. When I was old enough, I mowed the lawn, but that was it. I assume that one of my parents tended to the garden weeds.

If we skip through the decade I lived in apartments and fast forward to my first home, the extent of my exterior maintenance was reserved for a little shade garden in the backyard (referred to as the science project) that was maybe 3 feet by 6 feet. I could weed that little garden in about 5 minutes, maybe 3 or 4 times per season.

In total, this was insufficient training, life experience and mental preparation for a property of this size, with an abundance of overgrown plants. If we took the time and energy to dig them up and divide them, we could supply a garden centre for weeks.

You can imagine my discouragement at first when realizing that an hour of weeding the overgrown gardens was a mere drop in a bucket and barely made a difference.

My discouragement was compounded by my body’s reaction the next morning, and feeling muscle groups that haven’t been used in this way in…. well… ever! The big question at that time was whether or not my body would adjust and get used to it, much like it eventually does, as it did with other activities like running.

If there is anything that running taught me, it was that if I wanted to keep at it, I knew that I had to set time limits for each session and to stick to my exercise and stretching routine daily. Once I was in a routine, then I could build up gradually.

There is an odd satisfaction (appealing to the Type A part of me) when comparing the congested flower beds with no boundaries, to a slightly tidier flower bed with increasing breathing space between plants, where you can see which ones were intended to be there in the first place. There was indeed incentive to keep at it.

There are times when weeding is really a game like Sesame Street’s “One of these things is not like the others.” And then there are other times when it feels like a giant game of “Whack-a-mole” when the weeds grow back within days.

But slowly, with each session, the garden is starting to look better. We’re certainly not approaching any big reveals yet like an HGTV show, but with each improvement and less incidence of regrowth, the encouragement is building, as is my determination to stick with it.

And of course, living in the country, we are keenly interested in trying to keep things as natural as possible. It would be so easy to accelerate the process with an herbicide to kill off the weeds, but the idea of a strong rainfall washing away herbicide residue toward healthy plants (or into the well system) is not really an option. Plus, with the abundance of birds, bees, butterflies and wildlife (including my cat that takes supervised walks daily) we don’t want to risk driving the critters away or getting any of them sick.

I am certain that once we get the garden under better control, ongoing maintenance should be just that, occupying only an hour here and there.

When that time comes, that is when I expect that we won’t cringe each time we drive up our own driveway, and we will actually be better able to enjoy our property to the fullest, leaving leisure time for actual leisure.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Pandemic Pee Planning

Immediately upon receiving my second Covid-19 vaccination a few days ago, I looked forward to putting this chapter behind us and getting back to a life that is closer to the normal we once knew.

One thing I won’t miss about this lengthy chapter is the “pandemic pee planning”.

During the lockdowns, even though I was following rules to the letter and only leaving the house for essential groceries and necessary appointments, trying to manage my bladder around the limited number of public restrooms that were open to the public during that time added a whole logistical challenge in itself.

After a lifetime of being sold on the merits of proper hydration and drinking eight glasses of water daily, you can see where a potential problem ensues.

In a pre-pandemic world, if I was called to a three hour meeting, if a “health break” wasn’t on the agenda, I knew I would have to excuse myself at least once to make it through to the end or else I’d be wriggling around in my chair, crossing my legs like a pretzel.

As a younger employee, I stressed a lot about it as I did not want to appear disrespectful by walking out in the middle of a meeting. As much as I held great admiration for people who could hold their bladders for three hours, I had to admit and accept that I wasn’t one of them. As I got older and more confident, I worried less about it (which only seemed to make potential urgency worse) and was resigned to the fact that, “when you gotta go, you gotta go.”

But it is amazing how the ability to use a public restroom when you need it (or even a little proactively) was something we took for granted. Continue reading

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Screwed by a Cordless Drill

I’ll never forget how kind and generous my grandfather was after my parents split up. The way I saw it, he didn’t judge and he didn’t take sides. I just remember him offering repeatedly to me and my Mom, “Let me know if you need help setting up the new place and if you need me to bring my drill.”

When I moved out on my own, he made the same offer, including the part about the drill. In some way, even though he couldn’t do anything about big changes going on in one’s life, I think that the offer of bringing his drill was his way of showing support, a way of helping through life’s big transitions.

His drill was a classic, and probably considered vintage by today’s standards. If I remember correctly, it was hefty. It seemed like it needed a bodybuilder to pilot this heavy machine with the stiff cord, needing an extension for home improvements taking place atop a ladder. But it did the job.

When I was given my first Black and Decker drill as a gift, it was a bittersweet moment. I felt a sense of independence in being able to take care of my own minor repair work, but I felt bad at the possibility of chipping away at my grandfather’s sense of purpose. Just the same, it was a giant leap in my own journey of “adulting”, and in developing my capacity to perform minor home repairs, without having to call a professional.

I did get some pretty good mileage with that first cordless drill, and was even able to pay it forward in helping to some of my neighbours in my apartment building with the occasional light duty drilling job. I am certain that my grandfather would have been proud. Continue reading

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Life Without a Doorbell

Shortly after we moved into our new place, it didn’t take very long for us to figure out that the doorbell didn’t work. All it took was one seemingly unhappy tradesperson standing at the door for an unspecified period of time, waiting for us to answer a door that didn’t actually ring.

Fortunately, after he knocked (the universal back-up measure when doorbells don’t seemingly elicit any kind of reaction), we sprang into action and answered the door immediately. When the tradesperson saw us test the doorbell to confirm that it actually did not work, he understood and was a good sport about it.

Ever the good Canadians, we tripped over ourselves with a chorus of apologies. To ensure that we didn’t waste anyone else’s valuable time, we immediately put up a sign saying, “Please knock loudly, doorbell doesn’t work.”

To live without a doorbell during the pandemic didn’t seem like a huge loss, at least at first. Obviously, we wouldn’t be having friends drop by to check out the new digs for some time, so that wouldn’t be an issue.

Given that we were contemplating building a garage as well as installing a back-up generator, both of which requiring the presence of an electrician, we didn’t make the doorbell a huge priority. We just assumed that we could piggy back the doorbell on one of those jobs, rather than set up a house call for just the doorbell.

To me, having no doorbell actually brought with it a bit of a sense of relief. Back when I lived in the city, there were days when I would have liked to yank the doorbell out of the wall for the revolving door of aggressive door-to-door salespeople that rudely ignored my “no peddlers or solicitors” sign. But thankfully, a provincial law outlawing door-to-door sales calls of that nature ended that practice before I performed my first doorbellectomy. Continue reading

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The Move to the Country: One Year Later

Over the course of the pandemic, as working off-site became the new reality for a number of office workers, there seemed to be an apparent shift in thinking: If one can work remotely, is proximity to the office a must?

To my surprise, articles emerged about the beginning of a trend, an interest in migrating from the city and its suburbs to more rural properties. I guess we were just a little ahead of the curve when we chose this country property as the backdrop for our approaching retirement years.

For the record, it wasn’t a completely random choice. This is where my partner grew up and where his parents live now. While I may be a little farther away from my own mother and stepmother, to pay them a visit would entail little to no traffic along the way, which is a relief in itself.

I know that a few people in my immediate circle of family and friends wondered (… or should that be worried?) if I had made the right decision.

Even I will admit that I was very entrenched in city life. I liked being within walking distance to shopping. I was a heavy consumer of entertainment and cultural events. I appreciated variety in restaurants and food offerings. The vibrancy of the city and many of its amenities were always important to me.

But I think I surprised everyone, including myself, in terms of how quickly I took to rural living. I was definitely ready for the change.

During my years of city life, for the most part, I had delightful neighbours. Unfortunately, in my first apartments, I had to deal with a few self-entitled morons whose understanding of “quiet enjoyment of premises” as described in our rental agreements, held different interpretations.

For me, there were sleepless nights, not only from blaring stereos and surround sound systems at all hours, any day of the week, but from the constant internal struggle for the balance between being an accommodating neighbour and still being able to feel calm and relaxed in my own home. Continue reading

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The Pre-Retirement Emotions

Over the course of my 33 1/2 year career, retirement always seemed so far off. Even though I took pre-retirement seminars in my 30s and 40s to get a sense of long-range thinking and planning, retirement was really not on my radar… until I turned 50.

It was the awareness of “a half century of existence” that triggered a huge mind shift and a process of reflection on how I wanted to spend the next half century (provided genetics permitted me to follow in the footsteps of my long-living relatives and ancestors).

There were many factors and sleepless nights that went into the decision of when it was time for me to sign off for the last time (… far too many to list in a blog post). However, without really thinking or looking too hard, it was almost like witnessing the parting of the Red Sea. It soon became obvious to me that June 2021 was the right time.

In January, I notified my manager and my colleagues of my plans, and then began the process of completing the stack of forms to formalize the decision. Once the forms were submitted and I received confirmation that everything was in order, that was the moment when I realized I had pulled the metaphoric pin on the metaphoric grenade. The countdown was on!

I don’t know if it was just me, but from there, it wasn’t a gradual trajectory from January to June. Once that decision was carved in stone, a surprising roller coaster of emotions ensued.

I was already prepared for the idea that, much like in the completion of a major project, there is joy, pride and satisfaction in a job well done. Continue reading

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The Language of Rural Life

Over the course of our first year following our move from the city to the country, it became apparent that I was lacking one asset: vocabulary.

For someone who loves words, who writes a weekly blog post and who aspires to become a screenwriter in retirement, who basically eats, sleeps and dreams about writing, how can that be?

The reality is that I grew up in the suburbs of Ottawa. And by suburbs, I mean outlying parts of the city, but leaning more toward the city than the country.

Up until last year, I hadn’t been fully aware of the differences, intricacies and nuances of language simply by moving from an urban to a rural postal code. As a result, the gaps in my lexicon have left my interlocutors with squints and raised eyebrows.

The first glaring problem was my inadequate ability to distinguish between conveyances.

For example, if I was ever arriving home a little late from an errand in a neighbouring village, I might say, “Sorry, I was stuck behind a slow-moving truck on the highway.” My partner realized that I used “truck” for just about any vehicle that didn’t qualify as a car, as I later used the term to also describe every type of construction vehicle that ran across our lawn when we built our garage.

Upon realizing that “truck” was pretty vague to someone born and raised in the country, I adopted the expression “agricultural vehicle” as a seemingly more accurate catch-all term for farm vehicles. At least that would distinguish the conveyance from let’s say, a pick-up truck, a dump truck or a tractor trailer hauling “stuff” (which I should also more accurately describe as goods, crops, livestock or building supplies, as appropriate). Continue reading

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Ivy’s Outdoor Adventures

Last fall, in an effort to try to help keep Ivy the Wonder Cat’s weight under control, as an experiment, I purchased a harness and leash and to see if going out for a walk would be of interest to her. As described in the blog post “Taking the Cat for a Walk”, she surprised me as she really enjoyed it.

Over the winter months, not surprisingly, the walks got shorter and I completely respected that. I never forced the issue with her especially since getting 4 booties on her paws would likely leave me with scratch marks all over my body.

Funny enough, in bad weather, she would still meow to go out for a walk, but because she seemingly didn’t believe me when I told her that the weather outside was frightful, I would put the harness and leash on her anyway, as if we were going for a walk, as per her command. When she looked outside, saw the weather and made a u-turn back into the house, the decision was hers that this wasn’t a good day for a walk and then the meowing stopped.

But after the snow melted, our mud puddle yard dried out and the days got longer, the visits outside became longer and more frequent. In her ritual to announce that it was time for a walk, she would stand by the pet gate and meow a few times, and when I’d join her, she would walk me to where I hang my coat. She is a smart one!

Now, in late spring, the walks are definitely part of our routine. She expects them now.

Her reaction to the harness is strangely irregular. Some days, the sight of it has her running to the pet gate with great enthusiasm. Most days she stands perfectly still and even sticks her head willingly into the right loop. Other days, she puts up a huge fuss, attempting to bite me. When that happens, I learned that I just have to create a diversion to get her attention on something else, and try again one minute later. Continue reading

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Conquering the Kitchen Iceberg

When we first looked at the house, we thought that the water dispenser and ice maker feature of the refrigerator was a really fun touch.

Obviously, we didn’t buy the house on that feature alone, but once the house was ours, we started looking forward to it. Neither of us had a water and ice dispenser before, and always associated such devices to something you’d see in a hotel.

Even though we were well into the lockdown and knew we wouldn’t be inviting anyone over anytime soon, we looked forward to the eventual time when we would be entertaining, and the convenience a filtered water and ice dispenser would be for drink preparation.

When we moved in, unfortunately, it was apparent that we would not be using the feature just yet as the “replace filter” message was displayed on the dispenser. Finding the right filter was added to our growing to-do list. Plus, we were surprised to find the ice maker hardware was sitting in a kitchen cabinet. We weren’t sure why, but given that we already had our hands full with unpacking the contents of our merged households, we parked that task for another day.

A few months later, my partner located the needed water filter online, and much to our delight, it was available through Amazon. A few weeks later, between unpacking, feline demands for attention and office emergencies, I actually had some free time to read the instructions and make some time to replace the water filter.

The instructions suggested that to remove the old cartridge, I needed to pull on the cap covering the filter. Cap? What cap?

Our filter was actually exposed with no decorative cap covering it, which, when properly installed, the decorative cap actually serves as a pull tab to slide the old filter out like a drawer in under two seconds.

Without a cap, I seemingly needed three hands to push the eject button while gently removing the cartridge with two screwdrivers. With all of the strategizing, grunting, pushing, pulling and regrouping it felt like I was recreating a scene from the show “Call the Midwife”. Continue reading

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What I Know For Sure About Writing

When I attended retirement planning seminars over the course of my career, the psychologists who provided guidance on how to mentally prepare for the transition always seemed to ask the same question: What do you want to do in retirement?

To me, the answer has always been a no-brainer: writing.

My first glimmers of self-awareness about writing came in high school and university. Of all of the assignments in a students’ life, I enjoyed writing essays and compositions the most – and the longer the better – despite the groans from my fellow classmates.

When I stepped into the career world, by some strange stroke of luck, I often ended up in work teams where my colleagues were more than happy to let me raise my hand and volunteer to write lengthy reports, business cases, user manuals and web content while others would probably rather raise their hand and volunteer for root canals.

Writing tasks made me so happy because they presented learning opportunities in an area for which I held a keen interest in becoming better and better.

I enjoyed writing for my managers and executives, as it presented a unique learning opportunity to learn and adapt to their respective writing styles. With the knowledge that I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for them, I never took personally any comments about what I produced. In fact, after working on a few memos, I truly relished getting to a point where I could receive a request, get a few key points about what is intended in the message, and go back to my desk to draft, edit and return a product that was exactly what they wanted and in their own voice. There was no greater compliment to me than when they said “André, this is like I wrote it myself!” Continue reading

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