Category Archives: Humour

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.

I didn’t want to become that short-tempered, cranky neighbour to others, but sleep deprivation and the constant “fight or flight” adrenaline rush in my stomach triggered by the vibration do not bring out the best in me.

When shopping for my last townhouse, I specifically chose an end unit, to deal with fewer neighbours. Unfortunately, at one point, I was stuck with first-time homeowners who seemingly ran their home like a frat house.

In addition to late night parties and music so loud that it could have been measured on the Richter scale, the fact that they didn’t see anything wrong with their dog pooping in my yard (repeatedly) or using my driveway as their guest parking without permission (repeatedly) added to my escalating blood pressure. Fortunately for me, that episode only lasted 18 months… (18… VERY… LONG… MONTHS…) but left me with a non-negotiable craving for distance from neighbours in my next home.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the commuting was getting to me as well. As much as I am by nature, a patient, cautious driver, I was drained from the constant hypervigilance required to be everyone else’s eyes, when theirs are busy checking their phones.

Just last week I ran a couple of errands and noticed how I had to adapt my driving style as I crossed into the city limits, to survive the “me first” lack of courtesy and the “get out of my way” sense of competition, urgency and/or self-importance.

The background noise of the city that used to be a delightful soundtrack that propelled me and energized me, was also becoming an increasing irritant. Noise pollution seemed to be ever present, whether construction noise, barking dogs, air conditioner units or traffic. I never seemed able to get away from it.

That was when I completely understood why people bought cottages or became enthusiastic campers.

At that point of readiness, when I was so starved for tranquility, moving to the country was a pretty easy decision and transition for me.

Over the last year, I found great enjoyment in the wide open spaces, the calming sounds of nature, and how dispersed the neighbours were. There are days when farm machinery is going full blast in the neighbouring fields, but those account for just a day here and there.

Most times, going for a little walk outside is pretty soothing for the senses, although there are times that there just isn’t enough tranquility to make up for a lifetime of ambient noise. Some healing is required, I think. It is surprising, even to myself, how I cling to my peace and quiet.

Even though we are more than delighted with our parcel of land, there is a lot of work to be done outside. Finding time and energy at the end of a work day or work week, after meal prep and household chores can be a challenge, but we manage.

Do I ever feel isolated? Not yet. We have been so busy this past year, I have not had time to be bored or lonely. Looking ahead, I have a number of interests that are not really dependent on geographical proximity to anything, so I should be fine. But if I didn’t, I can see how someone might find it lonely.

I did find the winter a little long, but then again I find every winter a little long for my liking, even in the city. I don’t think that will change, wherever I happen to be living.

For me, you could say that moving to the country was a return to my roots (…sort of). Growing up in a fairly new subdivision in the early 1970s felt a lot like the way I feel now in this rural town. It’s a familiar vibe and one that holds many wonderful memories of a simpler time and a less harried pace which is exactly what I am looking for.

There were adjustments to be made. The first was hard water. Even with a water treatment system, hard water does have a distinct smell, better on some days, worse on others, and has slowly turned some of our white linens a shade of pale yellow. We’re still searching for the magic combination of laundry additives to prevent that from happening.

The other big adjustment was the quality of rural Internet (or lack thereof), that wasn’t intended to accommodate so many residents working from home or attending school remotely.

If someone was contemplating moving from the city to the country, before putting in an offer on a house, I would suggest reviewing carefully their current routine and their dependency on the city’s amenities and offerings. Then they need to ask themselves, can they live without them? What are the substitutes, if there are any?

Also, in moving from a city condominium to a country home, not only are we responsible for the costs if something were to happen to big infrastructure pieces like the roof, the foundation, the heating and cooling systems, but we are also responsible for a well, a septic system and a sump pump system. Repairs to home infrastructure are not cheap and should be factored into the decision.

And do they have the time and energy (or budget) for the maintenance that goes with a rural property, like snow removal and lawn and garden care?

In a nutshell, is moving to the country the right decision for everyone? No, I don’t think so.

But for me, moving to the country was the right decision at the right time, with no sense of regret or a need to return to the city.

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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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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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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50 Things I Did Not Miss During the Pandemic

There is no doubt that the pandemic meant huge adjustments for everyone. Everything we do was impacted in one way or another, whether that meant work, school, hobbies, shopping, cooking or cleaning.

Seeing friends and loved ones face-to-face became a risky activity. As a result, our celebrations and traditions either changed or got deferred.

Throughout the pandemic, there was a tragic loss of life and businesses suffered tragic losses as well.

While I think everyone could come up with a long list of the things that they missed during the pandemic, there might be a bit of a bright side when thinking of the things we did not miss, during the stay-at-home advisories.

Here are my top 50:

1. Commuting;
2. Driving in snow;
3. Driving in rain;
4. Driving in freezing rain;
5. The fear of driving in freezing rain;
6. Driving around potholes;
7. Driving around random road construction;
8. Driving in peak construction season when it seems that every east-west artery is under some form of road repair;
9. Navigating through traffic jams;
10. The fear of having the car break down unexpectedly and becoming the cause a traffic jam;
11. Navigating through poor road conditions when the plow hasn’t cleared the snow yet;
12. Navigating through poor road conditions even though the plow “cleared the snow”;
13. Navigating around car accidents;
14. Navigating around bad drivers;
15. Spotting a driver with their eyes on their cell phone rather than the road; Continue reading

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From the “Look It Up” Generation

It never ceases to amaze me how people use social media, to the profound exasperation of others.

Let’s just use a hypothetical example for illustration purposes: Someone posts on Instagram a picture of a flower from their garden and in the caption they say, “These are the tulips from my garden! #tulips”. Shortly thereafter, someone posts a question “What kind of flower is that?”

While I can certainly forgive an occasional lack of observation, as I have certainly experienced moments in life when I missed a metaphoric flashing neon sign right in front of me. But I usually chalk that up to rare moments of being very rushed or very tired.

It’s when someone asks a question, when the answer is right in front of them (and sometimes even hashtagged) that the cranky old man in me surfaces.

Personally, in the never ending quest of not wanting to look like an idiot, before asking a question, I usually read the caption and previous posts to be sure that my question has not already been asked and answered.

To me, it is also a matter of being considerate to the person who posted it, not demanding time of them (when they could already be super busy) to answer a question that has already been answered.

However, the practice of posting questions that have been answered is not just an occasional thing. I see it ALL THE TIME all over social media.

Similarly, I find it odd that people go to Facebook to ask questions to a wide group like “Does anyone know if Restaurant ABC…?” (insert any number of questions relating to the food they serve, special dietary needs, delivery services, restaurant hours, etc).

Most restaurants offer a variety of communication vehicles like phone number, email address, Facebook page, Instagram page, web site, online menu, etc. If that is the case, why is the question going to a forum of third parties, and not to the restaurant itself through one of the many online resources the restaurant took the time, effort and expense to make available?

I would definitely cut someone some slack, when information is either not online, hard to find or requires clarification or elaboration. I have no issue there whatsoever. But I struggle to imagine a business that does not have an online presence (especially in the post Covid-19 world), or at the very minimum, a telephone number, for such questions.

To me, it makes absolutely no sense. But then again, I was raised in a “look it up!” household.

I learned early on that when asking out loud what a word meant would almost be like casting a spell on the TV show “Bewitched”, as a dictionary would magically appear next to me within a few seconds, accompanied by the advice “look it up”. Or if I had a more elaborate question about how something worked… poof!… a volume of the encyclopedia would appear, accompanied by the same advice.

Of course, there were some questions that my parents lovingly handled themselves that related more to the complexities of human nature that might not be well served by a single book, and for that I am so grateful.

But for everything else, the “look it up” advice seemed to be the gateway to a life skill that I think make me a pretty resourceful individual.

On top of that, in the house I grew up in, there was no shortage of books but yet, I still had library card and a library three blocks away for those times I had a question I couldn’t answer from our own resources. It didn’t take much encouragement to get me to satisfy my natural curiosity with that kind of research material a few blocks away.

But today, it is absolutely astounding what someone can find online at one’s fingertips, not just from encyclopedic knowledge on just about everything, but demonstration videos, historical pieces, and opinion pieces on what seems like every subject in the universe.

We truly are in a fortunate position for the amount of information available to us. Granted, there is sometimes too much information or (not-too-surprisingly) conflicting information, and it takes a bit of research, analysis and deduction to sort all that out.

I can appreciate how for some, this might feel like homework, I truly do. But if someone cannot do this for a simple question, how will they function in the world (in a job, leading a family, or maintaining a household) if their basic research skills suck.

A Google search does not require hopping in the shower, drying your hair, getting dressed, getting your bike out of the shed, hopping on the bike, riding to the library, locking your bike, consulting the “subject” card catalogue and then scavenging the shelves to find the right book to provide the answer you are looking for.

It is so easy, yet for some, it seems like a giant leap of effort.

My friends and readers can rest assured that I am always delighted to receive feedback and questions, and I have not been in a position of repeatedly answering what was already posted.

But it is when I am scrolling through social media and rolling my eyes to the point of feeling dizzy, when the answer to questions is right in front of the readers, that it makes me want to turn it off.

I think it is safe to assume that I am not alone, having seen an April Fools post this past week about the creation of a Facebook group for questions and answers of this nature, to which many fellow readers took great joy and sarcasm in providing examples of other frivolous group pages that should be offered.

It seems to me that in this day and age, with the Internet offering limitless resources of information like never before, accessible more easily than ever before, what happened to the wonderful art of looking it up to answer to one’s natural curiosity?

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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Filed under 50+, books, Humour, pop culture

Carpeting or Hardwood Flooring?

cat modeling carpetingIn my last home, how many sleepless nights did I spend worrying about the big question: hardwood flooring versus wall-to-wall carpeting?

Too many!

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer, nor does there seem to be a reliable guide for reassuring a homeowner of the correct answer before one sinks several thousand dollars into an option that one needs to live with for years to come.

And of course the question of resale invariably comes up. Will the option I choose be the one that will encourage buyers or have them running away screaming, leaving me with a house that won’t sell in a slow market? … No pressure!

When I moved into my last place, which was before meeting my life partner and in the year I refer to as 2001 BC (“before cat”), the decision was entirely mine to make.

My usual approach to striking a happy medium when faced with an analysis paralysis of options might be to do a little of both. Mind you, the monotony of carpeting throughout was already broken up by outdated gold vinyl flooring in the kitchens, bathrooms and entry hall. Would adding a third flooring material be a bad thing?

If I recall correctly, I believe I was traumatized by a home renovation show on TV around that time, when a designer referred to a home that used multiple flooring options as a Frankenstein style of decorating. I think that was enough to scare me off that idea, no matter how tastefully I tried to plan it out.

In the first five years I lived there, I don’t think any visitor was spared from being polled for their thoughts on carpeting versus hardwood. Continue reading

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Our Massive Mud Puddle

We laugh (and perhaps cry a little) at the irony of spending the time and the money to build a garage, only to NOT be able to use it in the weeks that followed.

This was definitely one of those situations where timing was everything. It’s just that the stars didn’t line up in our favour.

Given the number of homeowners everywhere who actively took to home renovation projects during the pandemic, the competition for building materials was fierce. When the supply chain couldn’t keep up with overall demand, the scheduled delivery dates for our building materials were extended, which staggered the completion of the project. This factor, in itself, did not cause us too much concern. We just chalked it up to our current reality.

But it was the coincidental timing of the completion of the garage with the emergence of spring that became problematic.

The rapidly melting snow (as one typically experiences in March around here) turned the freshly displaced soil and clay around the former construction site into a mud puddle.

We’re not talking a little mud in a few spots, we’re talking an unavoidably massive mud puddle consisting of the gooey, sticky stuff you see in movies that creates that suction effect when you step into it. And if you’re footwear isn’t securely fastened to your foot, it will stay securely fastened to the mud itself.

In theory, this shouldn’t be a big deal given that we are still working from home and only going out for the essentials. But on that first venture out for grocery night, it was an adventure in itself, navigating in and around the mud puddle. Continue reading

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Pre-Retirement Training: Learning to Relax

I’ll never forget the day when a psychologist came to speak at a pre-retirement seminar I attended and suggested “don’t wait until retirement to start on those big retirement plans”.

She then elaborated by offering examples like people who spend their whole lives talking about sailing around the world only to find out that they get sea sick, or people who talk about spending more time on a given hobby only to realize that they don’t really enjoy it that much.

Fortunately, I don’t think that will happen to me.

Most of my readers know that my #1 aspiration in retirement is to write. Thanks to the blog, I have been able to practice creative writing with (much to my own amazement) pretty consistent frequency over the years, which gave me the opportunity to write content so completely different from corporate briefing notes, issue sheets and instructional bulletins. Whether at home or at the office, I have proven to myself that writing is that one activity that for me, creates its own unmistakable energy and enthusiasm.

But surprisingly, what has actually been more challenging (in preparation for retirement) has been learning how to rest and relax. Who knew that I needed to train myself to do that?

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but have you ever had days thinking to yourself, “Am I ever tired?! … I better lie down” only to find yourself already in a horizontal position on a comfy couch, La-Z-Boy or bed in the comfort of your own home?… or worse yet, in a furniture store?

I’m not talking about tired in the sense of deep burnout, I am just referring to a sense of being pooped out from feeling like a perpetual motion machine.

I have come to learn that my own worst enemy in that regard is myself. I wouldn’t say I’m overly demanding, but after decades of living on my own, I had to develop a routine to stay on top of the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry and the home maintenance, because it wasn’t like the magic toilet scrubbing fairy would descend from the heavens. Someone had to do it, and when living alone, I invariably drew the short straw every time. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Health and Wellness, Humour, mental health

The Reluctant Admission that I Enjoy Large Print

Through the year of Covid-19 isolation and our move to the country, punctuated by a never ending to-do list of home improvements, time was in short supply and I felt bad that I hadn’t reached out more often to check in on friends and family.

Last Christmas, I decided to resume my usual habit of sending out Christmas cards, despite a couple of years of tapering, given that the popularity of sending cards seemed to be on the decline overall. I couldn’t think of a better year to send Christmas cards, at least to mitigate my guilt.

But in doing so came the realization of the less-than-organized state of my contacts list. Somehow, different devices had different lists and sometimes had different or outdated information. It was time for a clean-up.

As much as it might be considered prehistoric by today’s standards, I missed the days of having all that in a neat and tidy address book… a paper one.

This is not to say that I think that electronic contacts are bad, I just find them to be more work to keep up to date.

I don’t know why the software seems to want to create a contact every time I send a once-in-a-lifetime email to a company, and then I can never seem to get rid of it. But when I change a friend’s contact info, it doesn’t seem to sync automatically to the other devices. I don’t get it.

But try finding a paper address book today. Where we used to find them pretty much everywhere and at a variety of price points, today it seems to be something reserved for book, stationery and office supply stores. Continue reading

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Our Cat’s Reaction to Working from Home

When we were first instructed to work at home due to Covid-19, for all of us, it meant some adjustments.

Initially, I commented on how interesting it will be to see how Ivy the Wonder Cat copes with her dad (and soon-to-be two dads) always being around. I honestly thought that she would get sick of us encroaching upon her routine, and would become increasingly distant.

The truth is that I underestimated how much attention she really craved.

When I first met Ivy at the pet store, where the local shelter offered cats for adoption, she was the calmest, coolest cat I could imagine.

I didn’t make the connection at first, but she liked having people around. I eventually figured out that because the clerks were in her line of sight from 8 am to 9 pm, in addition to all of the visitors passing by to say hello, this extroverted cat was likely in what was paradise for her.

As much as I was told that cats were pretty independent, little did I know that my pre-Covid work routine might not have been enough attention for her, even though the signs weren’t that obvious to me at first.

I assumed that she slept all day while I was at the office. The evidence showed that at some point she woke up and circulated, as her quota of food was consumed and the litter box was used.

I was under the impression that her world generally revolved around her little basket, with the comfy blanket, overlooking the backyard, supervising the birds, the squirrels and the folks walking their dogs, in between her naps. Continue reading

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