Category Archives: Humour

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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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 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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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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