Tag Archives: maintenance

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

Leave a comment

Filed under 50+, home, Humour

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

Leave a comment

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

Country Living and Non-Stop Pick-Up Sticks

When I first read the real estate listing for our home-to-be, one of the details that stole my heart was the mention of a tree-lined lot and the picture of mature trees surrounding the little house.

Even though I am not what I would consider a winter person, when combined with a fresh February snowfall, the house presented all of the elements of a charming country retreat. A couple of friends mentioned how it looked like the kind of house you’d see in a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Having grown up in suburbia, I wasn’t a stranger to trees. We had a weeping willow, a crab-apple tree, cedar hedges and a few shrubs. There was even an apple tree on the property line with one of our neighbours. But as a kid, I never really thought about them. I just remember climbing them or making them into a big prop in whatever game my playmates’ imagination came up with.

Then came a decade of rental apartments, where trees were there for shade, shelter and beauty, but I never really gave them much thought. Even in the townhome where I lived for 20 years, the condominium corporation took care of the trees. The most I ever did was rake a few leaves.

Now, in a home with a tree-lined lot, I see trees differently, both literally and metaphorically. They are a source of pride and joy and we are so fortunate that our property has such a variety of beautiful trees. But the reality check is setting in: ongoing maintenance.

Sadly, there are a couple that aren’t doing well that will need to be removed, but that’s just nature and the circle of life at work. At the same time, we have a few majestic ones that we were told by our tree expert were probably standing since our great-grandparents’ days and will probably outlive us.

In having so many trees around, in various stages of life, I understand that getting acquainted with each variety individually and understanding their respective needs will be a project in itself.
But the one thing that doesn’t take a tree expert to realize is that when you have mature trees around, falling twigs, sticks and branches are a fact of life. Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under 50+, home, Humour

How I Suddenly Found Myself in the Gutter

When moving into a new house, it is amazing what we discover in those first few days. It only took one rainfall to notice that something was off with the universe.

At the back of the house, as a gentle rain fell onto the roof, the eavestrough system seemingly couldn’t keep up as a torrent of water overflowed over the side of the eavestrough, falling like a sheet.

The odd part was that there seemed to be more rain falling off the eaves system than was actually falling from the sky. The math didn’t quite add up, but then again there were a few things about this house that elicited moments of squint-inducing confusion.

When my partner mentioned it in passing to his parents, his father diagnosed the problem as a blocked gutter system. What we didn’t know was that something of this nature would actually keep his father up at night with worry, as in the days that followed, he kept asking if we took care of it yet.

I took a moment to count my blessings. Given that my own father and grandfathers have not been with us for some time, I forgot what it was like to have a family member take such a keen interest in my home maintenance issues… and to such an extreme. It was heartwarming to have someone who cared like that.

I understood that misdirected water could impact several other things in and around the house if not taken care of soon. And for the water to be falling in strong cascades off the side of the eavestrough, we realized that we probably should move it up our lengthy to-do list. But between unpacking and still putting in full days at work, energy and time was in limited supply. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under home, Humour

The Housing Market Roller Coaster (Episode 6)

In early March, with the countdown to home sale just a few days away and Ivy the Wonder Cat safely at her cat hotel, I could truly commit myself to the last minute renovations and touch-ups.

With the quick progress that I was making, zipping from room to room, obsessing about every little detail to make the house sparkle, I was getting a euphoric feeling that closely resembled a runner’s high. Or maybe it was because of the intense aroma of cleaning supplies.

I found myself starting to consider the staging activities that my real estate agent prefaced with “if you have time…”

Changing the door knobs on all of the interior doors from cheap plastic ones to shiny metallic ones was not a deal breaker but it seemed like a nice touch to spruce up the place. With the experience of successfully switching out the door knob on the “eyesore door” last summer to very satisfying results, I was very confident that I could do this.

Despite my approach from every angle with a multitude of flat head screwdrivers, I couldn’t find the trick to remove the first door knob. It actually took a half hour of fussing, cussing, struggling and then breaking the plastic door knob to separate it from the door.

By that time, I needed to get back to another time-sensitive task that was underway, so I left things as they were for the next day.

When I returned, with many other tasks completed, I really could put all of my focus on the door knob project.

As I experienced with the eyesore door, I knew that I needed to drill some pilot holes for the screws to hold the shiny new hardware in place. I found the right size drill bit and started drilling. I then tried pulling the door shut, to check my work and to see if the door would close easily.

To test it out, I inserted the basic hardware in the door without the door knob, just to see if the strike plate would get past the face plate. It didn’t, as the hardware was still sticking out and blocking the door.

So I drilled some more… and checked again… and drilled some more… and checked again. I could see I was making progress but the finish line still seemed a long way off.

In trying to figure out how much more drilling it needed, I went into the powder room and gave the door a mighty push to see if it would close. It finally closed, but then I realized…

OH!… DARN!… Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under home, Humour

Farewell, My Shovel

It was 7:30 a.m. last Friday morning when Ivy the Wonder Cat and I were playing chess on the coffee table or at least Ivy’s version of chess, knocking the chess pieces off the table and meowing with joy.

Then I heard it!

You’d think it was the sound of “a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer” with the speed at which I flew to the window, but no. It was the snow plow… The snow plow I hired to clear my driveway, making its very first visit!

For those who might not be familiar with an Ottawa winter, let’s just put things into perspective. While different sources offer different statistics, I’d say that on average, Ottawa receives about 200 cm (roughly 78 inches) of snow through the fall, winter and spring months.

Of course it doesn’t fall at once. Sometimes it falls as light fluffy flakes, sometimes it comes with ice pellets and sometimes it is wet and heavy. As an added bonus, after the plow (or plough, if you prefer) comes to clear the street, there is always a heavy (and sometimes mountainous) snow bank at the end of the driveway that needs to be cleared as well.

Plus, when you have a winter like 2008 with more than 300 cm of snow, and all of the snowbanks start getting taller than you, where do you put the snow?

For the longest time, I thought that hiring a plowing service might have been frivolous or extravagant, especially since my driveway is barely over one car length. But I had to accept the sad reality that the degenerating disc in my back will continue to degenerate, and that the shoveling is probably not helping it in the long run.

I tried to convince myself that it was good exercise and that it was one of the joys (and responsibilities) of home ownership. But 17 winters later, my positive spin on shoveling is spiraling downward. I’m over it. Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under 50+, Health and Wellness, Humour

When Vacation Time Becomes Home Maintenance Time

Maybe it’s a product of having a busy life and many interests, but I long for the day when I can take a vacation and for it to be entirely made up of time to put my feet up, read a good book and just relax in well-earned peace and tranquility.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a home owner. I also love taking care of my investment. The problem is that through a normal work week, when you factor in time for social activities, writing, cooking, cleaning and laundry, there isn’t much time or energy left to bring out the power tools and the paint cans to knock things off my home maintenance to-do list.

And even when I do set aside time for do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, I want it done right the first time. I don’t want to rush the project and risk making a mess. For that reason, it needs a generous time allotment.

It would be one thing if I had no natural inclination for DIY projects or if I hated them, but I don’t. I actually think they are a joy and a privilege.

The worst part is that I am responsible for the to-do list and I tend to expect a lot of myself, so the list does get a little ambitious.

That being the case, the list of projects often get deferred to the only time where time and patience are in good supply: vacations… or should I say, stay-cations. Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under 50+, Humour

How I Conquered the Most Stubborn Stain in the House

Ever since I moved in to this house, I have been in a never-ending hunt for ways to clean my tub.

If I remember correctly, scrubbing the tub (and the entire main bathroom, for that matter) was one of the first things I did the day I got the keys to the place. That and eradicating a trail of ants from the kitchen counter from a sticky sweet mess left behind, as well as a load of laundry for a proud first-time owner of a laundry centre.

But for some reason, no matter how much I scrubbed with my trusty scouring powder with bleach, there were patches of darker shades of beige throughout that didn’t seem to want to come off. Technically, I knew it was clean, but it looked stained.

I don’t know much about the previous owners and occupants, but for a fifteen-year-old house, there were some signs of premature aging. There were some pieces in the house showing more wear and tear than my first apartment that was twice that age, including chips in the enamel of a sink, knife marks on the kitchen counter and some carpeting that absorbed the fallout of a kitty cat with an unfortunate bladder issue.

In the months that followed, whenever I had a few minutes, I was back at the tub, trying to clean it with the same tenacity as the Coyote trying to catch the Road Runner. I tried every product on the market and had to hold myself back from using anything deliberately abrasive, in my frustration for the stains that would not come out. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under How to, Humour, Misc blogs

How Doing Nothing Takes Work and Discipline

Not too long ago, I booked off a day in the middle of the week, with my mind racing as to all the things I could get accomplished and how much I could get ahead in my to-do list.

Weekends can get pretty busy between social engagements and with the cooking, the cleaning, the shopping, the laundry and trying to find a few minutes to recharge for the week ahead.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change a thing about my routine. It’s just that after a busy work week with all of its trappings and weekends that are bustling with activity, the prospect of a day off in the middle of the week is an offer with limitless possibilities.

But the question is: do I really NEED to do anything?

As much as I can be an extrovert who likes to be around people, if my environment delivers a steady stream of stimulating activities (even fun ones), I know that I need a break to balance things out to not get overwhelmed.

It is probably no accident that my hobbies have leaned toward quieter, more introspective moments, like writing, reading, nature photography, painting and running. The trick is to ensure I spend enough time on those recharging activities, to build up the energy reserves for the more extroverted side of me to come through in busier times.

But I think part of the problem is that I have been programmed for productivity. Having been brought up in a climate of “make hay while the sun shines”, “the early bird catches the worm” and “idle hands are the devil’s tools”, sitting still does not come naturally. As I hinted in my blog post “Being Bored Was Not an Option”, when I was young, if I ever thought to myself that I was bored, somehow, magically, my dad would show up with a broom or a rake in hand and a list of chores. That being the case, I never allowed myself to get bored. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Humour, Inspiring, Misc blogs

Trimming My Cat’s Nails Without Looking Like I Lost a Fight

As much as I have gushed about all the fun things my cat Ivy has brought into my life, one area that has been a constant learning experience has been the act of trimming her nails.

What is it about my normally cool-as-a-cucumber kitty that the moment I attempt to gently snip 1/16th of an inch off a sharp nail, she can turn on a dime, and a zen moment suddenly becomes a scene from The Exorcist?

Trimming Ivy’s nails has been like a trip to the casino. Most times, I walk away with nothing. On a few occasions, I might get one or two nails done. And on a few rare occasions, I may hit the jackpot and get a whole paw (or even two) done! The trick has been to figure out why I am successful some times and not others, and then to follow the pattern.

It’s pretty easy to check the status of her nails without any intervention on my part. During our daily pets, she lies flat on her blanket and starts moving her little arms back and forth, making that kneading motion with her paws. Her little Wolverine claws pop in and out, giving me a full account of whether her nails are still blunt or if they are sharp or jagged, meaning she is due for a trim.

But if I miss the status check, another sign that a trim is overdue is when she walks around the house, when she doesn’t have her collar on. Usually she can be stealth kitty and sneak up on me at any given moment (which can also be a little creepy, quite frankly). But if I can hear her walking through the kitchen sounding like she is wearing stilettos, those nails are getting long.

The trick is finding the right time to do it. If I say yes to any of the following, chances are, it is not an opportune time: Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Cats, How to, Humour