Up on the Blocks – kind of a rambly story, more of a catch up

A tale of two cities runs through my head as my car refuses to turn over on Main and fifteenth tonight. Anita is visiting and I am so delighted to see her! But poor little Mini the Blue. I hope there isn’t much wrong with her, for her sake and for mine. I won’t be able to keep her if she costs me too much to fix. I would have a hard time justifying to my family that I wish to repair my eleven year old Mini Cooper simply because she pleases me aesthetically and I am in love with an inanimate object. I think Fellow may wisely offer that the house we just bought is a larger inanimate object we should direct our affection towards. At least she’s kind enough to break down on a street that has no limits on parking. (I thought those were mythical) I pat her on the hood and Anita and I take this as an opportunity to drink two glasses of wine and walk home, it is such a beautiful night.images

Today I had gone over to Bowen Island with Fellow and his very good friend, Canoe, a general contractor experienced enough to act as our home inspector. They pick me up at 6am to get on the 7am ferry and I am under strict orders to not bring coffee into the car because it makes the car stink and Canoe hates the smell of it. He doesn’t drink it or tea or pop or alcohol. Being from the Westcoast I expect him to add, “I only smoke weed”. He doesn’t. He doesn’t like to be altered.  I am also made immediately aware that Canoe feels wearing scents is terribly inconsiderate. It makes his eyes water. His two dogs pant in the backseat with all their lovely scented doggie breath and I apologize for wearing deodorant. He asks me if I smoke dope and I say, “No. It is the smell of loser.” He chuckles. Oh, I have made him chuckle! He looks very Germanic and Fellow says something about his German precision and he corrects Fellow immediately, insisting he isn’t German, he is a Canadian. Fellow laughs. I dig this Canoe guy. I trust him. He speaks his mind. I write him into my good books in indelible pen. Done.

Fellow and Canoe poke around the house sticking measuring tapes into spidery holes, peering under decks and tinkering with pipes and thumping walls. They lift every cover off of every septic hole and barely wrinkle their noses. They stand on the edge of the garden and discuss the children’s idea for a tree house with just as much seriousness as they have discussed the wiring in the basement. Fellow is going to make our clothes line into their “passing secret messages by clothespin” line and he’s going to build them a bridge to the tree stump and put a rabbit and guinea pig hutch underneath. They peer out at the ocean, shoulder to shoulder, muttering under their baseball caps with the proud stance of men who know how to build shit.

We head into the living room area and I am a bit shy to share my renovation ideas with Canoe. Are they too frivolous? My first priority is to replace the fluorescent lights in the kitchen. No biggie. But I also want to replace the walled in staircase with a wooden kick-less staircase, supported by beams so I can see through it into the backyard, opening up the kitchen to the dining room. Fellow says it isn’t our first priority, finishing the downstairs is, and I agree. We have our work cut out for us and we’re short on money and time. I overhear Canoe say to him later, “You know, I think she’s got a good idea there about the staircase. And it would make her happy. She is telling you what she needs.” I open up my good books again and take out my highlighter and put three stars by his name. They head downstairs to look at the plumbing.IMG_2333

My realtor, Kellyn, has come with. She’s so lovely. (Kellyn and Naomi at morrisonmcmullen.com – I highly recommend them) She pokes around the place with me for hours and we take Canoe’s dogs for a walk down by the ocean and bump into the lovely neighbours Fellow and I met last week. They have three acres, waterfront, and have built a huge flower garden and paths and a deck to the beach. They have told us we can come visit their garden and the children can use their beach anytime. So welcoming and generous.

Fellow and I have had the strangest negotiation over this cottage. I won’t go into details but basically we are dealing with someone who bought high originally, the market on Bowen is now soft, her place had been listed for over four hundred days, it needs work, etc. We came very close to meeting her listing price, plus we made all sorts of concessions like not getting her to clean the septic, not checking for oil tank, not removing debris, and taking the place furnished with all sorts of cat scratched mismatched furniture we’re going to have to give away or throw a garage sale. She kept adding things and changing her mind, I think we were up to seven bids in total by the time she finally agreed. The worst part of it was, she kept waiting until the bid deadline was up to tell us her decision, every. single. time. We were on tenterhooks for a week and a half. She was, in short, being a jerk. It isn’t our fault the market is soft. I sent her a lovely little note thanking her for making such a beautiful garden and we will take care of it. I sent a picture of our family, told her a bit about who we are. She sent a rather snarky note back. Anyway, I’m glad it’s over.

As we went through the property I had hours to take a better look. The former owner’s ceramic planters whimsically stuffed with whatever perennial and scattered about the yard. Her hand painted signs. The peonies coming up in her garden beds. The water feature she put in. Canoe kept saying, “This person intended to do a good job, this person intended to stay. This person put a lot of money into this place.” We left with a better understanding and a sense of gratefulness and actually, the one sofa isn’t bad.

So, this is how we have solved our family’s dilemma of trying to live in the most expensive city in North America. We are squishing four people into a two bedroom condo off Commercial Drive in the urban neighbourhood we love, and we are also buying this home on the island we will live in half the time and BnB the suite below. Canoe nods, once he’s done his assessment. “I think what you’re doing is smart.”

I am glad we put six months into researching the market and talking through what we want. So much of it is about timing. Anita and I look at Vancouver condos out of curiosity and we find shoeboxes going for 800 gran. Good thing she isn’t in a rush if she ever wants to move back. Oh the craziness of it all. While talking we get a text from a mutual friend whose marriage is shockingly breaking up. What?! What?! She talks about taking the time to breathe through the shock.large2

Yes. Breathe through the shock. These big life events…they take time…and they come unexpectedly…and they knock you on your ass. And suddenly one has to ask, “What kind of home do we want and what kind of home can we have?”

The next morning I get my car towed down to Yaletown Mini. The repairs will be $1900.00. For about twelve hours I keep covering my eyes and sighing deeply with a sense of…failure. I can’t look at the world, I can’t face my inability to keep functional. But Fellow comes over and gets the details out of me. He grunts. He tells me what he can repair instead of the shop. He’s gonna talk to a guy. Another man who knows how to build shit. I apologize a dozen times and Fellow says matter-of-factly, “As if it’s your fault.” I lighten up.

“Good thing it’s biking season” I say to Fellow. “I want to firm up my thighs anyway.”

For now, we decide to put her up on blocks. IMG_2358



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