The Safe House

It will soon be three years since we moved into Tett House.

The first two were fraught with stress and unexpected challenges. Not only were we adjusting to a new home, new jobs, and new people in a new place, but things kept going wrong and the repairs were adding up. We were constantly on edge, waiting for the next unwelcome surprise. Early on, I realized that I had become afraid of the house I’d initially fallen in love with, and it took us a long time to feel safe and comfortable in our new lives.

But even the toughest times slowly make their way into the past. One by one, we tackled projects, and they were no longer major, urgent repairs, but little upgrades we wanted to do.

Last summer, with delight, I fitted out the screened in porch as a bright, fresh gathering space with rocking chairs, an alfresco dining table, and a vintage daybed, which I talked about in my last post.

I also picked a couple of new nightstands and bedside lamps. Little pieces, big impact!

We finally got around to cleaning out and painting the room we had earmarked for Trevor’s office.


During.

Colour: Beau Green by Benjamin Moore. I love the depth and contrast with the cinnamon-toned wood. The office isn’t quite finished yet, but at least it’s functional!

We wallpapered a feature wall in the Front Hall and loved it.

I even started painting the old grates, but this is still an ongoing project. The paint is fairly noxious and I can only do one or two at a time. What a difference, though!

My favourite thing this winter has been our brand new wood stove! Our propane furnace – which is also new – heats really well, but we wanted to cut down on fuel costs. Thanks to the removal of several large, dead trees on the property, we had a carriage house full of wood to burn, so there truly is no great loss without some small gain. Jim from Rideau Valley Hearth & Home installed a brand new Jøtul F500 for us and it’s a beauty.

I love that it looks as if it has been there, always. When you’re working with an old house, it’s so important to honour and not compromise the historical character. We try to find a balance between new and old.

We had to completely reconfigure our living room to accommodate the wood stove, but it was worth it! We’ve enjoyed many cozy nights around the fire this past winter.

We hosted a reunion of first cousins in September and a big family Thanksgiving dinner in October. Together with our improvement projects, these served to re-establish my original connection with the house, which has been growing stronger ever since. One day, I woke up realizing that Tett House had finally become my home and I didn’t need to be afraid of it anymore. I could embrace it, with open arms. I gave myself over to that feeling, and frankly, it’s the only place I ever really want to be now.

And it’s a good thing, too. Who could have foretold that the Spring of 2020 would bring with it a pandemic that meant we couldn’t leave our house even if we wanted to?

With the advent of the Coronavirus, the house I’d gotten used to fearing, suddenly became our safe place. Its aloofness and remote location made self-isolation easy, and we feel quite independent. We can go outside and wander our six acres of trees with no chance of encountering others or compromising anyone’s health, including our own.

Our family was at low-risk for COVID-19, but we sequestered ourselves in mid-March, willingly and gratefully. Since then, we’ve found solace and boundless inspiration in the beautiful natural landscape that surrounds us.


We miss our friends and family, but the deer enjoy the view, too, and have been keeping us company… while respecting social distancing recommendations, of course!

Life may have suddenly slowed down, and the Great Pause of the world is upon us, but every day at Tett House still brings something new: budding trees, flowers poking up out of the ground, and even snow! Trevor captured this bit of mid-April magic and made a short video out of it, just because he’s awesome that way.

I feel as if Tett House is rewarding us now, for all the blood, sweat, and tears we put into the property early on. This stately Victorian lady is taking us under her wing and offering shelter, a safe haven. Even when the news is scary and things are uncertain, we feel protected and comforted.

When we first moved in, I joked to Trevor about wanting the house to be a place where we could “survive a Zombie Apocalypse.”

Please don’t let there be any zombies!

To read the story of our move to Tett House from the beginning click here.



Summer at Tett House

It’s been quite a while since my last post (January 1st.)

At the time, I was feeling discouraged and overwhelmed and very blue… a deep, full-bodied azure, as a matter of fact. I didn’t feel much like writing.

I plugged away as gamely as I could through the grey, cheerless months of January, February, and March. There were multiple changes in our lives and many distractions – some positive, some not. The long, dark winter slowly, slowly seeped into a short, cold spring. I felt like I, and everyone around me, was desperate for some sunshine.

I don’t know if there’s anything better than summer in Eastern Ontario, with its scattering of lakes on the Rideau System, and majestic pines and wildflowers growing out of the bedrock of the Canadian Shield. Tett House sits perched on one of these imposing rocky cliffs, with water and trees on every side. Living here, I feel as if we are at the very heart of every season as it passes.

And summer is one of the best.

In summer, the lilacs come out,

and the deer visit.

The time for sunset bonfires and ‘smores begins,

and I start making homemade iced tea with fresh mint and lemon.

When the storm windows come off in late spring, and we open the French doors to the porch, Tett House comes alive.

When I fell in love with this place, I fell hard, and its large screened-in porch is largely responsible for that. That porch is what made me realize this was more than just a real estate crush… this was a long-term commitment territory.

When we first saw it, the porch was sort of a leftover postscript to the rest of the house, but it had a lot of potential. The previous owners left some boring, Golden Girls-style wicker out there and I wasn’t having any of it. I had a vision of something cozier and maybe kind of old-fashioned, but in the best sense. I wanted to create a space that you escape to with a book, or a glass of wine, where you gather with friends and listen to music.

When we first moved in, the porch became a place to put a few pieces of stray furniture. It was the only place of calm in our stormy move, when everything was in chaos. Our cat liked it, too.

Decorating the porch was a bit of a challenge because it’s not enclosed, only screened-in. This meant that any furniture we put out there had to be resilient and able to withstand changes in the weather. It also had to suit the age and style of the home… a modern “outdoor living room” set from Home Depot wasn’t going to cut it.

My first stroke of luck was acquiring a pair of vintage rocking chairs from a friend who was moving and could no longer use them. They were a little worn and a little chipped and they were exactly what I was looking for.

Next, I found the perfect round pedestal table online and some very affordable indoor/outdoor rattan chairs from IKEA.

It was really starting to come together, but I still didn’t have my pièce de résistance. I needed a cozy reading corner… someplace I could curl up with a good book or fall asleep on a lazy day. The final piece of the puzzle was equal parts Kijiji and thrift shop, where I picked up a secondhand daybed and handmade quilt and bedding, respectively.

The porch is my favourite room in the house, of course, although it’s not even really a room. It’s that magical place where you can be both inside and outside at the same time. It’s a place for dreaming, for reading, for dining, and – since the daybed was set up – for napping.

The floor is slanted to an alarming degree. Things get damp in there, when it rains. There are sometimes ants, and once I interrupted a snacking squirrel, but when the weather is fine, it’s the only place I want to be in the world.

To read the story of our move to Tett House from the beginning click here.

New Year at Tett House – The Cost of Making Magic

When it comes to living in Tett House, every once in awhile Trevor and I have moments of overwhelm and regret. Not always at the same time, which helps. One person can usually bolster the other one up. Sometimes, we find ourselves saying things like, “Why did we do this?” or (only half-jokingly), “How soon can we put this place back on the market, recoup our costs and our sanity?”

The answer, of course is never. You don’t make the kind of investment in time and money and heart and soul that we have made, just to flip a property. At this point, we’ve kind of made a deal with the gods to stick it out, whether we like it or not.

But, there are also moments when we both feel like we have nothing left to give. (This feeling is backed up by our renovation budget.) Moments when hard work, uncertainty, and the latest repair bill push us to the dark edge of our dream… the one you never look at too closely when you’re at the beginning of your adventure.

Yesterday, December 31, 2018, was one of those moments. I woke up in the morning after a mostly sleepless night of obsessing over all the unfinished Tett House projects hanging over our heads. Trevor had just said, “Good morning,” when I dissolved into tears. “I feel like this house has bested us,” I sobbed. “And I don’t know what to do anymore.”

Trevor said simply,  “I feel the same way.”  He reached out to hold my hand and we just sat there while I cried for, like, 20 minutes. Neither of us had the capacity to comfort the other.

What prompted this despair, you might well ask? Well… I’m sorry to say, but we found a mouse in the pantry the night before. You wouldn’t think a single mouse would be the breaking point, would you? Not when we’ve been catching mice off and on since we moved in. It’s a house in the country, you might be saying to yourself. They should expect to have a few mice. And you’d be right. We did expect it.

It wasn’t just the mouse. Obviously.

When we bought this house, we worked with professionals, and thought we were financially and emotionally prepared for the major work that had to be done. What we expected to undertake was challenging enough, but we were up to it. We had the momentum of excitement and love for the house to propell us through the many projects we had planned. But, try as you might, you can’t be prepared for everything. Because LIFE.

We weren’t prepared for our well to be vandalized, or the creepy knowledge that someone had visited the property with a motive to poison the water source… a motive that had nothing to do with us, and a serious crime that brings a serious charge. I am grateful every day my son never drank or bathed in that water and that none of us are sick because of it. But I will never feel 100% safe again.

We weren’t prepared for the underhandedness of the previous owners, who lied and covered things up and violated their contract with us on so many levels, costing us thousands of dollars.

We weren’t prepared for the incompetence of our lawyer and our bank manager, again to the detriment of our finances.

We weren’t prepared for the multitude of little wrinkles to be ironed out following all the work on the house:  minor plumbing issues, carpentry repairs, defective smoke alarms that went off randomly in the middle of the night for weeks until we could get them replaced.

We weren’t prepared for ticks, not knowing the South Frontenac area is a hot spot for them. Our son was bitten early on and had to undergo a round of heavy-duty antibiotics.

We weren’t prepared for bats in the house: eight in total, three within the first month after we moved in. Always in the middle of the night (of course.) Our cat caught a couple and then had to be put in soft quarantine in case of rabies. Rabies! Pest and animal control have been working on sealing the interior and exterior of our home over the past year, but we still catch mice on a regular basis. We have to hide this from our son, who’s OK with most things, but is distinctly creeped out by mice.

We weren’t prepared for the large, dead trees (x 4) that needed to come down, for insurance purposes, because they were either over-hanging the road, or too close to our house.

We weren’t prepared to excavate our backyard to put in a new drain field, because the old owners chose not to update the septic system properly. We weren’t prepared to discover that the new tank they had installed was initially the wrong size and didn’t have a permit.

We weren’t prepared for the ants and the wasps and the cluster flies. OMG, the cluster flies with their incessant buzzing and that final, frenzied death spin. (Many thanks to Greenshield for getting those under control for us.)

We weren’t prepared to have a mason come to repair our fireplace mantels and tell us the chimney was falling in.

We weren’t prepared for the sheer amount of leaves we have to rake every autumn (25+ bags.)

We weren’t prepared for the cost of propane to heat a house this old in the winter.

We weren’t prepared for vegetation in the pond to choke our water pump and cause our water to turn a gross shade of brown and smell even grosser. Fortunately, this was just a glitch and is now sorted out. But I stressed for weeks about our contractors having to go out on the icy pond to pull the pump apparatus out of the water.

As a decorator, Tett House was going to be my big project, my pièce de résistance. I wasn’t prepared to have to go back to work with it not even close to being finished, and no more budget left to work with. And I wasn’t expecting to get laid off only a few months after being hired at a dream job.

I feel like I’ve just done a lot of complaining. But all of this has happened within the last 18 months ! As you can see, it wasn’t just the mouse in the pantry. It was the fact that I am now scared of the house I initially fell in love with. Each step we started out taking on solid ground has ended in quicksand. So, where the hell do we go from here?

After I stopped crying all over Trevor, he wrung out his shirt, and I made myself a cup of tea, which everyone knows is the answer to everything. I decided to go for a walk and get some fresh air. I needed to remind myself why we were so drawn to this spot; why we left everything and everyone in our old life behind to start fresh in new surroundings.

It was an overcast day, but warm for the end of December. A little damp, a little soggy. This is what I saw.

The view of the old Bedford Mill from my backyard:

Buttermilk Falls, from Devils Lake:

Tett House, from across the Bedford Mills pond:

And the path home, through the forest:

That’s a lot of magic for a crappy, grey, mid-winter day.

When I was a kid, I read a book called The Ship That Flew,  in which a boy finds a magic toy ship in a shop, only he doesn’t realize it’s magic. He just knows there is something special about it, and he tentatively approaches the old man proprietor about buying it. The old man, as it turns out, is Odin, the Norse God of Wisdom, and knowing the ship’s significance, Odin says, “It would cost all the money you have in the world — and a bit over.”

I feel like this is where we are at now, with Tett House. You don’t just get all this magic for free. It costs all that you have… and a bit over.

Happy New Year.

Read previous post here.

(To start our blog at the beginning, go to Part 1.)