No condo retirement for us (too busy getting our hands dirty)

(Here’s a copy of an editorial I wrote for our local paper last fall — a good summary of our renovation project and current lifestyle, for both new and old blog readers.)

The glossy real estate ads pitch a very specific lifestyle, generally to a very specific demographic. The lifestyle? Condo living in or near the downtown core in the larger centres promises carefree living – maintenance-free and with easy access to shopping, hospitals and cultural and sporting events. The demographic? Aging baby boomers.

He-who-thinks-he’s-boss and I fit the demographic, but we haven’t been browsing brochures (at least not condo brochures) and we haven’t been attending open houses. For one thing, we don’t have the time.

We’re far too busy arguing over which wood floors can be saved and which can’t, comparing different types and brands of insulation and getting our hands dirty updating, repairing and restoring a 103-year-old house sitting on 12 acres of neglected, overgrown land. Yes, just when a lot of people our age are thinking of down-sizing or moving to a condo or townhouse to cut down on home and property upkeep, we decided to buy some woods, pasture and garden, along with a old house left in the early stages of renovation by the previous owner.

It’s been interesting and educational, I’ll grant you that. When He-who-thinks-he’s-boss shows me the old electrical wire pulled out of the wall and the crumbled insulation and exposed bare wire in his hands, I really understand those news reports where a fire is blamed on faulty wiring. And when I look at the piles of loose, dry wood shavings I’ve removed from the walls, I have a new appreciation for when the fire department spokesperson says, “there was nothing we could do, it was gone before we got there.”

And after long, monotonous days of chipping plaster off of bedroom walls, it’s really very exciting to find an old baseball card tucked in behind a baseboard. Upon returning to town, the first thing I did was go online in anticipation of having found the funding necessary to complete our renos. Alas, no such luck. Judging from the number of identical cards on eBay, if I wanted to sell my new-found treasure, I might have had enough for a cup of hot chocolate and a cinnamon bun. Instead, now we have to add properly framing and displaying the baseball card to the budget.

By the way, there’s other things to be found in old walls and ceilings – such as dead mice. No framing expenses there! (Yes, we wear protective clothing and breathing devices.) And I did find pieces of an old invoice from C. F. Carson Groceries and Fruit to somebody Mead, dated April 5, 1928. Unfortunately, not all the pieces are there, but I can make out the words pumpkin, raisins and (of all things!) salt, and a total of 1.85. He-who-thinks-he’s-boss is fortunate. It doesn’t take much to amuse me.

In fact, I’m what’s known in some circles as a “cheap date”. Surprise me with a new pair of work gloves and I’m happy. Spend the evening wandering about the house, talking about where the light fixtures might go, and I’m happy. Bring me a glass of cider and I’ll happily take a break with you, sitting on the scaffold in my dirty overalls.

Yes, we climb up and down scaffolding, contort ourselves into odd positions to be able to work in closets and other tight spots and fall into bed at night, too tired to move another muscle. And we eagerly greet every morning, every week, every month with new goals and plans and ideas.

The statistics say people today are likely to spend as much as one-third of their lives “retired.” All I can say is, we won’t be bored. Another year or so on the house and then there’s the barn, the fence, the pasture, the gardens, the Quonset, the …

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