November 18, 2007

The Little Blue House

Although Edmonton itself was a big disappointment, I’m more or less happy with the house we’ve rented. It’s just like the description and the pictures the landlord sent us: “Older Character Home with Established Raspberry Patch.” Kevin and I call it “the little blue house.”

I just wish I’d thought to ask for pictures of the neighborhood before we signed the lease. Quel horreur! In our defense, we tried to do our research. We checked city websites and looked at aerial photos on Google Earth, but from hundreds of feet up in the air you can’t see that our tree-line boulevard is a major thoroughfare full of dilapidated houses, mumbling vagrants, and back alleys full of refuse. When stepping foot onto our driveway for the first time, I accidentally stepped on a used condom! Welcome to the neighborhood, I guess.

Still, I’m determined to stick it out for the remainder of our time in Edmonton, which I hope will be of short duration. In part, I don’t want the trouble or expense of having to move again until we leave the city for good. And after more than a year in various rented rooms, I ready to be settled. But more importantly, our house really is pretty cute, if you look past its chipping exterior and frightening neigbhorhood. And anyway, it was the nicest one we’d seen in our months-long rental search. I just hate to think of my future home as a prison. I worry that I’ll never want to step outside my front door.

But let’s focus on the positive, shall we? If it must be a cage, it will be a gilded one. The house has lots of windows, hardwood floors, and real plaster walls. The Art Deco furnace doesn’t work, but at least the landlords left it in place. There’s nothing more charming than a mantelpiece – except maybe a mantelpiece with a working fireplace. Anyway, I love the sun porch. It has wall-to-wall windows, and yet is remarkably warm and cozy. When the Alberta winter stretches out into April, or even May, I’ll just sit out there on my wicker settee with a cat and a book, surrounded by sunny windowsills full of narcissi.

The house consists of five rooms: a living room, dining room, kitchen, and two bedrooms. There's a a basement that's as big as the entire house, but even though it's "finished," it's completely uninhabitable. The living room and dining rooms are really just one room, separated by a couple of short built-in bookcases. This masks the fact that both rooms are incredibly tiny (just 12’ by 13’ each). The kitchen is even smaller – too small for a table and chairs, which means that we’ll have to eat all our meals in the dining room – but I think that’s kinda nice, actually. I hate the waste of little-used formal rooms.

The front bedroom will be ours, and the smaller one will be for guests, should any of you want to visit us in our little prairie homestead. But the tiny guest bedroom will also have to double as a study and accommodate wall-to-wall bookshelves in addition to a little day bed. Still, it should be cozy and bohemian looking, and with my little writing desk tucked underneath the window overlooking the garden, it will probably be my favorite room in the house.

As for the yard, well, it needs some work, but I was forewarned about that. Except for the raspberry bushes lining the fence, it’s complete empty. My plan is to build raised beds for herbs and vegetables near the house and create a thick, circular border of cutting flowers along the back fence, with a small plot of grass in the middle. But before I can begin with any of that, I’ve got to build up the soil. Alberta is said to have the richest soil in the North American prairies, but you wouldn’t know it to run your fingers through the dirt in my backyard. It is incredibly dry and rocky, after years of neglect. So my priority this winter will be to start a vermiculture in the basement. All that uninhabitable space might as well be good for something. Hopefully, I’ll have a cheap, rich source of compost come spring.

On the bright side, I’ve got a cute house and a garden with potential, none of which I could’ve had if we’d stayed in Boston. True, the neighborhood is pretty seedy, but maybe if I spruce up my own yard with flowering shrubs and an annual border, my neighbors will, too. And then before you know it, maybe the whole neighborhood will start to transform. Well, a girl can dream, at least. Actually, my next-door neighbor on the left already has a cute little kitchen garden out back, as evidenced by a fresh harvest of potatoes drying on her patio last week. I figure a neighbor who gardens can’t be all bad. Now, if only it were catching…

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