In the past two years, Bruno and I have been “house-bound” (his term) more times that Bruno cares to remember. It all started in spring 2016 when we first decided to sell Totoyaya (our 4WD Toyota Land Cruiser) and upgrade to a larger vehicle. We spent almost three months in Bruno’s home in France so that he could pass his truck driver’s license.
Early last year, when we finally purchased that larger vehicle (our Big Blue Bus), we spent six weeks living in a home in Tucson, and another five weeks in a home in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico in order to transform the shuttle bus into a new home-on-wheels.
Today, I am writing you from yet another “home” – this one in Bayfield, Nova Scotia, Canada.
A couple posts ago, I announced that Bruno and I are expecting our first baby. In that post, I explained that we chose to work with two midwives based out of St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish. When we first made that decision, we figured we would stay in the New Brunswick area until a couple weeks before my due date (right around now), find a local hotel or Air BnB to stay in while we waited for baby to arrive, and then jet back to New Brunswick the week following the birth.
As time passed, we realized this was not a practical decision. From November onwards, our pre-natal appointments were bi-weekly, and this month, they are every week. Between the 3-hour drive each way and the actual appointment, driving from New Brunswick to Antigonish took the entire day and cost us a pretty penny in fuel. Locals, upon hearing our plan, cautioned us that the highway we’d have to take was notoriously unpredictable in winter (and winter is already unpredictable in Canada!). Lastly, the midwives confirmed that they could deliver our baby anytime between 35-42 weeks, and that they do post-partum visits for the first six weeks after birth. When I started to do the math, I realized we’d have to be in Antigonish for possibly 13 weeks, depending on when baby chose to arrive.
It suddenly became clear that we’d be best spending the winter in Nova Scotia.
Antigonish is a small town near the north-eastern coast of Nova Scotia. It has a population of about 4,000 and its downtown area spans only about five square kilometers. Within that small space, however, is a highly reputed university, St. Francix Xavier, that doubles the size of Antigonish during the school year. Because of the student population, dotted along Main Street are quite a few cafés and restaurants. There’s also a yoga studio, a farmer’s market, several naturopaths, acupuncturists and osteopaths, and a health store. Basically, the town has everything Bruno and I could need to get us through a long Canadian winter.
However, because Antigonish is a university town, all its accommodation is geared to students. There are lots of lovely wood century homes that I’d have loved to rent in town, but they’re all rented out by the room to students from September to May. Even the campground mobile homes and the town’s largest inn are rented to students. Try as we might, Bruno and I couldn’t find a place to rent for a few months in town itself.
That’s how we ended up in Bayfield, 25km east of Antigonish. Bayfield isn’t even a town, really. I mean, it is, on a map, but in reality, it’s no more than an intersection of two roads (one of them dirt) at an Anglican church. There is no “downtown,” no “main street,” no shops. Not even a gas station or a corner store. (Amazingly, though, there is an Iyengar yoga studio, complete with a Senior-Level Iyengar yoga teacher, just five minutes up the road from our house!). The residents of Bayfield live on or just off the County Road that winds along the coast toward Cape Breton.
Bruno and I are two of those County Road residents. Ordinarily, neither of us would want to live on a main road, but we actually chose this home partially because of that road – we wanted as clear of a route to Antigonish and the hospital as possible in case of a winter storm when labour sets in. And besides, our piece of land is so long that our house is several hundred meters from the road, and we don’t hear a peep of traffic. Instead, we are surrounded by rolling fields, without a neighbour in sight, and with a thoroughly lovely view of the ocean out back.
Paul and Jennifer built this home themselves a dozen or so years ago, using the foundation of the old century country home that had stood here. Paul, a lobster fisherman, is from one of the oldest Bayfield families, and Jennifer’s is an equally old Antigonish family. They built their home using reclaimed wood and barn scraps – the result is a charming country-style home perfect in its imperfection. I loved it from the moment I stepped inside, and though we visited nine homes within a thirty minute radius of Antigonish, this was the only home in which I truly saw myself.
The house is large. Larger than necessary, and larger than I’ve ever had to clean before (which has become all-but impossible at this late stage of pregnancy!). We have a basement, where I’ve stored all the boxes I’ve had at my parents’ home for the past 7 years (more on that in my next post), and where Bruno has been able to use Paul’s workshop and all his tools to do some more bus renovations (more on that, too, in the next post!). We have three bedrooms upstairs, including a gigantic master bedroom with a big, luxurious queen-sized bed. Upstairs, there’s also a little office nook and a bathroom with a bathtub (which I take advantage of several evenings a week!) and the best view of the ocean in the entire home. I’ve never spent so much time brushing my teeth!
Though the upstairs has the charm of the A-frame ceiling and the view of the ocean, downstairs is truly where it’s at. We have a side entrance that leads to a mud-room that my mother is incredibly jealous of; a Mexico-themed bathroom with washer and dryer (which will be life-saving in a couple weeks with all the diapers and baby clothes we’ll be washing!); and a living space that is so cozy and charming I can’t speak highly enough of it.
Thick wood beams decorate the walls and ceilings. The large living room has windows around its three walls, so that even though it’s winter, we have lots of natural light. There’s a piano I have enjoyed tinkling around with, and we pulled my amazing sound system and record player out of storage so that we can rock out to music all day long (a necessity for Bruno when he’s house-bound). The kitchen has long, beautiful tiled countertops that put even my Big Blue Bus kitchen to shame (which is saying something, because we have quite the kitchen in that bus!).
The open-concept living space surrounds the pièce de résistance – the wood-stove fireplaces. These two fireplaces serve as the home’s main source of heat (we also have oil furnaces in each room, but oil is incredibly costly to fill). Bruno was not excited about having to heat the house by fire (it’s actually why he was against renting this place at first), and I do understand his perspective – twice a week he has to lug in firewood from the barn outside using a wheelbarrow; in the morning he wakes up before me to start the fire; and if it’s cold enough, he has to keep it going all day long (and sometimes even lights the second one).
But that fire adds such atmosphere to our home that I’ve felt myself almost liking winter. Not to mention the fact that having a fire going has been energy-saving in many ways. First of all, I can slow-cook stews and soups on the stovetop, and roast vegetables or reheat foods in the wood-oven. Secondly, we keep a giant lobster pot full of water on the stovetop, which serves to humidify the home, retains warmth inside the home for several hours after the fire dies at night, and serves as the hot water for my almost-nightly bath!
All in all, we are terribly comfortable here in Bayfield. The great relationship we have with our midwives, the yoga studio down the road, and the absolute comfort of our rental house confirms that we made the right call in settling ourselves in Nova Scotia for the winter. Now all we need to do is wait for baby to arrive!