Lackadoo Doodlebug

Since my last post, the feedback I’ve received has been a phenomenal ego boost, and I want to say thank you for all the kind words and messages of encouragement. In the past year or so, I’ve been called brave, amazing, Superwoman, remarkable, a warrior, and lots of other very lovely things, all for making the decision to go ahead with the original plan. But, let’s get real. I’m still the same old Karen and I still do some, not unfunny, but pretty stupid things.

Take the riding lawnmower, for instance.

It came to me in the spring. My cousin, Harold, who has been very helpful since the move, shopped for and fixed up a cute, little, orange Husqvarna, then delivered it to my doorstep. Appropriately, he named it the Lackadoo Doodlebug.

Doodlebug tractor is the colloquial American English name for a home-made tractor made in the United States during World War II when production tractors were in short supply. The doodlebug of the 1940s was usually based on a 1920s or 1930s era Ford automobile which was then modified either by the complete removal or alteration of some of the vehicle body.

He gave me a quick lesson in how to work it, and then I let it sit for a few weeks while the grass and wildflowers grew ever taller in the front yard. I’m not sure why I hesitated, but I did. Maybe it was a case of too much too soon, but I finally hopped on it one day, determined to make the front yard, back yard and trails pristine. Thinking I was going to get through the whole thing in one day on my first try was the first naïve assumption I made.

It was going very well, actually. And it was un-freaking-believably fun! I felt like the King of the Hill! Take that, long grass!


The front yard. It looks deceptively flat.

I developed a system of sorts where I studied the rough terrain and avoided anything that looked outright dangerous. I’m not going to lie: I was feeling like a total badass who could conquer any challenge, learn to drive and operate any piece of machinery.

I was almost finished the front yard and already excited to tackle the back (which is decidedly less flat) when…


It was loud. I was no longer moving. The blades wouldn’t turn. I got the Doodlebug started again, but there was nothing going on down there where it counts.

I got off to investigate and found that I had hit a stump that was sticking out of the ground about an inch.


Seriously? Seriously?!!

I was crushed. All of that sweet, sweet adrenaline drained right out of me. The disappointment of not finishing what I had started and the dread of telling my cousin what had happened put me in a pretty dark place. You see, I was supposed to be a totally, utterly kickass bush mama who could do anything she put her mind to.

Except fixing a broken tractor, it would seem.

I had no clue (or skills or experience) to fix my poor Lackadoo Doodlebug, whom I loved with all my heart already. My baby was hurt. And so was my pride.

Thankfully, I am lucky enough to have local love and support, which I called in immediately.


The blade took a beating, but apparently that happens to everyone. (My friends are very kind.)


Found the problem! And fixed it with a $50 part. Phew.

Still smarting from the embarrassment of hitting a stump my first time out, I got back in the saddle. I had a load of organics to compost, so I hooked up the trailer and away I went with my son to the compost bin, located in a field behind the house.

Where I got stuck.

The wheels would just spin in the tall grass. (I later learned that the under-mounted deck probably got caught in the overgrown vegetation.) I detached the trailer, thinking it might help to have less weight. Then my son jumped in the trailer. Which tipped. Which sent the connection pin I had placed there flying. I swear I saw the glint of the metal in the sun before it was lost to the field, probably forever. And the tractor was still stuck.

I texted a friend to declare that I should not ever be allowed to touch machinery. Another friend, who freed the Doodlebug from the field, reminded me that it’s a riding lawnmower, not an ATV.

The third time I attempted to drive it, after a wild ride through the fire pit (blades turned off, thank goodness, and no fire going), I learned to turn the speed down from “rabbit” to “turtle”.


My decidedly less-flat back yard and fire pit.

And the fourth time? It was incident free, thank you very much.

The experience was a good reminder that all these new skills I am tackling have a learning curve that needs to be respected – as much for my own safety as for extending the life of the machinery. The pace of life here is not the same as it was in the city – I’m allowed to slow down, to be gentle with myself and admit that I am a beginner.

Also, it’s incredibly fortuitous that I didn’t get to the back yard that first day, believe it or not. In my excitement, I had completely forgotten that when I had a new satellite internet connection installed last winter, and the dish had to be put on an outbuilding, the technician had laid the cable across the yard to the house. By this point, the cable that had slipped my mind was completely hidden in the tall grass. If I hadn’t hit that stump, I most certainly would have run over that cable and cut off my internet connection.

Hey, I look for the blessings wherever I can find them.

My skills are improving as I get to know the machine and the terrain better. As I keep reminding my son, everything takes practice.


Just parking her in the barn for the night!
(Photo credit: Mike Hookimaw. Editing credit: Tim Emery)

The Story So Far

Happy Spring! We are at the beginning of the fourth season in our new home and time seems to be flying by. We’ve come a long way in the nine months since we first arrived and I have a true sense of accomplishment from improvements to the property and the challenges we have met head on.


We first arrived at the end of July to find the property in an absolute mess. The previous owners had not finished cleaning up three decades’ worth of garbage, the roof on the house clearly could not handle another winter, and the collapsed deck in the back was an accident waiting to happen. Also, the inside of the house was…well…let’s just say I didn’t post any interior shots to Facebook because I didn’t want to send friends and family into a panic about our well-being.

Daunting, yes, but I knew there would be challenges when I decided to go ahead with the move. So, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled the issues one by one.

The first handyman I hired did not work out. It didn’t take a genius to realize that I was nothing but a cash cow to him. In a couple of months, the only job he actually completed was replacing a couple of rotten boards on the porch. Whenever I asked him to do something, his response was to “mansplain” why it wasn’t a good idea. He was also great at finding new jobs to start that I hadn’t asked for and wouldn’t shut up about religion.

I didn’t fire him right away because I still needed him to winterize my water (he never did). The final straw came when my roofer, Rob, quietly asked me one day what I was paying that guy for. Apparently, when Rob and I negotiated the price for the roof, my handyman sidled up to him afterwards to ask, “Did you get anything for me?”

Hmm. Taking advantage of a widow with a small boy doesn’t seem very Christian to me.

We got off to a bit of a shaky start, but I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished in the first nine months. With a new, metal roof and a wood delivery, we were ready for winter by mid-November.


The deck got cleaned up and the scrap wood sorted for future projects (tree house!). I leaned on the previous owner until he took away most of the garbage. The interior renovations are about halfway complete, with the second round starting as I write this. I experienced some issues with my water over the winter months and can say that I understand my water system much better now – a summer project will be fixing the idiosyncrasies that led to the problems in the first place.

I also learned how to drive a snowmobile. So much fun.

2016-04-19 12.37.19

And then, there’s this guy.

snow day

A lot of work still needs to be done, and I don’t expect that to change with a large property. But, we’ve settled into a nice rhythm and I’m excited about the future and new projects. First order of business, a garden!





Journey from The Junction to The Land of Lackadoo

My husband and I lived in Toronto for 20 years; the last 16 in a recently gentrified, hip and happening neighbourhood called The Junction. We were happy for most of those years, secure in our little house with our small son, a beautiful wee garden and lots of wonderful friends and neighbours.

I’m not entirely sure what happened, but for the past five years or so, our family was not thriving in the city. Perhaps it started with the crazy neighbours who liked to slash tires, or our increasingly hectic lifestyle: work/life balance seemed as elusive as a red dot.


Or, it may have been the two years I lost to debilitating back pain. Despite a determination to get up every day and keep moving forward, the constant noise and crowds of the city were wearing on us. It felt like we were digging a hole.

And then, a year and half ago, an old friend invited us to join her family at a rented cabin in a part of Ontario I had never before visited: the Magnetawan River. It was love at first sight. We visited every chance we could get away from the city, making new friends in the process. Our reluctance to return to Toronto grew stronger with every visit and, eventually, my husband started shopping for real estate.

mag river

Overlooking the Magnetawan River, Maple Island, Ontario

Of course, I was trepidatious. Could we afford it? What about all our friends in the city? What about work? Would we be able to handle the northern lifestyle? And…winter.

The thing is, since I was a kid, I’ve nurtured a dream of having a cabin in the woods where I could write in solitude. And my husband was always an avid outdoors man. Given our level of stress and my battles with back pain, the real question became how could we not?

We decided to take the leap into a new, simpler, and healthier lifestyle, and bought a large acreage about 20 minutes outside of town.

Then tragedy struck.

In June, 3 weeks away from starting our new life, my husband suffered a traumatic brain injury and collapsed. He died 10 days later in hospital, practically on the eve of realizing the dream.

Unfair doesn’t begin to describe it.

Reeling and heartbroken, I was embraced with love and support from family, friends and neighbours, who came out in droves to help with packing up and cleaning the city house and moving to our new home in the country.

So, here we are – a fresh widow and a small boy – knocking around in the bush, picking up the pieces and moving forward.

I invite you to follow our adventures as we find our way In the Land of Lackadoo.