Like so many of us, particularly those fortunate to be able to work from home, my pandemic year revolved around where I live.

Like so many of us, particularly those fortunate to be able to work from home, my pandemic year revolved around where I live.

In August 2019, I moved from the upper half of a West Broadway duplex into my partner’s century-plus-old West End home, and initially things were great — we had just enough space for her and me, as well as my two kids (half of the time). We all worked, we went to school, so when we were all at home the place felt busy, but not too crowded.

<p>Ben Sigurdson / Winnipeg Free Press files</p><p>The Halloween witch got the approval of neighbours as well as Ted Lasso.</p>

Ben Sigurdson / Winnipeg Free Press files

The Halloween witch got the approval of neighbours as well as Ted Lasso.

All that changed with the pandemic, as kids were suddenly thrust into the world of remote learning in 2020. My teenage daughter had a desk in her room; my partner worked in the small third-floor space that had been converted into a makeshift office. That left my elementary school (at the time) son and I sitting face to face at the dining room table, me banging out and editing copy for the Free Press and him struggling to stay focused on school assignments between Microsoft Teams meetings. I quickly realized how wildly unprepared I was for quarterbacking school duties. (Thank you, Manitoba teachers, for everything you do.)

My partner and I had been casually looking for potential houses pre-pandemic, but once we were all in the house together all day, it was clear we needed to pick up the pace. And in August 2020, after the typical overbidding, we found our spot, a mid-century modern home in St. James.

More space, nice neighbourhood, beautiful flora, a finished basement, an office for both my partner and me, closer to the kids’ mom, their friends, their schools: it had everything going for it. We moved in mid-November of 2020, barely beating the next wave of remote learning, and spent 2021 getting to know the place in earnest.

<p>Ben Sigurdson / Winnipeg Free Press files</p><p>There were no more imperious visitors than these turkeys.</p>

Ben Sigurdson / Winnipeg Free Press files

There were no more imperious visitors than these turkeys.

The melting snow of our first spring in the house brought all manner of discoveries. For my partner, a voracious gardener, it meant taking stock of the flowers, bushes and trees on the property.

She began planning all manner of projects that were sure to last us through the summer, seed packages were arriving weekly by courier and new flora of all types would arrive almost every weekend. (One weekend she drove to Morden, bought a tree, and shoved it into a modest hatchback for the drive home.) I dug a lot of holes and hauled a lot of dirt around in wheelbarrows this year.

And, as the buds on the trees (new and old) began to return, I found myself with a new interest I never could have guessed — birdwatching.

<p>Ben Sigurdson / Winnipeg Free Press files</p><p>The new house’s fruit trees were a source of joy and on-topic enough to serve as a prop when Free Press photographer Mikaela Mackenzie (right) photographed Jesse Oberman of Next Friend Cider in the cherry tree.</p>

Ben Sigurdson / Winnipeg Free Press files

The new house’s fruit trees were a source of joy and on-topic enough to serve as a prop when Free Press photographer Mikaela Mackenzie (right) photographed Jesse Oberman of Next Friend Cider in the cherry tree.

With a proper yard with fruit trees, our proximity to the river and my partner having hung what seems like dozens of feeders in our yard, the feathery visitors began in earnest, resulting in an incredible cross-section of birds visiting our place. Of the year-round regulars, the bullies of our yard are the house sparrows, whose constant clashes with each other get a bit repetitive after a while; the blue jays, chickadees and occasional crow offer more excitement. But then came a huge flock of juncos, a few nuthatches as well as finches, warblers, robins and so on. Often while working at the dining room table (partaking in virtual wine tastings with winemakers or some such thing) I’d become distracted by the comings and goings of these birds, and it wasn’t long before I had started filling a birdwatching journal and using apps to help identify birds by their calls or plumage. I got a pair of binoculars for Father’s Day. I became a (very amateur) birder.

If you think birdwatching sounds like the most boring pastime imaginable, you might not be interested in the pair of ducks who visited in the front yard in late spring, The male and female trundled around the side of the house to the backyard, did some snacking on seeds before waddling over to near the dining room window (where my partner and I were watching) and, well… getting it on, right in front of us, before flying over the fence and into my neighbour’s pool for a quick cool-down.

Then there was the time in early summer that I was sitting in the living room, my face buried in my phone, when I looked up and was stared down by two of the biggest turkeys I had ever seen. They were standing just outside my front window; I sat there motionless, in shock perhaps, as they took turns sipping from the bird bath like it was a high school hall way water fountain.

<p>Ben Sigurdson / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>The house was decked out just enough for the holidays, with one of the new trees in the foreground.</p>

Ben Sigurdson / Winnipeg Free Press

The house was decked out just enough for the holidays, with one of the new trees in the foreground.

As bird/gardening season wound down and fall crept in, the more decorative projects took over. We’ve been picking away at replacing light fixtures, peering up at the leaking skylight of the sunroom, painting most of the rooms of the house (apologies to the previous owners, who I happen to know — I like purple, but not THAT much purple, Maureen) and planning for what’s next.

The decorative projects, of course, included seasonal fun, such as the larger-than-life witch my partner and kids built for Halloween (more witches, apparently, are planned for next year), and the obligatory Christmas decorations that thankfully didn’t see anyone go full Clark Griswold.

It’s taken a year — and what a hard, grueling year it’s been in so many ways — but the house has become our home, and there’s no place I’d rather be.

ben.sigurdson@winnipegfreepress.com

@bensigurdson

Ben Sigurdson

Ben Sigurdson
Literary editor, drinks writer

Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.