Category: House

What’s precious

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We spent the Easter weekend on the farm where Kevin grew up, and his mom still lives.

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We helped her begin to sort through and organize the rooms, the closets, cupboards, drawers, nooks and crannies. This is no small project in a house that’s been home for nearly forty years.

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I boxed up books to give away, many of which had been bestsellers at some point in the past four decades, already out of date, out of style; some were too musty even to donate. It was an odd conflation of realities, having just spent several days at the British Library, where I pored over printed texts that were four or five centuries old. By what random chance did those books survive? Nothing I read in the BL would be considered great or lasting literature, though some was popular in its time; survival over the centuries was a matter more of being kept by generations of someones who were not like me, I guess, as my instinct is to purge, rather than to cling to, at least in a general sense.

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The work got me thinking about how transitory and brief are our lives on this earth. Consider my files of manuscripts in our attic. I wonder, should I burn them now so as to spare my children having to decide what to do with them, some day? What’s precious, after all?

I come home thinking that what’s precious is today.

But today is also ephemeral, which is why we keep so much, trying to keep what can’t be kept. We’ve all got our means and methods, our junk drawers, our shoeboxes. I say this as an inveterate collector and curator of the daily now, in the form of this blog, knowing that what I’m compelled to do is only fractionally more lasting than the day itself, and then only because it freezes and distorts the complicated layers of each beautiful breath and heart beat into a small, glancing story.

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I come home thinking that it’s really really important to pay attention to what you’re pouring your life into. I think: don’t worry about whether or not you’re making things that will last. Don’t worry period, actually. Make and do the things that bring you and those around you some daily sense of being loved and cared for. Be as alive as you want to be, while you’re here.

Newsflash!

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AppleApple’s last major school project before March break: an original handwritten folk tale

March break started yesterday. The kids celebrated with Minecraft in their pyjamas, a game that they play collaboratively, and that includes everyone, and which therefore I don’t find myself objecting to as stridently as I do to other video games. I also make no comment when Kevin sneaks off to play FIFA14 (a soccer video game) with one kid or another, calling it “soccer practice.” I actually think that “pwning” his opposition in FIFA14 may be helping Albus with his “mad dekes” on the field, in real life. It’s the power of envisioning results. If you can’t imagine it — in specific, calculated detail — it’s never going to happen.

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the couch in its new location + airborn son; we call that beanbag chair “the cow”

On our first family outing of March break, we walked uptown to get passport photos taken. Because — newsflash! — I’m flying to London, England next month! (My passport is actually fine, but in digging up everyone’s, I discovered that most of the kids’ had expired.) This trip fulfills a dream to research early print culture, specifically popular culture (i.e. the precursor to the tabloid), in Elizabethan England. Long ago, I wanted to write a doctoral thesis on the subject, but I have the feeling that fiction will be much more fun, and ultimately more in line with my talents and abilities. I studied English Lit through grad school, but have never seen the places imprinted in my imagination by all that reading of English Lit; just like I wanted to see Nicaragua again before trying to write about, I want to see England before trying to write about it (I’ll save the time-travelling for my imagination). There is no guarantee that I’ll find my story, of course, but I know for sure I won’t find it unless I go (see above re power of envisioning.)

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different airborn son

I’m going before the spring soccer season starts, and Kevin claims not to be worried at all about managing the house and kids and scheduling madness in my absence, now that he’s home so much more often (and he really is home so much more often, a fact I don’t mention enough, but which has greatly benefitted and altered all of our lives). The timing couldn’t be better: I have friends on sabbatical in London this year, who have offered to feed and shelter me. In fact, Nath has been acting as my unofficial guide, looking up directions to places I want to see, and providing advance tips on using the British Library and getting an Oyster pass so I can use the trains, etc.; plus she says she’ll come with me on my outings and provide me with an umbrella. I keep emailing her questions like: what kind of shoes should I bring? (Don’t we all need someone to whom we can email questions like that? It’s funny how it eases the mind just to have someone to ask.)

I also hope to see another friend, whose family is also in the UK on sabbatical, and meet my UK publisher, Lisa Highton of Two Roads, in person.

And maybe have a jacket potato and some beer.

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Fooey playing with matchbox cars, last weekend

Our second stop on yesterday’s family outing was Words Worth, where I bought a pile of bargain books, and AppleApple ordered Black Beauty, and Fooey picked out a guide to making bracelets on her Rainbow Loom (she has been doing nothing else since), and CJ chose a Pokemon guidebook. (Albus was at the library with a friend, as he didn’t need a passport photo). CJ is starting to read, for real. Pokemon guidebooks wouldn’t be my first choice for his reading material, but if he’s the one reading them to himself, I have no objection.

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jam cupboard in its new location

We have a list of things we want to do this week, including:
– matinee movie at the Princess
– family party night (tonight!) [note: definition of party supplied entirely by the children]
– make-up piano lesson
– possibly move children’s rooms around
– clean basement / house
– trip to mall
– plan CJ’s birthday party
– family cross-country ski trip
– lamps for living-room
– uke night
– supper at Grandpa’s
– play with friends
– early morning swim with AppleApple
– trip to the Museum to see this exhibit (over strong protest from the very family member we wish to take)
– hot yoga in the living-room
– fix iMac (the computer on which I process photos, which has been crashing with alarming regularity: which is why this blog doesn’t always have up-to-date pics at present)
– transfer all important files to laptop
– exhibition soccer games
– plan Carrie’s trip
– library

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new bookshelf

We’ve already added a new bookshelf to the living-room and shifted the location of the piano and the couch, and moved the jam cupboard up to our bedroom where it looks so beautiful it almost causes me grief — I think because it seems like hoarding to keep such a beautiful object in such a private space.

“Does it seem like we’re in a constant state of change?” Kevin asked this morning, as AppleApple offered to do a room switch with Albus, who is not enjoying sharing with CJ. To which I could only reply, Yes. We are.

Girl Before Runner

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one way to clean up the toys in the back yard, left out since the fall: cover them with snow

I was doing so well with my plan to visit FB only during portions of the day devoted to waiting in the car or standing on the sidelines, as happens virtually every day. In fact, I did so well that FB got in touch to tell me what I was missing, to which I said, haha FB, you are only confirming that my goal has been achieved!

I was doing so well until this morning, when I did a bit of work on my FB author page. If you feel so inclined, please *like* it. I will use the page for promotional purposes so as not to clog up my personal page with self-cheerleading, which can get a bit tedious. I don’t want to lose friends.

Anyway, this morning. This morning, I had news to post on my author page, so I visited FB and instantly got sucked into the vortex of liking, making witty/supportive comments, clicking on links, and, I must confess, looking at photos of Leonardo DiCaprio (hardly on purpose, I swear!). Therefore, I recommit to climbing back on the wagon henceforth.

Here is my news: we’ve had offers for Girl Runner from Catalan and Poland. Catalan and Poland! That means Girl Runner has sold in 11 territories, and will be translated into eight languages (German, French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Dutch, Polish, and Catalan). I’m told that the publishers will send me copies of the translated book, which in my imagination I’ve already lined up on my office bookshelf to gaze at in wonder. Will they all have different covers? Will the title be changed in translation?

I’ve received comments back from my US editor, and the news is good. The work that remains is minimal. I expect to have a finished manuscript to deliver (to all of these publishers!) within the week.

Oh, and we’re getting a gas stove in the living-room! It won’t be installed for a few weeks, but I have a funny feeling we’ll still get use out of it this winter. Yesterday, I was tossing shovelfuls of snow onto banks already so high that I was lifting the shovel to shoulder height. There’s nowhere to go with this stuff! When I came outside for my run, at a very early hour this morning, I discovered that in the night the snow ploughs had gone by and thoughtfully undone all of yesterday evening’s work, filling in the nicely cleared sidewalk and driveway with heavy, rock-hard street snow. In a rage (and in my running shoes), I grabbed my shovel right there and then and cleared the sidewalk again, tossing the snow on the street-side banks, because there was nowhere else to go. It was like human v car, with car obviously winning. Have we noticed how much we privilege cars over humans in our culture?

Then I went for my run, slipping and sliding and tripping, and generally wondering whether it was worth it to expend such an effort for a pace so ridiculously slow. Is this even running? I asked myself. Could 5 kilometres under such conditions perhaps count for 10? How the heck could I begin to train for a marathon under these circumstances? (As I’m not training for a marathon, this was a purely theoretical question, but now that I mention it again, it makes me want to!)

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there’s a boy in that bed

Albus is home sick for the fourth day in a row, but I’m sensing his imminent return to school. Every day he ate noodle soup for lunch, and we sat together reading the newspaper. Today’s conversation centred around the new book deals, and what I might want to write next.

“You should write Girl Swimmer. And then Girl Cyclist. And then Girl Triathlete!”

“Well … it’s not really a sequel kind of a book.”

“You could write a prequel! Girl Before Runner.”

“Before Girl Runner?”

“Girl Before Runner.”

“Girl Before Runner. I like it.”

Must-do’s, sometimes-do’s, and never-finished’s

note the floor this morning, and what’s not on it

Yesterday, I sat down before the kids arrived home from school and wrote up a little list for each child of “Must-do’s.” I’m not 100% confident about my punctuation of that title, but I’m very very confident that each child can easily accomplish his or her tasks. I’ve loosely linked the tasks to their allowances, but we’ll approach this on a case-by-case basis, rather than a flat-out charge per task undone. Basically, I’m going to go on the assumption that the kids can and will accomplish these tasks. I’m going on trust.

Everyone seemed open to the plan. There were no outliers or complainers, though several suggested we use other methods they’ve heard about from friends’ families, where loonies are lost for infractions or dimes put into jars. To this I said, No. We’ve tried such methods and failed miserably. We lose track. We have no dimes on hand. The IOUs get confused or misplaced. It’s hard enough to remember to dole out allowances on a monthly basis. Therefore: trust.

The must-do’s are as follows:
Albus: practice viola 1x/week for half an hour (he rarely brings his instrument home, so this would be an improvement); brush teeth; homework; place all electronic devices outside bedroom at night; and, of course, put dirty laundry in hamper
AppleApple: practice piano 3x/week; brush teeth; homework; put dirty laundry in hamper; pack swim and soccer bags
Fooey: practice piano 3x/week; brush teeth; homework; put dirty laundry in hamper; swim lessons; walk CJ to school
CJ: practice reading 1x/week; brush teeth; put dirty laundry in hamper; place electronic devices outside bedroom at night; swim lessons; no throwing snow balls on walk to school

the basket is where the electronic devices shall be placed; this is also a new night-time reading nook for Albus (so as not to disturb his sleeping brother)

I added a few “sometimes-do” suggestions to the list:
* walk dogs *help make lunches *read books *play with each other * carry dirty dishes to counter *hang up coats and school bags (yes, those last two should probably be must-do’s, but I’m focusing on being realistic; I want this plan tailored for success!)

Fooey’s floor this morning
AppleApple’s floor, also this morning
We’re into our second month without a working oven. This has been less horrible than I would have imagined. It’s also forced us to think about our priorities, and make some choices. We’ve gone the long-and-drawn-out but definitely less expensive route of digging up old paperwork, talking to the manufacturer, and ensuring that when the stove is fixed, its replaced parts will be under warranty. (And by “we” I mean “Kevin,” who’s done all the legwork.)
On the subject of priorities, we’ve also scaled back our AppleApple’s swimming schedule, somewhat, in consultation with her coaches. This was not easy, and I sense it will be an ongoing process rather than a problem neatly and definitively solved. The larger question at play is: why do we do what we do? Why get up early and work out? Why run? Why swim? Why be on a team? Why challenge oneself? Ultimately, it can’t be for some imagined competitive outcome — for the ribbons and medals and wins, for far-off goals, for numbers and times. It just can’t be. It has to be for the joy of the process itself. I’m not against high personal expectations, as you can probably tell, but I know that high personal expectations can kill the love of the thing you’re practicing, if not tempered with realism, kindness (toward yourself and others) and fun. Play. The joyous expression of the self. I don’t get up early and sweat because I’m going to set any records. I do it because the challenge makes me feel good, mentally and physically.
How to nurture the child who is ambitious and competitive and loves to challenge herself? How to make sure she doesn’t burn out or over-do? I think this is something to be lifted up daily, just as I lift up daily the question of how to motivate and support and nurture each of my children, each with such different ways of being in the world.
frozen world out my window

I’m spending my days, recently, reading. Right now I’m reading a book my dad gave me called This Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman. I’m not ready to start writing something new, but I’m ready to begin thinking about writing something new. I’m ready to reflect on what intrigues me, what I want to know more about, and how to illuminate that in fiction. So I’m reading. It couldn’t be cozier. Unless we had a wood stove.

We’re meeting with a builder on Thursday to discuss just such a possibility. A house is a lot like a family. It’s always changing, too, to meet different needs. We improvise. We use what we’ve got. We purge. We add. We experiment. We’re remain both flexible and committed to what’s before us. We’re in motion, and so is our house.

I’m comforted by the thought that my work is unfinished.

“I am thankful for …”

Notes from the desert island

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the leaves have all since fallen off this tree

I’m distracted. It appears to be Wednesday already, which means I’ve got course prep to finalize, and photocopying to do, which means also that I get to visit the mailroom at the English department and check my mailbox. My mailbox never has anything in it, and yet it gives me such pleasure to check.

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my mailbox, in its natural state

I was musing about this little slice of happiness while driving AppleApple to swimming last week, and she said maybe it makes me feel part of something bigger, to have a mailbox at the English department. I think she’s on to something. It’s not that I don’t love my home office (I do!), but I work very much alone (not counting the two dogs), very much on projects of my own devising (which I love, don’t get me wrong). This brings me great satisfaction, but not a sense of connection with a larger community. It’s desert island work, in a way. I’m tapping away under my palm tree, shoving notes into bottles and heaving them out to sea. Every once in awhile (or quite often, lately) a bottle returns with a note that says, I love your note! Or something to that effect, if we’re following this metaphor to its conclusion, which we really must, having committed ourselves thus far.

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there she goes, Girl Runner

I’m trying to parse the oddness of what I’ve been feeling as Girl Runner sells abroad. I receive a phone call, or an email, that seems out of the blue: Carrie, we’ve had offers from X,Y, and Z, and we recommend accepting Z’s. And I reply, Sounds good to me! And then I go back to my office and try to maintain good posture whilst working on revisions, staring at the words on the page, and wondering at the power these very words seem to have, and how that power, which might almost be magic, seems utterly separate from me. It’s as if Aganetha Smart (that’s her name, my Girl Runner) is off on adventures all her own, while I’m here in my ordinary office waving goodbye, and admiring her efforts, but quite distanced from them.

I just got a phone call. Spain, people, and all of Latin America. If you visit the publisher’s web site, you’ll see they distribute through Central and South America, as well as to the US Spanish-speaking market. It gives me particular joy to see “Nicaragua” listed among the countries. So, you see, there she goes, Aganetha, off on another adventure.

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Suzi, hard at work

Meanwhile, my two colleagues, Suzi and DJ, sigh in their dog beds under my desk, and relax into the afternoon. The other evening, AppleApple and I got a kick out of imagining the conversations I might have with my home office colleagues, Suzi and DJ, as they “get the job done.” Suzi: “Rearranged the blanket on the couch with my paws. Totally got ‘er done.” DJ: “Snored so loud I woke myself up. Knocked that one out of the park.” Suzi: “Shortest bathroom break ever. Did you hear me scratching at the door? Genius.” DJ: “That’s nothing. I’ve been eating something unidentifiable under the porch for the last hour. Rocked it.” (Not sure why the dogs like to brag about their efforts around their water bowls, but that’s what we heard.)

Moving on. Work, Carrie, work! Focus! C’mon. Get it done.

Providential

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bald eagle

This weekend passed in a dreamy haze.

We keep having (minor) bad things happen, then discovering that the bad seems to have sparked something good. Case in point: on Friday night, Kevin herded the dogs down to the basement to crate them. DJ ran ahead and somehow, somewhy, and completely out of character, peed on the futon we’d literally just moved down there from our bedroom (because we got a new bed! YAY!). In cleaning up the mess, we discovered that the futon was in dismal shape, and then we did the math. Purchased in 1996. Okay, that makes it ten — no, wait — almost twenty years old! GAH!

Clearly time for a change. Last weekend, we bought our new bed from a futon store uptown: the plainest, sparest bed you can imagine. So we’d already priced out (and knew we could afford) a similarly plain futon and frame for the basement, to use as a guest bed. Kevin bought it and put it together on Saturday afternoon.

And just in time.

That very same afternoon we learned that a family member needed a place to stay temporarily — and we could offer our brand new futon. It seemed providential, an old-fashioned word that wants using from time to time.

I feel the same way about the bed bugs, another bad thing that set into motion all sorts of good things: clearing our bedroom of years of clutter, and finally painting the room, which spread to other painting projects around the house. I spent this weekend setting our bedroom back up again, so that we no longer feel like we’re camping.

Kevin cleared the basement of much clutter, too.

We’re ready for guests. The house feels like it’s being steadily cleared of excess, stripped down to the basics, an orderly, comfortable home, even if the order is disguised beneath dog hair and art supplies and sports equipment. (Why must we keep two skateboards in the living-room, and a scooter in the front hall?)

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There wasn’t much time for relaxation this weekend, but I squeezed in two long walk/runs on this serene path you see above, both afternoons, during AppleApple’s soccer tryouts. I miss the high of pure running, but walking has its benefits: you see more detail, you can meet a friend and walk together, and you can pause to look up in awe at a bald eagle in a bare tree that you might not have noticed if you were travelling through, apace.

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