Ten years ago, in late June, we moved into our house, two little babies in tow: Albus had just turned two and AppleApple was seven months. The house seemed enormous, and almost unfillable, but we seem to have solved that problem. Our bedroom is perhaps the one room in the house that remained untouched over the past decade. We added drapes. We moved bassinets in and out and in again. For awhile, my writing desk and computer were crammed in a corner (I wrote virtually nothing publishable during that stretch; weird, huh). But the walls remained the unpainted dull white plaster through which the lathe could be seen. Yes, that’s how unpainted our bedroom has been for the last decade.
So it took an invasion of bed bugs to move everything out and paint. Well, at least it happened.
Kevin stayed up late last night to finish it. We decided to go with a darker colour field on one wall against creamy-white ceiling and other walls. We chose a soothing deep blue with hints of purple.
“Your room looks beautiful!” Fooey told us this morning.
We’re debating whether there’s time to paint the living-room, too, which came freshly painted when we moved in, which was, as noted, ten years ago, and is now, not surprisingly, full of holes and scrapes. We are, however, also hosting a party for our eight-year-old tomorrow evening. Can we do it all?
birthday cake for birthday girl, with scrounged candles from junk drawer
Meantime, I actually (unbelievably!) turned over the last page of my manuscript yesterday evening, the version that holds my editor’s revisions. That doesn’t mean the book is ready to send back to her, but it does mean I’ve now worked through every single page and addressed every comment. Today it’s back to the beginning to see whether my many many many changes hold together. Good grief. I’m in a state of anxiety, let me tell you. I also note that we’ve got less than three weeks left of summer holidays. That’s me you hear crying out from the heart: nooooo!
Here’s my tangent, which I post at risk of sounding ancient, crusty, and out of touch with young people these days (say that last bit in a quavery old woman voice for full effect).
I’ve been listening to top forty radio this summer. Sometimes all I want is a singable song while I drive home from a soccer game. Unfortunately, the songs with the good hooks seem to be highly inappropriate, not to mention misogynist in tone. (Blurred Lines, I’m frowning at you, with your fun sound and sticky bass line, which I would like to enjoy listening to, but can’t without censorship: there are kids in the car! And I’m a feminist!) So it was an odd relief to get snagged on Lorde’s Royals while stuck in traffic with CJ the other day. We both liked it. I think my ears were craving that clean choral sound, and a subject unrelated to booty, booty-calls, getting booty, shaking one’s booty, and anything else booty-related. It’s the female body as material object mixed up with materialism itself, and I hate the juxtaposition, and the shallowness and amorality underpinning it. There aren’t even any interesting metaphors in these songs. You know you want it. Um, no, I don’t, not all the freaking time! You’re boring me! C’mon top-forty songwriters! And then I came across Macklemore’s Same Love, and felt relief, too, to hear a straightforward political song with a lovely singable hook, on a top forty station. But I miss K’naan. Where’s he gone? Any other pop fans out there? Who are you listening to this summer?
Wild. What a word.
I’ve been thinking about how thin the veneer is between us and the wild, how porous the borders, how I simultaneously crave the peace and calm of a contained and civilized existence, even while sensing my need to be out in the wild.
I’ve been thinking about how much of my life involves containment, grooming, and cleaning — there is so much effort involved in keeping our domestic environment, and ourselves, free from dirt and bugs, safe from weather, our food at a remove from the earth, our bodies in a socially acceptable state.
Sometimes it seems like nothing more than illusion.
squirrel in window-nest
Recently, a squirrel tore a giant and strategic hole in the screen outside the younger kids’ room. It then dragged in a bunch of ivy, and set up house. Clearly, it was pregnant, and nesting, and had no intention of leaving. Briefly, I considered letting it stay, since the window would have provided a terrarium-like observational environment for homeschool-style education, but then I thought of everything that could go wrong. (Infant rodents perched two stories above a paved driveway, smushed up against the kids’ bedroom window???) So instead, we scared off the squirrel, and removed her ingenious screen nest.
On Monday morning, we discovered that the “hives” I’ve been experiencing for months are caused by bed bugs, which are not just for nursery rhymes. I’ve decided to write about it because life is not neat and tidy and perfect, even in Blogland. Unpleasant things happen sometimes. Apparently some people are non-reactive to the bites (like Kevin), while others experience allergic reactions in the form of hives (like me), which is why it took us so long to figure the situation out. Nobody wants bed bugs. But they’re better than an auto-immune disorder, I say; plus we’ll finally get around to painting our bedroom after a decade of procrastination. And we’ve got rid of the bed, which I never liked. We’re having the house steamed today, and I sense that after that, life will go on. As it does. Messy and disordered. (Our house is currently turned upside-down, and yet, look, life keeps marching forward. We cook, we eat, we work, we play, we go to swim lessons. Some of us even blog.)
Happy Birthday, DJ and Suzi!
Our dogs seem like the least wild of creatures, but it fascinates me that so many of us humans choose to live with other species. It’s been a year, as of August 6th, since we’ve shared our home with these two little doggie-wogs, aka the poggles, aka the pogs, as they’re called, among many other odd nicknames (where do nicknames come from?!). All of the kids made them birthday cards and fashioned these little hats for them, too, though the dogs were tolerant of (ie. not keen on) the hats, and only “listened” to the cards being read to them because the card-readers were offering treats in return. I’m pretty sure we’ll always have animals — I can’t imagine life without them, somehow.
I’m not at peace with the torment of bugs, or the inevitable march of dust upon every surface, or the grease in the stove’s mesh trap, or the relentlessness of change and accumulation that demands vigilance and attention. I’m not at peace with it, because part of me wants to live with less and less and less stuff. The less stuff we have, the less there is to protect from the insinuation of the wild. I’m not at peace with it, also, because I can’t really prevent these invasions from happening. I have other things to do. There will be dust on the bookshelves, and dog hair under the couch. Not all the time, but it’s coming back, no matter how much effort I expend on keeping it at bay.
Which is maybe my way of saying that I’m not at peace with it, but I accept it. I keep it out, and I let it in, in balance, as much as is possible, all the while understanding that I’m part of it, too. It’s not separate from me — the wild.
Well, the heatwave broke. And rather dramatically, from our perspective. I was on the phone with a friend when suddenly the sky went dark and the wind blew high. She lives just up the street, so we were both looking out our windows at essentially the same storm, unable to comprehend what we were seeing as the trees were whipped into a furious tumble and the rain came down, lashing so thickly it looked like a descending fog. “Um, what’s happening?” we asked each other.
I think it takes the mind a little while to catch up to an unusual and unexpected event. For whatever reason, I was slow to grasp that there might be any danger.
My kids were standing on the back porch filming the storm with our little camera — I’d told them they were allowed on the porch, not to go into the yard. Suddenly the phone line went dead and a sound like an electronic buzzing — like a paper bag being torn close beside the ear, as a Facebook friend put it — filled the air. It was incredibly loud and innately disconcerting. I ran onto the porch and called the kids inside (we have video of this). That’s when AppleApple and I watched, through the kitchen window, half of a tree come down in our backyard. It fell silently and smoothly and without any ceremony whatsoever.
Our brains couldn’t seem to register what we’d just seen. I said, not at all concerned, “Oh, a tree’s come down.” The winds seemed to turn branches into paper versions of themselves, tossing them wildly.
And then I snapped awake, and we all ran for the basement, dragging the anxious dogs with us. Kevin had left, just before the storm hit, to go to a soccer game. I was thankful for texting. The power went out soon after. The storm passed almost as quickly as it came.
We left our dark house and joined neighbours gathering at our intersection to survey the damage. Every street had big limbs fallen, power lines down, branches and debris everywhere. We walked the dogs slowly around the block, keeping a sharp eye on the trees over our heads, many of which had dangling branches.
Kevin was training in Toronto all day yesterday, so the tree stayed down in the yard. I almost wanted to leave it there. The split down the side of the tree is so long that I’m afraid the half that still stands can’t be saved. I found myself touching the smooth skin of the newly split tree, just under the bark. It was soft, almost silky, though it has since gone hard and dry. It smells like cut boards in a lumber yard, faintly sweet.
The branches spread over the picnic table, creating a little shelter. Miraculously, a blue glass bowl that had been left out on the table, filled with watermelon rinds, was untouched, perfectly intact.
The kids pretended to hold up the tree.
Today, Kevin and AppleApple have spent the entre day slowly removing the fallen tree. Our front yard is now piled with cut branches. It is an enormous job. The yard is a mess. Even half of a tree is huge.
I realize as I write this post that I’m mourning the loss of the tree. But I don’t mean it to be a sad post. In fact, as the kids’ smiling faces show, we came through the storm just fine. We’ve been sleeping better with the cooler weather, especially once the power was restored and we could run the fans again.
Yesterday, I managed a long run during the afternoon while AppleApple was at her goalkeeping clinic. We’ve been biking there, and we passed many fallen trees in Waterloo Park, but the area beyond Columbia Lake, where I ran, seemed untouched by the storm. It was a highly localized event, it would seem. In the evening, after we ate takeout fish and chips, and I did yoga (read: napped on my yoga mat in our living-room in shavasana heaven), we walked uptown, dogs too, to Open Streets, which had a lively relaxed street festival vibe. We listened to a young woman with a huge voice perform in front of the Chainsaw: AppleApple’s face was shining with delight. “I would give up a lot to have a voice like that,” I admitted. Meanwhile, Fooey talked her “very nice parents” (her words) into letting her buy a new pair of earrings from a craftswoman on the street nearby.
She was sunburned from a happy afternoon playing in a soccer game and then swimming. We all had frozen yogurt. The dogs were well-behaved. The kids and I skipped rope in the street. And we walked home in the gathering darkness with paper lanterns lighting our way.
Summer rolls along, sweet and languid, with sudden flashes of strangeness and wonderment. Tomorrow, a good friend and her family leave for year of sabbatical. The following week another good friend and her family will be leaving too, for the same. I wonder what will have changed, again, in another year. Things we can’t guess at, I know, even if we can predict some, and hope for others.
The problem with these before and after photos, is that the “afters” remain works-in-progress. You’ll see what I mean.
Living-room, before: giant TV cabinet in mid-removal. (Why base a room around a piece of furniture we almost never use?)
Living-room, after. Removal of TV cabinet reminds us, screamingly, that we haven’t repainted this room since moving in TEN YEARS AGO. Ouch. So that’s on the new to-do list. Also: move art, or change art, now hanging way too high above couch on wall that desperately needs painting. But the good news is that the room, as you see, is being used as we hoped: for reading and socializing.
Basement, before. I didn’t take the before-before photo, which would have shown this area looking impressively disastrous, jammed with futon frames and soccer equipment. In fact, this is after Kevin cleaned, in anticipation of the arrival of something you’ll see in the photo below. When I saw how nice it looked, I had the brilliant and possibly tequila-fuelled idea of moving the TV cabinet down here and turning this space into a games room. The idea seemed much less brilliant the next day as we dismantled the damn thing outside in a sudden rain shower in order to get it to fit down the basement stairs. I can assure you, it’s never coming back up.
Basement, after. See: we made room for a foosball table! All the kids can play!
But it still looks like a basement. Like an unfinished basement, to be precise, and that is what it will probably always look like. We may move the foosball table to the far end of the room in order to make the Wii/TV cabinet more accessible, but we don’t have any grand plans for this space. It’s got low ceilings, exposed pipe, stone walls, and ugly old shelves. Someday I’ll get around to clearing the shelves of all the things we’ll never use, but that’s about the extent of my grand plans, and I find myself in no great rush to knock that one off the new to-do list.
Sunday at the farm
My Monday contains an early morning yoga class, the coordinating of this week’s many details, a really good bowl of soup for lunch, a finalized book contract to sign and send (details coming, I promise), and eight loads of laundry (no exaggeration).
This past weekend we travelled north of Kingston on Saturday, home again on Sunday, to visit with Kevin’s family, some of whom had come all the way from Scotland.
Badminton was the popular sport, with soccer coming a close second.
There was even a baby to hold.
Our visit was preceeded by a minor home renovation. On Friday, I realized that our front hall reeked. The smell was distinctly dog, and I don’t know how to describe it other than to say, come smell our carpet, which, trust me, you really don’t want to do. In any case, you can’t. Friday afternoon, tormented by the smell, I abandoned my office to scrub the carpet before leaping to the sudden conclusion that the carpet had to go. Like, now. I vacuumed the rest of the house in an attempt to bring order to the chaos that had become instantly apparent to me, everywhere, not just in the front hall. And on Friday night, after we’d packed and the kids were all in bed, and we should have been too, Kevin and I ripped up the carpet. Lo and behold, the wood floor beneath was pristine, and after a late-night scrubbing, reeked of nothing at all. I find it funny how often Kevin and I make snap decisions, together, that feel absolutely right. It seems to be how we operate.
Let me ask you a question about cleanliness. Would you agree that women are still judged on the cleanliness of their homes, while men (even those who participate fully in household chores) are not? I think it’s true. I would like it not to be. (She says, heading down to the basement to deal with laundry load number 6. Only two more to go!)
the house next door
“Mom, you have to come and take a picture!”
“No, really, Carrie, you should come right now!”
“Maybe you can write a blog post that says ‘Look, we have new neighbours!'”
look, we have new neighbours
The house next door. What can I say? If you live in our neighbourhood, you have probably expressed curiosity about it at one time or another. If your curiosity got the better of you, you might even have called to ask me if the house next door is for sale (this happens), or knocked on my door sheepishly, as if you might be the first person ever to think of doing it: “Sorry, I know this is weird, but I walk by here every day and I’m just wondering ….”
It has been exactly a decade since we bought our house and moved in. The mysterious house next door has been unoccupied for at least that long. It is a beautiful structure — good bones — and the property is maintained, but it is empty. Except for the wildlife. Living next door to a beautiful empty house is a worry, of course, for a number of reasons, and I keep a sharp eye on the place.
To lighten the worry, a few years back, I began riffing with the kids about the animal families who live next door. We didn’t make up whole stories, but it was funny to think about the characters who might populate stories in the house next door. Our neighbours, so to speak.
This is the first I’ve actually gotten photos.
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