newly arranged living-room
Saturday. Day of quiet and rain.
Sunday. Day of hopping out of bed early for a long run. Oh, and more rain.
Saturday evening we decided to rearrange the living-room. I’m not sure why, but it always makes me happy to rearrange a room. Baking bread has a similar effect on my spirits. So does going for a run. Life is full of simple cures that are next thing to free for the taking.
practicing for imminent piano recital
The newly arranged living-room changes the focus, upon entering the house, away from the television. (Hurray!) Instead, you’ll see the beautiful painting, as shown in the top photo, by Barry Lorne, which he generously gave us as a wedding gift. You’ll see books, too. Hidden behind the old brown couch is the art section. There is room for a communal computer.
Here is what I am thinking about on this blustery weekend.
This morning it was so easy to go for a run. Yesterday, I felt lethargic, as immovable as stone. Life may be full of cures free for the taking — but I confess that some days it is harder than others to take that first step, to put the best plan into motion. There have been times, lately, when I wonder what I’m doing wrong, wonder why I’m so tired, why I’m dropping the ball as often as not. Maybe I wish I were superwoman, leaping from role to role effortlessly, existing on little sleep, splendidly strong and competent and certain.
Instead, I’m just plain me. Rearranging the furniture, and making pad thai for supper, and falling asleep on the couch with a book.
stop and drink the nectar
The morning is fleeing! I’m running out of time. Stop, Carrie, breathe for a moment. Drink the nectar.
This afternoon, I’m hosting my literary friend Heather Birrell, with whom I will be reading tonight at The Starlight here in Waterloo. She’s been forewarned about the fact that somehow we’ve neglected to vacuum for, like, weeks, and that there are toys and papers and dishes and stuff on pretty much every horizontal surface, floors included, and she assures me that she’ll feel right at home amidst the chaos. Well, she’s got two young daughters. And a brand-new book. I think we’re good.
I want to tell you about her book. It’s called Mad Hope, and the title comes from a line in a pitch-perfect story, “Geraldine and Jerome,” which is set in the waiting room of a medical clinic and links up two unlikely-to-otherwise-meet-and-interact-characters. I happened to read it in the waiting room of a medical clinic (don’t worry, I’m fine). Be warned, if you’re planning to pick up this book and read it in public places: these stories will make you cry. Or maybe it’s just me.
I’m thrilled to say that Heather invited me to be an early reader of these stories, so I know exactly how damn good they are. And the book has been getting rave reviews all over the place. I’m going to get Heather to sign my copy today. You can too, if you happen to be in Waterloo and come out to the Starlight tonight; or in Toronto tomorrow, where we’ll be reading together again at Type Books.
And to add book news upon book news, my many-moons-ago boss, Noah Richler, has a new book out this spring too. It’s called What we talk about when we talk about war, and it’s about how our current government has been steadily distancing our country from its tradition of peacekeeping, preferring the warring nation metaphors instead. Noah will be in Waterloo on May 30th at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies. That just happens to be a free evening for me (!!), and I’m looking forward to hearing Noah speak. Join me? I’ll post more details closer to the date.
One last thing. Noah’s written a really lovely mini-review of The Juliet Stories, published on the 49th Shelf. In it, he talks about hiring me as an intern at the National Post, and his description of who I was then gave me a really lovely “how others see us” moment. Because who knows how others see us? (What I perpetually fear is that maybe I’d rather not know … it’s a personal hang-up. I need to get over that.)
Short post this morning. Because I MUST CLEAN THE HOUSE. Someone has to do something lest the crumbs start plotting a takeover. And the house is on my mind. Or perhaps more accurately in my subconscious. In the last week I have dreamed about the house, in one way or another, every single night.
The dreams are all essentially the same, though the details change. But the essential thread holding them together is that our house is not our house. We have moved to a different house, inevitably a house in sad disrepair. We’ve sold our house and now regret it terribly but it’s too late. We can never go home. Or, we return to our house but it is changed, and not for the better. We stare at the front window, broken and boarded up. We wonder why someone has torn the numbers off our house and spraypainted new numbers onto plywood. We feel desolate and confused.
In last night’s dream the children had to go to new schools with crowded, noisy classrooms. They had to walk long distances to get there. They were struggling to fit in.
I’m no dream analyst (okay, I’m an amateur dream analyst; it’s an unavoidable side gig as a writer), but this speaks to me as fear of change. Fear of the unknown. That sideways wandering into a life that is just a little bit different from the known, comfortable, and familiar. The way a seemingly insignificant change can tip us off kilter. Not all change is chosen. What happens when we come back to the house and discover it is not the same house? Remember that feeling of going home for Christmas those first few years after leaving home, as a young adult? Remember the dismay and sadness? Realizing we couldn’t go home in the same way–also that we didn’t want to, but that we missed what was gone forever.
This morning, CJ came into my bed to tell me another Cookie Monster story (“I think this will be a short one, Mommy.”) And when that was done, he said, “I forgot! We need a snuggle.” And when a snuggle had been had, he hopped down and headed for the door, paused, turned: “I will remember this snuggle forever, Mommy.” Little feet trotting down the hallway. Stopping. Returning. His face suddenly sad. “I won’t remember this snuggle forever,” he said. “You can always come back for another snuggle,” I reassured him.
Because that’s what we do. We reassure our kids. Even while we’re thinking, man, that is so damn true. You won’t remember this snuggle forever. Neither will I. It’s a pinprick of a moment in a wide life. I mean, it’s a good pinprick. But it’s here and gone. Change, change, ringing like a bell. And we’re opening the door to a house that is familiar, but not ours.
A more cheerful post to come, very soon. Meanwhile, I will test out the theory that tidying, vacuuming, cleaning, and baking will put the dreams to rest, at least for a little while.
**Notes on the rooms.
My office has nothing on its walls. And we’re using my old crappy furniture. But it’s serene, austere, and dare I say perfect as is. I may not change a thing. Yesterday as we worked to move and rearrange four different rooms, I found myself taking moments to sit in my great-aunt Alice’s rocking chair and look at the brick and the lights and the height, and to breathe.
AppleApple and Kevin created a bookshelf from the old costume bureau. An awesome repurposing project. I love that she has The Bible arranged beside other favourites like Bone, Misty of Chincoteague, and Children of War (the latter being a wonderful book that she keeps recommending her big brother read, as way of encouraging him to stop playing imaginary games with exploding bombs.)
The new bunk bed in the little kids’ room is a marvel of design. We found it on kijiji, and it’s not of the best material, but heck, it was available and in our price range. It’s a t-shape, and CJ sleeps in what amounts to a little cozy cave. On one end is a desk with shelves and a built-in light. Bureau drawers are built in to the other end, along with a set of deep shelves. I still can’t believe how different that room looks.
My step-mother figured out how to make a comfy couch out of the guest futon under Albus’s bed. We’ve had the darn thing for about a decade and never knew it was possible. Neither Kevin nor I could understand her explanation (apparently it was very simple.) We’ve decided she operates on a higher level than us. My dad also loaned his muscles and back to the moving. It wouldn’t have gotten done without their help. I’ve gone all wimpy now that I’m running. I keep telling Kevin, I’m a runner, not a weight-lifter. I don’t want to injure myself.
Yet to be done today: painting, or at least prepping for painting; cleaning; and our living-room. I stole that beautiful wooden cabinet for my office from the living-room, and somehow that had a domino effect of toppling the entire room into a disaster zone. You know it’s a disaster zone if the smallest members of your family tell you: “This room is a mess!” Uh, yeah. We’re making use of kijiji to source a few more items. Kijiji is my new favourite virtual place. I’ve been inspired to post a few items for sale, too. If I get organized, I’ll post the entire contents of our attic. My inspiration, in part, came from this blog on the zero-waste home. (And no, we’re nowhere near zero. But hope springs eternal.)
He left first, for nursery school, walking with his dad. He has no need for a backpack, but everyone else has one, so he insisted. The temperature has dropped and we had to dash to the attic to dig for winter hats and fall jackets. The report from Dad was good: they enjoyed a “Star Wars” themed walk to nursery school and parted without tears. I will pick him up in two hours. Repeat every weekday. Our new fall schedule.
After I said goodbye to CJ, the big kids emerged for their annual back-to-school portrait. This was the best they could muster. And yet, they’re all reasonably excited about returning to school. No, really, they are.
It was just as I’d imagined. We always pose the back-to-school pictures on the porch. This year we have no porch (they’re scheduled to start rebuilding in a couple of weeks; please let it be so). And there’s something, um, dismal about the background. Albus doesn’t look so happy either. But he departed at 8:30 sharp in grand spirits, off to walk to school with his friends, all of whom will be in his class this year.
Nothing dismal about AppleApple’s chosen ensemble, despite the brown pants and black shoes; she’s even wearing electric blue socks. On the walk to school, she was extremely focused on getting there, and when we reached the grounds, she ran off without a backward glance, or even the semblance of goodbye. She’s proud to be the first child in our family to be in a portable (and it’s the new portable, which makes me think, off-gassing?).
Look at this glowing child. She’d glow anywhere, in any scene, against any setting. I’m a convert to the background, in this photo. She was so terrifically excited to be starting grade one; though “excited” isn’t quite the right word, because it doesn’t capture her confidence and pride about the big step to full-day, and French immersion, and being with the big kids — being “a big kid.”
Never have we all been so ready so early. Which meant a good deal of hanging around and waiting around on the grass. Finally, the teacher called for her students to line up, and Fooey clung to my hand — I was surprised. One last kiss goodbye, and she let go, and the kids slowly made their way through the doors, and off to their waiting classroom.
Another year begun.
(And I walked briskly home and entered a quiet house. Space to think. Silence. Cup of cooling coffee on the countertop. This feels good).
I usually show photos of our house and yard looking its best. So here’s an alternate view. This is our house and yard (and shed-like garage) looking, well, less than handsome. (The flipped-over wading pool and abandoned sprinkler don’t help).
These photos were taken soon after we cut down several trees in our backyard. I’ll admit that I felt despairing as I assessed the mess. I miss those trees. Taking them down is all part of a long-term plan to bring more sunshine into certain areas of the yard–and next summer, more vegetables. But short-term, let’s just say it looks ugly. The rusty garage is exposed. (Weren’t we going to cover that garage with siding?? It was at the top of our to-do list when we bought the house eight years ago. Funny how priorities change). The house itself looks sort of forlorn and crumbling, an old, shambling, rambling kind of house, like the one I imagine for Meg’s family in the children’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time. Which isn’t so bad, really; it’s just that I never noticed before.
The photo above, and the next one, were taken a few days later, when I was feeling better about the general state of our backyard affairs. In the interim, Kevin worked really hard to clean the yard. Either things really do look better, or I just think they do. Don’t tell me which it is, please.
Owning a house means participating in a perpetual work in progress. It’s very metaphorical. All the changing, shape-shifting, rearranging, and repairing. You can look at this yard and see who we are as parents, as a family, guess the ages of our children, get an understanding of our priorities, our finances, and our ability to put into action our intentions.
I like where we’re at. But we’re never done.
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