Category: House

Uglifying the yard: a work in progress

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.

Our Yard

This is our yard, as viewed from the back porch, where I hang laundry. As you can see, it’s very shaded, and spacious, especially for a lot so close to centre of the city. It’s been an ideal play-yard for the kids, and we’ve added, over the years, to the small swing set that came with the house. We now have a large sand area, and a play structure with homemade climbing elements added on. We also have a soccer net in one corner, and some composting bins for yard waste. We poured the patio and laid the bricks, perfect for chalking, biking, and scootering. But there’s room for more, as the kids grow older. We’re currently saving up — an all-family effort — for a trampoline. A treehouse is in the works, too.

A few years ago, we added raspberry canes, which spread like wildfire. This summer, we’ve tried to contain them, and Kevin cleared paths so the kids could get in to pick more easily. The berries are ripe right now. This side of the yard has a bed of perennials, some which were here when we moved in eight years ago, and others we’ve added over the years. In springtime, the colours are insanely gorgeous. By July, it begins to look a bit weedy and sparse. Yesterday afternoon, the little kids and I spent a blissful hour and a half before supper picking raspberries, playing (them), and weeding (me). The weeding started giving me ideas.

Look at all this untouched space. As I weeded, I started to hear words in my head like “homestead,” and “truckpatch,” and “harvest.” I started mentally cutting down trees: the old pear and apple, which give next to no fruit anymore. The black walnut. The mostly dead maple. The two Manitoba maples in the middle of the yard. (Wow, that’s a lot of trees; what do you think, too many? Will we miss the shade?). But it would call down a lot more sunshine: the valuable morning sun especially. I started thinking goats and chickens, a barn cat, a dog. Could we petition the city to except us from its by-laws so we could have our own little carefully tended urban farm-plot? I won’t ask for a pony. (Could I ask for a pony?).

Meanwhile, this is the extent of our backyard edible gardening: potatoes in the raised beds along the back patio. Kevin built these several years ago, and they’ve never gotten quite enough sun to nourish anything we’ve planted in them. This year, I added tons of compost and new soil. The potatoes were going to seed in our root cellar. Seemed like a good fit. I’d like to add another row of beds just below these, though it would mean sacrificing the tiger lilies currently sprouting on the incline. (My all-time favourite flower, and one I associate with being in the country).

Talking about thin spaces yesterday … there is something about being outside in green space, no matter how hemmed in it is inside a city, that brings real peace to the mind. I’ve had my share of farm fantasies, but, really, I wouldn’t want to move to the country because it would mean car-dependency; I love that we can walk or bike almost everywhere we need to go, and I love our close-knit neighbourhood for the kids (and for me, too!). But I’d love for our yard to be a farm-like sanctuary, too.

Something to dream about while weeding on a lazy summer afternoon. I’ll keep you posted.

Chalkboard Wall

Blank space. Quiet. Paint drying. Evening.

Morning. “You shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace.”

Rules: Only erase your own work (unless you’re me). Don’t write mean things. It’s supposed to be a message board. Do you have something to say? Go ahead. Write neatly.

Helpful messages. Lunchtime.

Oh, what the heck. Cartooning, un-neat writing, impromptu artwork: bring it. I had to add this last photo, taken around 6:30pm, after the kids had a chance to doodle more after school. Fooey pulled up her chair to reach even higher. So far, the only issues have been a) everyone trying to chalk all at once and b) an accidental erasing.

I can’t get enough of these photos

Yesterday, I got a taste of summer. A whiff. A tingle of this is summer. (See above).

Today, I am getting prepared. There are four more days of school, and then we shall hurtle headlong into the beach, overnight camp, strawberry picking, food preservation, swimming, and a multitude of mini-adventures … such is the hope.

So, I started today in the kitchen (can I return happily to the kitchen after losing all interest this past month? Well, I can try). I baked a batch of bread; didn’t take long, actually. I did dishes. The living-room is moderately tidy. Piles of papers have been sorted and recycled (more remain; and more are on their way home from school, no doubt).

AppleApple helped me make a giant (messy) poster of ideas for summer activities: our categories are Plans (dates for things we’ve already signed up for); Away (ie. zoo, beach, Children’s Museum); and At Home (ie. canning and freezing, making magazines/comics, playing with friends).

Kevin is in the middle of painting us a chalkboard wall: for messages, reminders, planning, and scribbles. Photos to come. (Inspired by this friend).

I am defrosting the freezers. One down, two to go.

And the kids have spent hours together in the backyard, even though it isn’t particularly warm or sunny out. The sidewalk is being chalked. A rung on the climber has been broken. The potatoes are thriving. Wouldn’t it be great to have a treehouse? A trampoline? Another tier of garden beds? Chickens? A dog? I’m looking around and seeing lots of potential.

Time for a Shiny New Post

Because, though I could look at those triathlon photos forever (and probably will), the moment has passed, and life goes on, even if it appears frozen here in Blogland.

So … in other news: we got a new couch! (Pictured above). We lucked on it half-price back in April, ordered it, and kind of forgot about it, the way one does, until the company called to say it was coming. Now. Queue frantic clearing of living-room. And then queue um, where was this supposed to go, honey, do you remember? Because we’d originally intended it to replace the ten-year-old sofa (aka gymnasium), now sway-backed and spring-popping. But the new couch looked too lovely and clean, and besides, the living-room lacked seating; wasn’t that the whole point of the new couch? So we spent our Friday evening huffing items back and forth (books! shelves! toys!), removing a few, dragging the piano to a new and starring location, hiding the communal computer (somewhat), and keeping both couches. Almost got it finished before Kevin left for his Friday night soccer game.

Right away, the kids started arguing over WHO GOT TO PLAY THE PIANO. I kid you not. I had the kitchen timer going.

The new lay-out has more reading areas. More seating in front of bright windows. More seating, period. And the piano is getting played far more frequently.

Though this is not meant to be a commentary on Boys versus Girls, or Sons versus Daughters, or Mars versus Venus, here’s what the boys were doing in the newly laid-out living-room the other evening.

And here’s what daughter # 1 was doing.

And daughter # 2.

This is not to suggest that daughters don’t wrestle. But whenever daughter # 1 enters into the fray, holding a pillow, with a gleam in her eye, I shut the show down. I don’t think this is sexist, really, I don’t. It’s because she aims with intent. Somehow, the boys wrestle without doing each other any harm. But AppleApple comes out swinging. She wants to Win. (Maybe I am parenting her differently. What do you think?).

Ups, Downs; Downs, Ups

The week has gone by in a blur. I’ve had less energy, yet have stuck to the basic routines. And here we are, arrived at a holiday. Kevin is home from work. So I am working. Yes, I am upstairs in the playroom/office typing away on a new project that I plan to reveal next week when it goes live. Stayed tuned.

This week has seen its ups and downs. And downs and ups.

One item that started up, then plummeted down, (thankfully not literally), was our porch, which we hope to rebuild this summer. It’s been steadily decaying due to water damage, and might make it one more year before falling off the front of our house–might. So we’ve been saving our pennies and gathering quotes from contractors and builders. And in the midst of this planning, my friend N offered an exciting suggestion: while we’re rebuilding the porch, could a tiny home office be built, too? There is a perfect place for it: we have a door that leads off the dining-room onto the side porch, and both door and side-porch are currently underused; wasted access, and wasted space. Would it be possible to create an insulated room right there? I have to confess that I was/am hugely excited, giddy almost, to be entertaining the idea of having a home office — a real writing space, a room of my own. I could imagine it in perfect detail: spare and functional, with white painted wood, tall windows, a wall of bookshelves, and a desk. Simple. Perfect.

My feelings were/are almost covetous. Drooling. Dreaming.

Well, here’s the down. We got our first quote for the job and it was double our budget. And we thought our budget was pretty generous. Did I mention that the quote was just for rebuilding the porch? Nothing to do with adding on said fantasy writing room? We’re not quite back to square one, because quotes can vary wildly; but my home office bubble is suffering serious deflation. And you know, maybe it isn’t my time, yet. I need to earn entry into the perfect writing space. I need to sell more books, more words. (Words for sale! Words for sale!).

Speaking of words for sale, I had a pleasant chat with my agent yesterday. And I have news! My second book, THE JULIET STORIES, will be published earlier than originally anticipated: look for it in stores this coming March (in Canada, that is). Which means that there is exciting work ahead, also sooner than anticipated: editing the manuscript on a micro rather than a macro level; discussing cover design; meeting the kind people at House of Anansi; and planning publicity for the book. Yikes! Yowza! Woot!

But enough of ups into downs and downs into ups. Time to stop typing, stop working, and let this space revert back to a playroom for most of the rest of the weekend. It is a holiday, after all.

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