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January 5, 2018

Measuring Life in Chesterfields

Can you measure a life in chesterfields? Or in couches, of sofas, or even settees? I’m beginning to think so. In university, my roommates and I had a set compiled of half a rumpled 1970s’ sectional reupholstered with a pineapple print salvaged from my parents’ basement and a red Ikea specimen that was literally made of styrofoam, and I don’t know where either of these eventually disappeared to—presumably the landfill. When Stuart and I moved to Canada in 2005, we were living on very little money, so couldn’t afford a couch, and purchased a futon instead, which seemed positively luxurious compared to sitting on the floor. It was also the first piece of furniture we ever bought, which seemed terribly sentimental (and it would stay with our family for years and years, eventually becoming our first child’s first proper bed, never mind that there was nothing proper about it…)

By 2007 we had arrived though, and we bought a proper couch from the Brick out on the Danforth. Yesterday we had a conversation about why we’d bought that couch exactly. “Because it’s really ugly,” we said. “It’s always been ugly.” Which is true. “It must have been cheap though.” “And probably we sat on it in the showroom.” Which would have clinched it, because it’s the most comfortable hideous couch in the world. Ask anyone who’s ever slept on it—and that’s a lot of you—and they’ll tell you the same. It is a giant stuffed toy of a couch, good for bouncing, and sliding, and also for naps. We were so incredibly proud of it, because it was even more grown up than a futon. And for the last decade that couch has been the centre of a lot of action, taking so much abuse from our two children who christened it in every way imaginable. So much so that the hideous couch has become even uglier, rumpled and sagging. Still loveable, still so comfortable. But we really felt it was time we got ourselves a couch that nobody in the history of the world has ever peed on.

It arrived this morning from Article, the Ceni Pyrite Gray Sofa, which has its own hashtag—our brown couch from the Brick certainly didn’t. And I’m absolutely delighted with it, its stylishness and comfort, that it wouldn’t look out of place in Don Draper’s office (but don’t worry—he hasn’t peed on it either). To complement it, we also bought a new coffee table, which has the incredible distinction of being the first coffee table we’ve ever owned that we didn’t take out of somebody’s garbage. Plus, the coffee table comes with book storage, and you know what that means—we have to buy more books. And we’re just very very happy here in this new era we’ve arrived in, of toilet trained children who don’t think that cushions are necessarily trampolines, being lucky enough to be able to afford a new sofa (which is as central to home as the kitchen table is), to live in the home we do in a place we love.

All of it is such a very very good life—and we look forward to barrelling through the next ten years on a couch as splendid as this one.

April 2, 2017

Nine Years at Home

Nine years ago yesterday we moved here, the first day of April after a disastrous winter but then it never snowed again. “It’s always spring at our new house,” I remember thinking. There was mail waiting for us in the mailbox when we pulled up with the moving truck. A few days later we were awakened in the middle of the night by a digger out in the street carting away the snowbanks. I never knew such things were artificial, that the world could be arranged. But the fact that we’d moved at all was testament to the latter point. Before we moved here, every house we’d ever had had come to us via somebody else. Our old place in Little Italy had been my cousins’, and we’d lived in our friends’ old place in Japan, and company accommodation before that. But this apartment was the first home we’d ever been deliberate about. I found it online and it checked all of our boxes, except it had hideous carpets instead of hardwood floors. I remember how the sunshine poured into our old apartment that had hardwood floors on our last day there as we packed up the last few boxes (which ended up taking nine hours) and listening to Panic at the Disco and Sam Sparro. That night we slept on a mattress on the floor, and the movers would arrive in the morning. We were on the cusp of everything, and so excited to arrive.

Of course, we weren’t always sure. The day we moved in, our place was filthy and there was a box of rat poison in the bathroom—never a good omen. The drawers in the kitchen were filled with other people’s cutlery. Stuart and I ate pizza on the hideous carpet that night (which is the same hideous carpet I’m lying on now as I write this post) and he wasn’t sure at all, and so I had to pretend that I really was. It would turn out the the rat poison was for mice though, which is the sort of thing one expects in an old house downtown, and eventually I got the kitchen cleaned out. We painted the walls and hung our pictures upon them. I’ve written before about how we made a conscious decision to not buy a house, but how we were still in search of a home and that this would be the place. And living here has made so much possible for us.

Our apartment is in a great school district—who knew? I certainly didn’t in 2008 when our children were still strictly hypothetical. And this is the only home they’ve ever known, which has been scene to birthday parties, playdates, tantrums, and projectile vomiting. They’re wholly accustomed to the mildew in the bathroom, which has probably given them immune systems beyond compare. When they go to bed at night, the house is quiet, and it’s almost like it’s just the two us still, except for the plastic tubs of lego and the tiny table heaped with artwork. Nine years seems like a long time ago—the longest I’ve lived almost anywhere—but wasn’t it also five minutes ago? How is a person expected to keep such things straight?

Our house is weird, and not all of that is “charming”—although some of it is. There are rooms with wood trim that does not manage to go all the way around the room’s perimeter. There is an actual gap between the doors in the kitchen that means when you sit on one side of the table in the winter, you’re forced to contend with being on the windy side. Our oven is so small that you can only put two things inside it at once—and most of the time the pans don’t fit all the way and so I bake with the oven door partway open. The upstairs sink fell off the wall once while I was washing my feet in it. And the fact of that hideous carpet, which has not become any less hideous with time (although once we had children, we realized that attractive flooring was overrated).

But there are fairy doors, and a doorframe where two little girls’ height has been tracked, and big windows you can see the sky from, and the shade of a big tree that gives us gifts all spring and summer and well into fall. There is the chestnut tree out front where we get conkers. There are gorgeous tiles in the kitchen, and things to string bunting from, and a backyard where you can draw with chalk on the bricks and where my book club meets in summer, and where we get together with friends for epic barbecues. I’ve made two books here, and Stuart has honed his skills as a designer, and I remember him saying something once he’d calmed down about the potential rats, that there was something here that fostered creativity. Our houseplants lived a little bit longer than usual. There was something in the air.

There is a key that hangs outside on a rusty nail at the bottom of our staircase. I walk past it at least twice a day, but it took a long time for me to even notice it. “What’s the key for?” someone asked—perhaps our former downstairs neighbour. Nobody knew, but it’s been there forever. A curious thing—a very public spot for something that’s locked. What’s the point of a key that everyone has access to? It’s kind of emblematic of this place, its quirks and mysteries and possibilities, and the stories of all the people who’ve lived here before us. It’s emblematic of faith as well, which is the thing that brought us here. And so we keep the key hanging there, on the off-chance that one day we’ll need it.

January 27, 2015

A Remarkable Cat

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne day in 2008, not long after we’d moved into our apartment, my friend Rebecca came over, and a small grey and white cat walked in right behind her. “Do you know that cat?” Rebecca asked, not sure. It was her first visit to our new place. The cat seemed friendly enough, and remarkably at home. I checked her collar and saw that her address was next door, the other side of our semi-detached house, the home of our landlords. “That’s your cat?” I asked them the next time I saw them. “She likes to come visit,” they told us. “I hope you don’t mind.”

IMG_3494We didn’t. I was thrilled to have a part-time cat. I had no wish to have a pet at all, but a part-time cat filled the little void in my heart, plus I didn’t have a baby then, but I wanted one. Georgina slept on my chest while I read. She used to come over when I came home for lunch, and sit in squares of sun on the floor and watch me eat. She napped on our bed. She hung out on our porch. At one point, she came down with a bizarre injury in which she had a hole in her side and had to have an operation. No one knew how it happened—perhaps a fight with another local cat? She did have a wild life, and a mysterious one. (There was a legend about the time our former downstairs neighbours were caring for her and she appeared on the roof of a house across the street, and refused to come down.) When she came home after her injury, we sent her a package of cat treats in the mail and signed the card, “Get well soon. From the cats of Brunswick Avenue.” I think we had a lot of time on our hands. The children next door were young then, and found this most intriguing. Apparently, when they’d brought the package in, Georgina heard the treats rattling in the package, and came bounding down from the third floor.

georginaGeorgina used to sleep in Harriet’s crib before she was born, and I have this photo of her asleep on Harriet’s change table on top of the sleeper she was due to wear home from the hospital upon her eventual arrival. After the baby was born, we saw Georgina less, partly because Harriet absolutely loved her and manhandled her and would end up with scratches on her face. But she was still our part-time cat, which meant our girl never noticed she didn’t have a pet at all, and that we never had to pay the vet bills as Georgina’s health problems began to mount. Two years ago, we went over to say good-bye to Georgina, whose kidneys and heart were failing. Though that she didn’t die until this afternoon says something about this most amazing cat who thoroughly used up every one of her nine lives. It was always a pleasure to hear her scratching at the door, and we’re all really going to miss her.

What I am going to miss the most though is how she used to sit outside on our garden wall, and how when the windows were open in the summer, we’d hear the people outside going by stop to talk to her. Unaware that we could hear their cat murmurings, as they rubbed behind her ears, and spoke in a goo goo voice. And then someone else would come along. “What a sweet cat,” the second person would say, and then the pair would get to talking, conversations drifting upstairs to us. Strangers meeting in the street, people reaching out their fellow human beings, someone leaning down to pat a cat on the wall: all of these signs that there is goodness at the heart of the world.

I’m going to miss that.

I don’t think you can say this about every cat, but Georgina made the city a better place.

October 6, 2014

Bunk Beds

IMG_20141006_133857“Do you remember,” I asked Stuart on Saturday, as we were assembling the bunk beds, the whole room in disarray around us, our baby climbing in and out of the half-built bed frame, placing her life in peril as usual, Harriet making up dance moves in the doorway, “Do you remember when we painted this room?”

When we moved in, this second bedroom had been blue with brown trim, ugly industrial shelving along one wall painted grey. It was terrible, but I had a soft spot for this room, which was the computer room, and where our books would live. I really had a soft spot for this room because it was going to be our baby’s room, although the baby was still 100% hypothetical. We spoke about the baby to nobody when we painted that room later that summer, but we were thinking about her. The couple in my mind who painted that room were ridiculously, impossibly young.

Although when the baby was born, she didn’t move into her room for almost a year—it was easier to have her upstairs sleeping with us. And then once she started sleeping, we moved her down, moved the books and computer out. We put up colourful curtains and a bright carpet, and those ugly shelves—now white and less ugly—were packed with books and toys. About a year later, we put away the crib and our futon became Harriet’s bed—our futon, which was the first piece of furniture we’re ever bought, just after we got married in 2005 when we were so poor, and it was the cheapest in the store and it would become our living room couch. And it’s been her bed ever since, the perfect size bed for the whole family to assemble on at story time, and it’s been a stage for her theatrical and dance performances, as well as the one piece of furniture that Harriet is permitted to jump on when friends come over (and why is it that any time a friend comes over, they all start jumping on beds?).

We love our apartment. We made the investment of a custom-built kitchen table last winter in order to make our kitchen a more liveable space for us, a space we can use in the long-term. And the next project would be the bunk beds, because we were determined to make it work in this place as a family of four, and it’s not impossible that Iris may one day not be sleeping in a crib at the end of my bed. (In the past week, Iris has slept all night twice. So there is a modicum of hope.) We finally bought the bunk beds last weekend on our way home from an apple orchard, from a somewhat dodgy showroom that was actually a garage on a dingy post-industrial stretch of Finch Avenue. But they had low-priced bunk beds with stairs, which were the bunk beds I wanted. Because one who climbs stairs to her bed is afforded a bit more dignity that she who must make do with a ladder. And it turned out to be legit, because the bunk beds were actually delivered, except that then we had to build them ourselves, which was the entire story of Saturday.

This is one of those “we bought bunk beds to create space” stories that turns into the bunk beds taking up the entire room. Yes, I intended there to be more space between the bunk bed and the window than there actually is, but then it could have been worse—for a few minutes, we were terrified that the drawers inside the staircase would not even have room to open. I guess this is why some people measure their rooms before they buy really large pieces of furniture, but we don’t like to worry about details in our family. The bunk beds have cleared up space on the floor, however, and the drawers in the staircase have enabled us to get rid of the Ikea dresser we built really really badly before we decided not to buy things from Ikea anymore. (Preferring dodgy garage showrooms, obviously.)

Harriet loves her new bed, which she refers to as “my cozy den”. She’ll move to the top bunk when Iris moves in, but for now the entire bed is her ship, and she is the captain, and the stairs are blocked off so Iris can’t climb them, even though the first step is too high for Iris to mount anyway, but if we leave her alone for a minute, she’ll sprout an inch and/or construct a step-stool out of her First 100 Words book. In even better news, Stuart and my marriage seems not only to have survived an entire day spent constructing bunk beds, to have grown stronger from the experience. We only said “fuck” a couple of times, and even had fun. We’ve gotten over our shock at having inadvertently bought the largest piece of furniture on the planet, and we’re pretty happy with it. We look forward to the day when the bunk beds actually do sleep the two children they’re intended for and our bedroom is our own again, though that’s looking a long way into the future, and let’s just take each day as it comes.

Mostly though, I’m just amazed, at how the years pass, and the memories accumulate, and the children grow, and how this house contains so many our stories, like layer upon layer of invisible paper on the walls, and there’s some crazy archeology at work here, scraping the surface to rediscover our ancient civilizations, right down there at the the bottom of it all that stupid happy couple with their yellow walls, and absolutely no idea of what the years would have in store.

January 31, 2014

Solid

table2There is a segment of the population that won’t understand this at all, but sometimes I get bothered because I’m not famous on twitter. (Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about though.) I have never once gone viral. BoingBoing pays me no attention at all, and neither does Reddit, except for the time that I reviewed a Harlequin Romance novel about the mayor of Toronto. And sometime I worry that my lack of twitter fame means that I fundamentally don’t exist, which of course is everything turned inside-out. I know this. It doesn’t take much to remember the truth, which is that if the whole internet disappeared tomorrow, taking my writing career along with it, and I was left with just my little family in the world, I would still have everything. This—our friends and our family—is what really matters. Of everything I ever make, this life we have together is more important than anything else.

And so I focus on the domestic. Not terribly fashionable, I know, but quite timeless (and celebrated, in all its raw complexity). I love my home, my kitchen at is centre (complete with the obligatory red teapot and bunting). We’ve lived in our apartment for 5 years now, which is the longest I’ve lived anywhere since I was 19 years old. We are committed to renting, and committed to this place, which may not be “a house”, but it is home. And in order to make this home work for the next few years, especially now that we’re a family of four, we had to do something about the kitchen. A kitchen which wasn’t big enough for our round oak table (which had been my childhood table; my mom bought it at an auction years ago), or at least the table was the wrong shape, it took up too much room, and it was far too crowded when everybody was sat at it. And I wanted to be able to have dinner parties. Dinner parties, to me, are integral to home.

table1So we had a new kitchen table built. Our friend Nigel Wilson, of Red Lion Workshop, took our measurements and plans (for a rectangular table with benches that could be tucked underneath when not in use) and this morning, with his excellent family, delivered the most important piece of furniture we’ll ever buy. Made of reclaimed oak, it is as solid as it is beautiful. It is everything we dreamed of.

I think that materials are important. I like to think in the long-term. I used to buy furniture in flat packs made out of particle board, and then one day I realized I didn’t want a life made out of such things after all. It is quite likely that I will never buy a kitchen table ever again, and so the extra investment we’ve made now will pay off in the long term, and then to be able to sit down together at a piece of furniture that’s made so well–what a magnificent foundation to build a family life upon.

To contemplate a kitchen table is a loaded thing. It’s still tied up in philosophy for me, because I’m thinking of Woolf and To the Lighthouse, and Mr. Ramsay thinking about a kitchen table when one isn’t there. For me, that kitchen table always looked a lot like this one. But to contemplate a kitchen table is also thinking about the future, about our children sitting on these benches, their little legs growing longer until they one day reach the floor. All the breakfasts and dinners we’ll eat here together, glasses of milk spilled and angry toddlers sent to their room, but the harmonious meals too, the conversations we’ll share. Homework also, once the dinner is cleared away. And birthday parties, play-dough, cookie-baking, hide-and-seek underneath it. Breaking out our portable ping-pong set. The friends who’ll sit around this table with us, friends we might not have even met yet. That we might move one day, and be able to replace the benches with chairs. The amazing privilege of possibility, the assurances of a future, or our faith in such a thing. Which is what a solid kitchen table signifies to me.

The table is pristine for the moment. I was talking to Nigel about this when he was here for lunch. I said, “How do we take care of it?” He said, “You have to use it. The first few rings on the wood, he said, will be painful to see, but you’ll get used to it. Then one day, maybe 20 years now, you’ll look back and you’ll see that mark, and that mark. And you’ll remember everything.”

December 27, 2013

Fairy Door

IMG_20131227_205132

With the aid of a generous benefactress, our fairy door has received an upgrade! Heaven knows, it needed one…

January 29, 2013

Welcome to our new arrival!

IMG_0250Life has changed forever in our home since the delivery of our newest household member on Saturday morning. Labour was a breeze, performed by two strong men who apparently carry appliances up rickety staircases and install them in attics all the time. And thereafter we fell upon gazing at it, unable to get over the beauty, the shine, the rocket-ship-ness. It plays music when its cycle is completed. Our previous washing machine was so old that when we asked our landlord to replace it, she reminisced that she’d used it to wash her kids’ diapers, and her kids are now in high school. Our old washer was Shirley Jackson eccentric, and it had a dial, but the label had worn off so we could never tell what the setting was, and there only seemed to be one setting anyway which mainly involved the washing machine dancing across the floor, and leaving the clothes inside not only not clean, but usually ripped. And don’t get me wrong–it was better than nothing. And certainly better, being close at hand, than the washing machines at the laundromat on Harbord Street which I’d frequented before we moved here, having to queue, and then remove other people’s manky underpants before using the machine for myself. But now this is a brand new washing machine, and it’s never known any manky pants but my own. When the clothes come out, they’re so clean you can feel it, and they’re nearly dry from the spin. And only a few months down the line, when I’m up to my ears in cloth diapers, will my love for this machine fully blossom. I’m almost excited about it. Almost.

December 19, 2012

The Fairy Door

IMG_0166For me, the blogosphere has always been about inspiration, new discoveries, things to learn, and people to learn from. And while very often I’m unable to measure my own life up to those seemingly perfect ones I find online (I can’t decorate a cake for shit, my knitting is always wonky, and if I had a lifestyle blog, it would be called “Cluttered and Dusty”), I usually come away better f0r these encounters. My life is so much richer for what other bloggers have shown me to strive for over the last decade.

Sometimes these bloggers make it all seem so hard though, out of reach, or perhaps they are just underlining the very things my own world is lacking (like an expensive camera, patience and artistic ability). I’m here to show you, however, that none of these things are really necessary to create a little magic in your lives, and the Fairy Door is case in point. Now, Fairy Doors are amazing. I think I heard about them while I was pregnant with Harriet, and I loved the idea of a tiny portal, a door to nowhere and anywhere, of a secret world beyond our own. I wanted that kind of everyday magic in our household, an otherworldly realm to believe in. So at some point in Harriet’s first year, I “built” one.

IMG_0168According to Pinterest and other fine sources, a Fairy Door is a beautiful thing. Apparently you can buy accessories for it. It’s one of those projects I would never ever have accomplished, or even tried, except that I made mine without a template. In fact, I made my Fairy Door without anything except a Sharpie marker, and it’s not beautiful, and my stairs are really dusty, but I promise you that neither of things mean that my daughter believes in the fairies any less.

Somewhere along the line, our Fairy Door became the home of the Hoopty’s, Mr. and Mrs. Hoopty and their daughter Harriet Hoopty who have been identified our own family’s reflections in the kitchen windows while we eat our dinner. (They must shrink down when they go home.) They have a younger child, a son called Hando, and they’ve also taken in Cousin Dupa since his parents disappeared and his babysitter died. Apparently, they’ve also just had a new baby, christened Butterfly, and it must have been a high-risk pregnancy because Mrs. Hoopty was in the hospital for 7 weeks. She’s been reported to be fine though.

Anyway, it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it appears, parenthood. Which is not to say that it’s easy, but there really are so many wonderful things for which almost nothing is all that’s required.

August 19, 2012

How to keep more books

I had a revelation yesterday afternoon: if we had a taller bookshelf, we could keep more books. And as we’ve completely run out of floor/wall space for book storage, this revelation was truly a revolution. I did a search for tall bookshelves on Craigslist and very nearly forgot my recent vow to buy no more furniture that isn’t really furniture (bookshelves with cardboard backs or made of particle board), and then I found a listing for a solid wood bookshelf for only $40. The ad had been up for a week, but I got an immediate response from a seller who’d only just started answering her responses and who’d recognized my name as we had a mutual friend. She also just lived up the street, which was handy, so I took a trip there last night in the Autoshare cargo van, and brought this beauty of a bookshelf home. Of course, its arrival has instigated a massive clear-out/re-organzation that has since turned the entire house to chaos, and resulted in a massive pile of free books being put out on the curb (which were gone in two hours, and yes, my bookish garden is better for the pruning). The task before me now is to clear out our garret-turned-overstuffed-storage-closet, which is totally terrifying. But in the meantime, there is the brand new bookshelf, and we’re absolutely in love with it.

May 1, 2012

The new bunting is here.

I know you’ve been waiting on tenterhooks, but no longer: the new bunting is here! The bad news about this is that no longer are we awaiting bunting in the post, which is a glorious state of being, but at least we get to have our bunting and hang it too. The new bunting was purchased to replace the old bunting, which I’d handmade from origami paper, scotch-tape and a piece of yarn, and was in a rather sorry state. For the new bunting, we went upscale and outsourced it from one with my craft skills than have I. And I’m totally in love with it, just as expected. No longer do we have shabby bunting to be ashamed of, and the best part of the bunting life, of course, is that each day is a celebration.

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