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A few weeks ago my mother dug a fern from her garden and potted it for me.  I welcomed the gift as a daily reminder of new life, despite her skepticism about whether the fern would survive.  True, I don’t have a great track record when it comes to plant care and apparently ferns that grow up outdoors don’t transition well to living indoors.  (I don’t know if this is true or if she was just making it up.)  Besides all that, Ellie, my parents’ three month old puppy, decided that parts of the newly potted plant would make an excellent pre-supper appetizer shortly before its trip to Hamilton.  Suffice it to say, the plant showed up in need of some serious love.

Sometime last week I noticed the already beginning-to-be-neglected plant was looking, well, shabbier.  One shoot had all but collapsed, the others were brown around the edges and looking tired and frazzled for the most part.  I admit, I haven’t been diligent with watering.  I’m sure last week’s plus thirty temperatures and lack of sunlight in my room were not helping.

And so began the intervention.  This plant was not yet dead.  Although well on its way to being nothing more than compost, there was still hope.  I began dousing it daily with water, entirely unsure of whether I was helping or hindering.  I’ve heard too much water can be a bad thing.  Still, all my best intentions got side-tracked this week and yet again, the plant has not been watered for a few days.

Imagine my surprise tonight as I am cleaning off my desk and I notice two incredibly strong, healthy, tall new shoots bursting from the soil.  New life juxtaposed against the dry, shriveled stems beside them.  What joy.  What hope.

I am like this fern.

Ahh, I have the beginnings of what feels like home.

Last summer, I reflected on what it meant to create home.  What does it take for me to find my personal space welcoming, relaxing, peaceful, my own?  It is incredible the difference I feel as I look around my bedroom tonight after a few hours of re-arranging furniture, putting up pictures and unpacking that one last suitcase.  And although it’s a work in progress, I can already feel myself relaxing.  It’s starting to feel like my space, instead of just the room I have been sleeping in.

So what is it that helps me create home?  Yes, these are physical objects, but what I’m discovering as I look around my room is the non-physical attachment I have to each of these treasures.  They are not worth much, combined they might fetch me a dollar or two at a garage sale, but these aren’t objects I could ever sell.

They are the fern my mom dug from her garden and potted for me last weekend, the scrap of beautiful fabric Cara gave me last summer, the gift from my friends at Korban house, the piece of driftwood from my walk with Trevor at New River Beach, the rosary made by my Filipino host mother hung over the doorknob, photos of my east coast friends thumbtacked to the wall, the sailboat painting given to me by a friend at university, the ragged stuffed bear left behind by my oldest brother when he moved away for college and mine ever since, a rock from the shores of the St. Croix River, Sasha’s old bandana, my grandparents’ wedding photo, my great-grandmother’s quilt.

I think what I’m realizing is that these objects, worthless as they may seem to the world, are priceless to me because of the expression of relationship they carry.  Alone in my room, I need these reminders because without them I forget that although you are not here now, your influence in my life is no less significant.

The mystery is that somehow, although time and space may separate us, these objects remain symbols of our connection.

It’s like Naomi once said, “you have an eternal piece of my soul.”  And perhaps I, yours.

rootedness

belonging

confronting evil through love, not force

painting with all the colours, including dark colours

contemplation

consolation, desolation

the river that carries me from one moment to another

the wildness of God

the (holy) danger of mystery

stumbling towards love

imagining (and re-imagining) freedom

intoxicating beauty

the spaces between you and i

I’ve lived in a lot of different rooms in the past few years.  I recently informed my parents that I will probably be a vagabond until I’m at least thirty, and therefore need to keep storing my collection of books, musical instruments and childhood memorabilia at their house for awhile still.  Sorry Mom, you can’t turn my bedroom into a craft room just yet.

Six years ago, I left Oakville for the shores of Lake Huron.  Okay, so it was a camp position (and I was still at my parents’ most weekends) but my program staff cabin, shared with three other girls, became home for that summer.

Next came the various bedrooms I shared with five other girls through Katimavik.  We lived south of Winnipeg in a tiny town, south of Montreal in a tiny town, and south of Fredericton just outside a tiny town, staying in each place for only three months.

I was back in Ontario for a summer and then moved into residence at St. Stephen’s University.  Throughout my four years there I moved from one room to another every semester, never staying in one place longer than four months.  I went from being on campus to off campus to back on campus and off again.  I lived with families, or I had roommates, or I shared a house with other students.

I graduated last April and spent the summer at L’arche Cape Breton.  In September I moved back to Ontario and in with my best friend, Laura.  I stayed with her for a whopping six months before moving in with Rachel and Brandon in March.

Why am I telling you all of this?

I’ve lived in a lot of rooms in a lot of houses.  Seventeen different bedrooms in six years, to be exact.

I have taken something from the people I lived with in each place, and left something of myself behind.

With each move something ends and something new begins.

Tonight, I will fall asleep in a new bedroom, under a new roof, sharing a house with new people.  In some ways, the process of beginning again gets easier each time.  I learn what works well for me, settling in and feeling ‘home’.  I learn how to put down roots quickly and to develop family ties with the people who invite me in.

But there is still this part of me that longs for what is past, and hesitates briefly before moving forward.  I still feel the ache of being uprooted from the soil, taken from one place and dropped into another.

I still feel the displacement of not knowing where to sit at the dinner table, or where to put my toothbrush, or where to leave my shoes.

It is okay, even healthy, to grieve the end of one thing at the beginning of something new.  I give myself that space.

Tonight, I lay on a new bed, listening to the sounds of new traffic, feeling the breeze through a new window, watching the moon from a new angle.

For now, I am home. For now, I will put down roots.

I spent the past weekend at my parents’ house.  On Saturday night I was sitting in my old bedroom with my nine-soon-to-be-ten year old niece, Britney.  Since it was the beginning of her March Break, we had been given permission to stay up as late as we wanted after the rest of the house went to sleep.  I don’t get to hang out with Britney too often, mostly because I’ve lived in New Brunswick for the last five years of my life, so this time was deeply cherished.  I think it’s good for girls to have someone they can hang out with away from their parents and other adults.  I was so influenced by a few young adults I grew up around, and I still occasionally meet up for coffee with these role models.

But more than this, I think these times of hanging out with Britney are important because they do something for me.  Yes, I am selfishly motivated.  She brings fresh perspective to my life.  Helps me remember to be child-like.  To be giddy.  To have fun.  To be creative.  She reminds me that I have something important to offer, that other people generally like spending time with me.  And she reminds me how easily I can hurt others, that in all my relationships I need to be patient and nurturing, as best I can.  I really like spending time with her.  She’s probably my favourite kid in the entire world.

Seeing as she is my favourite kid, it seemed fitting to pull a dusty copy of my favourite book off the shelf.  If you’ve never read “Oh the Place You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss, you don’t know what you’re missing.  If you have read it and you didn’t love it, you should probably get your head checked.  It really is my favourite book of all time.

And although I’ve read it a hundred times over, and at one point had most of it memorized, I sat on the bed on Saturday night reading aloud, surprised to see my own life unfolding on the pages.  I’ve experienced the frustration and uselessness of the waiting place.  I’ve faced the difficult task of unslumping myself after coming down from an unpleasant bump.  I’ve raced across weirdish wild space.  But I’ve also joined the high flyers who soar to high heights and found the bright places where boom bands are playing.

And I know Britney will too.  I don’t know if Britney realized it, but I couldn’t have believed in her more deeply as I read those words that sum up all the potential she possesses.

Oh, the places you’ll go. Kid, you’ll move mountains.

When I was in grade eight, the rabbits at my school procreated.  This event has had a profound impact on today, January 20, 2010.

See, I asked my parents if I could have one of the baby bunnies our science teacher was giving away to good homes.  My mom thought our home was probably not a good home for a bunny.  For one, we had a large German Shepard named Petra, who would probably have terrified the poor bunny to death.  For another, my parents did not think being stuck with the responsibility of taking care of a rabbit when I hypothetically left for university four years later, would be their cup of tea.

But a pet, yes a pet, this was a good idea.  We just needed to find the right one.

So I went through a few months of wanting nearly every pet imaginable.  Fish, hamster, iguana, guinea pig, your typical standard pet shop critters.  Of course, we already had a dog, so I knew that I should stay within my limits and ask for something caged – perhaps a canary, or a turtle.

After a few months of negotiations, much to my surprise, my mom suggested that a cat might be the right pet for us.  A woman at her work was giving away kittens.  A kitten! Yes, this was the perfect pet for a thirteen year old girl.  A pet that required some responsibility on the part of her owner, yet was also independent enough to survive the decline in attentive care that inevitably settles in when a child owns an animal.  And a pet that my parents would enjoy having around and caring for should I go far away to school, like New Brunswick, for example.  Sadly, my grandmother’s fear of cats and my allergy to them stood in the way.

Imagine a child’s disappointment.  When my mom told me that we could not, after all, get the kitten, I was heart broken.  But then she offered the unimaginable.  A trip to the humane society to look at a dog.  To this day I still don’t know how I got so lucky.  I didn’t even have to beg or plead or promise anything extraordinary.  A dog was being offered to me.

The first dog we saw, Bandit, was beautiful.  An Alaskan Malamute, he stood taller than my waist on all fours and had sad gray eyes like a husky’s.  He had the fluffiest, fullest coat on any dog I had ever seen.  This dog was beauty and the beast in one.  When we found out he had been seriously abused, and had behaviour problems that were more than my family could deal with, again I felt crushed.

But the staff knew of another dog, one that was beautiful and smart and great with kids.  Her name was Xena and she hadn’t been at the shelter for very long.  She was a mutt, with German Shepard, Doberman and Husky in her mix – just like my mom’s dog Petra.  And they were right, Xena was beautiful.  She played well with my brother and I, and other dogs.  She had energy like crazy but could be obedient when there was something in it for her.  She was curious and mischievous and could wiggle her way into anyone’s heart.  We had found the right pet.

So we brought Xena home with us on March Break in 1999, called her Xena-Sasha for a few days, and very quickly, Sasha became part of our family.

This morning, I watched as each of my family members said goodbye to Sasha.  I carried her out of the van and up the steps to the vets office.  I held her as she took her last few breaths.  I cried into the fur of her neck, like I have on so many other occasions, as I tried to find the words to say my own goodbye.

All I could manage was “It’s okay, rest now.”

I love that dog.  It’s hard to believe she’s gone.

I am from an old tire swing.

I am from a brick bungalow with a big backyard, a house with an old kitchen and a new deck. I am from the room decorated first with teddy bears, later with carousels and now with blue and white stripes. I am from the unfinished basement and the crawlspace in the attic. I am from the kitchen table and the big red couch and my great grandmother’s piano and hot days on the cold steps of our front porch.

I am from my mother’s forget-me-nots and chinese lanterns and bleeding hearts, from dandelions and wild violets, and the fragrance of lilacs and rose bushes. I am from the crab apple trees and the tall sturdy maple and the birch tree on our front lawn. I am from cold winter mornings on the frozen pond and stormy summer nights by the lake.

I am from tall grass and long summer days. From barbeques and fireworks and street parties and calling on friends. I am from soccer, and t-ball and ringette and hockey. I am from rollerblading and capture the flag, and pickle, and cops and robbers, and street hockey and the neighbour’s swimming pool. Go for it and scrabble and chess and egyptian rap slap and skip-bo.

I am from garage sales and bike rides and gardening. I am from Saturday morning chores and family hikes on Sunday afternoons. From teaching old dogs new tricks. I am from Robert Munsch and Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein and Dennis Lee. I am from story-telling.

I am from mother daughter days and drives in the countryside and watching thunderstorms from my parents bed. I am from sunlight streaming through my bedroom window. I am from teasing and laughter and quick wit and taking apart old broken radios.

I am from family illness and skinned knees, broken wrists and chipped teeth.

I am from always believing there will be enough, always striving to give generously and always recognizing the importance of being together. I am from singing and dancing while we work.

I am from faith in God, because of or despite our present circumstances. From small miracles and a few big ones. And I am from endless questions and doubts and uncertainty and a reassurance that all of that is okay.

I am from Christmas Eve open house and New Year’s Day at Grandma’s and Easter hockey tournaments in Haliburton. From holiday baking and decorations and blue and red Christmas lights and picking out the perfect tree.

I am from the cottage on Redstone Lake. From swimming with my dogs and canoeing with my brothers and fishing and bear caves and moss. I am from our tent-trailer and sticky marshmallows and campfires and staying up late and board games and stories about when we were little.

I am from rum truffles and angel food cake and haystacks and shortbread, chicken divan and chilli and shepherd’s pie and spanish rice, hot dogs and toasted tomato sandwiches and grilled cheese and KD.

I am from family photos on the top of the piano, pictures of kids I have yet to meet in the hallway, and artwork on the refrigerator door. I am from the games shelf and the craft shelf, the sewing room, the work room, the family room. The bookcases and the photo albums. I am from the dog kennel, the bath tub, the linen closet.

I am from Oakville, from Etobicoke and Collingwood, from Canada and Scotland and England and maybe Germany and other places I don’t know. I am from Burtch and Hills, Sutherland and Barker.

I am from Daryl and Julie, Rob and Bryan.

Today I visited with my grandparents in order to say goodbye before I head off to New Brunswick again. My grandfather is in a nursing home now, so we went there first and after we visited him we took my grandma out for dinner. I find that every year I become more emotional after visiting with them, perhaps it’s because I see my grandfather’s life deterorating, and the impact that has on my grandmother. Perhaps it is because I regret not having loved them more when I was a child. Perhaps it is because I am thankful for the days I have spent with them over the past few summers.

On the drive home I was telling my mom how thankful I was that she volunteered me to do their housecleaning three summers ago. As much as I hated the actually cleaning at the time, I loved spending time with my grandfather in the garden and with my grandma watching British soaps. I know that never once that summer did the thought cross my mind that someday grandpa would end up in a home. I have worked at a nursing home and seen people living with loneliness and dementia, but somehow I thought my grandfather was above all that, stronger than those men and women. That summer that I cleaned their house was the last summer he spent at home. He still doesn’t understand completely why he can’t go home. Tonight when we were all leaving he asked my grandma why he couldn’t come with us. And what he was supposed to do. “You stay here now, this is your room.” “Oh, okay.”

At dinner my grandmother began to cry, but being a strong-willed woman we all knew to keep quiet while she fought back the tears. Maybe that sounds insensitive on our part, but I know her and I know she would rather deal with her emotions in private rather than in front of all of us in a restaurant. Shortly after that I began to ask her questions I have never asked before. “When did you meet grandpa?” “How did grandpa propose?” She recently gave me two of her wedding photos, one which I have framed sitting on my desk. As she begins to sort out who will inherit what and so forth, these pictures are all I want. And her stories. These questions let her to reflect on her marriage and soon we were laughing at stories of my uncle wandering off to the ice cream stand when he was three, or my dad bringing all the neighbourhood kids through the house to see his new baby brother.

Anyways, it was a great night and I just wanted to write some thoughts down so I remember it.

Things I forgot I missed about my home:

– walking barefoot in the grass of my backyard and throwing tennis balls for my dog

– hearing the familiar song of birds who live in the trees nearby

– playing our old piano with no inhibitions, unafraid of being loud or making mistakes

– sitting on the porch playing my guitar as if its sound could echo through the whole world

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