On Mathilda Jane Thompson

Sometimes, I think about the woman who used to live in this house.

We don’t know much about her. We do know that she was the daughter of a wealthy local railway man who built a house that remains one of the heritage homes in the city. We do know that, at some point in her life, her father built a large duplex right across the street from his still-larger home, one side for her brother and his wife, the other side for her and her husband. We do know that her husband was a banker. We do not know for sure if they had children, though I assume it likely.

When it comes to knowing about someone, this is oh, so very little. A woman’s life is not contained in her relationship to her father, or in her relationship to her brother, or her husband. It is not even contained in her relationship to her children.

So, sometimes, I look around this old house and I wonder.

Where did she spend her days? Did she use the room off the kitchen for an every day sitting room and save the more ornate living room and dining room for guests? Did she have female friends who called on her during the day, bringing their children to play – quietly – while they sat around the fire and drank tea (or, perhaps, something stronger)? Did they ever have a party, filling the grand living room and dining room with luxurious fashion and laughing faces? Did she and her husband share a room, or did he take the first master – the one with the fireplace – and she the second, a room with the exact same dimensions, but no fireplace and a slightly smaller closet? Did she spend evenings sipping tea in the comfort of the sunroom, or was this the room strewn with toys and her children’s hobbies? In which room did she rock her children to sleep?

In which room did she give birth?

I wonder what the kitchen looked like at the time. Today, it’s cheap and modernized, with a wall that is far from original separating the counters and cupboards from the laundry room and powder room in behind it. Then, did it contain large cabinets? A heavy island meant for kneading bread, chopping vegetables, and mixing copious amounts of baked goods? Did she have hired help? A maid, a cook, a housekeeper?

What did her furniture look like? Did she pick each item with great care without considering the cost, concerned only with current styles, and trends, and timelessness? Or, was much of her furniture handed down, overflow from her mother’s opulent taste in the great house across the street? Did she choose artwork to display on the walls? Things she liked? Artists she wanted to support? Did she wallpaper? Did she embroider her own pillowcases and knit her children’s wardrobe?

Would she have been an Instagram mom, had Instagram existed in 1870? Were her friends jealous of her perfect life in her perfect house with her perfect children?

Or, perhaps she used the house very little. Perhaps she spent her evenings here, going through the motions of raising proper Victorian children, but every morning, after a simple breakfast of bread and cheese, she gathered up her children and, hand-in-hand, they crossed the street to her parent’s home where they settled in to a much grander atmosphere, her children with their cousin and a governess. Here, perhaps, she pulled out her embroidery, and drifted into the stereotypical, quiet life of a wealthy Victorian woman.

But maybe she hated it. Maybe, every evening, alone in her own room, she sat in the bay window and peered down the street, wondering what it would be like to walk past her neighbours, away from the rows of red brick houses, over one bridge, and maybe another, into the Canadian wilderness in search of something else, something less buttoned, something less full of detail, and symmetry, and perfection. Maybe she thought about the wild that was beyond the city limits and wondered what it would be like to experience the vastness of a forest that never really ends until it hits the water, the overwhelming picturesque nature of the unsettled countryside. Maybe she wanted more than these 10 rooms, but couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was for which she yearned.

I have no idea. But sometimes, I look around and I wonder what other life this house has held.

Was she so different from me?

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On Turning Life Upside Down

It has now been just over a year since my husband and I made the decision to uproot our little family and move out of the big city and into a smaller one. A lot has happened in that year: Mark’s partnership with his brother; Eden’s birth; my new job. Big, stressful things. Sometimes, it feels a little bit like we’re still uprooted.

We recently welcomed friends from our old life into our new home. They miss us. I miss them. And yet, it threw me off just a little bit when they asked, “Do you want to come back? Or are you here forever?”

The question was phrased differently than I’ve heard it before. “Do you want to come back?” is not the same question as, “Do you like it here?” It’s not the same as “Are you happy here?” It’s not the same as, “Do you miss Toronto?” It’s just not the same. I was shocked to realize that my gut reaction was a resounding, “Yes!” Looking at my friend, a friend I hadn’t seen except through the glossy screens of social media for nearly six months, for the first time, I thought, “Yes, I want to come back!”

Except, I don’t. Not really. I do like it here. I am happy here. I really have no desire to leave this little city we have decided to call home.

But, at the same time, I do miss Toronto.

I miss the hum that I didn’t notice was there until we moved here. I miss the proximity, everyone going through life side by side. I miss the parks, filled to the brim with children and their caregivers, the streets vibrant with foot traffic at all hours of the day, the subways rumbling beneath our feet. I miss street after street of houses, none the same, each filled with their own small drama. I miss the people, the faces that didn’t look anything like my own, the chatter of language I didn’t understand, the comfortable anonymity of crowds.

Isabel’s first word was “bus”. Eden? I don’t even know when her first ride will be.

Toronto was so good to us. We built a life there, content in the little world we created for our family. We had a church. We had a neighbourhood. We had friends. It took six years to build, and yes, some days, I crave stepping back into it. Rebuilding in a new place is hard.

And yet… Do I really want to go back?

No.

No. No. No.

I won’t say never, because I can’t say where life is going to take us. But this year has been so good to us, that even on the bad days, I know this place is home. Here, there is quiet – most of the time. (We do have a few unruly neighbours, but they tend to quiet down before 11pm rolls around.) Occasionally, late at night, I can hear the train rumbling through town down by the bay, and I think of standing by the park fence with Isabel in awe, watching the very same train pass in the middle of the day. Downtown is not nearly so vibrant, but it is close, and it is growing, sprouting friendly coffee shops, farmers markets, and some of the best thrift and vintage stores I’ve ever seen. The library is a 5 minute walk, and my doctor’s office right next to it. There may not be as many parks as what I was used to, but the ones we have are good, well-built and fun for my high energy three year old. I don’t get to make use of them much anymore, now that I’m working, but we’ve got drop-in centres and kids programs galore.

And, most importantly, perhaps, we have space.

This perk goes beyond our house, though I won’t lie – this massive Victorian duplex has gone a long way to help make me feel at home. We have spare rooms, and rooms we can use just for storage, and maybe we don’t need all this space, but I love it nonetheless.

Sure, we have a spacious house, but our world, in general, feels more spacious. Here, the country is a mere 5 minute drive. It’s easy to find miles of fields, or a place to hike through the bush. Back roads bring you through beautiful countrysides, and into tiny towns of people who meet your eyes as you pass. When the road ends, you find water and beach and nature. When we first moved to Toronto, losing this sense of connection to a country landscape was the hardest adjustment I went through. Now that I have it back, I never want to lose it again.

Toronto holds friendships, connections that can never be replaced. Here, we are building new ones. It will take us time – that’s just our personalities – but one day, I know my gut reaction to Toronto will be merely nostalgia and love for a city I used to call my own.

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Hello Barbie

I bought my daughter her first Barbie entirely unexpectedly.

It was a rainy, grey Monday. As usual, once she tired of her 15 minutes of iPad time, Isabel asked her daily question, “Where we going? I wanna go somewhere!” She’s an active, social kid and we rarely get through the day without a trip, well… somewhere.

The night before, I had begun making plans in my head. The conservation area. We would bring the net friends had just given Isabel for a birthday gift and go catch (and release) frogs and tadpoles. We would collect smooth stones into piles of dark and light. We would wander the trails, our eyes out for fresh raspberries growing wild. We would spend the morning outside.

When the day dawned cool and grey, I knew those plans were not going to pan out. I turned to my next favourite thing to do with my toddler: painting. But, our supplies were low, and she always likes a good trip to the dollar store, so, off we went.

She was thrilled to be there. As is our normal, I told her she could pick one treat, something small, candy or a toy, that she could have at the end of our shopping trip. Early on, she found a handful of suckers and held on to them pretty tightly. We made our way to the craft aisle. I lingered over decisions about paintbrushes, canvas, and sketchbooks. She took off down the aisle, as three year olds often do, and returned a moment later holding a familiar shaped box. Long. Kind of skinny. Very pink.

“Oh, Isabel,” I said. “Really?”

She held it out proudly toward me. Barbie. “I want this, Mumma!”

“Are you sure?” I said, leaving behind the sketchbooks. “I don’t know how I feel about that, Isabel.”

“Please, mum?” Isabel gets tense, her expression guarded, when she thinks she might not get something she wants. “Barbie! I want this!”

“Let’s go look,” I said, leading the way in the direction of the aisle she had plucked the toy from, hopeful that I might find something else to divert her affections. I suggested another doll, a baby, lacking the long legs and full bust that make Barbie so problematic. I even attempted to encourage the tiara and wand set her fingers lingered over briefly. But nothing else caught her eye so completely.

Over the past number of months, Isabel has become the girly girl I never expected to raise. Dolls. Dresses. All the toys from the pink aisle at Walmart. I know how this has happened; her daycare is all girls, and there, she’s being exposed to all the traditionally feminine toys, some of which, like Barbie, are just a touch above her age level. This is something I’m unwilling to change. Putting my daughter through a daycare transition because of my own prejudice against the gendered toys she plays with there seems unfair and maybe a little over-the-top.

So, my child’s life is, for three days a week, out of my control. But I do get to choose how I react to the change, and here I was, standing in a Dollar Tree toy aisle, wondering what the right way to deal with this was. There is no denying that Barbie is problematic. There’s the unnatural beauty standards, there’s the question of age-appropriateness.*

But, more importantly, I gave my daughter a choice. I had empowered her to look around the store, find something that she wanted, and walk out the doors with it. Taking back that freedom from her little three-year-old hands felt wrong. And what if I did say, “No, Isabel. Not this. Anything else, but not this”? What message would that give her?

Mom doesn’t keep her word.

Toys for girls aren’t as valuable, interesting, fun as other toys.

The toys I like aren’t as valuable, interesting, fun as other toys.

(I am not as valuable, interesting, fun.) 

Perhaps I’m overthinking this, giving a doll too much power, maybe, but I never want Isabel to think of herself, of girls, as lesser.

She made a choice. She made that choice entirely on her own. And sure, she’s three, and I’m the parent in this situation. But even three year olds should know that, when they’re told they get to make a choice, they actually get to make that choice. Standing in that aisle, I decided to put aside my discomfort with a toy that goes against so many of my principles as a parent and honour my daughter’s right to choose something she likes. I don’t know if it was the right decision. I don’t know if there actually is a right decision in this case. I do know it made her happy, so happy.

After we safely made it home and watching Isabel play with the doll for a while, a long-time Twitter and Instagram friend sent a little encouragement. Perhaps Barbie can open up some opportunities, rather than merely being the start of pushing Isabel into the box of beauty standards. Use Barbie to talk about different bodies. Give her a name and a career. Maybe this doll doesn’t have to have all the baggage that its inventors and the world have put on her. Can she be a positive influence? Can I turn her in to a good role model for my daughter?

 

I hope so. One way or another.

* There are also a ton of issues related to the sketchiness of Mattel’s business practices, but this was not a Barbie branded doll, so I feel some comfort that at least Isabel wasn’t begging me to support a seemingly corrupt company.

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Retreat

After we bought our little house in Toronto, I became the sort of homebody that didn’t even want to spend a short weekend away from her little house, the projects we had on the go, and the domesticity of home life. Home was a sanctuary, a place in which I wanted to spend as much time as possible. I resented the obligations that would occasionally take us away to other parts of the province for short amounts of time. For about a year, there was no where else I wanted to be.

Eventually, as we wrapped up our projects and got used to the fact that we actually owned property, our attachment to our little house leveled out and became a little healthier, but I have always preferred home to anywhere else. I tend to dread camping trips, holidays, and visits to distant family in the weeks preceding plans, no matter how much I know I’ll enjoy the trip. Even day-to-day, I relish the time spent at home, and constantly feel like I don’t get enough.

But, even a homebody needs to get away.

 

We have just returned from two weeks of camping* in Prince Edward County. I spent the two weeks with my feet up, reading to my heart’s content, watching my children entertain themselves in a way they are incapable of at home. We left many of our worries at home – housekeeping, diets, the constant hum of social media. We turned off our phones, shifted our focus, re-centred, and recharged.

Retreat does not go naturally with motherhood. It is the sort of work one cannot easily retreat from, especially when one’s children are present. They still wanted to be with us, wanted to include us in their play, in their friendships, in their every small, volatile emotion. Isabel still had her days. Eden still needed diaper changes and help to sleep. More than one night, I found myself stepping away from the campfire at 8pm, called into the trailer by a squalling baby, and not emerging until morning. My girls still needed me; from them, I could not retreat.

And yet, the time out of our regular routines was invaluable. They found new, wonderful ways to occupy themselves, and I found myself with plenty of time for myself, which made me more willing, more content to be present with them when they needed or wanted me. I zipped through book after book. I pushed Isabel on the swing. I introduced Eden to the beach. I sat around the fire with Mark, chatting late into the night. By the second or third day, it was easy for us to recognize that we need aspects of retreat in our everyday lives.

For a part of the week, we wandered the park – it was a private trailer park, at which some friends and family own trailers – debating the possibility of joining the ranks of permanent summer campers. Would we enjoy this, having a place to call our weekend summer home, able to drop the world at a moment’s notice and drive ourselves to our own little space in the country? On one hand, our finances are already tight. On the other, we can easily recognize the ways in which retreat is good for us.

In the end, practicality won out and we shelved the idea for another year. Perhaps next year will be different. But for this year, we instead agreed that, rather than spending some money on creating a retreat away from home, we would do our best to cultivate the elements of retreat in our day-to-day, at least for the remainder of the summer.

What does this mean?

On one hand, for us, it may mean spending a little money to make some changes to our backyard and porch space to make them places in which we want to spend time. We’ve already begun this process to some extent, and I write this from our porch, watching the sky turn pale and dark on a Monday evening. Over the summer, we will work on this space to make it not just useable, but enjoyable, comfortable, beautiful even.

But, retreat is not just about place. It’s also about mindset. It’s that feeling you get when you arrive at your destination, a destination that is not home, where everything is different, and you feel, in some ways, like a new person. It’s as if being in that new place gives you permission to grab hold of the things you want out of life – deep conversation and connection, true leisure. Why else do writers and artists feel the need to escape their lives in order to find creativity? We hope to recreate that feeling, without ever leaving our pretty porch.

For me, this means less social media and more reading, writing, art, and creativity. It means less scrolling through a Facebook feed and more being present and focused. For Mark, it means less TV and more activity – more gardening, more building, more fitness, more reading, more conversation. For both of us, it means staying off the Internet, shedding the sort of distraction that allows the evening to pass in a blur of nothing.

I hope we will be able to hold onto this lesson, this reminder. I hope that we will be able to find retreat at home. If not, if, in a year, we found ourselves back into old habits, perhaps it will be time to invest in that place of retreat.

* I say camping, but only for a lack of a better word. Trailer camping is not really camping, especially when said trailer is hooked up to electrical and water. This is how some people live year-round, and quite comfortably. It’s not camping.

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Newborn Essentials (When You Already Have A Toddler)

Eden is one month old! I feel like this is something to celebrate. We have survived! Slowly, we’re digging ourselves out of the newborn haze. I will not deny it: the past month has been hard. I feel the distance growing between Isabel and me, and spending so much time in constant contact with another human being leaves me feeling drained by the end of our long long days.

And then, there are the days that never seem to end, dragging on through the night, punctuated by Isabel’s calls for daddy – she doesn’t call for me anymore, knowing I’m not going to come – and Eden’s noisy sleep sounds, squeals and grunts and rattly, slightly congested breathing. No. This month hasn’t been easy. 

But, there are a few things that have made it easier, and in an effort to be useful, I thought I’d share those things.


Swaddles, specifically ones that help you wrap those little arms in. Eden sleeps so much better when she’s well swaddled, especially if I want her to sleep in her crib.
A swing for Eden. For a week or two we tried to put her down in the bassinet of her playpen whenever she slept and we felt like we needed a break. But, after her first two days of life, Eden made it pretty clear that she is not fond of lying on her back. We set up her swing instead, and she’ll sleep there, contentedly, for an hour or two, which gives me a much needed break. The swing is, however, much more easily accessible to Isabel than the playpen, which has caused some issues.
A comfortable carrier. We use a Boba 3G, which doesn’t require an infant insert, and instead folds to the size of a newborn. I also DIYed a ring sling, but I have yet to figure out how to make it comfy enough for long periods of wearing. Eden spends hours cuddled up against my chest, morning, afternoon, evening. It puts her to sleep pretty much every time I tuck her into it, and it’s helped a lot with my ability to bond with her, while spending time chasing a slightly wild toddler who has started to occasionally act out. 
(While it’s been phenomenal from a practical standpoint, helping us get through our days, carrying Eden has also been surprisingly difficult. I am rarely not touching someone. By the end of the day, when Isabel finally goes to bed, and I am craving a break, Eden is often just getting started. There are no breaks.)
A tablet. I debated including this one because I don’t love the idea of toddlers and excessive screen time. But ultimately, I’m not sure I would have made it through this past month without our iPad. Having a tablet really helped get us through the first hard couple weeks. Handing the iPad to Isabel allowed me to spend the time I needed nursing Eden, changing Eden, bouncing Eden, cuddling Eden. We are now starting to cut down her screen time as I have developed new coping strategies, but in those first days, it was invaluable.
A library. For books and storytime and a first effort to return to real life. Reading is one of the few things I can do with Isabel while nursing Eden, so we do a lot of it. We go to the library weekly, hang out at storytime, and then grab a stack of 10-15 books off the shelves for our weekly reading. My toddler loves books and, as Eden wedges herself between Isabel and I, it’s one of the ways I have found to maintain and grow my relationship with my firstborn. We snuggle and read, and for a little while, our little world feels very full and warm.

A cozy couch. A stack of books would be useless without a comfy place to cuddle up with them.

Playgroups. I am fortunate to have a wide range of free playgroup options in the area for Isabel. If you’re in Ontario, you probably have them too, through the Ontario Early Years program. These programs have allowed Isabel to get out among other children, burn some energy, and maintain a sense of routine, which makes everyone’s lives easier. We do storytime at the library on Monday, coffee break at our local church on Wednesday (a break for me too!), a playgroup at a different local church on Thursday, and nature play at the conservation area on Fridays.

Enough counter space for all the dirty dishes. Just leave them. Seriously. Snuggle your baby. Take a nap. Have a shower. Build a train track with your toddler. Go for a walk. Do them later when you have more energy, or when they really start to drive you nuts. Dishes can always wait.

Ultimately, be gentle with yourself. Do what you have to do and know that every hard thing you’re going through during the first few days and weeks will not last and things will get better.

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Three Weeks of Eden

Yesterday, Eden was three weeks old.

It feels like a parenting faux pas, but I can’t help but compare my two girls in their first weeks of life, and my experience of them. I know I probably shouldn’t compare, but it’s hard not to when the adjustment from none to one was so different from the adjustment from one to two. I have regularly heard moms muse on what adjustment is harder; now I can answer the question for myself. Without a doubt, this adjustment has been far easier.

So far.

Two weeks after we brought Isabel home almost 2.5 years ago, I remember sitting on the edge of our bed with a cluster feeding baby in my arms and bursting into tears. Mark was soon going back to work, we had yet to introduce a pacifier due to a fear of nipple confusion, despite breastfeeding going remarkably well, and Isabel hadn’t settled off the breast for hours. I sat on the edge of that bed, wondering through the tears I couldn’t stop what the hell we had done to our lives. In that moment, our lives as a childless couple seemed idealistic and comfortable and utterly lost, while the future ahead seemed exhausting and filled with difficulty.

This time around, I believe I am emotionally stronger and more confident in my parenting choices. We’ve introduced a pacifier – though Eden seems completely uninterested in taking it. We’ve embraced bedsharing – a move we didn’t take until 6 months or so with Isabel – in the interest of getting as much sleep as possible. We’ve been returning to real life and routine far earlier, purely out of necessity.

 

 

But Eden is a different baby than Isabel was. In her, I see the needs of the fourth trimester far more clearly than I saw them in Isabel. Eden does not stay asleep unless she is touching me. She will not lie on her back, and if she does, she sleeps noisily, grunting and squealing until she wakes after just a few minutes. Even our swing can rarely keep her happy for longer than 10 minutes. She adores being carried in a carrier, or just tucked in my arms as Isabel and I read books on the couch. While she craves closeness with her mama, she doesn’t comfort suck in the same way her big sister did as a baby, which makes soothing both easier and more difficult.

While we have handled the change in our family remarkably well, it hasn’t exactly been easy. On the first day that I was on my own with both girls, I found myself sobbing as I read The Blue Hippopotamus to Isabel, my big girl tucked in her bed, my little girl squalling against my breast. Never again, I realized, was I going to have the luxury of lingering over books with Isabel, reading to her until she fell asleep against my shoulder. Nap time was no longer going to be the sweetest time of our day.

That was a mere four days post-partum. My sense of loss has held true. Nap time isn’t easy. But, every day, she still naps, and every day we’re finding other sweet moments to cling on to instead. Every day gets a little bit easier.

 

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A Victorian House Tour: A Dining Room Fit For A Feast

When this house was built, sometime around 1860, someone had their priorities straight. The dining room is as large as the living room and clearly designed for entertaining, complete with a door to the kitchen just for the servants to use. The original main fireplace is here, so it would likely have been the warmest room in the house, especially on the coldest winter nights.

I don’t love this room yet. There’s a lot I want to see changed, though we have neither the time, nor the funds to tackle the list yet. For now, it functions as it needs to and there will be time and money to tackle our projects later. For now, we are spending a lot of time thinking and dreaming about what this dining room space could be. For now, we will learn to love it as it is.

 

Things I don’t love:

The walls. I like the theory behind the walls – slightly different pattern on top and bottom and a decorative whatever-it’s-called, chair rail? down the middle. But, the wallpaper is crumbling, particularly the wall paper on the bottom, and some of it is not lined up particularly well. The colour is also a little dark, especially in combination with the dark, painted ceiling. This room and specifically these walls will likely be our first priority when it comes to renovations and improvements.

The furniture. I mean, I kind of like the furniture, but I also kind of don’t. All of the furniture in this room came with the house. The seller went back and forth a little bit about whether or not the furniture would be included and ultimately, I wonder if it would have been better had we unlocked the door to an empty dining room instead of this heavy antique furniture. Coming from a tiny house of 900 square feet, we didn’t actually have enough furniture to fill the house, so having it is helpful, but it has made it a little more difficult to feel at home in this room. It’s not our furniture, so it doesn’t feel like our dining room. I’ve thought about taking a paint brush to some of the furniture, particularly the sideboard, but then I wonder if we should just plan to sell it all instead.

The fireplace. Ok, actually, I love the fireplace. But, I think the apple at the centre underneath the mantle is a little weird, and the whole thing has been a bit abused. It’s well stained and well scratched, which is hard to fix since it’s beautiful white marble.

Living room next! Though, I’ll admit, its hard to get the living room – or really, any of the remaining rooms in our house – neat enough to be photo worthy, so I have no idea when I’ll get a chance to clean and share. I’m not the only one who can’t seem to get her house universally tidy, right?

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A Victorian House Tour: Come On In

We have lived in this 2700 square foot Victorian semi-detached house for 3.5 months now. It is surprisingly easy to adjust to all the extra space, surprisingly easy to fill it, despite the 900 square feet we lived in for five years. It has also been surprisingly easy to fall in love with this house. I expect the soaring ceilings and the beautiful glass chandeliers have something to do with that.

I don’t have a lot of energy or focused time to blog these days. (I’ve been spending a lot more time on Instagram and have even revived the This Dusty House Facebook page for updates that don’t warrant a blog post, but don’t seem to quite fit on Instagram.) I do, however, want to share a proper, in depth tour of this house, because guys? If you like old houses, this one is gorgeous. So, I’m going to take it room by room, and while I make no promises, I’ll do my best to not take forever sharing the whole house.

Today, the entryway.

It’s a new thing for us to have an entryway at all, let alone one this large and this grand. In the bungalow, the front door opened directly into the living room, and in fact, banged against the couch when it was opened fully. When guests came to visit, shoes were piled awkwardly in front of the door. and in the winter, fingers of crusty salt worked their way across our living room floor. Here? Our entryway regularly fills with random things on their way in or out of our house – not to mention the mixed pile of toddler and adult shoes that never seem to make it back on the shoe rack – and we barely see them throughout our day.

The entryway runs down the centre of the house, the artery that leads to all other rooms. To the left, Isabel’s play room. To the right, the living room. At the end of the hallway, the dining room, and just behind the stairs, the kitchen. The stairs make a statement, the beautiful original railings leading the eye up towards the upstairs bedrooms.

We’ve been making plans for this entryway. This area of the house will, hopefully be one of the first to see some changes, though none of them particularly large. We want to create some kind of well organized coat and shoe storage in the corner where the large wardrobe currently stands. The wardrobe is a beautiful piece, but the interior is incredibly inefficient and I find the whole thing kind of cumbersome. I think I would prefer a configuration of hooks and a bench with baskets underneath.

And then there’s all these wide white walls. They’re calling out for a gallery wall, I think, but there’s a debate between Mark and I as to which wall. He wants family photos running up the stairs. I wonder if the better wall for a mix of family photos and artwork would be the large white wall running down the hallway, perhaps with a sideboard or console table beneath the gallery. Or both? But, perhaps that would be overkill. Perhaps we should do a gallery wall on the stair wall and one large piece of artwork on the hallway wall.

I do know that in this blank space, we’re going to add a full length mirror. We already have the mirror. The house came with a piano, onto which someone had mounted a mirror. Mark removed it, but the mirror itself is still in great shape. I want to add a frame and hang it in this space.

Even without these touches, I love the entryway. I love how full of light and contrast it is. I love how it leads directly into every part of our home, a space that welcomes and pulls people in. I love its warmth and elegance.

Now, it just needs a little bit of an infusion of our personality, and it will be perfect.

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One Week With Eden

One week ago, Eden came into the world. Her birth was one part beautiful, two parts surreal, one part gory, two parts traumatic, and, best of all, all parts fully in the past. I am grateful she is here and I am grateful for how she came into the world – at home, in the comfort of my own bedrooom – but I am also grateful that it is over. And now, we’re one week in to settling in, now a little family of four.

So far, that settling seems too be going fairly well, depending on your definition of success. We are sleeping ok, surprisingly. Isabel decided now was a great time to start sleeping through the night again, and Eden sleeps as well as any baby should, waking to eat two or three times between 7:30pm and 6:30am. She’s a noisy sleeper though, grunting and squealing through the night; it’s taking some getting used to, but one week in, I’m finally starting to sleep through her night time serenading.

Isabel seems pretty taken with Eden. Every morning, while she watches her cartoons, we let her hold her little sister, propping Eden’s head up on a pillow, her little sleepy body draped over Isabel’s lap. Big sister is not always the most gentle, and we sit close to make sure she doesn’t shove Eden off her lap in a toddler fit.
But is she adjusting? I’m not sure yet. She’s getting more screen time than I’m entirely comfortable with, screen time that has expanded from Netflix cartoons to iPad games and YouTube Kids. She’s enjoying the increased control she has over her media consumption; I worry about how much she’s consuming, and the quality of it. What is this period of adjusting our family going to do to our toddler’s brain?
But today, we finally managed to get out for a bit. I took Isabel to a nearby playgroup and sat back and watched with Eden tucked into a ring sling as she ran around the large gymnasium, fully in her element among dozens of other toddlers and toys. Today reassured me that we will get back to normal, even if that normal looks a little different than it did before.
So far, so good.

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Unsettled

Yesterday morning, I went to Coffee Break.

(Coffee Break is a Bible study for women that is pretty universal across the Christian Reformed Church, which is the denomination Mark and I both grew up in. We have yet to settle on a church here in our new city, but we still have strong ties to more than one CRC in the area, so I happily accepted an invitation to join the group. An hour and a half to be something other than a mother every Wednesday morning? I’ll take it!)
As I sipped my coffee after sending Isabel off to nursery, someone sat beside me and asked the question I’ve been getting whenever we see one of our friends, family, or acquaintances: are we settled?
The answer is difficult. Technically, I suppose we are. the boxes are all unpacked. We’ve bought ourselves a new couch. We’ve tried out different furniture arrangements in our living room and master bedroom. We’ve hosted a few guests. We’ve painted a room. We’ve even done some of the expensive, necessary, but not glamourous maintenance and renovation jobs – knob and tube replacement, fixing some plumbing. Our house has become comfortable, and the more time I spend in it, the more I fall in love with it, the more it feels like home. 
Yes, I told her. More or less, we are settled. 
Our new town is even starting to feel like home. Isabel and I have found some fun playgroups and have settled into a routine that gets us out of the house and around other caregivers and kids. Our neighbours are all friendly – yes, all – and many have gone out of their way to welcome us to the street and the city itself. They’ve gifted us homemade bread, 15 year old, mint condition, hand-me-down toys, and pitch forks. They’ve helped us clear out the intense amount of shrubbery that overwhelmed our house when we first moved in. They’ve brought our dogs back when they’ve gone wandering – twice now – exploring the neighbourhood without a leash. Our neighbourhood feels safe and with each wave and pleasant exchange, it feels just a little more like home. 
It’s different than Toronto, but yes, I suppose we”re settled.
Except, I don’t feel settled yet. 
I expect it’s obvious why. Today, I am 37 weeks. “Full term”, far enough along that Baby Girl can come any time she wants, though not yet far enough along that she’s likely too. I still have a list of things to get ready, not the least of which is my own mental preparedness. I have spent so much time and energy over the past few months getting settled in this new place and so little time on working through what it will look like to bring another life into our family that I feel like the whole event is working on creeping up on me unexpectedly. 40 weeks is not enough time to get ready for this. 
Did I feel this way when Isabel was born? I expect I did, but I remember very little about the last couple weeks of waiting for her. I remember knitting contentedly on the front porch. I remember reading – though I couldn’t tell you what book. Instagram or this very blog might be able to fill in some of those holes, and if it can, I imagine the life I lived in those three weeks following the start of my maternity leave and before Isabel’s arrival looked very different than the way I’ll spend my next few weeks. I imagine it will look far more settled, even if I didn’t feel like it was so. 
Perhaps, in hindsight, I felt more confident bringing Isabel into the world.
Perhaps, more naive.
I don’t know when this baby will join us. Any time now! So they say. And even more unsettling, I don’t know how I’m going to fit her into our life. I know we will figure it out, and we’ll figure it out with the same level of confidence and certainty with which we fit Isabel into our life over two years ago – we will do what we have to do. But, until I am in the depths of motherhood times two, I know this unsettled feeling with follow me.
Not long now. 
Three more weeks.
Or five.
Or tomorrow.

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