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Archive for the ‘Gratitude’ Category

The Good

I know you’ve all been wondering…  Well, we took your advice and, after performing some financial contortions, we went ahead and had the hardwood floors finished before we moved in.  And I love them.  Bloody love them.  Take a look and you’ll see why…

Also good: the kitchen floor, which is done in the kind of lovely big cream tiles that I would have chosen myself.  Perfect!

And the gas cooker.  There is something just very, very right about cooking on gas.  After 15 years of using rubbish electric rings, I am so glad to hear that click-click-click-vooosh as the gas fires up!

And finally, the porch.  This picture was taken as I sat comfortably,  rocking gently back and forth on the porch swing.  That’s the apple tree you’re seeing on the end there.  Oh, and we’ve got rid of that rather naff bamboo blind.  And the rolled up carpet will be gone this weekend.

The Bad

Ok, now, we’ll start off gently.  The fridge is bad.  It is old and unloved.  The door handle is falling apart — I’ve never seen a padded fridge-doorhandle, but this one is padded and all the padding is falling out.  The door seal is held together with duct-tape and the even the shelves have been duct-taped in place.  Last night, one gave way and the milk, orange juice, and cider all came crashing to the ground.  M has retaped it back in place but, man, this fridge is in bad shape!

And now, onwards to the kitchen itself.  Ladies and gentlemen, look carefully at those cupboards.  Count them.  Imagine trying to fit everything you need to feed a family of four in them.  Because that’s it.  That’s all there is to my kitchen.  Think about fitting in all the plates and cups and bowls, all the knives and forks (anyone spotted there is no utensil drawer?), all the food, all the cleaning supplies, the microwave, the toaster…  When we looked around the house, I remember thinking that there wasn’t much counter-space, but I just didn’t clock that there is NO cupboard space at all until I started unpacking.  Look at how the dishwasher is positioned so that you can’t even get to all the corner space to the left of it — all that storage space is completely inaccessible!

Now, to be fair, there is a small pantry cupboard that you can’t see — it’s about 18″ wide and runs floor to ceiling, and I’ve got most of my food jammed in there.  And we’ve bought some freestanding shelves to go in the space just right of where I was standing when I took this picture.  But even still, this is a very badly designed and very small kitchen.

It will be rectified.

The Ugly

Behold, the family bathroom!  Behold the original 1940’s decor!  The daring pink and blue colour scheme!  The classic tile (which covers the every wall, even the corner behind the door jam — what did they think people were going to do in this bathroom?!?)!  The very blue bath!  And the original blue bathroom accessories.

And lo!  You can follow this bathroom in its journey through the decades, as it gained a 1980s faux marble sink (in a lovely fawn colour, such a bold statement against the pink and blue) complete with backstage-bare-bulb-lit vanity unit, and then some not-quite-matching blue floor tiles in the mid-1990s, and finally the very modern white low-flow toilet (which is very nice, but matches absolutely noth-thing). Oh, and the occasional random quirky cream tile where one of the pink ones had to be replaced.  Mmmmm….  and the old mold marks on the grouting that will not come off no matter what I do to them.

Yes, it is ugliness personified.  And altogether, it creates a mishmash so vile that I have an overwhelming desire to rip it all out with my bare hands that almost borders on a panic.

M, being a bloke, sees absolutely nothing wrong with it.  It’s a bathroom and all the plumbing works.  What is the matter?

He doesn’t need to understand.  He just needs to follow my instructions and fix it.  Soon.  Every morning I start my day standing groggily in a hot shower, trying to rouse myself to consciousness — and when I do, I open my eyes to find I am swathed in a pink-and-blue cocoon that gives my tender early-morning nerves an unmerciful jolt.  And, really, no one should have to suffer that if it can be at all avoided.

And the I just can’t decide…

And here we have the same 1940s bathroom loveliness…  the classic sink, the same matching accessories (why? why a toothbrush holder in the powder room?), the same insane all-over tiling (how much spraying did they expect?!?) and yet…

And yet, I can’t decide about this.  I think I almost like it.  Almost…  I mean, I have to say that it just doesn’t feel right when you’re bent over cleaning a red toilet.  Toilets should not be red.  And I’m not sure I’m keen on the college-team colour scheme-ness of it.  It does look like some football fanatic has been let loose in the decorating aisle…  But, it’s… ok.  It’s got a certain charm.  A certain…  I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t bring myself to hate it in the way I feel I really ought to.

And M is over the moon with it.  For some reason, he loves this bathroom.  He spent the first day we were in the house using this toilet exclusively and then skipping about afterwards singing, “I’ve got a red toi-let! I’ve got a red toi-let!”

I don’t pretend to understand.  It must be a man-thing.  But I don’t mind.  I almost…  like it…?

Ok.  This one stays.

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This house has central heat — so nice on snowy days.

This house’s windows don’t rattle when the wind blows, and they don’t have a gap between the top and bottom that’s so big you can drop a butter knife through it.

This house has a living room and a dining room and a family room and a basement — enough room for my hobbies, M’s hobbies and the girls’ hobb…  er, toys.

This house has a dishwasher.

This house has an electric outlet in the bathroom.

This house has enough bedrooms for all of us.

This house has mixer taps.

This house has a washer and dryer that make laundry an easy chore, rather than the main event of the whole day.

This house has a gas stove — how long I have waited for that!

This house has heat upstairs — so nice when you’re undressing for bed.

This house has closets!

This house does not smell vaguely of mildew, anywhere.

This house has a drivway… and a garage!  No more parking on the street… on the other side of the street.  No more dragging two toddlers and a car-load of grocery shopping across the road while dodging cars zooming past at 50 mph.

This house has neighbours who welcomed us to our new home with homemade apple pie and handmade bread. Yay!

This house has a front porch — a place to for everyone to stand out of the snow and rain, whilst I fish for my keys which have, once again, sunk to the bottom of my bottomless handbag.

This house has a driveway big enough (and flat enough) that M can park his truck on it, and not have to walk a quarter of a mile home in the rain and snow.

This house has a shower.

This house has beautiful hardwood floors, with floorboards tight enough that I can’t slide a piece of paper between them — let alone drop a pound coin through.

This house has more than one toilet — always so handy.

This house has ceiling fans, one right over my bed — how I’ve missed ceiling fans!

This house has plumbing well enough designed that you can use water in another part of the house while someone is taking a shower without scalding them.

This house has a porch swing.

This house has heat in the bathroom — so nice on cold mornings.

This house has deer wandering through the back garden.

This house has an apple tree laden with fruit.

This house has a hilltop view of wonderful sunsets.

This is a good house.

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I am supposed to be spending this week finalising any work we want done on the house before we move in (carpets cleaned, floors finished) and getting all the move-organisation done (movers, address-changing, utility installation), but I have been so sick that everything has ground to a halt.  My throat is killing me, I can’t talk, I can’t managed to stay asleep for more than 30 minutes, and my nerves are frayed.  My mother, who was so bad with this herself last week that she nearly ended up admitted to hospital, came over and took care of the girls yesterday so I could finally have a much-needed day in bed.  In a miserably-sick sort of way, it was heavenly.

But she’d left by the time M got home, and he walked in to find the kitchen a tip, his dinner unmade, and me struggling to get the girls fed.  He stepped right in and took over, and I went and collapsed on a chair.  The girls were an inexplicably boisterous mood and the cacophony rising from the kitchen when straight through me like a knife.  I barged back in and barked at my children for being so unruly and then barked at my husband for letting them be so — it was sudden and uncalled-for and he, quite naturally, barked right back at me.  I saw red and stormed dramatically back to my chair.

After five minutes of sulking, I began to regret my short temper and shuffled sheepishly back into the kitchen.  I put my arms around M’s neck and apologised.  He pulled me back and looked into my eyes for a moment, then smiled indulgently and gave me a sudden bear-hug so tight it took my breath away.  “It’s alright!  It happens.  You know, considering that we’ve moved halfway around the world, lost a job, lost insurance, bought a house, run up medical bills, are moving again, and hardly ever get to…” — well, let’s just say that, between his crazy schedule and me being up with E2 so much,  I’ve nearly forgotten what the full job-description of Wife entails…  “Considering all that, I’m surprised we aren’t killing one another!  So you barked — I barked too.  It’s done now and it’s no big deal.  We’re alright, you and me.”

He hugged me again, and my whole world was brought back into perspective.  He’s right — we should be killing each other, but we aren’t — and I thank God for that.

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And just when I was losing my faith, I received a gift from a virtual stranger.

Which makes me wonder, in a virtual world, how do we draw the line between stranger, acquaintance, and friend?  When we spend years interacting with people we’ve never met and probably never will meet — as we all do in this cyber day and age — should those people ever rightly come to mean more to us than just a convenient distraction, more than just pixels glowing on a screen?  How much affection is it prudent to feel for someone you don’t really know?  And why does walking away feel so much more difficult than just turning off the computer?  I mean, when it comes down to it, who knows if these people really even exist — they might all be just figments of our imaginations.

Until, one day, one of them suddenly jumps right out of the great cyber-void and leaps into real life, by sending you a lovely package of the tea you’ve been missing so much.

Thank you, Nichole!  I am chuffed to bits!

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You may be thinking I’d fallen off the face of the earth.  I didn’t — but we did find a house and life has been a bit of a whirlwind ever since.

While M was in Britain, I noticed a new property on the market that looked interesting — good room sizes, good neighbourhood, excellent school district, and it also looked to have the elements that have been deal breakers for so many houses before: the kind of garage, driveway, and basement that M would love.  I had the estate agent take me round it last Thursday and, it turned out, it was interesting — really very interesting.   I immediately arranged to go back with M on Saturday morning.

On Friday night, I got a phone call from the estate agent: the buyer already had an offer.  Apparently, he had had been about to accept it, but had agreed to wait until we’d seen it as well.  He had to reply to the first offer by Sunday, so the pressure was now firmly on.  If we were going to have to make this decision quickly, I decided to ask my dad to join us, and to bring his best friend (who happens to be a builder) so they could cast their expert eyes over it as well.

That night, E2 couldn’t breath for a blocked up nose, and she kept me up all night.  At 5.30am, I’d had 90 minutes of sleep.  M got up with her and so I managed to catch two more hours before I had to get up as well.  My head was pounding — three and a half hours sleep is not enough to get up on, and certainly not enough to make house-buying decisions on.  This did not bode well.

Then, as I was getting dressed, I suddenly realised I was about to view a house in the company of four men, all of whom would be looking at it strictly in terms of pipes and bricks and money, and none of whom would be thinking of whether this house would really work for a mother with two little kids.  So at the last minute, I asked my mother to come too (which, of course, meant the girls would have to tag along as well).  Mum’s face lit up — she had been secretly hating the fact that she wasn’t going to get a look-in on a house that might be such a serious contender.  So, an hour later, we pitch up outside the house  …all eight of us.  The owner was still there but, fortunately, didn’t seem much fazed by the sea of faces on his doorstep.  He opened the door wide for us before descretely slipping out for a spot of early-Saturday gardening.

Then, just as the door closed behind us, disaster struck: M’s work phone went off.  He was on call that weekend and they needed him for an emergency now.  Everyone else was looking around the room and talking excitedly, but my eyes were focused on him as he tried to beg off enough time to at least give the place a quick walk-through.  Finally, he hung up and flashed me a tense smile: he’d got them to agree, but we’d have to be quick and there’d be little time for discussion. This was not how we wanted to view a house, let alone make a decision.

I marched everyone through in double-quick time, but that didn’t dampen the effect.  They all liked the house.  Most importantly, M did, and I liked it more on second viewing than I had on first.  It’s a surprising house — a Cape Cod with an odd split-level addition on one side — that is spread over five different levels and just seems to go on and on as you discover each one.  The living room, dining room, and kitchen are on the small side, but they have scope for easy expansion.  The family room will work perfectly for both the girls toys and my fibre stash, and M was really chuffed to discover a big, dry, inviting basement for his drums and his weights.  Upstairs, it has three bedrooms — one of them of them set apart by a half-set of stairs, which would be perfect for E2, officially the World’s Lightest Sleeper.  My dad and his friend approved the overall condition of the house and were particularly pleased to discover it has a brand-new roof.

“I have to go,”  M said suddenly, looking at his watch.

“Ok, ok…”  I stammered.  “Let’s talk about the house for a minute…”

“No, I have to go now.”  M is very conscious not to push his chances with this second job.  He glanced up at the house.  “I like it,” he announced.  “Let’s buy it.”

The realtor spotted that M was trying to leave and rushed over.  We had to make an offer today, he said, before the owner had to make his decision on the other offer — and probably before M got back from his call-out.  But he’s a clever clogs, our realtor, and he pulled out a blank contract he’d brought with him — M could sign it now, and then the realtor and I could go back to the office and write all the details into it afterward.  It seemed like a plan, and there was no time to discuss it further.  M and I hastily agreed on our offer price, he signed on the dotted line, and jumped in the car.  Two seconds later, he was gone, and I stood on the driveway looking at this house — this house that we were going to buy.  The decision was made, just like that.

Back in the realtor’s office, we did everything we could to make the offer more attractive than what we reckoned the other buyers had offered.  We made the closing date match the owner’s preference, we were flexible about survey options, and…  we offered ever-so-slightly more than we’d originally hoped to.  The estate agent turned to me with a confident look, “It’s a good offer.  It’s very attractive.  I think we have a good chance of getting it.”

I nodded.  “It’s an honest offer.  We’ve made it as attractive as we can.”  I was surprised by how calm I was feeling.  “I think we have a good chance too.  But, the thing is, if we don’t get it, I am not going to beat myself up about it, because I know we did the best, most honest offer we could.  It’s out of our hands now — it will be what it will be.”  He pushed the last page over to me, and I scribbled my name under M’s.  It was done.

Sunday morning the phone rang while I was feeding the baby. I could hear the muffled sound of M’s voice through the wall, but it gave nothing away.  After a few minutes, he opened the door, his face blank and unreadable.

“He put our offer in yesterday afternoon.  The other buyers made a counter offer but…  the seller has chosen ours.”  He took a deep breath.  “We’ve bought a house.”  And, for just a moment, my heart forgot to beat.

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In all the emotion and confusion of moving and trying to get settled, it is easy to forget that — even though we have spent seven months living in a house furnished with only two chairs, a dining set, the girls’ cots, and our mattress on the floor, and even though our lives are still so unsettled that I have not felt able to commit to even so much as a mobile phone plan — there are some things about our lives that this move improved instantly and incredibly.

Tonight my daughters are sleeping soundly in their own rooms, safely tucked high up above the world on the second floor and just across the hall from us.  Unlike this time last year, neither of them has to sleep in a hastily converted dining room, alone all night on the ground floor, right at the front of the house and literally 4 feet away from the street, where lorries and tractors rumble past at breakneck speeds, and drunks stumble past on their way home from the pub, separated from them by a window whose fragile glass panes are over a century old and whose old wooden frame no longer fits securely and rattles loudly whenever the wind blows.  Tonight, E1 is not sleeping in a room with a gas fire only a few feet away from her cot (and where it is thus actually illegal for her to sleep, even though M shut off the gas supply to it).  She is not in a room which always had a lingering smell of mildewy dampness that I could never get rid of no matter how much I cleaned, and which always also had a faint smell of what I swore was leaking gas, even though M ran test after test and assured me there was no leak, but which always worried me afresh every night when I laid her down to sleep.  Tonight I do not have to spend the night separated from her by a whole flight of stairs, and lie half-awake, listening listening listening all night for any noise — inside the house or out — that might be a threat to her safety while she sleeps so far away from me.

There are many things about our lives that we are struggling with at the moment, but for this simple fact that we can now afford to rent a house that has enough room for us, and so I can put my daughters down to sleep near to me, in safety and comfort, I am deeply deeply grateful.

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I was washing the dishes when there was a loud, brief scream and then a sudden silence. This could mean anything. I counted silently, 1… 2… 3… 4… Ah yes, there it was — the ear-piercing wail to follow up. Someone was hurt. E2 came running in first, with big wet tears streaming down her cheeks and crying at full volume, and flung her arms round my neck. E1 followed, looking concerned but hesitant and more than a little guilty, and hung back in the doorway.

“What happened?” I yelled over the screams. E2 had not drawn breath and I was sure the windows were about to shatter — certainly my left eardrum was not far off it. E1’s mouth moved as she pointed to her finger and then gesticulated out into the hallway, but I couldn’t hear what she said. I asked again and managed to catch, “…I closed the door…” Ah, I see.

I held E2 for a bit longer and let her cry it out in the safety of my arms, and then pulled back and picked her hands up. “Is it this one, or this one?” She held one index finger aloft. Her eyes were huge and doleful, her lip stuck out, her cheeks red and wet, and her nose streaming. I inspected the injured finger — nothing serious — and then kissed it gently. “There. Is that better?” She stopped crying and looked at her finger pensively and a little surprised, then looked up at me. She brought her finger up to her own lips, furrowed her brow in concentration, and kissed it herself. I smiled. “Good girl.”

Having thus comprehended this magic, she turned and toddled over to her sister with her arm up and the injured finger outstretched. E1 kissed it without hesitation — she knows this is serious medicine. And with her cure now complete, E2 reached up and took her sister’s hand and they disappeared through the door and down the hall together — friends again, as ever.

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