When garlic welcomes more than it wards off

So the garlic is back. It’s the whack-a-mole of my yard.

Dad had a huge garlic patch — picture the dimensions of a king-size bed — and he used to rotate it around the garden. Where I poke things in and hope for the best, he had a complicated system of crop rotation, sheep manure, compost and buddy planting, or whatever you call putting a marigold next to a tomato plant like some kind of little sister to tell off the critters. Dad was organic before organic was a thing.

But the result of the travelling garlic is that every year, I get weird pop-ups. They’re random, and 21 years after his death, you’d think the garlic would give up already, like that other stalwart — rhubarb — did a decade ago. It hasn’t. It’s as stubborn as he was and this year, it’s come up in a place I haven’t seen garlic for decades. It’s back in the original place he started it when I was a kid, as if it’s taken a scenic trek around the yard and now come full circle.

When the plants first came up, I thought they were lilies.

Lilies all look the same in their infancy, and I can never remember where I’ve put things. But over the weeks I suspected it was garlic, and finally dug up a plant to check.

This is the Sommerfeld Child method of discovery. We used to pull up carrots to see if they were “done” yet, and on finding carrots that definitely were not quite done, we’d just jab them back in the hole we’d pulled them from. We thought my father didn’t know; my father knew.

I held that immature garlic plant in my hand and wondered if Dad might be watching. I stuck it back in.

I’ve rototilled the yard again to try to replace grass that got destroyed when Ari built a new deck, and even though this clutch of garlic is right in the middle, I went around it.

It looks ridiculous. I don’t care. Everybody knows by now that I see messages everywhere, most often in my yard. If my father chooses to speak to me in garlic, who am I to argue the language?

I still feel a twinge of guilt whenever I buy garlic, which is often. I can’t stand the fact that so much of it is grown in China when I know the best garlic I’ve ever had was grown outside my window. We’ve taken the world and twisted it upside down, forever believing that cheap is best. As I hunt for domestic, or at least as close to home as I can find, I remember the long strands that hung from the shelves in the garage all winter, my father’s favoured stinky necklaces of wonderful flavour.

When I was cleaning up the garage as I pretended to move recently, I found bits of string still clinging to the upper racks. He’d reuse the same pieces over and over, displaying a patience for unknotting tiny pieces of twine that I rarely saw him display in unknotting anything else, including his relationships.

If you ever wanted to see the two sides of Dad, you just had to see him caged all winter in the house and released to his garden come spring.

I came very close to ditching my tomato stakes a few weeks ago, but something held me back. Maybe I thought I’d take them with me when I moved. Maybe Dad was pushing me another way.

They’re now holding up this year’s tomatoes.

I’m still holding out hope for the rhubarb.

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What you find in loss

The first clue was the toothbrushes.

In my bathroom one morning I saw five extra ones, neatly slotted into the holders, making themselves at home. I smiled.

Jill is one of my dearest friends, and the past few months have been a braided twine of love and loss. As her widowed father neared the end of his life, she came from her home in Holland to help care for him. She had no return flight booked; such is the nature of stubborn diseases and more stubborn men.

Instead the Wilkinson siblings embraced the contracted time they all had together, and I got to see more of my friend at the same time that her own family in Holland was understanding her absence while wishing for her return. She bore her emotional tug-of-war well.

My home, despite being mid-renovation, was one of her few outlets as she handed off duties with the others. We’d perch on the edge of a cluttered couch or an unfinished deck, skirting paint cans and ladders and even just sip wine in bed when that was the only room untouched. Back and forth we’d go, recognizing that food is love but the soul also needs sustenance. We’re both orphans now, though I have more experience at it. There’s no joy in that; I hurt for my friend.

As her father left the room quietly one night in April, Jill prepared to return to her life, to reconnect with children who’d camouflaged their own needs for weeks in messages of love and support, and a husband who’d held the fort half a world away. Plans were made for all of them to return, for family from all corners to unite last week for a final farewell.

As local houses were allotted various chapters of a sprawling family, Jill sent me a note.

“Hey! Can we stay with you?”

I didn’t hesitate for a second. My house was out from under the chaos, and this was a perfect chance to get to know her family better after having had their mother all to myself. I wanted them to feel welcome, I wanted them to be comfortable and I wanted them to feel at home.

Notes flew as I forced her to give me a shopping list. Teenagers may not know what they want to eat, but my now-empty fridge would never do.

“Just breakfast stuff, even,” I demanded.

I stacked towels and made up beds and told the girls they could borrow my shoes. I vacuumed out a car, handed them the keys and went about my day.

I’d smell coffee before I got up, the time change meaning I would never be the first one down to the kitchen. Her oldest, Jeroen, smiled at me the first morning from around a spoonful of Frosted Mini-Wheats. He’s Ari’s age and when they finally met, sure enough, I spied them deep in conversation.

I adored having teenaged girls in the house again, Kendra and Noa somehow making a couple of suitcases unpack into acres of clothes.

Noa shyly dangled a pair of heels from her hand one day, asking if she could borrow them. My heart smiled; she made my day and she’ll never know it.

Kendra chopped peppers alongside me one night as I told her to get outside with the others.

“Mom said I have to help,” she said simply.

The house was a hive, a whirlwind, for most of a week. I wanted my guests to feel like family, not guests. And when I spied the toothbrushes casually, automatically, in the family holders, I knew we were there.

Her kids have an open invitation here in Canada.

Life, as always, is just a bittersweet Lost and Found.

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I’m only thinking of the children

There’s a reason they tell you to sell your house in the spring.

The grass has come in but not the weeds, the gardens are bursting with long-established perennials that haven’t drooped in the August heat and chances are good your front hallway is not still littered with winter boots.

I’d always imagined my place looked better in winter, with a couple of feet of snow making my yard look more like one of those treacly framed prints. It’s harder to tell I have a shed that my son Ari says should be burned to the ground.

My decision not to sell brought forth a tumble of notes from readers and some revealing conversations with friends and family. Colour nobody surprised, basically.

“I called it a month ago,” smiled Christopher, 25. “I told Pam you’d never go.”

“A month ago I was totally going to go,” I reminded him.

“Nope. When I saw how good it looked, I knew you’d never leave. You’re gonna die here.”

My son believes in extremes.

Pammy was kinder.

“We will house-sit any time,” she told me.

“No, we won’t,” said Christopher. “I will house-sit any time,” she amended.

It’s true that fresh paint and clean windows changed my perspective, and handed me back some sense of calm. The overwhelming waves of I-don’t-know-where-to-start are gone, and in their place a renewed feeling of home and, funnily enough, family. I mean, they’ve all moved out now. That should be the last thing I should be feeling.

This house has always been full. Growing up, my parents let all our friends hang out here. Even as we grew up and out, we were still back here most Sundays for dinner, and I was here nearly every day when the boys were small.

It was about taking care of my parents when they were sick, but it was also about making sure Christopher and Ari got every second they could with them. The boys’ memories of my parents are fleeting at best, but my parents, through this house, made sure their grandsons had the best gift in the world: home.

They did it when I couldn’t afford to; they did it when I didn’t know how to. It’s because of what they did that I could become a writer. They didn’t live long enough to see me published, but they gave me this. The security to chase an insane dream and still keep my kids safe.

It’s been a home to many others, too. I wasn’t sure how to tell a new buyer that they would be getting a lot of people knocking on their door for a few years, as the kids’ friends come back through town. We’ve always been here; some of them have even lived here for various stints.

It’s been home to more than my parents, my sisters, my friends, or my kids. It’s been a base for many, an anchor when everything else has come and gone, over half a century of Sommerfeld.

We’ve had more family dinners since everyone moved out than we did when they all lived here, I swear. Ari built a new deck last fall, with a lot of help from his stepdad. We finished off the railings a few weeks ago in time for new buyers, except now we’re using it. The rotted corner that had become a small trampoline is gone, and the whole thing is a little bigger. The awning has been cleaned, the lanterns are new, the barbecue has been moved and the furniture has been washed.

The kids were back again on the weekend, the dogs blasting around the yard.

Candles flickered gently.

“Hey, we might stay over next weekend,” said Ari.

“You can’t,” I told him. “I have friends from out of town coming. You could always stay at your brother’s.”

So maybe not totally still home.

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That summer when Motherlode didn’t sell her house

I knew the exact moment I had had enough.

I was on my hands and knees beside my house carefully clipping the grass around my air conditioner unit with scissors.

With my house on the market, I had an open house scheduled for two hours later. I was doing the last minute runaround, fluffing pillows, arranging a ridiculous basket of 40 lemons and limes just so and eradicating any signs that I own pets. Or that I even existed.

If you’ve sold a house, you know the drill. The past two weeks (was it really only two weeks?) have turned me into someone who curses her spectacular red maple for daring to throw down its keys. As for the grass, I’d owned an edger at some point, but when I last took it in for repair they said it had seized up hard from lack of use. So, scissors.

The decision to sell had been made a couple of years ago. I knew when Ari and Taryn moved out, I’d move on. Too much house, too much yard, I explained to a family who already knew. Every corner I’d look at would overwhelm me, and the thought of tackling any of it seemed pointless, and silly. Know when to go, I told myself.

The first day after Ari moved out, I forgot to put out the recycling. If you can’t remember to put out your own blue bins, how are you going to patch drywall, finish deck rails or install bathroom hardware? I’ve spent so many years pretending I’m 10 people, I forgot the very real fact that I am only one — and some days barely that.

The real estate market lurches around like a Mardi Gras drunk, and every headline makes you question what you’re about to do, whether you’re a buyer or a seller.

The recent feeding frenzy (and cooling) was a consideration, but the crossroads I’m parked at was a far bigger one. As the kids pulled out of the driveway with their final load, I called Jeff, my newly discovered miracle worker, and he spent seven weeks making the place over. He kept fussing over details as I yelled “good enough!” in his ear. Someone else’s problem.

A funny thing happened on the way to beige. Every problem area of the house has been fixed. All the outlets work, every closet has a door, windows slide, the basement is immaculate and the garage soon will be. People warned me that you finally fix up your house and wish you’d done it sooner, wish you’d done it for yourself. As I clipped that grass around the air conditioner, I decided I’d done it for myself.

The kids were home on the weekend for a barbecue. We sat on the perfect deck after I’d served dinner from an immaculate kitchen onto an uncluttered table. The dogs ran around the yard they’d both once called home, and I told everyone I was going to plant my garden this year even if I might miss the bounty.

It felt wrong to leave the patch of earth raw. If somebody new wanted to bulldoze it over, I’d never know.

Pammy asked again why I was moving.

The yard is a mess and the shed needs to come down. I’m itching to borrow my neighbour’s rototiller and have to keep refraining. Someone else’s problem, I remind myself.

Except.

I had nowhere I was running to, only things I was running from.

Now with Jeff’s help, I’ve righted much of the chaos. And he ignored me and did it well, not merely good enough.

I’m staying put.

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Tell me again why I’m going?

It wasn’t a premeditated theft, though it was a crime of opportunity.

I was putting out my recycling when I spied my neighbour doing the same thing.

“Quinton!” I hollered. “Do you have a coffee table?”

He paused. “Yes.”

I’m sure he felt this was a safe answer.

“Can I have it for two weeks?” I asked.

“Yes.”

And that is how a neighbourhood should work. I’d been told to make my house look pretty so prospective buyers could imagine their own lives taking place here.

I needed a coffee table I didn’t own to hold the vase I rarely used that was full of flowers I didn’t like. On the appointed day, Quinton indeed showed up, table in tow.

Pammy came in a few days later and pointed to the coffee table.

“That looks good. You should keep it,” she said.

“It’s Quinton’s. I have to give it back.”

“Maybe he won’t miss it,” she reasoned.

I’ve had the same thoughts with some of my sister’s linens. All this good taste might have a lasting effect.

What doesn’t have a lasting effect is flowers. I’d clipped a bunch from my own garden initially, Dad’s tulips. I do like tulips, and I like them even better when they droop over and die, which is a good thing because they do that quite promptly.

The tulips from my garden are also enormous, with heads the size of small cantaloupes. As they scattered their petals one by one, as elegant a death scene as ever played out on a larger stage, I liked them even more.

A real estate agent came by and suggested I might want to liven up the coffee table. With my own garden strip mined for flowers, I looked out my front windows.

I already had a deal with other neighbours, Jan and Catherine, to babysit the cats during open houses, but noticed that Quinton had a lot of tulips. I grabbed a pair of scissors and went outside.

Jan and Catherine were puttering in their garden.

“Quinton’s not home. Do you think he’d mind if I stole some of his tulips?” I asked them.

They shrugged.

“Probably not, but take some of ours, there’s more around back.”

Again, I have the best neighbours. I snipped a few here and a few there, figuring nobody would notice if I didn’t overdo it. The fresh recruits lasted a few more days, until the inevitable droop set in once again.

Scissors in hand, I headed over to Quinton’s again. He saw me coming and, I’m sure, went to lock his front door.

“Can I steal a few of your tulips?” I asked him.

“I have a whole bunch in back. Sure,” he laughed.

Behind his house, he had a dozen of the coolest tulips I’ve ever seen.

“What are these, Dr. Seuss tulips?” I asked him.

They had elongated petals and sprung out on long, bendy stems.

I loved them, and I clipped every one as he watched.

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” I asked when it was too late if he did.

I told him how good they would look on his coffee table.

“Take whatever you need,” he said. “Just don’t ask me to watch those cats.”

I trundled back across the street, tulips in tow. I pulled cat cages up from the basement to get ready for an open house.

And I admit I wondered, again, why I was leaving this neighbourhood.

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Motherlode becomes a stage mother, sort of

I have never bought a house before, unless you count the time my parents sold me theirs.

There were no real estate agents involved, no listing, no closing, no negotiating and no mortgage for several months.

Now I’m learning how it really works.

I’m close to listing, which means I haven’t slept in over a month. My back is killing me. Selling a house is a ton of work, especially when you’re clearing out more than five decades.

I’ve had Jeff, my contractor-slash-painter, here with me full-time for over six weeks. The place looks amazing, and I’m finally fixing, or getting fixed, all the little things you tend to overlook. Electrical outlets, deck rails, light fixtures, switches and, of course, the endless clutter that I stopped noticing when I was about 10.

My sisters were here to help me stage rooms. This is a fairly crazy lie perpetuated on the buying public by the endless television shows that make you think you can transform a rabbit warren into the Taj Mahal in an hour.

I learned some basic facts from a professional stager:

  • People only use white sheets and towels at all times;
  • Beds must have no fewer than 70,000 pillows on them;
  • Nobody wipes their butt — you must hide the toilet paper;
  • Nobody brushes their teeth — you must hide the toothbrushes;
  • Nobody uses soap or shampoo;
  • Nobody cleans their toilet — you must hide the brush (I’m surprised they haven’t found a way to hide the whole toilet);
  • Nobody has pets;
  • Having a bowl of 50 lemons and limes is normal;
  • Sixteen dollars buys a lot of green apples;
  • You are forbidden from having mats, photographs, medications or a sense of humour. (I will explain this one in a later column.)

My sister Roz artfully arranged shell-like things in a bowl my parents received as a wedding gift in 1956, because staging a house is when you finally use things you received as wedding gifts and promptly hid. I’d picked up the bag of shell-like things after wandering around HomeSense looking much like an alien in a sci-fi movie: these are not my people.

Meanwhile, my sister Gilly was upstairs turning one bedroom into the home office I’d always wanted, and then cloaking my beds in pristine white. The cats rather enjoyed this, though were baffled by the pillows that threatened to crowd them out.

I started a list of people I know who own vans so I’ll have somewhere to hide my life when we’re ready for an open house.

Another neighbour didn’t hesitate when I told him I needed his coffee table for a week; yet another has no idea my cats will be visiting for a few hours one day as I pretend I don’t own them.

My son Christopher, 25, popped over to take apart a computer tower for me. He took in the living room, with its new soothing colour palate and decorator pillows.

I dragged him upstairs to see the rooms.

“Are you nuts? Why are you moving?” he said, as we stood in the master bedroom.

For the first time in a long time, it looks like a person with good, if boring, taste lives here. Not to mention someone who keeps bowls of beachy things on their dresser instead of unmatched socks and the corner attachment for the vacuum.

“Wow. Is this new carpet?” he asked, as we stood in the empty rec room.

I laughed. This has always been the room he and his brother spent the most time in. All I did was throw them out, get rid of their junk and clean it.

I walked through my unrecognizable dining room after he left, and grabbed a green apple from the bowl.

Rules be damned.

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You can’t go home again, but you can take it with you

“So, how’s it feel living on your own?” asked a neighbour.

“How would I know?” I replied. “I’ve had a man show up here every day at 8:30 in the morning for six weeks.”

I see more of Jeff than his wife does, I swear. He is working on the entire house at once. He writes meticulous lists so he knows what is going on, and I offer to help in ways that are not very helpful. He’ll let me pull painter’s tape sometimes, and use a kid’s paintbrush to get at those little crevices where door jambs meet to smoosh some paint in there. The trouble with painting the dreaded beige over the “artistic” colours is that one missed spot stands out.

I’ve been sleeping in a double bed as the master bedroom gets worked on. It’s getting cramped; the cats look at me each night like, “we’re fine, but where are you gonna sleep?”

I’ve been shifting furniture around as we go, and forgot I’d plunked a full-length mirror across from my bed. I woke up and scared the crap out of myself.

I’m getting tripped up as I come across boxes and boxes of photos from the past, and as much I desperately try to stow them for another time, I can’t help it. There is no end to the revelations you unearth and it takes discipline that I don’t have to look away.

Christer and Ari are receiving a constant stream of messages asking if I keep or toss this or that. When they vote to get rid of once loved toys, I head to Facebook and give it all away.

My niece has moved out of residence and into a house, and I am happily bombing my sister with offers of shelves, dressers, dishes, tables and chairs. I have rooms so empty now, I could twirl around like Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music” if twirling didn’t make me dizzy.

There’s been a steady stream of people in my now solitary life. A friend came and picked up a truckload full of interlocking brick, with a promise to come back for patio stones. I send Jeff home each night with random finds left over from previous renovations, often brand new tubes and coils and tubs of …. things. If I don’t know what they are, I highly doubt I’ll have a need for them.

But the best wrapping up is taking place outside, where Dad’s garden is blasting forth like it does every year. My message was simple: if you want some of Dad’s plants, show up with some pots and start digging. I already have shovels; I have many, many shovels because Dad believed you could never have too many. There is also an odd array of axes, so useful here in the city.

I have hundreds of hostas, and his beloved tiger lilies are running rampant. April is the month to transplant, and my friends and colleagues have taken full advantage, to my delight.

A wise woman once told me perennials are just weeds that someone decided to love, and to see these perennials go into so many other gardens makes me happy. Many said they feel like they know my dad after all these years, and he’d be thrilled to know his garden lives on in their yards as much as he lives on in my words.

I have a vested interest in giving away these plants, these legacies. Whenever I’m settled, and wherever that happens to be, I’m showing up to these many friends’ yards to take back cuttings and start over again.

I’ll bring my own shovel.

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The sale of houses, the cycles of homes

When we moved into this house, Christopher, now 25, was just 4.

It was his grandparents’ house, so he was of course familiar with it, but the idea that we were moving here for keeps was a very big deal. It was a big deal for another little boy, as well.

Across the street, a 5-year-old name Michael watched the trucks. I’ll never forget what his mother told me later.

“They have a kid!” Michael had yelled.

It is the siren call of children everywhere whenever a house changes hands.

Michael had a little sister, Sarah; Christopher, of course, had a little brother, Ari. Those four are still fast friends and have been from the day we moved in. There were years they pretended not to know each other in the school corridors, but the gravitational pull of the kid next door or across the street is always strong. Ages and interests may blur the lines of interaction, but geography is strong.

I was talking to my sister, Roz, about it the other day. Our family moved here in late 1963, just before I was born the following year. She was turning 5.

“You want to know my first memory?” asked Roz. “We turned into the court, and there was a huge pile of snow beside the driveway. Mom and Dad pointed out our new house, and perched on top was a little girl in a red snowsuit. It was Lynnie Eichenberg. And to this day I remember whispering to myself, ‘oh yay.'”

We grew up with the Eichenberg kids, five of them and four of us. Mark would be born a few weeks after Roz spied his sister on that snowbank, and I was born just a week after him. Gilly and Annie came along a couple of years later, just a month or so apart, the rest of the kids slotting in like the knuckles on a hinge.

Our mothers fed lunch to whomever was at their tables, and I remember many occasions sharing breakfast at the big horseshoe booth in the Eichenberg kitchen. Our mothers would just count heads and put out the plates, knowing this is the essence of neighbourhood math. Children rambled in and out of the houses at will, toys spread across the properties, bikes and roller skates tangled in piles.

My dad would give gardening lessons to any kids that showed up to his tutorials, and come and rescue birds that had stunned themselves flying into windows. We’d bring him every wounded creature we found, and watch as he carefully decided what could be saved. We’d have solemn funerals for what couldn’t, learning that all lives have a meaning, but also a cycle.

Christer and Ari and Michael and Sarah have also shared their moms; Ari once showed up on Jayne’s doorstop holding some ripened bananas, asking if she’d make him a banana cake. She did and I was glad because I can’t make banana cake, and every kid should have banana cake. He would take his tattered knees to her because she would kiss the Band-Aid she applied, leaving behind a lipstick smooch, which we all know speeds the healing.

Whoever buys this house will have no idea how many generations of hamsters and fish and birds are interred in these hallowed grounds. I hope they’ll see the hockey nets and the skateboard ramps and the baseball diamond that sports the sewer cover as home plate.

I hope they’ll see, and maybe add to, the generations of children who have flourished here.

Here’s to the new kids, discovering the joy of their new best friend sitting on a pile of snow, buried in a pile of leaves or dancing through the sprinkler.

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Cat scratch fever and the great escape

Two of my cats are rescues from Egypt. They are nuts, especially Mark, who is huge and lean and retains much feralness deep in his DNA.

Egyptian street cats should not be adopted here in Canada, no matter how adorable they are as kittens. Trust me on this.

I’ve been working in the yard and they are begging to come outside. They climb the screens.

A few days ago, I let them on the back deck. Cairo immediately plopped herself in a sunbeam. Mark ran the perimeter of the yard, howling at the top of his lungs. All was fine as I raked and weeded, talking away to both of them, who answered like the small unruly children they are.

Mark found a breach in the fence, gave a single curious yip, and dared me to come after him. He looked at me and blinked slowly as I hollered for backup after spotting my neighbour, Sarah, pull in from school. She volunteers at the local animal shelter and is also my cat sitter. She loves the little lunatic.

Within half an hour, she was questioning her love. We were down in the muck unsuccessfully bribing a cat. He stayed just out of reach, then finally took off. I sent her home, and went inside to consider that I was now a two-cat woman and may actually have a new lease on life.

I glanced into the yard an hour, later in time to see Mark strolling on the wrong side of the fence. I gingerly approached him, and he hesitated. I leaned over and grabbed him, and was rewarded with a deep scratch on my chest. I will be wearing turtlenecks as we head into summer.

My sister Gilly stopped by a little later; she also volunteers at the animal shelter. As we spoke, she pointed to the shed. Mark had climbed to the top of it. I very calmly yanked open the screen door.

“Marco, Marco, you’re going to die, get down!” I screamed.

Gilly laughed.

“He’s a cat, he’s fine,” she said, as he dove over the fence into another yard.

She started giving me rescue people tips while I planned my life with just two cats. Cairo sat at the back door, yelling her head off at her stupid brother.

We eventually spotted him at the fence line, crying.

The fence is high. My neighbours weren’t home. I ran and got a lawn chair and told Gill to keep talking to him.

“You’re going to go over the fence? Are you bendy enough?” she asked me.

“I’m fine. I can do this,” I replied.

“You’re wearing slippers,” she said.

I stood on the lawn chair and slung myself to the top rail. Mark and Gill both watched as I heaved my decidedly more-bendy-in-my-dreams body over. I clucked to Mark, who took off like a balloon across a parking lot on a windy day. We both called to him, trying to corral him.

I eventually got my hands around him and tossed him over the fence.

Gilly handed me the lawn chair so I could get home, and took Mark into the house. I got stuck on the way back, my feet exactly one inch too far apart as I straddled danger and safety. Praying nobody would choose now to look out their back windows, I finally collapsed into my yard.

Gilly came back, and we both stared at the lawn chair in the neighbour’s yard. Our surreptitiousness would be sorely challenged if we left behind such a big clue.

Using a two-by-four, I tried to lever the chair over. It came maddeningly close and fell.

Gilly got a rake, we managed to get the chair up into the air and grab it.

Mark yelled from the back door and Cairo swatted him in the head.

Free to a good home: hellcat.

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Back to beige

I’m painting the house beige, again.

It was always beige on my mother’s watch, because she liked things to match and be nondisruptive.

I do not do beige. I used to do all the painting for her because my father refused to do anything on the interior of the house. He’d rather have felled a tree than oil a squeaky door hinge, and thus it fell to me to build scaffolding out of step ladders and two-by-fours, risking life and limb in high stairwells as I broke every building safety code. My mother would clutch me around my calves, begging me to be careful and telling me I’d missed a spot.

I stared at a wall of paint chips a few days ago, a realtor’s words ringing in my ears: it’s not for you, keep it basic. When he’d first spied my place, his eyes had widened.

“Oh, I can see you’re artistic,” he said with a straight face.

I know now that is realtor code for “so that’s who buys that.”

My walls are fierce with colour and yes, I know it makes rooms look smaller, but they’re my rooms and I paint with love and emotion. I looked at the beige array before me now, small chips taunting me with their nothingness.

I spied one in the middle, slightly darker (or less beige) than the others, called Saskatchewan Prairie. I cannot tell you how much I wanted to buy this paint. I wanted to lob one last blast from Dad into this house, to sell off his life’s work with a nod to his birthplace.

I dutifully bought the more beige sampler, something called Buckskin, but still clutched the Saskatchewan Prairie paint chip hoping I could talk my painter into seeing it my way.

I’d forced Mom out on a limb once, convincing her we could lean a little green when her furniture had delicate uses of the colour. She eventually agreed, though the colour was more like a vat of white paint with a breath mint dropped in it.

When we were young, my Dad only bought paint that was robin’s egg blue for our bedrooms. If our rooms got repainted, it was the same colour. Over and over. I can still see tiny glimpses of it deep in the closets sometimes, and it reminds me that if Dad actually had done a little more inside, maybe my crazy colours wouldn’t seem so foreign.

So my walls are going beige — sorry, buckskin — as we speak. It’s boring, but I’m keeping in mind my imaginary nonartistic buyers who won’t know nor care what lies beneath, or maybe one day will scratch the surface and gasp in horror.

We slapped up the buckskin on a few walls to see how it looked, and I said it looked beige. Jeff, my painter, pointed out the differences in tone from hallways to rooms depending on the time of day and lighting. He said a bunch of other things, but I was still holding Saskatchewan Prairie and making a crabby face.

“I’ll do what you want,” he began, but I stopped him.

I knew it would be too dark, and I knew I’d be wrong to choose now to flex my painting expertise. I ran around holding Saskatchewan Prairie from wall to wall, as if the few square centimetres would tell me a different story in a different place.

It didn’t. There is a time and a place to paint with love and emotion, and this isn’t it.

Maybe I’ll leave a small speck of robin’s egg blue in a bedroom closet.

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