Vacuum of confusion for the men in my life

While cleaning up my garage to move recently, I found a shop vac.

It was a big, robust fellow and I wasn’t certain where it had come from. Maybe contractors who did some renos five years back had forgotten it. It seemed like something a little large to overlook but it had been in my garage for half a decade and I’d never noticed it, so there you go.

If you own a big shop vac, go and vacuum your car. It’s amazing. You can just shove the nozzle under the seats and suck up things like grocery bags and banana peels and mittens. I was a vacuuming madwoman, because I knew I’d have to call my old contractor to give it back. I experience the same level of excitement when I have a dumpster in my driveway. Dumpsters are my jewelry, my roses.

A phone call to my ex cleared up the mystery. He’d purchased the vacuum, one of those hidden man-purchases much like I may have hidden evidence of my umpteenth pair of brown suede boots. He told me where he’d left a spare filter. I put the vacuum to great use as I prepped the house for sale, and then didn’t sell. I made the mistake of telling my colleague, David Booth, about my decision to stay put. He laughed and laughed and then gathered himself.

“Women,” he said, within earshot of his girlfriend, who was being sweet to me about the whole non-event.

“I swear, I will never understand this. How can you go to sell your house and then not sell your house?” he yelled, because Booth yells most things.

“It was just a decision I made when I had new information,” I patiently explained.

After getting everything fixed that was wrong with my house, I discovered I loved my house after all. Makes perfect sense. Except to Booth.

“This is exactly what confuses men!” he bellowed. “I remember a few years go, after an aggressive campaign by Acura, every single woman I ran into asked me if she should buy an Integra! It didn’t matter what kind of car they were shopping, the Integra was always in the mix!”

Booth uses a lot of exclamation points when he talks.

“It was always ‘Should I buy an Integra or a minivan? An Integra or a pickup?’ I mean, seriously, an Integra or a pickup! Are you kidding me?”

I asked what this had to do with me not selling my house.

“Just that I will never understand women! Integras are not pickup trucks! They’re not even remotely trucklike! I mean, if you decide to sell your house, well … you sell your house!”

I acknowledged that small, sporty cars are indeed not pickup trucks, but some people like a wide range of choices. Women people. Some days we like brown boots. Some we like Cobb salads. I can picture myself in both a small, sporty car and a pickup truck, though I know enough not to ask Booth for his opinion on anything except the salad.

“Maybe they wanted your opinion of Integras and pickup trucks,” I reasoned.

Booth is a valuable source of information on both.

“How can you be choosing between those two things?” he roared down the phone. “It’s like choosing between…..” — a pair of boots and a Cobb salad, he probably wanted to say, but his mind doesn’t work like that — “Oh, I don’t know what it’s like choosing between!”

“You two should come for dinner one night,” I said. “Now that I’ve decided to stay.”

I heard the phone clatter to the ground before it was rescued by a woman — long suffering — who understood why I didn’t sell my house.

“We’d love to,” she said.

Booth was barking in the background, though whether in frustration or laughter, I’m not sure.

Men and women are different.

But everybody loves a dumpster and a good shop vac.

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Who Needs A Bed When You Can Have A Hammock?

Now that I am un-moving, I find I have to re-furniture.

I told the kids to take what they wanted when they moved out because my new life was going to be downsized and I imagined everything I could possibly need would fit in a thimble. The act of not actually moving, but having kids actually take things, means I have to reboot.

Lorraine 2.0 is much more streamlined, much less cluttered. Lorraine 2.0 has guest rooms, guest rooms that don’t have suitcases stuffed in the closets or cat cages under the beds. One room actually has a dresser with a tequila bottle with ferns in it; I decided it looked arty. Mark the Cat decided it looked like salad. The ferns lasted a day.

I needed a bed frame for the smaller room, as I’d committed the existing one to the cottage. I went online, found a suitable frame, and drove to the store to get it. On the way to the bed department, I tripped over a silly hammock thing in the summer section. I sat in it. I swayed gently and tried to imagine if this ridiculous thing would fit on my new deck. I decided it wouldn’t and told myself to stop being so stupid. They were out of the bed frames and told me to come back tomorrow.

The best way to avoid impulse purchases is to come back tomorrow. Everybody knows that. I knew the feeling would pass, like when you consume bad sushi or good vodka and wake up knowing you shouldn’t have done that. I returned to the bed frame store, which they still didn’t have, and bought the hammock.

The instructions consisted of a leaflet with dire warnings about wind and fire and hammocks written in nine languages, then a series of exploded diagrams with no writing whatsoever. The thing was so heavy, I had to open the box — after dumping it out of the van onto my front lawn — and carry the pieces one at a time to my back deck. The cats were curious, if a bit worried.

I carefully lined up and counted all the bits. My impulsivity ends where rules begin. As I selected the first monster piece of the base, I glanced at a warning I’d missed.

“Assembly requires two people and a stepladder.”

I had one person, three cats and a glass of iced tea.

I decided I would progress until I couldn’t. As I was carefully threading washers onto a bolt, one dropped beneath the deck. I crawled under to get it, scratching my left knee because I was wearing artfully torn up jeans that featured no knees. If you feel the urge to purchase such jeans, just put on your normal ones and crawl around under your deck. You’ll get the look without the cost.

My sister Roz called and asked what I was doing. I told her I bought a hammock and I was assembling it. I admitted I was one person and a stepladder short. Roz adheres to instructions. I could hear her shudder through the phone.

“Ouch,” I yelped as a wrench slipped.

“What are you doing?”

“Wrenching. It slipped.”

“So now you’re doing it all wrong while you’re on the phone?”

“I didn’t want to be rude and hang up.”

I don’t like speakerphone, and my neck was getting a kink in it from holding the phone while I tried to hold up one section with my knees and another with my shoulder.

“I’m gonna let you go,” she sighed.

I sent her a picture later. She called it a contraption.

Two people and a stepladder? Bah.

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Hickory Sticks are the last snack you will ever buy

If you have any American friends, you know there’s a steady black market for things requested when you visit.

Ketchup chips, Coffee Crisps, Smarties, over-the-counter codeine.

In my world, it’s Hickory Sticks. Yes, the lowly little splintered potato bits that are as addictive as they are salty.

I turned one friend on to them years ago by displaying them elegantly in a martini glass, like a porcupine hunched over sleeping. I pretended they were a high concept appetizer like kale chips that have been coaxed into lacy fans dipped in anything that can make kale taste better. Sawdust tastes better than kale, so not much effort is required.

She appreciated my artistic flair, but her eyes widened in disappointment on learning that they would have to be smuggled home for her family to enjoy.

The upside to Hickory Sticks? They don’t break in transit, because they start out as small broken things on purpose. Win-win.

But the true value of Hickory Sticks is that they are made from magic. You cannot empty a bag of Hickory Sticks. When I go on road trips, I pack apples, almonds, water … and Hickory Sticks. There is a math to everything else — how many hours, how many people — but there is no math to Hickory Sticks. You need one bag. You can open that bag in the first hour of the trip (and you will; trust me) and you will still have half a bag when you return that night or a week later, even if everyone in the car is eating them the entire time.

I like potato chips so much I can’t buy them, ever. I can inhale a regular sized bag of plain Lays in the time it took me to type that sentence. When I buy the family size, Ari, 22, says, “Well, I guess you technically have a family.” And I can plow through that bag, too.

Once I bought the party size, and he said, “Well, I guess you’ve been to a party.” I can’t buy them.

Someone once asked my idea of a perfect evening and I simply replied, “Tie me to a salt lick and bring me a bottle of wine.”

A bag of Hickory Sticks weighs approximately four or five pounds — a couple of kilograms, easily. A bag of potato chips weighs negative five ounces. You can see already why we’re ahead here. When you open a bag of chips you see air, because contents may have settled in shipping. I learned that phrase as a kid, on learning I’d bought a bag of air that actually sighed in disappointment along with me when I opened it.

Procter and Gamble believed they’d beat the problem with Pringles, but Pringles taste like dust and salt that someone waved a potato over. Maybe.

Someone brilliant went the other way, and made Hickory Sticks. They are the soldiers of the potato chip world, the journeymen players who fill a void you can’t define and sometimes forget. You don’t know you need them until you have them, and in a clutch they perform brilliantly, only to sink once again into obscurity as the world moves on to their more famous cousins now being flavoured with things like poutine and maple syrup: two flavours I hate in their original incarnation let alone when chemicalized and added to potato chips.

I am a purist.

I recently visited American friends and took a couple bags of Hickory Sticks as part of a hostess gift. I accidentally opened a bag on the road trip down, but reasoned it didn’t matter.

The one I gave them will last forever.

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Teach your kid to stop screaming

Grumpy old woman alert.

Since when did it become OK for your kids to scream? I’m pretty sure that, if anything, my hearing is less sharp over the years. But increasingly, I’m inundated with the ear-splitting, spine-mashing screech of children feeling free to scream whether they’re being kidnapped or not.

Stop it.

There is noise, and there is unacceptable noise. I’m not talking about your kids playing in the pool or shooting hoops or hollering as they play baseball. I’m not talking about late night parties on the deck with music and laughter. I live in a downtown core and have always accepted, if perhaps not always enjoyed, the proximity to my fellow man that entails.

I have wonderful neighbours; at times I have had horrible neighbours, and I very much recognize the difference. For one summer, we had someone nearby rent to a crew I felt certain was filming a D list frat movie featuring sky high bonfires in the middle of the yard (our yards are all connected with hedges — and not the fireproof kind) and music and yelling that started at midday and went into the following morning. I learned a lot of new swear words that year, at a time in my life when I felt certain I’d heard it all.

No, I’m talking screaming. It’s usually girl children, but it’s hardly gender defined. A high pitched pierce that makes dogs run the other way.

Your kid is not allowed to scream all the time. I’m fully aware there are medical reasons that result in some behaviours; I know people who cope with this, and this is not a blanket grumpy old woman jab at them. This is about parents or caretakers who turn a deaf ear to inappropriate behaviour.

Well behaved kids don’t just happen. It takes a ton of work, a lot of time, nerves of steel and the word “no.” A lot of no. Kids do things — dumb things — to gauge what kind of reaction they’ll get. When they scream indiscriminately, your reaction should be “no.”

We become inured to things we’re repeatedly subjected to, and run the risk of blocking out important warnings along with irritating noise. Remember when car alarms were first introduced in the 1970s? Within 10 minutes everybody was hating, and ignoring, the constant wail of the car that cried wolf.

We’ve created car interiors that are so insulated and comfortable that people are able to shut out the rest of the world — even the flashing lights and sirens of emergency vehicles. Ask anyone who drives a fire truck or an ambulance or a police car; people cruise along immersed in their own world, indifferent to the very urgent situation taking place right beside them.

A child’s scream should be an alert, an alarm. I like to think that if I hear your child in distress, I could hop a fence or lift a car to help them. We are hard-wired to respond to distress calls, maybe not always in a way we could predict but certainly in a way that reveals we care about one another.

Kids, especially siblings, do dumb stuff all the time. If you dump ice cubes down my back, I’m gonna scream. Once. Because no way in hell were my sisters or I allowed to scream like little banshees. Ever.

I am not misremembering my childhood; we were well behaved because we were raised that way. We were typical children but we also knew we were not the centre of the universe, and other people mattered.

One look from my mother could shut that nonsense down.

Learn the look.

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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.


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.


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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