Our Home, 1910-2010

Bert’s ghost haunts our home and reminds us of those things that really matter.

Last night Andrew, Tess and I, dog in tow, were out for an evening stroll when our neighbour waved us down.  I spoke with him several weeks ago regarding the origins of our home: it was built by his grandfather’s brother, Bert, probably over a hundred years ago.  He explained that photos of our neighbourhood had been passed down through the generations and among them was a picture of our home.  Last night he emerged with a copy of the photo for us and I was immediately transported back to a very different time.

I was immediately struck by the absence of our driveway and it occurred to me that paved driveways were irrelevant in a time without cars.  Imagine a place where streets are primarily for socializing.  Where you can cross at a leisurely pace.  Where children can play without fear of death or dismemberment.  How lovely it must have been to stroll down the sidewalk without the need to dodge the neighbours’ vehicles as they rushed onto the street.

Next I saw that there were no hydro wires dangling from our roof.  No dishwashers, washing machines or microwaves.  No flat screen televisions or iPads.  How liberating it must have been to lie down for sleep without the nagging suspicion that you forgot to charge your Blackberry.  To have a conversation with your children without MTV blaring in the background.

Our house was built before access to running water.  Before garbage collection.  Before the major highway a few kilometres away where transport trucks regularly commute from Buffalo to Toronto, perhaps carrying garlic grown in China or plastic toys from Taiwan.

The history of my home is a testament to the simple life, a lifestyle that is ardently guarded by the ghosts of days gone by.  Good luck putting in a swimming pool with all of those gorgeous maple trees in the way.   We let go of our second car partly because our driveway wasn’t designed for any vehicles, let alone multiples.  And certainly the ghosts are in the yard late at night tending to our vegetable garden… how else could it be possible for us to enjoy bountiful harvests each season with next to little knowledge of modern agriculture?

One hundred years after my house was constructed we are beginning to understand that we can learn much from the way that our predecessors built homes, neighbourhoods and entire communities.  These places were built to accommodate people.  From their safe streets to their community centric institutions, these places were premised on raising families, familiarity with neighbours, and a firm grasp of the line between necessity and luxury.  These communities respected themselves, each other and the resources on which the relied.

I am honoured to be a part of the legacy on Main Street.  And late last night, once the rest of the family was asleep, I made a promise to Bert and his contemporaries that I would heed what they had built.


Maternity leave is over and there you are back at your desk. You have spent many hours in this place, and yet now the environment seems surreal…

Your baby stares back at you from the picture frame to the right of your monitor.  That face is so darling it brings tears to your eyes.  Your heart aches as you think about the time you used to have together.  But you know that you are giving her wings as she is out in the world making new friends and discovering herself.  So you take a deep breath and swallow the lump in your throat.

Your diplomas hang on the wall above you.  A reminder of that fresh-faced, power-hungry twenty-something who still lives somewhere deep inside you.  Many moons ago you were up all night writing essays and drinking coffee by the pot cramming for finals.  Then after graduation you overcame even greater obstacles: making an impression, dealing with unconstructive criticism, living in airports, taking on responsibilities far above your pay scale.  You’ve worked hard to get here.

Your phone is silent.  A year is a long time to be away from an office environment and the players have changed.  No one is running to you desperate for a fix to their last-minute emergency because they’ve forgotten how thrilled you are to be a part of the solution.  No one is calling you for the inside scoop because you just don’t have it anymore.  The world doesn’t stand still, but you’re back in it now and in time you will once again be an indispensable member of the team.

Your paycheck waits in your inbox.  How novel it seems to bring in an income.  You are sharing the load in your relationship and providing yourself and your baby with security in case the unthinkable happens.  You will be able to empower her with education and see her down the aisle.  You will retire in time to be there when she becomes a mother.

Your coffee steams and lets off a delicious aroma.  For the first time in a year you will enjoy the entire cup before it gets cold.  This is your time to remind yourself that, though your life will never be the same as it was, you are still your own person.  And this sense of self makes you a better mother.

So turn on our computer, make a few calls and sift through your inbox.  But when the work day is over, hold your baby, kiss your husband and congratulate yourself for keeping it together.

Do you love your home?  I mean, really LOVE it?

I do.

We live in Port Dalhousie, Ontario, Canada and in my world there are few better places.  This morning I awoke in our charming nearly hundred year old home and looked out the window to see the morning rowers doing their drills in the pond across the street.  I prepared Tess for her day and hopped on my bike for a leisurely 20 minute cruise to work, past the lighthouse and up beautiful tree-lined streets.

We walk the beach every day.  In the summertime, a lovingly restored carousel welcomes children of all ages for only a nickel per ride.  Depending on the season or time of day, there are sun worshipers, dog walkers, kite boarders or sandcastle architects toiling away at their craft.  We pick up some ice cream or, if grandparents are babysitting, we hit a patio for a couple of beers.  We stroll down the pier and it feels like we’re approaching the end of the earth.

Last night I took the dog out before bedtime.  I carefully examined each home we passed and took in the quaint characteristics, as no two homes on our block look the same.  I rested on a bench near the water and observed a breathtaking sunset reflecting off the lake.

At the end of May the best farm stand opens down the street and we learn about new produce, growing techniques and indulge in freshly baked cinnamon buns.  Further down the road our vintner neighbours harvest the grapes for the pinot grigio will one day enjoy with dinner.

This past week-end we took up sailing and cast off from the marina down the street.  From our 24′ vessel we conquered the harbour and I came to realize that from our home we can set sail to virtually anywhere in the world.  Now we scope the docks in search of for sale signs and plan our eventual voyage.

We don’t live in our car.  We can afford our house.  We grow our own vegetables.  And each day I chart the progress of the Japanese white pine we planted in our front yard last year to commemorate Tess’ birth.

Does this sound like paradise?  Or maybe you’ve found your own little piece of heaven.  Where you live might be the most important decision you ever make… if this post leaves you with a sense of longing then maybe it’s time to rethink the place you call home.

Faro, Yukon used to be a bustling northern community until the local mine shut its doors for good. I visited the town a few years ago to find a town devastated by decline.  But despite the boarded up businesses and abandoned houses there was still a palpable community spirit among those that remained who were filled with hope for the future of Faro. The teenagers learned trades, the officials promoted the quality of life and families refused to leave.

In these uncertain times, sadly Faro is not alone when it comes to community sustainability.  In Quesnel, BC, businesses struggle to survive after mountain pine beetles decimated the local forestry industry.  In Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, and Dawson City, YK, schools and municipal buildings are slowly sinking into the ocean as the permafrost melts.  In Okotoks, AB planners try to supply local residents in an area of mounting water shortages.  And across North America, we see examples of decaying public infrastructure when bridges collapse, sink holes appear and boil water advisories are issued.

Tomorrow I’ll be discussing the Faro example, among others, with a group of colleagues as we discuss the long-term sustainability of our own community.  Each place has its own characteristics that will either usher it into a happy future or stand in the way of long-term progress.  Like other communities alarmed by mounting challenges this century, we will be examining our own attributes and obstacles.   In doing so I hope we will avoid a similar fate to the one that has befallen the good people of Faro.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Our Town Faro by Mitch Miyagawa & Dav…“, posted with vodpod

My last official day of maternity leave

Today is my last official day of maternity leave.

This week has been a week of reflection and, ultimately, judgment.  What should I have done differently?  Do I have any regrets?  Am I meant to be a stay-at-home-mom after all?  Is my baby ready to enter the big, bad world?  Am I?

I can’t believe how much has transpired in a single year.  This time last year I was bed-ridden after a tumultuous c-section, still reeling from too much medication, sleep deprived, overwhelmed and scared.  Meanwhile, I had a fragile newborn who depended on me for her very existence.  I wasn’t prepared for a slow recovery and sleepless nights.  My whole world had changed and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through.

There were times when Tess would repeatedly wake in the middle of the night and I would break down beside her crib in a fit of desperation.  I wasn’t prepared for the demands of an infant.  Without me she couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t move.  Though making her laugh was wondrous, her cries were heart wrenching.  People told me to enjoy this time, but I was too overwhelmed and frantic to take them seriously.

There were times when I wanted to go back to work.  I’d sneak into the office to feel out the environment and subtly imply a premature return.  I’d visit as many colleagues as possible, consoled by repeated assertions that I was missed in my workplace.  Then I’d wait for my husband to come home from work and suggest a role reversal with a series of “what ifs…”

But then there were times when I felt like I was flying.  Our first swim together.  Our first bike ride together.  Tess’ first trip to the cottage.  Her first spoonful of food.  Her baptism.  Her first birthday.  Watching her with my husband and realizing she has the best father in the world.

With each passing day, motherhood became just a little bit easier.  I would understand one more of her little cues, and she one of mine.  We have both become more in tune to each other’s needs, more tolerant of compromise.  And if I ever doubt my decisions or my actions over the past year I look at Tess for affirmation.  She is an inquisitive, active, beautiful and content little girl.  She is perfect.  If I did anything wrong, it sure doesn’t show.

Yesterday I held Tess in my arms and cried.  Somehow she knew this was the end of an era as she held on tight and cried along with me.  I asked for a sign: some indication that we were ready to enter this next phase in our lives.  Then, an hour later, she walked her first steps.

We made it through the year together.  And though I am overwhelmed by a sense of conclusion I take solace in the knowledge that this is just the prelude to greater things.

Andrea, as you await the arrival of your little girl this week all at once I am elated for you, nervous for you, jealous of you.  May your maternity leave be every bit as satisfying.

On some days

To try would be crazy

The waves are like mountains

And the distance an avenue to certain death

But some days

I think I can make it

The shore is glass, my heart is strong

And I slice through the water with graceful ease

Then I’d arrive

To a hero’s welcome

The crowd chants my name

And power and riches are mine

But when the press leaves

And the fanfare subsides

I’d kick up my feet, crack open a beer

And long for what I left behind

The two of us and so many more

Awaited your arrival like nothing before

And we will always mark that unforgettable day

When you came into our lives on the first of May

A year has passed and so much has transpired

Your first smile and wave, your bassinet retired

Our sweet little angel, through and through

Today, baby girl, a toast to you.

Next Page »