Posts Tagged With: home

Free to a Good Home

freetogoodhome.jpgIf you’ve dutifully followed along here, you might be wondering what the heck happened.

Recap: We sold our darling little stone cottage on Facebook in May 2016–and then we couldn’t find another one. On August 1st, 2016 we moved to Caberneigh Farm in Uxbridge and lived in a barn for a year, wrangling chickens and learning the art of pig pedicures.

I inundated you with posts about our relentless search for a house from Prince Edward County to Perth to _______________ (fill in the blank). I may have been whiny and sick of ‘unreal’ real estate. I’m sorry.

Eighty-eight houses later, we found this sleeping giant in Lion’s Head, Ontario. No wonder we couldn’t find our dream home–it was in Northern Bruce Peninsula! We’d never been before, we were 100% genuine accidental tourists.

My last post here was about camping in Bon Echo Provincial Park. Kim and I were biding our time, waiting, waiting, waiting for the keys to our place. And, wondering how we could build tiny machine guns to kill off all the *%$#@* deer flies in the campground. It was an inferno. You couldn’t even enjoy your Bush beans and coffee in the morning without five deer flies up your nose and in your ears.


Update: We just suffered through those deer flies and swore a lot. On August 1st, 2017, we changed our address to the 45th parallel: halfway between the equator and the North Pole. Our shipping container was delivered the next day–with all the worldly belongings that we’d packed away 365 days before. Which, would have been really helpful, say, in January, when we had no winter boots.


The back story runs deeper though. So deep that it became a book. I decided to finally take on the scary, hairy National Novel Writing Month boot camp (an actual site that inspires writing 1,666 words a day with the end goal of a 50,000 word book. Not to brag, but, I did it in 19 days–mostly because this story has been in my head for so long. And, just like people have to get things off their chest–I had to get this story off my head).

I opted to self-publish Free to a Good Home on Amazon Kindle because I like the  immediacy of things nowadays. All my patience reserves expired in our year-long house search. But this house search, as exasperating as it was–it was the catalyst for this book. I didn’t do it for fame or fortune. I already have that. And by that, I mean a DVD of Fame and an old fortune cookie. Confucius say “Good things come to those who wait.” Or–good things come to those who sit down and actually write the book they’ve written in their head.

Home…is it a person, a place or a thing?


My childhood home at RR#2. I think this was a grade 10 art class sketch.

In Free to a Good Home, I scroll back to my sunny childhood and re-visit my stronghold of “home” on a rural road on the edge of the appropriately named Mt. Pleasant. I return to all the versions of home that followed: a house with no walls in the Costa Rican jungle to a bohemian rental in Vancouver with a rotating cast of roomies, cats and dogs (and Fleetwood Mac soundtrack). From BC to Toronto’s Cabbagetown and “Village”  to BC again to Uganda and the Congo (and back to the Annex in Toronto), it was a Rolodex of addresses, illustrating colouring books, making breakfast for chimps. painting store windows, massaging the rich and famous–and always, writing.

My apologies to anyone with an old-fashioned address book during this time period (everyone). I’m sure you had to order an extra “T” page for all my revisions. Hopefully this book explains it all. Thank you for keeping me as a pen pal and friend.

The nitty gritty: the Kindle version is $6.44 Canadian. What else can you buy for that? Not a pint of beer–and this will last longer

The paperback edition will be $20 US. Because, let’s face it–we love the Northern Bruce Peninsula but we also love the Indian Ocean in February. And, just to clarify, I will make about $7 per book in royalties. Which is a little closer to buying a pint of beer. So, think of it that way–you’re buying my book, and buying me a beer. Thanks for both!

It’s here: Free to a Good Home

It will be a Merry Christmas after all.






Categories: Home Sweet Home, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Geography Lessons

Yesterday I was at Hanlan’s Point, my GPS location for self-imposed exile. Here, I lie supine and allow the lake to pull my mind away. The trembling aspens rustle and cicadas buzz at a pitch that is more of an alarm to me—summer is already gathering up its carefree days in fast pursuit of the fall. The cicadas are early this year, they are usually indicative of sizzling late August afternoons where humidity hangs like a wet duvet on our shoulders.

The sun is already setting a minute earlier each night. Yesterday the sun set at 8:45, tonight, 8:44. While the sun was still blistering hot and turning the pale-skinned gingers into Maine lobsters, I snapped open a beer. The bathtub-warm Mill Street Lemon Tea beer was effervescent in my mouth, and the tepid temperature hurled me several latitudes over, to Simba beers in the Congo sun.

Two men walked past me at Hanlan’s as I skimmed the condensation off the beer can and dragged my hand across the back of my neck. The men were holding hands, laughing without inhibition, ankle-deep in the lake water. They were the colour of teak furniture. A Porter jet took to the sky with a distant growl—Boston? New York? Chicago? It banked and slid into the atmosphere and pillowy clouds beyond the aspens above my head.

I dog-eared the 37th page of The Outport People, a book about the zany brood that breathe life into a seemingly uninhabitable island called Baleena. There are no roads, no cars, no telephones. It’s Claire Mowatss best-selling memoir based on the five years she and Farley lived in Newfoundland. My mind was already in too many places to focus on Newfoundland.

Again, I disappeared to the Congo despite staring at the Toronto skyline and the sailboats skating across the surface of the water in front of me. Just one year ago I was popping the remaining Malarone anti-malarial pills out of their foil seal into my cupped hand, sad to see the numbers dwindle by day. My eyes were strained from trying to absorb all the jacaranda trees, brilliant hibiscus and termite hills as tall as flagpoles. I was desperate to take in all that surrounded me. I studied the texture of Mikai’s hair and cool skin. I searched for the history and future in her eyes that were as dark as the African coffee I sipped. The chimp I held in my arms would be a mighty adult next time I saw her. She would no longer be gently accepting spoonfuls of strawberry yogurt and sucking on warm milk sweetened with honey.  In a year, she would find her place among the troop, no longer coddled and fussed over as the babe in arms.

A year ago I was running around the fairways of the Lubumbashi Golf Course, listening to the same songs on my iPod that fuel my route through Riverdale Park and along the Don River in Toronto today. Chantal would meet me after my run and we would sit in the still of the morning, watching the copper mine bigwigs teeing off in ill-fitting plaids and stripes. More often it was the wives of the bigwigs in wide-brimmed hats and equally wide-rimmed sunglasses.

Days later, far from the idyllic morning runs around the greens with the fanfare of grinning, waving Congolese children, I was touching down in Harare, Zimbabwe and Nairobi. All that was familiar and quintissential Africa grew smaller and smaller, until it seemed like a child’s train set, not a real world, below the plane. The dust was still under my nails, in my nose, and deep in the stitching of everything I had worn.

I was leaving, again. And returning. And leaving. My brain needed sutures to hold everything I had seen together.

A  year ago, I held a hastily stamped Kenya exit visa in my hand.  My passport felt heavier with the miles that it had permitted. I landed in Toronto, elated and exhausted. I shared startling stories with my parents like a kid strung out on Halloween candy. I pulled up the photos on my laptop and sat in disbelief that I had actually been to such a place. I described each of the chimps, all 23, their names, their quirks. I watched my mom laugh until she couldn’t breathe over video footage of Mikai clobbering the kitten with a stuffed animal. I felt like I was describing someone else’s life.

We drank champagne in my parents zen backyard with Yanni and the babbling fish pond and citronella candles creating a path that replicated a parade of fireflies. The humming mosquitoes were a nuisance, but not a constant worry like their African counterparts.

I said goodbye, again, to my parents, to Dax, to the backyard that I hadn’t sat in long enough. I didn’t know what my five year plan was. Hell, I wasn’t even sure what my five day plan was.

The urban sprawl of paved Toronto lit up like the most fantastic Lite Brite display, glowing and blurring until I let myself find sleep on the flight to the west coast.

A year ago, and a week from now, I was in BC. The Fraser Valley spread wide below the plane’s wings in a neat patchwork quilt of blueberry and raspberry fields. The snow on Mt. Baker’s peak bounced the glare of the sun back onto my window.

I was coming home, but felt split between the provinces and the peace found in the burning sunsets of the Congo. Home was a sharp slap of reality. My stories stalled in the face of Mila, the most darling lab in the world. She was dying and I felt like I had five hearts beating in my chest, and still, not enough blood for all my limbs.

I unpacked from Africa, and packed again for Toronto. For good. A once familiar life and routine was dissolving and passing through my hands that could only grasp the immediate moment. I spent hours in the grass with Mila, crying like a fool, begging her to slip away. It would be okay. I’m not sure who I was reassuring– myself, or her. Both of us, I think.

I felt like I had live goldfish living in my stomach. My eyes burned like they were full of poison ivy. A year ago and a week from today, I wondered what was right. What was wrong?

Nothing felt right, even my skin felt unfamiliar over my bones. Jann reminded me, “life is fleeting.”

And I touched down at Pearson a week later. Mila died the very next day. I found solace in unexpected places, and comfort, even on the hardwood floor of Dax’s condo.

A year ago, I stood at the edge of the quarry in the Congo, knowing life was changing as fast as the landscapes would be under my feet in that week. I stood on a ferry the next day, crossing Lake Ontario to Ward’s Island with my anxious parents, who didn’t expect to see me again until Christmas. The next day I was at Hayward Lake, BC, watching Mila swim out into the cool depths for the very last time.

And I return. To Lake Ontario, with my feet in the sand. I still see Hayward Lake, I see Lake Victoria too. I see the quarry and all of the Congo. My mind revisits the year and all the geography in between. 

I am lucky not for what I have seen, but for what I have felt.  And there’s no passport to show for that. Just this.

Categories: Into and Out of Africa, The Kitchen Sink | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

You Are Here

And I’m home again. Another little red house on my Monopoly board game of life (and this one is definitely Park Place). Already it’s like swallowing robust coffee and absorbing sunshine in equal doses. This place settles me, and if I am away too long (even for the duration of a work day), I miss how it feels under my feet.

There have been many footsteps here before me. The 1897 Victorian has walls that not only talk, but they Twitter as well. When my long-anticipated haul arrived from BC in October, the mover told me his mother lived in this very house when she first moved to Canada from Ireland. I said to him, “Oh, I bet you say that to all the girls.” He insisted, and went on to indicate the window she looked out of, when it was a rooming house. In that moment, the world seemed as big as a sesame seed bagel.

Pig manure is still my true indicator of home. The rich sting of pig shit (so rich it would actually make you cough if you breathed too deeply) as I rode my shiny BMX down Arthur Road has stayed in my nose and lungs for over 30 years. And I can still smell the sweetness of tobacco curing in the kilns. In my nostalgic nose there’s the stagnant swamp too—and the startled screams of bullfrogs leaping into the murky pond. After the last ripples of the frog’s tight cannonball trajectory disappeared, the beady golden eyes would appear under a hat of duckweed. The redwing blackbirds would bend the cattails in half with their weight, talking absently about their long fall commute. Although my home has shifted to the urban belly of Toronto, that home in the country resides in me.

Living in the country, the pages of the seasons  turn more slowly. My grandmother still marks the return and departure of the redwings and robins on her calendar. She records the daily temperature, the first frost, snowy owl sightings and the other events that seem worldly when you are living amongst them.

The tall stands of sun-bleached corn on Arthur Road have been harvested, the ground tilled under and ripe with fat worms and split arrowheads. There was always a palpable loneliness to the fall fields, all that was green turning to spun gold and the geese taking to the sky, again. The last of the leaves are hanging on like Cirque de Soleil performers, not willing to end the show too early.

home-toronto-amster-nairobi 721I miss the subtle changes in bugs, buds and birds. I used to know the coming and going’s of the birds like my grandmother, but here, in downtown Toronto, the symptoms of fall are witnessed by the changing storefront windows and Starbucks beverages. The pumpkin cream cheese muffins and pumpkin spice lattes are giving way to all things cocoa-ish and peppermint-laden. The Holt Renfrew windows on Bloor are full of darling penguins in tuxes, impeccably dressed swans and mannequins in cocktail dresses with Santa beards.

The smells here are constant, not seasonal. The deep fryers and greasy pork of Ginger, the sugary waft of Wanda’s Waffles on Yonge, roasting oily coffee beans, hot urine staining the walls outside the nightclubs, shawarmas and smoking grills lined with Polish sausages on the street corners.

My friend Michelle who lives in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, has been sending me meteorological updates of -40 degree temperatures (for the last month)and the distinct smells of the North. We live somewhat vicariously through each other via emails and smells, comparing a Nunavut Halloween (kids arrive via snowmobile with costumes over snowsuits) with my colourful account of the scantily clad gays glammed out on Church street. I brag about a garlic-spiked Lebanese kofta wrap with pickled turnip, and Michelle explains the fine-tuning of her gin-soaked muskox with juniper berries while contemplating what to do with her freezer full of Arctic char.

Her home is so white and wide. The brand of cold where your breath streams out of your nostrils and mouth like a fairy tale dragon. Can you smell winter? Yes. It’s gasoline and blue, and the snow makes the sound that cornstarch in a plastic bag feels like between your fingertips. Like cheese curds on your teeth, there is a squeak that is associated with that kind of cold. I imagine myself visiting, eating gin-soaked muskox in a nice sauna suit.

home-toronto-amster-nairobi 244My sister says it’s snowing in Banff too. I don’t let on that I’ve had lunch outside under a tree the last two days with a fine trickle of sweat running down my back. Kiley’s home has become the mountains, and even though I know she remembers the frogs and redwings too, her deep breath and exhale has become the tall fragrant cedars and even taller peaks of Three Sisters.  She runs with elk and bear, and knows the trails that snake into the woods and up the mountains like a genius cartographer.

For some reason, Dax and I (except for my sojourns out west and to Africa), have always lived just blocks away from each other in Toronto. We have found familiarity in the streets that hum and cast neon hues on to the pavement like artificial day light. My sister knows mountain ridges as we know the best places for coconut curry, burritos as big as footballs and runny eggs Benny.

In fact, Dax could spell off all the coffee shops and cannolis worth their beans and butter in a 5km radius of anywhere that he might be standing. I could point you to the best place for gorgonzola shortbread cookies, $10 manicures, $7 matinees, French martinis, lamb burgers and pulverizing shiatsu treatments.

056And with an my shiatsu therapist’s elbow in my back and lightning bolts of pain radiating in a dozen directions, I think of Merryde and her tug of war between Australia and the idyllic bed and breakfast she owns on the Nile in Uganda. And that thinking elicits a homesickness for Africa and the sticky days and cool equator nights that became my being. I see the faces of all the chimps, I hear the crying pitch of the hyrax in the darkness and the hornbills ushering in morning. The redwings, the hornbills, the chimps, the bullfrogs—my home has become a hybrid.

I wonder where I will ever lay my foundation when I keep tearing my house down. I should enter a house of cards building contest. I’ve left a trail across Canada and all the way to Congo, leaving integral bits of myself in each place so I can continue to tap into all that makes me feel alive.

 I click through Adam’s photos of Margarita Island and think, yes, I could live there too. Like a chameleon, I could slide in and blend with the jungle surroundings. I imagine the burning sunsets and serene mornings with my feet in the sand. But a reader tells me my answers are in Guatemala and Peru.

But when I read about the elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, I want to be there too. Living with the elephants, living outside myself and in tune with an animal so displaced from its home. I feel displaced at times, but in a good way. There’s always a learning curve ball being thrown at my head it seems.

I’ve come to accept that it’s human conditioning to be missing the last place you’ve been, and yearning for the next. I know I’m not the only one in this quagmire…but life sometimes seems like a shook-up snow globe. Once the blizzard inside the globe stops I can see what I’m supposed to see, and then it’s time to get shaken again. Let it snow.

There is undeniable envy when I meet people who are confident they will spend the rest of their life in one spot. My grandmother has lived on the same road her entire life. With the exception of a few months at the end of her life, my great-grandmother did the same. My parents moved into the city 10 years ago from Arthur Road and Canada Post is still grappling with it. The Chapin family wasn’t supposed to migrate like the redwings. And unless someone suddenly discovers wild populations of chimpanzees in Canada, I have a difficult time imagining that my things won’t see cardboard boxes again. (Not anytime soon, Mom and Dad).

This house that I call home now is an oasis of calm, hazelnut candle whiff and as feng shui as Google suggests—minus the eight carp in a backyard pond and three Chinese coins tied with red ribbon to the back of the front door handle. I even find myself with a newfound staring problem. I look at the crown moulding and gleaming hardwood floors until my vision blurs; like a 3-D picture–when you are instructed to let your eyes relax in order to see another image. I look in my bedroom, as though I am walking through a museum with a roped off area. I look at this person’s books and photographs and step in.  

I am here.

home-toronto-amster-nairobi 055

“Home is the nicest word there is.” –Laura Ingalls Wilder

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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