Tag Archives: neighbourhood

the thin blue line

There’s a thin blue line on the sidewalk. I don’t mean a line of police officers, I mean a real blue line. A thin one.


The line runs along the sidewalk not far from our house. There is more than one, actually. Then at one corner they diverge and head off in two directions. Any time the kids and I are walking along and encounter the thin blue lines they immediately perk up and start following them. Just today they were trudging along, heads down, bent low by the dull drudgery of being well-fed children who want for nothing, when they spotted a line and got a spring in their steps. Malli tried to step on two at once getting himself into a bit of a splits situation while Akka tried to bend them with her mind.

IMG_1692  IMG_1690

It looks like someone carried a leaky bucket of paint and then walked several blocks down one street, turned left at the corner, walked for a bit, doubled back, went back up the same street for a block, and then turned left again. But that would be a weird thing to do. Maybe someone is doing an experiment on pedestrians to see how they react to paint trickles. Maybe it’s a piece of street art offering critical commentary on the fact that two schools in the area have recently been converted into police stations. I just wish I could commission the artist to walk with her leaky bucket from my front door to my kids’ school to the grocery store to the bank to the wine store and back home. It would make the daily errands quite a bit perkier.


a neighbourhood gem

We’re in Sri Lanka for the month visiting K’s family. Since I met K about 10 years ago I’ve spent many months here. I would have said I knew the immediate neighbourhood pretty well. The road we live on is curvy with numbered lanes poking off of it. I’ve gone on lots of walks and have been down each dead-end lane, surprising dogs behind the gates and drawing interested stares from kids in their yards. I hadn’t explored nearly enough, however, as I found out the other day.

On this trip I wanted to find a swimming pool where I could swim lengths. We mentioned this to K’s aunt who lives next door and she said she knew a place. And she knew a shortcut:

You go out of the gate and down the road…

…then, before you get to the main road, you turn down what I always thought was someone’s driveway…

…at the end of which, on your right, you will find a totally awesome secret passage!

…which leads to a well (Look in. Don’t fall in. No you can’t climb up. No you can’t throw anything down there).

Further down the path you find a metal door. Open it, walk past the stables, say hi to the horses…

…they’re really very pretty pointy-eared horses…

… and turn the corner to find this:

Ahem. This is about a seven-minute walk from our house. I never knew! I knew about the horses but not about the pools (and would never have found the shortcut). On previous trips we have piled into the car to drive to one of the fancy hotels where we pay a non-guest fee to use the pool. As of yesterday we have a one-month membership to this place and have already spent a total of five hours in the pool. Akka jumps confidently into the deep end and swims to the ladder (a new trick). Malli has yet to generate propulsion with his tremendous splashes but he’s learning.

The playground has seen better days. The swing set, a branch of which hangs over the baby pool, makes me think of nothing but tetanus shots but the kids seem to like it.

After swimming we rested in the shade with some drinks (if this place served beer and food I might never leave).

The seven-minute walk home took about twenty as we explored the new paths, sidestepping the brush fire and pausing to look down the well.

While they were swimming I read a book review in the New Yorker about how the over-protective, hovering parenting style common to North America is creating inept, spoiled, incompetent and frightened young adults. So while we walked home I did not tell them not to touch the fire and I did not tell them not to fall down the well. I must trust that at five and seven they can avoid hazards as obvious as these. (I will be reflecting further on the article and plan to discontinue all sorts of coddling things I still do for them out of habit).

The secret passage is delightfully strewn with drawing-rocks which had to be collected and tested on the walls.

The good rocks came home with us. No, I won’t carry them for you (spoiled! incompetent!) but I will show you how to carry them in your shirt; a life skill I believe to be valuable despite its ranking well below fire-and-drowning-avoidance.

cosmos update

Two summers ago the kids sprinkled cosmos seeds in cracks all around the back alley. This year we remembered to weed out other things and water the little seedlings. Now look:

We feel like The Lupin Lady; doing something to make the world more beautiful.

movie night in the garage

The neighbourhood moms periodically leave the kids home with the dads and head out for a night on the town. The dads decided to organize their own night and, in contrast to the moms who high-tail it out with nary a backward glance, they generously elected to hold a movie night and include everyone. And hold it in our garage.

I dug out my grandad’s old slideshow screen (which was later passed over in favour of an old sheet stapled to the wall), one neighbour signed out a projector from his office, KG picked up the movie, everyone brought snacks and we rolled couches down the alley on skateboards and wagons and into the garage. It was cold but fabulous.

We watched Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Just enough action for the three-year-old, the right amount of slap-stick for the five-to-twelve year olds and impressively rendered mostly silent commentary on industrialization, the Great Depression, workers’ rights and capitalism for the grown-ups.

And, lest we get too serious, we capped off the evening with several episodes of the Annoying Orange.

a sad move

Our next door neighbours are moving. The other half of our semi-detached house will soon have strangers in it. I am, perhaps, more upset by this than the situation really calls for. Our neighbours are only moving up the street. They will be close by, but they won’t be next door and they will no longer back onto our little alley.

A few years ago, my neighbour E. handed two swings over the fence and said we should put them up in our maple tree since they had nowhere to hang them.

Later we cut a little hole in the chain-link fence between the yards so that her then-two and five-year old boys could come over and swing. Soon, the hole grew into a child-sized doorway, complete with a little gate. Every morning I’d come down and put the kettle on and glance out to see two blond boys lounging on the hammock-swing munching on toast or pulling with all their little might to swing and kick ever-higher branches. If the neighbours’ garage door was open, kids would trickle in from the alley and there would be a before-school gathering of five, six and seven-year olds in our backyard. They provided lovely early morning entertainment for me, up early with a baby or chasing a purse-toting toddler.

The gate broke apart but the hole in the fence remains. It is still a well-used portal between the backyards and also serves as a monkey bar. I’ve gotten so used to this arrangement that I don’t think of our backyard as small. Practically-speaking, it’s twice as wide.

There are other advantages. E. could hear when I was starting to lose it with my kids. Sometimes it’s handy to know you have witnesses. I never bothered to buy garden clippers because there are some readily available next door. I shovel their steps in the winter. They mow our front lawn in the summer. It worked. When I have to go pick up Akka from school and Malli doesn’t want to come, I just poke my head in next door to see if someone is there to keep an eye on him for ten minutes. Many times E. has called to check that we’re home before leaving her boys home ‘alone’ for a little while. We leave the back doors open, I check on them once or twice, they have our phone number, and they know where to find us if they need us.

Having another family next door, with a mom who is around during the day, has been tremendously valuable. I never knew how much I’d need them. These back-room domestic support systems keep mothers sane. They stand in for the villages that it takes to raise a child. My children’s grandparents live in Colombo, Ottawa and Vancouver. Their aunts and uncles and cousins live in London, Gatineau and Jakarta. It’s friends and neighbours who help on a daily basis – who send over extra dinner and let your sick kid sleep on their couch. They’ll pick up your mail and water your plants (for us) or feed the cat, gerbils and snake (for them) when you’re out of town. They’ll notice when your kid is standing out on the sidewalk or a bike is left under a car’s back tire.

E. ruined a perfectly good party by telling me they were moving. The two of us spent the rest of the evening weeping on the front porch. I started in Denial, moved quickly through Anger (jerks) to Bargaining (you can renovate! don’t move! build a third floor! re-build the sunroom!) to Depression (sadness, really, with thoughts of sabotage such as releasing mice just prior to the open house), and I’m working on Acceptance. I’ve given up the role of ‘jilted neighbour’ and am trying to embrace ‘supportive friend’. I’m helping them fluff the house. Staging it for re-sale. I lent them some wicker baskets (“baskets can be your best asset” says the fluffing manual) and helped pick out accent cushions (“bright and cheerful pieces throughout” says the fluffing manual). K. put a characteristic Marxist spin on the process by observing that we are working to convert use value into exchange value.

I can’t say that I’ll miss these four people because they’re really only moving a block away. But I will miss having these four people living exactly where they are now. I’m sure the new neighbours will be friendly but what are the chances that they’ll be a family, with kids close in age to mine, with a parent home during the day, with no sense of privacy and a good collection of garden tools?

new garage, part one

Over the past month we’ve been working (mostly mentally and emotionally, with a touch of physically) on getting a new garage. The lovely little green garage that came with the house was quaint and picturesque but it was also rotten, treacherous, and didn’t allow K. to stand upright or fully open our car doors. I have several rips in the back of my winter coat from snagging it on nails as I bent through a half-opened door to drag a sleeping child out of a rapidly cooling car. The garage had to go.

Before (I was pruning. That’s why I’m in the tree):


I took care of the demolition. It was slow and methodical. While the kids slept or played at a safe distance, I carefully dismantled plywood sheathing and bone-dry planks and sodden mouldy roofing. I piled all the debris nail-side down. I cleaned up the one window pane that shattered.


Then, one weekend, we invited friends and neighbours over for the final tear-down. They were less methodical but rather more effective:



Last view of old garage:


Blank slate:


Next steps:  excavation, gravel, building forms, pouring concrete:






Skate park!


From this point on it’s brother-in-law MC on the job. Framing walls:IMG_6852

Attaching tin siding:


Side walls up:


Drill…. Beer….


Raising the front wall:



Cheering section:


Looking like a garage! This is the work to date. Glorious, complete “after” shot coming soon.



Our front yard is overgrown with cosmos and our back alley is sun-baked and barren. So we got the kids, along with a neighbour, to collect cosmos seeds from the front and sow them along cracks in the concrete in the back.






Hopefully next summer’s back-alley parties will find us in more lush and colourful surroundings.