Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Thirty years ago, just after midnight on this date, I became a mother for the first time. It was a dark and rainy night.

I wasn't ready. I thought I was. But I wasn't prepared for the actual birth, though I'd done all my homework. The physical nature of birth, the way the animal body takes over; can't say that was discussed at prenatal class. I wasn't prepared for the emotional nature of birth, the realization of responsibility, the absolute impossibility yet absolute necessity to keep safe this new tiny being. I wasn't prepared for the chasm that opened up between the me that was and the me that now is. And there's no going back to try out that other pathway.

And I wouldn't.

The other thing that I don't remember picking up on before I had children, was how much they would teach me about myself. Maybe that's not universal. I only know my own trajectory. My knee-jerk emotional responses, unattended personality traits, they got magnified, and I had to look at them.

And I became an adult by having children, not in the physical sense, that was a given, but in how I approached life. I'm not saying this is the only way to become an adult, but it chanced to be how it worked out for me. The birth of my three children put me on the other side, as someone who had to look ahead, had to consider consequences, had to plan. Had to be responsible. Was responsible. It made mortality real, oddly enough. Before my daughter was born, I don't think I believed in death. Now I could see how important it was to keep this small heart beating, not to mention my own. It's maybe the first inkling that I had in the world that I was essential, too.

This I owe to all my children. There is no favourite here, and I'm not just saying that. It turns out my heart expands, and can fit them all. But there is a first, and today is her day.

She is beautiful in every way.

Monday, June 14, 2010

springtime rambles

After spending a couple of months with my place fluffed up for selling, and then taking it off the market, I've been moving back in. It's nice to dig stuff out of drawers, and put back some of the personality into this apartment. I'm into Plan B: to sell at a later date. For now it's a road not taken (not offered?) but sometimes the path you are on turns out to be just fine. For instance yesterday we took ourselves for a long walk along the seawall, around False Creek, and back over the Cambie Street Bridge. Then we finished up at Granville Island to pick up some snapper and vegies for dinner, before bring our weary feet home. Very urban, extraordinarily lovely, no car.Why would we want to move?

Since all the fluffing, my place became much lighter, as so much stuff got cleared out, and so now I want to keep it that way. But to answer why I want to move, eventually: I do have a rented storage locker and it does have all my books and bookcases, and I do want a room to put them in, so I think this place won't in fact be home for too many more years. But for now, it's quite a pleasant place to live. So I'm back to organizing, both inside and out. I bought a new chest of drawers that fits into a spot in the living/dining room, and with some shifting around of furniture, it still feels relatively spacious. Cozier too, because I shifted around the chairs in the living room. We don't have a couch just now. The old one was very old, tattered (the cat) and huge, so it got tossed in the fluffing. I was thinking we should get a new, smaller one, but the way I shifted our furniture around, I don't really miss it. Except for when I feel like lying down for a nap The only option is the bed, and I did like dozing on the couch... Pretty small problem, eh? Next place.

The new chest was so I could organize my sewing stuff in one place. It was scattered into several drawers, closets, crannies, and so I never sewed anything unless one of my kids showed up needing pants hemmed. The table is the only spot to work the sewing machine, but that's fine, as I do have a spot to put it away. And I pulled out a bunch of my own mending, and actually mended some. There are several pieces of fabric I've bought, that I want to make clothes out of, and that seems possible now too. The trick is to be able to clean it up in between, as I've gotten used to the place being clean, since all the showings.

I got new glasses too, recently, and so have been literally looking at things differently. In fact more clearly, as the glasses correct my vision properly. I've given up on contact lenses, after forty years! They were bugging me, and the soft ones don't correct exactly. I can't stand seeing things unfocused anymore. So back to glasses. There were always pros and cons to both methods of vision correction, but I find some bonuses to not wearing contacts. My vision is really bad, can't see clearly much past my nose, but interestingly I can see really clearly up close. Threading needles has become possible again. So I sew.

There's been one unfortunate thing about the glasses. I can see the dust bunnies now. Having slightly unfocused vision has kept me a casual housekeeper for years, but now I notice the dust as it builds. And between the cat and myself (long hair) there can get to be some impressive bunnies. My partner is sorry to see my vision clear, in this particular area. Turns out it wasn't that I was so casual about cleaning. I just quite literally couldn't see the need. But it's okay. He does most of the cooking, so needn't feel pressured to clean to my new standards.

Outside's been changing too. The other day I got out the pruners, and tidied up the rhododendrons that sit in the planters outside my front window. Result? I have a mountain view. I'll have to remember to do that again before the next time I try to sell this place. Everyone wants a view, including me.

We've scattered a great number of potted plants all over the courtyard; that's another reason we'll need to move eventually. The plants, like my books, and like us, are waiting for somewhere to root. I was a dabbler in the garden before, sigh, when I had a house and garden, but I think it may be because there was just too much else going on in my life. But now, faced with a concrete courtyard, I'd like to get out and grow things. (I'm not the first late-middle-aged woman to want to garden am I?) My herbs in pots made it through the winter. I think my azalea is going to bloom, as is a hydrangea I planted a few years ago. I set out some carrot tops that are happily growing into a pot full of the snowdrop bulbs from my dad's front lawn (my partner salvaged them before we sold the house). I'm thinking I'll get another reasonable sized (pretty) pot to set out in the courtyard, and grow some lettuce. I do want a garden. If it were possible I'd grow some snap peas. At the store, they always seem to be shipped from China! My partner is a real gardener and he too needs actual dirt to dig in, but for now all those potted things definitely improve the outlook, and they get us outside.

Things are growing. The lilac from my father's yard produced two flowers this year. Poppies, also from his yard, are popping up (sorry) all over the planters. What else from Dad's? Forsythia, originally a transplant from my own former house (it has no flowers yet, too young), a winter rose that has one healthy looking leaf right now, but did produce a flower earlier this year. Rhubarb. There is a lily about to bloom (I think it's a lily) from off his back porch.

There's irony in all this. Though a lot of the plants remind me of my father's house, they also remind me that he didn't give a hoot about any of them, and by extension, of much else either, grumpy old man that he'd become. They're all plants that meant something to his wife, my stepmother, who died about six years before Dad did. My sister tended to them, and also kept many going on the back deck, as homage to her mother. And so they carry the mix of feelings that our father and his house held. Which is fine. I like it that life goes on, and some of it blooms.

Friday, June 4, 2010

it's not different this time

I have this theory about real estate, that every year things go much the same way. Early in the new year there are very few properties for sale. Home owners who plan to sell wait for the spring. But the buyers come out early, and swarm through the few open houses that they can find. Multiple offers abound, as there's not much to choose from. Home owners notice, and think wow, this is the year we should sell! Suddenly there are hordes of listings, and lots of choice. The buyers who lost the bidding wars start to take their time. Numbers of sales go down. Prices start to drop. Buyers back off as prices become more reasonable. The newspapers report how the market is falling. The summer brings doldrums. Maybe in the fall it'll pick up, maybe not. People take their properties off the market. Winter comes. People cook turkey. Then, voila, the new year comes, and there's very little on the market, and buyers start to buy because this might be their last chance to get into the market. Prices move up.

I think this is what's happened to me. (It can't be that I'm deluded about how much my place is worth!) I've had two offers for my place that I considered to be fishing expeditions by bargain hunters. If I really needed to sell, I'd have had to concede. But I don't, so if I can't get what I think is fair value, then I see no reason to sell. So yes, I've taken my place off the market.

Perhaps I'm not alone in this testing of the waters. Lots of listings get canceled. Real estate is an example of an illiquid asset. Doesn't mean it's not worth what it's worth. It's just harder to withdraw from than, say, a bank account.

I was late getting my place listed this year; I hesitated first  because of the Olympics, and then I just wasn't quite ready, when there were those few listings at the end of February. A month later I had all kinds of people come to open houses and say they really liked the place, but, alas, there were a whole lot of listings at the same time, so lots of choice. Comparison shopping was possible.

I read recently about a study that demonstrated that too much choice paralyzes decision-making. Offer people sixty flavours of ice cream, and they'll have a hard time choosing. Offer six, no problem. I think house-buying works the same way. Too many listings, and people freeze up. On the news tonight they said listings were up, what, 40% over this time last year? And guess what. Sales are down. Even though rates are still at historically low points. You tell me if it makes any sense. Next year, rates will be higher, and I believe we'll see a surge in sales at the beginning of the year, because there will be very little available. If prices are down, it'll be because the banks are making up the difference in higher rates. I may eventually have to take less than I want for my place, but it'll cost the buyer as much. (Forget real estate and buy bank stocks?)

I think it actually was a bit different in 2009 because of the great recession that happened towards the end of 2008. You couldn't sell a place in the beginning of the year, because everything was so cheap that there were no listings. Then what listings there were began to get bidding wars. What can I say? People like to buy high. That's all I can figure. Unless there's lots of choice. Then they'll hold off.

Realtors will tell you this is nonsense. And they're right, of course. No one can predict the markets.