Sunday, March 27, 2011

After Buying Our Canadian Dream Farm, Now What?

In two weeks, we're going to face our dream – or our nightmare. That's when we're going to actually start living part-time in our Canadian farmhouse.
The house lies in the far eastern corner of Prince Edward Island in the Canadian Maritimes, about a dozen hours northeast of our house in Massachusetts. We drove past it one day in August – back when there was grass on the ground instead of two feet of snow – and decided to buy it on the spot. The house is a century old and has a sharp peaked roof, like the house that Lucy Maude Montgomery used as the setting for Anne of Green Gables, the island's most famous export other than potatoes. We couldn't get inside the house when we looked at it, but we made an offer anyway, lured by the two barns, an acre of rich farmland, a view of the neighbor's sheep grazing in the fields below, and the red clay road leading to our favorite beach.
My husband Dan and I made the offer by phone – an offer worth less than my brother just paid for his used BMW. We drove back up to the island last October to see the inside of the house with a home inspector, alternating between feeling giddy with excitement and terrified that we were buying a money pit.
We had reason to feel both extremes. Friends who actually live in Canada, and strangers, too, agreed with us that Canada seemed more peaceful and civilized than the U.S. Certainly it's a country less prone to doing things like, say, bombing Libya without a lot of discussion. Others warned us that Canadians want nothing to do with Americans, and reminded us of the blizzards. “Who would want to retire in a place like that instead of Florida?” many asked.
“We would,” we answered.
When we drove up for the home inspection, I was so excited to cross the Confederation Bridge that I leaped out of the car as soon as we stopped – only to have the door of our Honda nearly blow inside out in the wind. My face was needled with freezing rain and my jacket was soaked through in seconds. We had definitely arrived.
We'd arranged to stay in a wonderful B&B in North Lake called Harbour Lights To my surprise, the B&B was owned by Americans not unlike ourselves – a couple who had worked until near retirement in the U.S., then decided their hearts belonged on PEI. Bruce and Pat served us a fantastic home-cooked Chinese meal to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, and we invited them to our home inspection the next morning.
The weather was gorgeous that night. We took a sunset walk along North Lake Beach that was doused in brilliant pinks, peaches, blues and plums, the sand glowing gold under our feet as we admired the dunes and fishing boats. It was paradise.
The next day was anything but, with weather that included lashing rain, winds, and freezing temperatures again. To add to our discomfort, the utilities in the house had been shut off for the past year.
We were nervous about what we'd find inside. But, instead of the usual horrors of an old house renovated and ruined, we were amazed to find original woodwork and hardwood floors, century-old charm in every room. The house even came with furniture, much of it antique and appealing as well.
“I could live here,” I thought, despite my chattering teeth, as I stood on the porch and looked at the sheep huddled in the fields below.
The house, in every possible way, called to us. We signed the papers that week, and for months afterward, indulged in looking at photos of the house, imagining what we'd do when we lived there. Raise alpacas? Make cheese? Start an arts cooperative? Keep working as a software consultant and a writer? Anything seemed possible!
And then things intervened, causing our house – and our future – to fade from view, to become a backdrop in front of the frenetic light show that is daily life for working parents everywhere. I have an elderly mother to look after, plus a young son still at home. My husband's company laid off half the employees and left everyone else scrambling to meet deadlines. Our four older children, two of them still in college, came and went over the holidays and spring break. We did the taxes. And, in the cracks between, we did the recycling and grocery shopping, volunteered and had occasional nights out with friends. It's a good life, but the kind of life that leaves you gasping at the end of every day, because you've suffocated yourself with obligations.
Now it's spring again, and it's a shock to think that we're going to start turning our dream life into a reality. In two weeks, we will see if our Canadian house is still standing. Meanwhile, I'm arranging meetings with the electrician, the plumber, the roofer, the mower, the heating guy, the painter...and probably more who I haven't thought of yet. If we can get the house liveable, we'll spend as much time as we can there – two months at least – between now and next Christmas. We want to give our future a true test run.
By the time our kids are all launched, with homes and families of their own, we might live in Canada and perhaps become dual citizens – or just travel between the two countries, with an apartment near our children. Who knows where that will be? Our children are all talking about different states – even different coasts – at the moment.
Are we crazy? Will our lives in Canada be saner, more content, more creative? Or will we just transfer the craziness North, and add more stress to our lives?
There's no way to know for sure, of course. But right now Dan and I are looking at each other across the dining table with a fresh glint in our eyes. We're on a new adventure together – with every reason to look forward to the next chapter of our lives.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Grooving with Rihanna, S&M and the Kids in My Car

For the first time in my mothering life, I almost turned the radio off today.
Here's what happened: I was driving my 13 year-old son and his three friends to a skateboard park. The boys were busy doing what most teens do: multitasking with the help of an iPod, two cell phones and a Nintendo DS. As if that weren't enough, they wanted the car radio on, too.
Meanwhile, I was doing what most moms do: multitasking. I had tuned everything out to mentally plan my Saturday circuit: skateboard park, post office, grocery store, hardware store, skateboard park, dinner.
We were stopped at a red light when my son asked me to turn up the car radio. “Hey Mom, here's that song I was telling you about.”
“What song?” I turned up the volume. Frankly, as the mother of five, you could probably let a pair of rhinos loose in my car and I wouldn't even blink. I'd forgotten the radio was even on.
“Rihanna's Spaghetti and Meatballs song. Listen.”
You can see where this is headed, right? I turned up the radio, and there was Rihanna, whose music always has that wonderful danceable beat, but whose lyrics are so repetitive that I usually tune her out with the rest of the noise in the car.
This song, though, was enough to make even four teenaged boys fall silent.
Cause I may be bad, but I'm perfectly good at it
Sex in the air, I don't care, I love the smell of it
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But whips and chains excite me
This is one of those teachable moments that all the experts tell parents about, right? Well, I sure could have used one of those experts in my car right then.
I decided to play the dumb mother card. “I don't get it,” I said. “Why do you call this Rihanna's Spaghetti and Meatballs song?”
“Keep listening, Mom,” my son said.
Lord, did I have to? Well, it couldn't get much worse, I figured. I could survive this teachable moment. After all, just the week before, I'd managed to make it through the entire Greek exhibit in the Museum of Fine Arts with a pair of eighth grade boys, despite the seemingly endless array of ancient vases ornamented with satyrs chasing nymphs, penises thrusting like swords. Not to mention all of those paintings of nude women sprawled on couches, beds, chairs and fields. Sex in the air, indeed.
Alas, Rihanna wasn't through yet. Here came the cheesy spaghetti and meatballs chorus on a platter:
S-S-S & M-M-M
S-S-S & M-M-M
Oh, I love the feeling you bring to me, oh, you turn me on
It's exactly what I've been yearning for, give it to me strong
And meet me in my boudoir, make my body say ah ah ah
I like it – like it
“Huh,” I said. “What do you guys think of this song?”
“It's kind of boring,” one kid piped up.
“Yeah,” my son agreed. “You'd think somebody who writes as many songs as Rihanna would be better at it by now. All her songs are about how turned on she is.”
“What about what the song's saying?” I asked. “Do you think she really likes whips and chains?”
“Well, they probably look good in her music videos,” my son's other friend offered. “But most girls probably wouldn't like that.”
“No,” I agreed. “It's a bad idea to hit girls, right?”
“Duh, Mom,” my son said.
Duh, indeed. The boys went back to their conversation about skate parks and video games. Meanwhile, I put the grocery list out of my mind and concentrated on what Rihanna had to say:
Na na na na
Come on, come on, come on
I like it – like it
Come on, come on, come on
I like it – like it
Come on, come on, come on
I like it – like it
S-S-S & M-M-M
S-S-S & M-M-M
S-S-S & M-M-M
S-S-S & M-M-M
I remembered Chris Brown, suddenly, and his assault against Rihanna a few years ago, and I couldn't help but wonder: Is this the song of a liberated, powerful, sexy woman with a message not just for my 13 year-old boys, but for all of those high school girls getting excited about prom night this spring? Or for all of those middle school girls giggling as they share the ear buds of their iPods and talk about boys? Really, Rihanna? Is this the best you can do for them?
Na na na na. You can do better than this.