A place to call home

Reporter describes latest do-it-yourself project

The latest home renovations began with me wondering if my living room ceiling would look more interesting with beams, like the English cottages I covet.

Surely it wouldn’t hurt to just poke a tiny hole in the ceiling to see what was up there and if the floor joists could be exposed, as was done in the kitchen. The hole accidentally got a little bigger than planned and there was a big surprise for me. The insulation consisted of the original two-inch layer and a sprinkling of fluffy paper stuff, the blown-in insulation, which was supposed to be a foot thick and had cost what was a fortune years ago. I had been the victim of a home-improvement scam and lost uncountable dollars in heating costs in the years since.

I set to work taking down the ceiling and old insulation, listening to Jimmy Buffet to cheer me on. I’m with you all the way on that “over-forty victim of fate” train of thought, Jim. I didn’t find any treasures in the space which had been undisturbed, except for the wisps of insulation, since the house was built, I did find a blue marble, a metal toy soldier, some pieces of boards and part a handwritten receipt dated 1948.

I got the new ceiling insulation in place and meant to do the painting last winter. Spring came and the garden beckoned and I am only just now starting the painting.

As I worked, I thought about other home improvement projects in my life. The first was building a house from the ground. My father built the family home on the farm on the shores of Goose Lake in Northern Alberta. He, like all pioneer farmers, could do everything. It was not amazing to me as a child to see a house take shape, that was just what fathers did. I was more excited by the playhouse he built for my sister and me. My father always took care of everything and even after I had my own house, he helped me with things like a playhouse for my daughter, bookshelves and repairs. My mother taught me, too, the value of a home and how to take care of it.

My improvement projects now consist mostly of paint and fabric, things I can do myself. My neighbour with perfect taste has more than once talked me down from wanting bright, bohemian colours and looking back, I see that was a good thing. But I still like bright colours and although I admire the stylish all white look, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it. The people in the all-white world must not have pets or maybe only all-white pets who take their shoes off when they come inside.

I’m painting the ceiling now, and the walls. Yes, colours. If our homes mirror ourselves, I am just an unredeemable old hippie.

There hasn’t been any hand writing on the wall for many years now but I can read the walls like a palimpsest. There’s the repaired dent where my niece slammed a tricycle into the wall, the faint shadow of the hole where I hung the first piece of real art I bought, another hole where there used to be an extra security-anchor wire for the Christmas tree, the faint outline of a former window, traces of old paint at the top of the wall, the colour of the curtains I bought before I took the trim down and found it. Maybe the house wants some of that colour in it.

The walls whisper to me, too, the sounds of children playing, the laughter of friends, the last time my parents were there, although we didn’t know it at the time.

The painting looks good and I’m eager to get things back in place. Then I can paint the pantry. I always have a project. And Jimmy, thanks for the encouragement. If you ever make it to Canada, call me and we could have a margarita together.

– Cara Brady is a reporter at The Morning Star. She writes an occasional column for the newspaper.