Tales of an Innkeeper

Last year, whilst floundering in the wake of a giant home-reno project that had gone completely off the rails – if you’ll excuse my mixed metaphors – I made the decision to Airbnb the new guest space in our basement.

Like so many home-owners world-wide, I wanted to tap into the lucrative short-term rental market and try to recoup some of the mountains of money that had disappeared into thin air, along with our contractor and his promises.

Overall, the Airbnb thing has been a success. I put up my listing one evening last July, and woke, with glee, to see three new bookings pop up in the morning.

It’s easy to manage the bookings and communication with guests, which only totals about 10 or 20 minutes of my time a day. I also do the cleaning and turnover myself, although, six months in, I’m already tiring of the endless changing of linens.

Early on, though, I learned that you can’t be squeamish if you want to be an innkeeper. You have to steel yourself for what you might find when you open the door to your space after a guest has stayed.

The absolute majority of my guests have left the place tidy and undamaged. The exception was one couple who ripped a folding table from where it was mounted on the wall, and another guest, I’m not sure who, who managed to pull all the towel rails and hooks loose, almost as though he was using them to rappel across the bathroom floor.

It is disheartening to discover things that are gross, like nail-clippings in the sink and excessive amounts of hair, of both the head and body variety, but those things I can mostly handle, even if I feel rather like a forensic scientist trying to piece together what happened at the scene of the crime. That is, if a forensic detective quickly vacuumed up all the DNA samples, saying Ew, ew, ew, to herself, rather than collecting them for further study.

A neighbourhood friend, who has also entered the Airbnb biz, shared with me recently that she opened the door of her rented apartment to discover empty booze bottles, strewn condom wrappers, and one sordid black stocking draped across the bed. It doesn’t take a forensic scientist to figure out what happened there.

It’s one thing to suspect that guests are having a raunchy weekend in your house, it’s another thing to know it with absolute certainty. I refer you to my above comment about squeamishness. You have to be okay with the fact that guests may be doing that in your house, and yeah, potentially that as well.

I’ve yet to find sexy stockings lurking about the place, but here are some of the items that guests have left behind: 1 pair of men’s pants, 1 set of daggy women’s PJs, 1 pair of men’s undies, 5 lemons, 1 anti-depressant pill, a packet of cookies and several cans of beer. I kept the cookies. Okay, and the beer, too.

At this point, I’ve accepted, with equanimity I hope, that there are certain mysteries that will never be solved to my satisfaction. My secret emergency stash of Chicago Mix vanished, never to be seen – or heard from, obviously – again. Who was responsible for that?? I have my suspicions, but without hard evidence, I can’t point the finger in the form of a negative review. I can give them only four stars instead of a glowing five.

This is not an admission of guilt, though.

The Halfway Mark

In November, we lost my grandmother.

I say lost as though she were an umbrella, temporarily misplaced, when we know that I employ this euphemism to avoid saying that she died. It’s an inescapable fact: she is now dead.

For all the members of my family, this seemed – and still seems – a most impossible thing. She was woven into the fabric of my existence and into the very concept of who I consider myself to be. We thought she would endure forever, being at the time of her death, a venerable 103 years of age.

More than a century ago, when the 1900’s were still young, she was born into a world without televisions or computers or space travel.

In my mind, she was an English woman of a certain age. That is to say, cheerful, brave, and eminently no-nonsense. Those who have had a beloved British granny know, after those ladies survived the war, nothing could faze them.

Even before my birth, she was already a widow. Whatever sadness she felt at my grandfather’s death, I never knew, because her mantra was Keep Calm and Carry On, far before that was the irritating meme it is today.

She took up art in her retirement, and created, knowing that her works would never be masterpieces or bring fame, but painting for the love of it. She lived alone for many decades, in her house of watercolours and comfy chairs and tea and toast.

She took pleasure in her quiet routines: morning stretches, gardening and a cryptic crossword. She was deeply connected to her children and grand-children and would always ring us up to come help with some task or another.

A few days before this lovely lady died, I turned 43. I am now, obviously and impossibly, a grown-up. I am middle-aged. Which I guess means, that I’m in the middle. My life is, most likely, at the halfway mark, although likelihoods and I don’t always see eye-to-eye.

What if I should live to be 103? That means I have SIXTY more years of living to do.

Aging isn’t easy, that I know. I look in the mirror and spot yet another crease in my face or grey hair sprouting. I look tired, mostly, even when I’m not. There are times that I feel that I have yet to do or accomplish anything of any great merit. Oh, especially when social media shows me how fucking awesome everyone else’s existence is. #soblessed !

Although not likely, I’ve got a possible six whole decades to live. Decades to see my children grow, and not just survive, but thrive. Decades to see unlikely-but-not-impossible grand-children to arrive. Again, to likelihoods I thumb my nose with a hearty, “Screw you!”

I’m taking my next page from my grandmother’s book. I’ll create for the sake of the act, love my family members well, and take solace in the quiet daily routines that bring me the most happiness.

There is still time yet for all of my lofty goals and grand ambitions. My glass is half full, full of myriad, swirling possibilities.

As to my grandmother, I know her spirit roams a sunny meadow, an easel at her side, in the bright company of all those she loved who passed before her. Be at rest, sweet lady.

This is not a portrait. She didn’t like this painting much. In fact, it hung on the landing of her basement stairs. I have always loved it.

In memory of: Clarice Elizabeth Dalzell Spencer née Kenworthy. 1915-2018

KonMari Your Life

Just when we all thought that our cultural obsession with Marie Kondo had finally tapered off, she’s suddenly all over my newsfeed again, thanks in large part to her new Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

Yes. I’ve been watching it too. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I’ve spent the last month cleansing and yoga-ing – why not throw decluttering into the mix too?

Of course, I approached the show with a wee bit of skepticism. I, like over 7 million other people, read her book a couple of years back. At that time, I found her process way too prescriptive. I remember thinking, “There’s no way I’m spending hours folding shirts into little standing bundles.”

But I love a make-over as much as the next person, so decided to have a look. Firstly, the show could be carried by Marie herself just speaking in Japanese. There’s something incredibly gentle and soothing in listening to her talk. I’m thinking of developing an app that features recordings of people quietly speaking Japanese. It could be used to soothe nervous fliers or cranky babies or insomniacs.

Otherwise, the series is pretty formulaic. Each episode features a different family. We viewers get to be properly horrified by the amount of stuff other people have. (You know you’ve got a problem when you’ve can’t find the pool table.) Then Marie walks them through her steps and categories. There is a lot of talk about sparking joy. Then lots of tidying is done. There are tears. Everyone is happy.

Last week, as I waded through yet another mountain of laundry at home, I decided to try her folding method with just Lark’s little shirts. As an experiment. My daughter’s room is tiny, with no space for a dresser, so anything I can do to maximize storage is key.

I’m terrible at origami but this I can do.

Well, well, well. Once I put everything away, I was so pleased with how easy it is to see her things, that I immediately did my son’s drawers too. He loves it. It actually increased the available space in their drawer and we no longer have that unworn T-shirt that is forever neglected at the bottom of the stack.

Now let’s wait about 6 months and see if this sticks.

(Hear Marie Kondo being interviewed on CBC Radio)

5 Bits and Pieces for Parents

The Internet is full of parenting hacks, some of which are amazing. Many others wander off into completely ridiculous territory. For example, “vacuum ponytail.”

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Memories of Flowbee, anyone?

By no means do I consider myself to be an expert in the arena of parenting. I’m just muddling through and trying to figure everything out like the rest of us, but here are some useful bits I’ve put together along the way.

Keep Band-Aids in your wallet. So. Necessary. And then you look like a rockstar when you pull them out over a scraped knee.

Repurpose a small bottle for juice or yoghurt in lunches = no juice box/container headed to landfill AND less sugar for the kids.

Photo credit: Kat Kuruc of Boakview Photography
Tape a large piece of paper to the floor, and leave out a box of crayons for your kids to colour or draw whenever they like.

You probably keep a basket by the door to store mitts, hats, sunscreen, etc., BUT also keep extra pairs of socks in there. My kids are always taking off their socks, which I always seem to notice just as we are rushing to go out.

Keep cups in a low cupboard or drawer so that your children can help themselves to a drink from a young age.

I’d love to hear some of your best parenting hacks and life solutions too – post in the comments!

Movie Kids

I am stuck in that parenting doldrum where I spend way too much of my time negotiating. And coaxing. And convincing. And bribing. The four year old, obviously. The 10 year old is currently in the golden tween age of parental cooperation.

This, to my mind, is one of the biggest drawbacks of parenting, trying to “make” a kid do something that they don’t want to do. And in the process, realizing, with that sinking sense of futility, that it’s f*****g impossible to force a small human to do things that they don’t want to do. You can’t “make” them eat healthy food. Nor can you “make” them go to bed, or get in their car seat, or keep walking, or put on their socks, or stop talking when you require quiet right now.

In the halcyon days, pre-kid, you might imagine your future life as a parent, with well-behaved little people scampering off to bed, eating everything on their plates at dinner, and not relentlessly demanding one more episode of Paw Patrol. You would never have been able to imagine the constant arguing, manoeuvering and strategizing that goes on to make the train stay on the tracks every single day.

Famously, when Craig and I had no offspring, we spent a day hanging with some friends and their kids. The kiddos were acting up, total shenanigans, not listening. The usual stuff. After they left, during the debrief, I remember Craig saying something like, “No kid of mine will ever blah blah and nor will I tolerate that kind of blah blah.” And I was like, “Agreed!” Fast forward a few years and zero in on us quietly eating our words.

Neither of us had ever spent a lot of real time with real children since we were children. Maybe both of us had been unduly influenced by…. movie kids. What are movie kids, you ask? Just that. Kids that appear in movies, and on television shows. Kids that are docile and totally, totally compliant. Kids that don’t write their own dialogue. Kids that run off and play so that the main characters can talk quietly.

Appearances of movie kids go something like this:

Mom and Dad need to have an important conversation. Two kids enter the room, perfectly groomed, and sit at the table for a minute or two. They only say things in response to what their parents have said. Then one parent says, “Sweetheart, Mommy and Daddy need to have an important conversation, can you guys go do your homework?”

“Sure, Mom,” says the older kid. “C’mon!” And taking l’il sis by the hand, they quietly leave the room. Never to be seen or heard from again.

In the movies, when adults need quiet or alone time, kids are quiet and leave them alone. For obvious reasons. We wouldn’t want to watch a movie where the witty dialogue was interrupted several hundred times by requests for juice boxes or complaints that a sibling has “stolen my spot” on the couch. We don’t want art to imitate life that much.

One of the (many) things that my daughter doesn’t want to do is be quiet. Lark is a super-expressive, but very noisy child.

Last Sunday, Craig and I needed to have a conversation. Not an important one. We were talking about groceries. I was sitting at the kitchen counter, pen in hand and trying to make a list, while he went through fridge and cupboards, checking our supplies. Lark was also in the room. Unfortunately, she didn’t want us to be doing what we were doing. She decided to call upon all of her powers of annoyance to stop us from having this conversation.

Mummy I just need someone to do something with me. Mum, don’t do this now. Don’t talk to Daddy. I need you. I need Mum. Loona. Loona. Loona-do. This is boring. I just want to watch something on Netflix. I want to watch just one episode. Can you turn on the TV for me? Muuuuum. Muuuuum. Stop talking to Daddy. Please. I need you.

Over the top of this continuous loop, our conversation went like this.

C: We need more cashews.
E: What did you say? (Trying to unwrap Lark from my leg.)
C: I said, cashews.
E: Lark, please be quiet, I can't hear what Daddy is saying.
L: (Kicking the bottom of my stool with her feet) Muuuum. I don't want you to do this. I'm so so so bored. I want to do something with yooooooouuuu.

Unfortunately, I can’t make her be quiet. I can ask her to be quiet. I can plead with her. I can coax, threaten and bribe. I can do many things, but I can’t make.

That’s only in the movies.