Our house is quite tiny by North American standards, I think. At about 1000 square feet, it can sometimes feel cozy, especially as its layout is very unmodern: little rooms for specific purposes, three tiny bedrooms upstairs. Our 8 x 8 foot kitchen doesn’t really accomodate too many helpers, and having guests over to eat supper in our 8 x 8 foot dining room is equally…cozy. And yet this house manages to meander, and somehow, inspire. As Lee’s dad pointed out during his first visit out here, our house was built with quality in mind. It was a proper house (at one time, ha). The floor of the entryway is maple, as is the beautifully turned bannister pole. In fact, one of the things that I loved at first about this house (and which I think is one of the reasons why no one else loved it first, during the several years that it was on the market) is the fact that it has not been significantly upgraded since…ever. It was built around 1883. We have one very small bathroom upstairs, and all the original solid wood doors, and single-pane windows. The basement is a just-fine-thank-you wet basement, with little rivulets streaming through, and cold. (In fact, I would like to build a proper cold room down there–on the list!).
Considering the diminutive size of our house, my decision to essentially close down the front half of it (the entryway and living room) might seem a little strange. But a couple of days ago, as I was trying to start a fire in our dining room, and the kids and dogs were literally chasing each other around the house (there is a central wall in the middle, and one can enter through the front door, walk into the kitchen, turn right to go through the dining room and end up in the living room again: a loop), and my feet were freezing on the tile floor of the kitchen, it struck me that not only was I constantly cold, (as the heat would travel into the living room, and then just dissipate immediately through the gaping holes between door and jamb, and the diaphanous ancient windows) but that I actually couldn’t really keep track of everyone. Enough.
So I hollered at the kids and hauled them into the dining room, sat them down in front of the fire with a pile of books, and closed the door. I announced that no one was to use this door again, it was closed, done, and that I was going to bring in one of the huge chairs I rescued from the barn when we first moved in (I vacuumed most of the mouse faeces out of them, and I will be patching them up with fabric–they are also ancient and stuffed with kapok and straw…I won’t be putting our lives in danger on account of the mouse poop, will I? oh dear. I’m sure we’ll be fine) and that there was to be no running or chasing in the house anymore, and that if running and chasing was in order they could all put on their coats and snow pants and bally-well get outside. So there.
Therefore, now, apart from the bedrooms upstairs which are truly uninhabitable during the day because they’re so cold, we live in 160 square feet (180 if we count the pantry which we probably should…) of warm and toasty house. When the doors are closed, the woodstove heats that space quite nicely, and even the kitchen floor isn’t too bad.
Of course, I realized once I had implemented this change, that this was probably the way all the other families before us had survived the New Brunswick winter. When the temperature drops, we have to stick together. I love hearing stories about our old house from the neighbours in Queenstown and Hampstead. The Webbs told us that one of the original families had raised 4 kids in our house. I think it was Doug from across the street who said that the man who built the forge and our huge barn had built it for his son, expecting that he would take up blacksmithing after the first world war. But he never came back, and so the father continued on without him.
We live through our houses and our houses live through us. So strange to think that this house has out-lived so many, and may well out-live us. I hope so, actually. So many beautiful old buildings disappear every year from the New Brunswick landscape.
But to get on with my rant about housekeeping: to be honest, I have been sick and tired of going into the kitchen to make a meal, only to find that the kids have, in the space of minutes, destroyed the living room. It is invariably then, that someone comes over, immediately witness to me at my most pathetic and bedraggled (I always feel).
No no, I am not unduly concerned with the opinions of others, I assure you all. But, I am becoming more interested in how to keep a clean house for many reasons. I just find that lately, I actually *want* my house to be clean. And, sadly, I realize increasingly how slovenly I have been as a grown adult. I’m tightening up this ship. So there. (Lee is uncomfortable with all of this. He’ll be ok). I think I mentioned a little while ago that I was experimenting with *some* of the ideas from a program called “Managers of Their Homes” and “Managers of their Chores”. It’s a Christian-based curriculum for wives and mothers. (Yes. I have many many thoughts on this, good and bad, but I am also able to appreciate the vibe, and the philosophy–in bits and pieces, on some level.) But don’t worry. I could never get on board with all that silliness about sterilization and anti-bacteria. I am fully of the opinion that everyone benefits when things are a little bit dirty and grubby. As the mother of 3 kids four and under, I am functioning in the realm of the possible, please understand.
And in just a few days, I have noticed how much easier it is to keep an even tinier space in order.
Of course, all of a sudden, it is winter. We live next to the wood stove. We’re closer to the floor, closer to the ground. We did rather well over the summer and early fall with our homeschool room upstairs. And I am keeping that situation mostly the way it is, but moving our actual experience downstairs next to the fire. I have been enjoying using our “homeschool room” as a curriculum & resource library (lots of bookshelves) and a place for me to work after the kids are asleep. I think that through the winter we will stick to doing almost everything next to the woodstove in the dining room.
I don’t mind winter at all, as long as there is a hearth, and it’s all lit up. Our woodstove is a Jotul. We are lucky.
Did you notice? It’s clementine season already: a big, juicy, delicious exception to our local food rule.
I can’t wait to show you that chair. Huge, with wings, able to accommodate kids and babies, and lots of reading. And it’s red velvet. I know.