We Are As Far Away From Soft Furnishings As We Were Six Years Ago – The Living Room

Ahhhh. The living room. Where it all began. The renovation, I mean.  All journeys start somewhere, right? For us, the entire renovation began with this Italianate kick to the wall in the living room:


This was done before we had even heard back as to whether our offer had been accepted.  Why such zeal, such confidence? Although it was obvious to me that nobody in their right mind would purchase this place, the real story is that laying the boots to the wall wouldn’t be noticed by either the real estate agent or future lookey-loos, because the other side of the wall lookey-loo’ed like this:

Do you remember this? It was called the animal room in the sales pitch. It had everything an animal would need, including coma enhancing knotty-pine wood-paneling for those animals prone to hibernation or forced solitude.  I’ve posted about the animal room elsewhere, so I won’t go into that again. But, for those of you who are often spatially disoriented by my vaguely renovation-tinged postings, know that the animal room actually became a genuine part of the living room with the complete removal of the already kicked at wall.  This wall:

Joining the animal room with the bigger room created this:

While I’d almost be tempted to say “we’re done here” –  we decided to press on. We cleaned up the gunk and then discovered that we now had a great place to store my collection of salvaged doors and sad assed furniture (i.e. better gunk):

Notice that the chair is doing that literary thing where the weather stands in for the prevailing mood being attempted by the author.  It has the word pathetic in it. And also fallacy.

Those doors did not last long in the new storage area because the man had a fit and MADE me get rid of them. So this happened:

A big mistake. Now they are mouldering in someone’s yard down the street. I go by at night and yell up to their flickering blue television light,  “They are solid wood you assholes. Take them inside before I kill you.”  The man has advised me to put an end to that kind of welcome wagon action.  This picture still breaks my heart.

Okay. Back to the living room.

No wait.

Here’s another picture of the doors with slightly different exposure and after I was forced to add in one more door:

It’s the saddest thing. Those three white flowers above the doors are the twisting of the dagger.

So. The living room.  Here is an image taken from the pet room side:

It has promise, yes? Dappled light, lots of space. The ceiling, however, is visually pressing in on all of that potential. Turns out that it was also literally pressing in – for two reasons.

  1. This part of the house was an addition put on some time in the 1950s. There was no foundation put under the addition, so the ceiling and the whole front of the house was attempting to return to ground. Significant was the sag.
  2. Although it is hard to believe, the ceiling was also weighted down by insulation. Not just by any insulation. By wet insulation. Rain wet. Rat urine wet. My bitter tears wet.

So, we ripped down the ceiling, bagged up the rats, the rat fibreglass, the rat urine and the rat faeces. That was my job. That is also detailed elsewhere in a post about me and some Baptists.

At the end of that shitshow this is what we were left with:

Exposed rafters!  Jesus. My dream come true. For those who don’t know me well, exposed rafters are the only things that can pull me back from the despair of watching a neighbour slowly kill six perfectly good solid wood doors. These rafters need to stay. The man says they can’t because of insulation. I say they need to stay because they remind me of churches in The Bahamas. The man says it’s hot in The Bahamas and they don’t need insulation like we do here in Canada. This “The Bahamas vs The Canada” fight goes on for a while because it is always good and right to fight for truth and beauty:

And I won.



Sort of:

This is the current incarnation of our aerie. We had rat-free soy-based foam insulation sprayed in. And as much as that conchy colour is very much The Bahamas, it will one day be covered by old wood.   And even though this blog says that we are doing this renovation with zero dollars, the insulation was closer to $4,000 of those zero dollars and the ceiling fan that is to go into his coral apex, is really close to, if not exactly, 229 and 99/100ths of those same zero dollars:


It is so beautiful that it deserves its own close up:


Thank you designers and builders and globalization.

When the “The Bahamas/The Canada” fight was in full swing, the man took a hammer to the interior walls of the living room for all sorts of reasons – one of which was that there was ample evidence that the rats also loved vertical insulation. So, in the spirit of channeling anger and moving forward on the project we (and by we, I mean he) ripped down all the dry wall and even one of the primary walls dividing the living room from one of the old bedrooms:

Don’t worry. Precautions for removing a structural wall were dealt with. Then, we (meaning, not me) put a hole in the floor for the stairs, as there was no interior connection between the above ground basement and the main floor:

A quasi-wall was built to keep our small child from death by falling:

(You can just make out the pony wall at the bottom right of the image.)  The really sweet, but quite possibly not that safe wood-stove – which is the only heating source in the whole house – was swapped out and this is now where we are at:

A fireplace/wood stove that can heat 1500 square feet. It’s so fancy that it can and will blow warm or skin-burning hot air throughout the house. I have read all of its enclosed literature and it never explicitly states how it turns magma to comfort. MAGIC, I suppose. It cost more than zero dollars. Way more.

One entire wall insulated. (Sixty dollars)

A shabby but commodious chair that wasn’t thrown to the curb by the other person. (Zero dollars)

A thrift store lamp with fluorescent pink price tag still attached. (One dollar)

The omnipotent and omnipresent shop-vac. (Zero dollars. Found in alley.)

And a whole lot of no rats or their urine. (Priceless.)








We Are As Far Away From Soft Furnishings As We Were Six Years Ago

Unlike those horrific home improvement shows that I am forced to watch when I’m on a plane, actual renovations take a shitload of time to carry out. It’s been what – six years since we’ve bought this place – and we are still living in what could best be described as a rat graveyard. Nowhere for me exists those spanking young men who show up with button down collars and say things like “Let’s get all Tuileries on this place through the ancient art of shopping.”   I mean, I know that life is not as good as a shitty home improvement show – but I’ve been somewhat conditioned, by my frequent plane trips, to imagine that it is. So in that vein, I present to you our renovation journey as though it only took 22 minutes of our lives to effect the transformational magnificence that you are about to behold. I will do this as a weekly episode (promise!) that will take you through the entire house from start to wherever it is that we are right now.  As there is no time to waste before the first commercial, let us begin in the crypt.


Episode I: The Basement

A refreshing reminder of the state of the basement when we bought this house:

Apparently, that is what is called heave. But did you notice the circus-like colour of the cupboard door? I’m a sucker for anything that suggests Paris in the 1920s.

We decided that we should probably investigate what caused the heave, so we ripped out the floor of the basement. Lo! There’s a stream running through the house. Gaaaah!  More importantly there isn’t one – but two!! – cupboard doors painted like the awning of a little French cafe. So damn cute.

In this image below the cupboard doors are closed. When you discover that the whole front of the house is falling away from the main body of the house and there is a stream, it is best to stop talking about the cute doors in front of overly sensitive men. They will not only think you ridiculous but, possibly also insane.

How overly sensitive are these folks? You have no idea. One day you return to the horrible basement to discover that, without any regard for the importance of little splashes of colour, they have ripped out the cupboards – nay! – the entire wall, leaving behind only greys and beiges. Who does this, I ask you. Apparently people concerned with something called remediation.

As I frantically scramble through this heap of shit for the sweet doors…

…the crybabies –

  1. replace the front wall on an actual foundation,
  2. pour side wall foundations and replace those walls,
  3. replace eaten beams,
  4. pour a concrete floor,
  5. build a wooden subfloor in the other part of the basement and
  6. put in a plywood floor throughout.

Then, they dry their tears and –

  1. cut a hole in the floor between the upstairs and the basement,
  2. build stairs and,
  3. completely rewire the entire space.

And that is where it now stands. The stream has been diverted and we have a solidly built, dramatically-lit temporary tool room. Frames for future windows and walls have been added. The pink and yellow cupboard doors never showed up again.

And quite frankly, that blows.

Beyond their obvious gorgeousness.

At some point in someone’s life, while the basement heaved and rats infested, someone either took the time to paint these doors the colour of what was clearly the opposite of what was happening in that basement/house/their life. Or, they and the cupboards began thusly and ended in erosion. Essentially, the opposite of a shitty renovation show. In other words, life.


The Bitchen

Let’s just pretend that over three years hasn’t passed in which I didn’t write anything whatsoever about this hell-hole of a house. You on board with that?


The summer of 2014. The man had one of those birthdays that required more than the usual “Hey.” “Cake.”   So we invited family and friends to come to the construction site to work.  And work they did.

As there would be a number of children, I scanned the place for things “moderately to extremely dangerous” and decided that there should be no problems.

Not Moderately Dangerous: holes, wires, power tools, big sticks with nails, tangled messP1390218

Not At All Dangerous AND Not Scary: hole in floor, creepy basement below


Very Extremely Not Dangerous: big hole in floor, precarious ladder, doorway that invites you to plummet into nothingness


Although it was not our primary focus, we held accidental death at bay that day (inquisitive, running children be damned) and did our best to ensure that our old guy felt loved and cherished.

To do so, we set up the erstwhile dining room into an elegant food dispensary with accompanying decorations spelling out the name of the lucky recipient of such splendour:P1390302

We were excited that we managed to create a celebratory place of calm amidst the chaos of the renovation. When I saw the picture later I had to shake my head. Were we on drugs? I clearly was because not only did it look awful, but the picture was completely out of focus.

Which brings me to the bitchen.

The bitchen is what happens when one moves the kitchen into the bathroom because you have totally destroyed the actual kitchen hours before the guests are to arrive. The bitchen is hyper-efficiency because you can pee and wash dishes at the same time. The bitchen is what will ultimately happen everywhere as real-estate developers train consumers to be happy with less while pretending that it’s some sort of triumphal evolution of the species.

This is the bitchen:


The problem with the bitchen is that the squeamish are made uncomfortable by the possibility of poo smell particles floating about and landing on the washed dishes. I did some research into this and discovered that they were indeed correct. So I ameliorated this fear by suggesting that nobody poo that day. I mean, who goes to a birthday party and takes a giant shit? I don’t and neither should you.

The reason that we HAD to destroy the kitchen hours before the festivities was due to the fact that I wanted to have what is called in contemporary real estate parlance “flow through” – you know, here we are back at the friends with nice teeth hanging out while you cook and then the friends can swivel their heads left and right and see everything that there is to see – that flow through.

The old kitchen sink was in a mouldy pantry. That mouldy pantry was right beside a creepy bedroom that was adjacent to another creepy bedroom. All of those things needed to go away and magically turn into one big new kitchen that would run the entire length of the suddenly breezy house; at the end of which would be giant swinging out french doors that would connect the indoor kitchen to the outdoor kitchen. La la.

The person who would make this magic transformation (or at least start on it) was a friend who was there for only a limited amount of time. There would be no partying for him.

This is the old pantry with adorable child pretending to do dishes.


This is the kind friend working, ignoring the good time Charlies, and not feeling at all used or somehow diminished because he wasn’t invited to stop working.


This alway happens when there is a messy noisy thing going on. Others, who typically gender identify as male, join in because they just can’t help themselves.


And minutes later there is a french door where there once was a mouldy pantry.



See how easy renovations are?  And all you have to do is put up with a little bit of gastro-intestinal disorder because there are poo particles on your dinner plate.












Mystery of The Monkees Plastic Ring Iron Cross Solved!!

A savvy friend of mine has solved the mystery of the blue plastic Monkees ring and its proximity to the iron cross in our disgusting basement.  He did so by plugging the words “Monkees” and “Nazi” into the google machine.  Apparently our house was previously owned by Hungarian actor Oscar Beregi Jr. He is seen below on the left, in a scene from either an episode of Hogan’s Heroes or Judgement at Nuremberg, and on the right, in one of The Monkees shows called “The Prince and the Paupers.”

Although I am fascinated to know how he came to be living on the West Coast of Canada in a falling down building with a little old lady who loved books, I feel like we have all the answers we need.

Oscar Collage Real

Mysterious Things Come to Light (With A Shovel)

Because the basement of this place is somewhat akin to unremediated heaps of wet and dry mud, it is ripe for shovel work. So shovel we did.  And let us be frank. There is nothing better than moving wet and dry mud around with a shovel.  The only possible silver lining in this beast of burden activity is to turn up one of the many Rembrandt canvasses rolled up and stashed away to survive the war in Europe, or a rare Dresden figurine, or a blue plastic Monkees ring.

A blue plastic Monkees ring it is.

A quick wash revealed the face of Mickey Something.  I only remember The Monkees from a book my sister had called Button, Button Who’s Got The Button. If I am correct,  and I am certain that I’m not, the book was part of a series in the vein of let’s read about The Monkees being detectives, which itself was a spin-off from a television show, which might have been a spin-off from their music, which was a spin-off/rip-off of The Beatles or even The Partridge Family. Anyways, the book was about The Monkees looking for a button.  Sounds lame. But I digress.  A blue plastic Monkees ring featuring, quite possibly, the lead singer.

This is the kind of thing that gets me all shivery. A buried shitty blue plastic Monkees ring becomes the firmament of any number of narratives (foul or otherwise) starring a teenage girl from the 60s.  Why did she hide it? Were her parents strictly opposed to mop-headed boys?   Perhaps there was no teenaged girl. Perhaps the old lady whose books were left behind loved The Monkees. Perhaps one of them was a piano student of her Aunt in Delaware.  I mean, seriously, how are we to know anything? Perhaps, I said to the man, if we dug over there we’d find something else.

Which we did.

This time it was an Iron Cross. A Real Iron Cross. Not one of those fakey ones you can buy in cheesy headships in towns where there are people who love Nazis and/or war memorabilia and/or Nazi war memorabilia.  I was creeped out for all the regular reasons and thought how much better it would have been if we had found a Victoria Cross – then it would have been a memento of a heroic moment instead of a scary Nazi version of a heroic moment. And then I gave my head a shake.


Medals for valour in any field of battle are innately scary to me because it most likely means that somebody died before their time.  Clearly, I’m not loving war or war medals and I now worry about the juju in this crumbling wreck of a house – i.e… in the end you will be jealous of our highly polished sanded fir floors, but how do we grind out the years of post traumatic stress that might have manifested as a result of whatever events were attached to this Iron Cross.  What grit do you use for that?

Clearly it is time we did a bit of research on this house.  The next time we are here working on it, a visit to the local archives is in order. Perhaps we have inadvertently purchased the lair of a Nazi War Criminal. That, along with the crumbling foundation, would explain the under-market price for the place.

And the big question remains – what exactly is the link between the blue plastic Monkees ring and the real Iron Cross? Beyond the fact that they lay entombed in mud not ten feet from each other for at least forty years I am certain that we can dig up more meaning.  Stay tuned for the solving of The Mystery of the Monkees Ring Iron Cross.

Love Thy Neighbour


My five-year-old daughter has become very good friends with the neighbour’s daughter. They live right by our crumbling wreck. These neighbours are lovely, lovely, lovely.They are also, seemingly, heavily involved with their church and with Jesus and with Jesus’s Dad. Words like “ministry” and “mission” and “pastor” pepper their vocabulary. I don’t normally hang with people who use these kinds of words. I am more comfortable with words like “secular” and words like “there is no God.”  However, my daughter’s clear and blatant love for the daughter of the neighbours has left me little in the way of wiggle room in terms of employing avoidance as a strategy – she has dragged me into the thick of the religiouso crowd here in the coastal town.  While the man spent the week of March Break mucking out the fetid basement, I hung with Christian home-schoolers.

The man took the child out on an excursion on one of the days – which of course meant time for me to continue on the removal of the gross insulation. While acres of pink fiberglass crashed (in a feathery way) on my head, I found myself muttering about evolution, the separation of the church and state, same-sex marriage, having a child out of wedlock, rustling up gay friends to come pee on my property line, bloobitty blah, because of course I am assuming that they are Baptists and I am further assuming that the Baptist faith is not open to evolution, and gay friends urinating on my grass.  And I was getting all het up. “How dare they be all Baptisty!!”  I cried out to the weird thing that fell from the ceiling.

Near the end of the distasteful task of shoving insulation into forty-five jumbo sized garbage bags (contractor grade) – a vague realization coalesced into one of those moments of insight that I so often choose to run from. Peeling away my anger at the neighbours revealed a vexing personal trait (designed to protect my fragile self, yes?  In situations that are bound to become controversial (i.e you are Baptist and I am not), I am polite to the point of self-negation. The middle-child syndrome, they say. The child of the “prone to anger” parent, they say. I say yup to those things, but also that it has a lot to do with my sick desire to be loved.  How much easier to – “Hmmmm, yes… uh-huh…”;  to appear agreeable in the moment and then shit talk it later. Also, I can’t argue my way out of a paper bag. The extent of my belief that there is no God is simply that there is no God. If I had to debate about it I would cut to the chase and immediately employ the weeping technique as the ne plus ultra slam dunk – “There! I’m crying and mumbling unintelligible words with some swear words thrown in for effectiveness. That showed you.”  Did I win?

And as if she were reading my mind, the next day the lovely, possibly Baptist neighbouress, in response to some sort of over-the-top agreeable comment I made, slapped my ass and called me a turd.

She knows me and she still loves me.

“What Cost,This Renovation?”

At the beginning of all of this, when we first bought the house in the unnamed coastal B.C. town, I proposed to the man that we renovate and furnish the place completely via the Craigslist for free section.  He looked at me all askance-like and told me to blow it out my cake-hole. I murmured something about it hasn’t been done yet… meaning, of course, that nobody had a blog called We Fixed This Baby Up By Getting Things For Free On Craigslist. He murmured back a simulacrum of blow it out my cake-hole.  I humphed my way into a simulacrum of acceptance.

Fast forward ten months.  While busy ripping out rat soaked insulation from the ceiling of our soon to be library, I squinted through the cascading pink fluff and in my direct field of vision saw large wooden shelving units, two really sweet chintzy chairs, a washer, a dryer, fridge, electric stove and a wood stove – almost all of which the scoffing man had acquired for free from Craigslist.  (Ed. Note: The wood stove cost $20 and came from a neighbour, but is still included here because it feels like it came from the Craigslist free section).  I got all smug and happy and almost forgot about what was tumbling down upon my tyveked head and hepa filtered nose/mouth holes.  Not just old rat pee and possibly old rat bones, but the fibreglass itself. Is this mask really working?

Breath in, breath out. Focus on the task. jar of brains

The fibreglass plays off the sun’s rays and dances all fairy-like before my stinging eyes.

Breath in, breath out.

Oh my god, it’s a real fairy.

Pink and glinty.

No. That’s just the fiberglass.

Breath in, breath out.

What is that?

It looks like a jar of brains.

It is! It is a jar of brains.

Future shiny wood floors vs. jar of brains.

Open concept kitchen vs. Hantivirus.

Vaulted ceiling vs. asbestos in its many guises.

Breath in (all panicky-like). Pass out (all pass-out-like.)

When the man shovelled my body out from under the fiberglass avalanche and cleared the shards of blown glass from my dewy eyes we looked at each other for one moment of deep regard.  The unflinching stare we shared spoke volumes about our inability to rise above my real and imagined fears of the contamination of our bodies in the do-over of this house.  The look was cut short by his command to pick myself up and finish off the job of bagging up the mountain of fiberglass.  I asked for a glass of water, received it and turned to my task.  I could have crumbled weeping when I realized that the pink shit I saw in front of me was less than 5% of the pink shit that I would eventually have to deal with, if indeed, I was not able to let go of the idea that the insulation in the rest of the house was acceptable as is where is.  Rat-jostled insulation gently blanketing my house, my family, protecting and comforting, all Currier and Ives.

Shiver. Shiver. Shiver.


P.S. The “clearing my dewy eye” bit is what is called “made up.” He doesn’t look at me like that anymore.