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.  The answer is that our house was obviously previously owned by Hungarian actor Oscar Beregi Jr. 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.”  Now that is what I call cutting-edge results-based research!! No need have we any longer of a visit to a small-town archives. The google machine knows all and provides all. Thank you google machine and thank you Alex.

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 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 have to avert your eyes from 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 belt sander 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, 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? And as I write that, I realize that probably all vexing personal traits point in that general direction). 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 into the process.  While busy ripping out rat soaked blown-in fibreglass 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 a large wooden shelving configuration, 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.  (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 brainsThe 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 – breath in, breath out – now I see a large brass scale acquired for free from Craigslist in the glimmery landscape… on one side some precariously balanced rat fiberglass, asbestos enhanced vinyl flooring, hantavirus mouse droppings, and a jar of brains (see inset image) teetering against my desire for a future with shiny wood floors, some free stuff strewn about and a picturesque open concept kitchen…..

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.

The Leavings

We are here for the Thanksgiving weekend. Renovating. The weather is beautiful.  The apple trees on our neighbour’s derelict property have released their bounty onto the ground and one or more bears have scent tracked our yard.  There are two distinctly different scats on our property.

The first is the blackberry scat – seedy, with the colour running from a deep purple to black.  Non-offensive.  The second, and one I’ve never seen before, is the apple scat.  We are hard-pressed to actually determine if it is scat or vomit.  It’s piled up in a scat way, but it’s so pure, so apple, that the scat/vomit vector swings to the right. In this age of gluten intolerance and primal diets, I’m sensitive to the idea that bears perhaps should not be eating a product of the agricultural revolution.  The state of the uneaten apple mash that is all over the ground is such that I am also suspicious of the bears’ ability to operate heavy equipment.  Our place smells like an apple jack hootch shack.  Throw in some smokes and some dancing girls and we’d be in business for the basest of alcoholics. What this has to do with renovations seems tenuous, I know.  But animal leavings is a through-line this weekend, with the biggest sacrifice being the leaving of their actual bodies in our creepy basement. Rats. Ratty rat rat rats. Let me write that word again to numb the tingling in my reluctant fingers. Rats.

Well, that didn’t work.

I hate rats. I honest to god fucking hate rats. I have a friend who, in an attempt to change me up,  gave me a study that proves rats have feelings and that rat mothers bond with their rat babies (i.e.they are just like me).  This only tinges my abhorrence of rats with some tepid slurry of dirty guilt.

They need to go far away from me.


Turns out our basement was (note the hopeful use of past tense here) some sort of Riker’s for rats and their entire warmly loved families. The man suggested the acquiring of a rake to – and I quote him here –  rake up their desiccated bodies and skulls.

I swoon.

So there is good news and bad news.  Rats return to the same warm, dry, cozy place year after year.  That’s the bad news.  The other bad news is that if there are holes in your house, and we’ve got those in spades,  they will come in.  The other bad news is that this is a coastal city and as such, there are lots of rats. City rats, country rats. Who cares.

I was joking. There is no good news.