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. I mean rats.

Ratty rat rat rats.

Let me write that word again to numb the tingling in my reluctant fingers.


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.

Visceral. Disgusting.

Rats have skulls.

Who knew?

Who even thinks to study rats close enough to notice that they have skulls.

I shudder.

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.



Every year I go on vacation with a dear friend.  I take the small willful child along for the ride.  We always have fun.  The dear friend and I thought about extending the annual vacation invite to our partners, but I quickly squashed that idea.  When either myself or the man has even a whiff of a chance to spend time away from the small willful child, there is a palpable excitement that need quickly be extinguished with the reality that the unencumbered one should probably do something to either increase the family fortunes or chip away at the renovation of the house-ish house. So, daughter and I went to a lake and the man went to Work Camp Prison.  He took a prison buddy with him and they spent five days working from dawn til dusk in 30 degree hot weather.

While I kept the daughter from drowning, sunburning and running off into streets willy-nilly, the man and his prison pal saw to the problem of the front part of the house and its slow creep towards the earth from whence it came. This basically entailed digging out the ground beneath the front of the house, ripping out the entire mouldy crumbling wall of the first floor, forming up a concrete half-wall, mixing cement and adding various Dad-prescribed solvents to the home-made concrete, pouring the concrete, rebuilding the entire front wall, adding in our new old door, framing in a future window and replacing the house numbers back onto the plywood facade.  Neither of the prisoners had any prior experience with concrete or concrete forms. When I phoned one night to check in, Prisoner Number One said, “Well,  you know, I’ve never done this before so we’ll see if it goes okay.”  Not words to exactly inspire confidence in the outlay of cash for materials and incarceration-grade steaks.


Love is like that.  I never doubted his ability for one second. Coupled with the fact that Prisoner Number Two was serving time for things related to cabinetry and fine finishing – how could it go wrong.

It didn’t.

They are singularly and collectively amazing.

The evidence:

I love how fortressy and Spanishy it is. Solid. Sturdy. Not sinking. I’m even secretly thrilled with the utilitarian plywood feel.  It’s nothing that I want to hide quite yet.  And that’s a good thing.

Because, on the road trip to the cold lake I saw this:

Clearly, it’s for sale.

Sweet Equity

This is our four-year-old daughter hauling heavy bags of detritus out of the house and into a trailer.  As I’ve explained to her time and time again, everything we do is for her, so if she wants to be guilt-free in her twenties it’s probably time to step up to the plate. She heartily agreed when a cookie or two was thrown into the mix.  

We had to resort to child labour when the great bank commercial/cottage magazine ad of the sky failed to open up and rain down on us six to eight strong backed, nice teethed young friends who love pizza and beer and laughter, laughter, laughter.  Instead it was the three of us – the man, me and the four-year-old.  I had hauled bags for hours, the man was remediating and the child was bored. So naturally, I put her to work.  This lasted for about five minutes before she whipped off the gloves and engaged in a sit-down.  What followed was a very productive hour of the man remediating and me trying to coax her into working some more while I continued to move garbage bags o’ crap from house to trailer: 

As you can see in the above image, my persuasive tactics are being stonewalled by a lazy little thing. Her very spine speaks of a lounging future.

Stripping a dusty old house down to its joists, coupled with the fact that one of us needs to actually look after our fairly useless four-year-old, means that we are in for a long haul.

We are lining up some friends with nice teeth as I write this.

Green Bathrooms

I can’t seem to get these images to line up so that you will look at them and say, she really is clever – here she is making this all green and everything is lined up.  As in most things in life – it’s half-assed. The green beside green thing seems to be working, but the alignment is beyond the reach of my WordPress mind. So you’ll just have to drag your eyes back and forth between the two. If you do it fast enough it makes the images seem to be the same size.  A drink helps, too.  Go get a drink.

Welcome back.

When you place the words green and bathroom together you might conjure up composting toilets or recycled toilet paper or grey water or simply a sustainable bathroom in some purportedly sustainable house.  Here the green bathrooms are from the Coastal town – one is in the campground near our place and the other is our place. One is rough and naturey and the other is rough and naturey.  One smells like pooh and mould. The other smells like pooh and mould. When you are sitting in one you might be a little frightened by the idea that small furry things might scurry beneath your feet. Likewise with the other.  There are, however, two major differences. Everyone using our bathroom is known to us and we don’t feel the need to renovate the one on the left because it’s already perfect.

I love the campground bathroom aesthetic. The excitement of knowing that there is a lake swim in your day elevates the pedestrian and echoey concrete floors, the wood (often painted Ranger Brown) the coin showers, the humusy smell.  If the campground bathroom is of the “roughing it” variety there is the quietly unremarked heroism of negotiating the void. Always black, always lined with matter alive and dead and always with depths impenetrable.  Which brings us to the image on the right.

The man and I, with the enchantment typically felt by people embarking on a renovation (or so I am led to believe by any of a number of crappy reality shows that I like to watch), were chatting about the orientation of the transformed house and I mentioned the two windows in the old bathroom.  He insisted that there was only one and I found myself in the position of knowing more about the house than him.  For once.  There are two windows on the outside of the house that correspond the the bathroom bit, I told him, with a respectfully muted glee.  He, as he is wont to do, came back from the recon, not sheepishly, but full of the new fact that there were two windows, and immediately began to rip at the bathroom wall to reveal “The Hidden Window”.  Crikey. I love this part of changing up stuff.  A bit of effort and a huge transformation.

The tearing away of things in an old house either reveals the treasures of Sinbad or a serious structural problem. Always. In this case I am choosing the fact that a small tree was growing up between the outer and inner bathroom walls (aided by the greenhouse effect of the window) as a treasure beyond compare. Who, when revealing “The Hidden Window” discovers a rich ecosystem of growth and decay, bugs and big bugs, years and years of wild, trammelled untrammeldness?  We do. That’s who. I sort of like the dried leaves and tangled vines of this unknown plant in the newly revealed bathroom window. I might like to keep it, if only for that cabinets of curiosity feeling it musters.

My Once and Future Life

The trip to the house on the coast, to rebuild it into something glorious? Well, it was a bit depressing to me.  Not only the rockers and the happy face meth sign at the pulp mill hotel/bar/liquor store down the way, and the somewhat gloomy May weather, but also because of this: This is the wall of books that was left behind. The old woman who lived alone in this house until she died a few years ago was an avid reader.  When her family cleared out her belongings, for some reason, they chose to leave her library behind.  The problem is that I am also an avid reader.  The other problem is that since we are/were both avid readers it becomes fairly easy for my brain to fold my life into the remains of her life and quickly imagine that I too will die alone, surrounded by books.  Likewise, I hasten to imagine some future woman will one day come to pack up my mouldy offerings and herself create some cockamamie narrative about my vulnerability and loneliness.  My books would be on a nicer shelf, and would not tend towards epic love sagas from the early 1980s, but as evidence of a life lived, those things are of almost no consequence. The old lady was showing me that things outlast their persons, that life passes and if you leave behind a passel of books, some romantically inclined person is going to go all sad, imagining you sitting there with your dusty candies, throwing your beleaguered mind into bawdy literature whose purpose is either to keep company with your fading memories or enable you to ignore the day’s passing .


Imagining someone else’s sad life is not for the weak.

May Day

The Pet Room is no more. We made it go away with a simple flick of the wrist and a nod to the gods who look down gloomily on people who create this much trash just because they don’t like someone else’s idea of what makes a home cozy. Rip down one wall and part of a ceiling and you too will find yourself with 200 lbs of rubble.The constituent bits of said rubble were hunks of broken drywall, office ceiling tiles x 500, sundry bric-a-brac,  jim-crackery and pillbug shrouds. One day this area will become the requisite office/sometimes guest room that all contemporary homes have, because:

#1. Why work only 8 hours a day?

#2. If you don’t have a guest room, who is going to stand around drinking red wine and laughing while you cook them some food in your open-concept kitchen?

We, the family, and friends (one of whom is mostly busy being pregnant) repaired to the hidey-hole for the May Long Weekend (All Capitals, Yes?). The man and the other man did two major things while they also did other man things like drink beer and listen to loud rock.  (N.B. We don’t normally listen to loud rock.  In fact when the pregnant one and I and the wee child went walking around the neighbourhood my between the eyes crease, which registers my physical aging and cognitive disapproval, crevassed as it became distressingly apparent that this new house of ours was in White Snake country.  A rictus, which might have been mistaken for a friendly smile by the bypassing rockers, was in danger of becoming botoxed onto my face as we returned home only to be greeted by some unspeakable 4/4 drum solo shaking the house. I died a thousands deaths and then turned it off.)  Off to chastise the newly revealed rock-man, I was gobsmacked to see what shotgunning some Bud Light could do to the progress of a renovation. The men had actually taken the porch roof off and rebuilt the house roof where the porch had been attached.

AND had mucked out the creepy basement and jacked up the front of the house.  The house is now ready to receive, what is it called?… Ahhhh! Yes!  A cement foundation and structural cement wall that the previous builders forgot to put in. Turns out that when your foundation is built simply by placing the end of 2x4s in muck, the wood rots and becomes structurally unsound.  We’re just going to say no to that!

A Window From Another World

This picture resides in my iPhoto folder called The New House. It is the first picture that comes up when The New House folder springs into openness. After all my shit talk about the place, people see this image and then look at me sideways, wondering if I’m a horrific liar, deluded, or someone that they don’t know anymore (like they used to).  I am thrilled to imagine that people think that we bought a house with windows like this.  In Vancouver, if you own these sorts of windows (with french door poking in), it indicates two things:

1. There is honeyed oak flooring throughout.

2. You bought the house before 1999 or you bought after 1999 because you and/or your Dad are investment bankers with holdings on the Cayman Islands.

But wait! There is good news!

These windows might be the windows of multi-millionaires but it looks like they are going to be ours!  A friend of ours is a carpenter who is currently involved in a project that will see the demolition of this old house. This window and more like it are up for grabs!  The french doors too!  And the front door! And we get to take them all!  I can barely believe it!  The man goes in with a chainsaw and in ten minutes we have five windows that are astonishingly beautiful – all because we know the right people!  He will do this on Mother’s Day while I eat bonbons.

Can you imagine the Pet Room now?  You don’t have to. See below: