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.)










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: