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?

Good.

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

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

Alhambra!

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.

BUT…

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 .

Jesus.

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!