Thursday, June 25, 2015

under snow, over doing

Winter brings retreat, behind thick curtains, beneath spun wool, into the recesses of the mind. ‘Tis the season of déjà vu. We reflect upon what we said and should have said, what we did and what we will do next year. 

But spring into summer is time for action. In that slim window between energizing and exhausting, the sun’s return spurs us to battle. Suddenly the cat hairs that nestled comfortably on that throw blanket all winter long have simply got to go. The throw blanket itself needs to be banished, while we are at it, sent to dark confines to await the call to arms. And why has nobody ever pointed out just how dusty these walls are? 

In that crazy time between too cold and too hot, too dark and too bright, we set aside our coveted careers, we forget our fancy degrees, and like sod-busting women futilely sweeping the dust from the dirt floor of a sod hut, we submit to the deeply recessive cleaning gene. Our inner hausfrau will not be denied.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

hausfrau's triumphant return

I am no longer camped out in a room stacked high with doors. 

I had been bunking out there since April 27, when a faster than expected demolition of the bathrooms necessitated a hasty tear-down of the master bedroom. Furniture was shoved unceremoniously into any nook that looked large enough, clothes were dragged out of closets and shoved into any other closet that had a few spare inches of rod. The carefully orchestrated arrangement of bathroom necessities that I had arranged along one wall in the office was quickly buried by dressers and mattresses and lamps.

The move back into my own room on June 19 was kick-started by a massive cleaning strategy on par with a wide-scale tactical military offensive. It was the war to end all dust wars. Aside from thrilling the neighbours by having our ducts cleaned at 8:30 on Saturday morning, for the most part the aggression has involved stealth and hand to hand combat. Walls, ceiling lights and every single book and tchotchke on every single shelf and in every single drawer has been hand-cleaned. Because that construction dust shit gets in everywhere.

Of course, when you are cleaning like a deranged ninja hausfrau, you can't be content to just put everything back where it was. You must also completely reconfigure every room and holler down to the Spousal Unit every now and then to help you move that dresser into the other room and carry that bookshelf over there.

Two rooms are now done and I hope to have the entire upper level (including the linen closet that got blasted with drywall dust) clean enough for open heart surgery by the middle of the week. I have a feeling that my gung-ho will start to wane as I reach the lower levels of the house.

In the meantime, being back in my own bed feels sinfully and blissfully luxurious. There is so much space to stretch out and the legs don't wobble every time I turn over. 

There are still a few things for the contractors to finish up, but generally the entire process has gone really smoothly and has been well worth it, even from an aesthetics aspect alone. Exhibit A: before and afters of the bedroom window. Guess which one not only closes all the way, but also opens much wider to let in all the fresh summer air?  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

exit music for a comet lander

What did you dream of, Philae? 

What thoughts troubled your slumber during that endless night? Did you awaken at times, alone and confused, shivering on that tiny wedge of icy rock escaping from the Kuiper Belt?

No one heard you as you cried out for Rosetta. No one held you as you languished there, alone in the dark vastness of space. No one saw how tightly you clung to those rocky crags, how tempted you were at times - as you grew weary and lonely - to simply let go. How easy it would have been to plumet down into the depths of the valley. How effortless to reach out, as if pointing toward home, and instead to spin lazily helplessly forever, out into the farthest emptiest reaches of space. 

But you didn't lose your nerve, plucky little lander, there in the confines of that barren comet, the place of both your salvation and your prison. 

And now the night is done.

Good morning, Philae. Tell us about your dreams.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Saturday night on Boulevard Saint-Laurent

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night 
- Heather O'Neill

It took me a while to warm up to this book, primarily because Heather O'Neill uses way too many metaphors. Her metaphors line up at the edge of the cliff like lemmings and fling themselves into the story. The strong-box where her metaphors are stored has a broken lock and all the words have escaped and are multiplying wantonly. Her house is decorated with metaphor throw rugs that grow like jungle vines and choke out all the furniture.

Sort of like that.

But then, a strange thing happened. About halfway into The Girl Who Was Saturday Night all those metaphors, all that imaginative language, started to impart a feel of magic realism to the story. Not the over-the-top surrealistic magic realism of a Michel Gondry film, say, but a more subdued, more Canadian form of the narrative style. I let myself just relax and enjoy the fantastical ride.

Set against the backdrop of the 1995 Quebec referendum (the one in which the non vote won with a mere 50.58% majority), The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is the tale of Nouschka Tremblay, nineteen-year-old former child-star who, along with her twin brother Nicholas, is trying to move beyond childhood fame. Abandoned as newborns by their 14-year-old mother, the twins were used as performance props by their wildly famous folk-singer father (now a desperately washed-up ex-con)and raised in a cat-filled apartment by their increasingly dotty grandfather. 

Nouschka is a character who grows on you. Smart, but a little flighty, charming and matter-of-fact about her casual sexuality, she is trying to forge her own path in the world, while maintaining the intensely close relationship she shares with Nicholas. Things don't always go well. But then they do. One incident in the novel made me gasp audibly.

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is a charming stranger who will pick your pocket while asking you for directions to the Metro. Images tumble from its pages like a basket of balloons kicked down the stairs by a petulant child. And there is always a stray cat climbing in through the open window to curl up on your bed.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

you can't get there from here

The cracks are starting to show in the veneer of excitement surrounding the great renovation adventure of 2015. The current challenge is learning how to live in a house divided. Literally.

Imagine living in a four-level split-level house. The upper level contains the main bathroom and the bedrooms. The next level - the ground level - has the kitchen, living room and front door (no bathroom). It is connected to the upper level by a staircase and to the third level - which contains the family room, office, powder room and back door - by two sets of stairs (presumably to allow those 1970's kids the option to chase each other around and around the two sets of stairs). The lowest level is the basement, accessible from the third level. Now imagine that the staircases that connect the top floor to the ground level and the ground level to the third level are inaccessible, draped off by enough plastic sheeting to make Dexter Morgan jealous. That means that if you are in the kitchen or living room and need to use the facilities, you have to go out the front door, around the house and in though the back door.

A first world problem, most certainly, but one that we are finding takes an inordinate amount of planning. It turns out that the cat - who is meowing at the front door to come in while you are down in the lower level - doesn't understand the concept of come around to the back door, even when accompanied by helpful arm gestures. It means that the Spousal Unit, who gets up for work at 4:30AM, has to stumble his way out the back door in the rain, unlock the front door in the dark, and then wind his way through the living room and dining room because direct access to the kitchen is tarped off, just to turn on the coffee machine, to get that first cup of coffee which would have helped him navigate that maze in the first place. It means that, even though I have not slept in my own bed for over a month, I have now been kicked off even the wobbly old spare bed and onto an air mattress in the basement. 

You know that feeling of walking into a room and not remembering what you came in for? You don't want to do that when you live in a house divided by plastic sheeting, especially since the rains of June have settled in. You quickly learn to scan the room carefully before making the trek to the other side, anticipating every need - every future move - like a world championship chess match is on the line. 

The upside to being driven out of the house by the eye-searing fumes of the hardwood stain is that I have now finished all the errands and shopping that I have been putting off for the past year. The fallout might be that the cat gives up trying to figure out which door to use, packs her little suitcase and hitchhikes to the coast.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

the road to St. John Cantius

I wear my city boots on these gravel roads. Red patent leather coated in dust kick up stones like they own the place. Like they invented walking. 

There is a world of difference between the Portland airport and the main drag of Shoal Lake, PDX versus rural MB, “keep it weird” meets "git ‘er dun”. 

Although I could never live here, the lines and the light fire the Broca’s area of my brain, where words are said to live. It notes the way perfectly spaced rows of stubble crest at the sky, where the silhouette of a pair of nesting geese keeps guard over the sunset. It ponders the way the gravel road curves down from the abandoned homestead, around the lake, to the old Polish graveyard where strange names hide the hopes of generations. 

My feet refuse to switch from city to rural time. My boot heels continue to strike the gravel as forcefully as they once did the pavement. My mind, though, crawls back to another time until the gravel turns to memories under truck tires headed west.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

no stepping back

 Week two of the great reno adventure did not see any letup in productivity. The addition of a nail gun compressor for the installation of the hardwood floors did, however, ramp up the decibels in the environment. The finesse work that is going into these stair runs is making for a slow start to the flooring, but once the stairs are complete, just watch for nails to start flying. Figuratively only, one hopes.

In other flooring news, the back hallway and back powder room tiles are now laid. Grouting shouldn't take long, and since the brothers started ripping out the back bathroom not five minutes after telling me that nah, there was no need for me to clear it out because they weren't ready to do it yet, I expect that very soon we will no longer have toilets in our living room and our back yard. 

The painter is nearly finished his work, with just the stair rails and some touch ups left to do. The red bedroom is now officially in the history books. I am still processing the colour that I picked to replace it - a sort of browny-greeny-greyey-taupey melange.
We kept the upper cabinets in two of the bathrooms, painting those tired old oak cabinets white in the main bathroom and dark chocolate brown in the ensuite. I am not afraid to tell you that I have been strutting around like a boss for thinking of that one, because they look amazing, if I do say so myself.

I can't wait to see what this week brings. Stay tuned for more transformations.

Monday, May 04, 2015

five day fixing

 What a difference a week makes. To your left you see the same view that headed up the previous post, taken four days later. And that's just one room. I may be shopping for a new shower curtain before the week is out.

The brothers continue their no holds barred assault on leaky plumbing and buckled linoleum. With barely enough time lapsed between removal and rebuilding for me to snap a few progress photos, the rebuild is happening at an exhilarating (and accelerated) pace. The latest surprise was the back hall flooring; I returned home from running some brief errands to find it gone. The same thing (but opposite) occurred today, when I returned home from running a brief errand to find it had been tiled.
The brothers are known for their fast, but high quality, work. They are an exercise in efficiency, sometimes too efficient, it seems. Legend has it that one time a guy for whom they built a deck refused to pay them because they got it done too quickly. 

They say of renovations that there are three options: fast, cheap, or good. You can only pick two. I think we picked the right two. 

And with painting started on the bathrooms today and a couple of toilets sitting in our living room waiting to be installed when that is done, I have high hopes that the house guest we are expecting this weekend will not have to pee in the back yard after all.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

zombie smash

 We expected that day one of renovations - bathroom demolition day - would involve exactly that. We didn't take into account the perfect storm of the no-nonsense efficiency of our contractors, combined with the revelation that there was no mold behind those bathtub walls after all. Bathroom demolition - which no longer necessitated any structural restructuring - was therefore complete in a couple of hours. So they kept going.

Before we knew it, huge hunks of carpet had been ripped from the upstairs hallway and staircases and hauled to the dumpster. Spindles and newel posts and handrails were disassembled and stacked for painting. Debris was swept up and spirited away almost as quickly as it was formed.

And then came the query. Is it okay if we go ahead and rip out the bedroom carpet now, too? A few seconds of panic and holy shit glances passed between the Spousal Unit and I, and then the git-er-dun attitude kicked in. Mattress, bed frame, dressers and book shelves were wedged into any spare nook we could find. Clothes were pulled out of the closets and jammed into half-full closets in other bedrooms. Some articles of clothing even remained on the hangers. Twenty minutes and that bedroom was empty. Twenty minutes after that, the carpet was gone. 

We have never used a contractor before, but judging from six day per week, 7:00am to 5:00pm renovations that stretched on for six months at the Heisenberg house next door last summer, our contractors are a bit of an anomaly. The two brothers were here from 8:30-3:30 and did not take a single break. No lunch, nothing. Not even sure if they peed.

Today, subfloor day, is perhaps a wee bit less dramatic, but so far seems to be every bit as productive.

Perhaps the resident kitty won't spend the entire summer hiding behind some boxes under the deepest corner of the basement stairs after all. Stay tuned for updates.