Thursday, July 24, 2014

One Month

Isabel is one month old today.

Sleeping: She only makes me get up one time in the night these days. Of course, night time doesn't start for her until 11 or 12. But, I'm grateful for the nights she gives me 3-4 hour stretches of sleep. On the nights she doesn't, we both love snuggling down in bed after the Husband goes to work and napping the morning away.

Eating: She's growing, and growing well, which means eating is going well. Some days, a little too well. Even when it's going well, breastfeeding is not always fun, especially when she decides to go through a growth spurt and doesn't want to do anything all day but feed and fuss.

Pooping: I can't talk about how she's doing without talking about this! Because she's eating so well, she's doing a really good job of making diapers too. I've got an order in for a few cloth diapers in order to try them out and see if we might want to switch over. Feel free to share any advice and experience you have with them! I'm a little nervous about transitioning, but I hate how much garbage we're making right now.

Growing: I started my first box of clothes she's grown out of earlier this week. It doesn't contain a lot yet, since we avoided buying newborn sized clothes as much as possible, but even a few of her 0-3 month sized outfits seem to be getting a little tight on her. At this rate, she won't make it to 3 months before she's fitting into all 3-6 month sizes. I'm going to need to go shopping soon.

And, what about me?

Sleeping: I am. I get less, yes, but I feel way more rested these days than I did when I was pregnant. However, I fade faster. I get worn out by 6 pm or so, right about when Isabel decides to wake up and fuss and cluster feed until midnight.

Eating: I do. A lot. Maybe too much. But, post partum eating when breastfeeding is confusing. I need to keep my calorie intake up in order to keep my supply up, but it can be hard to find a moment and the free hand to make a proper, healthy meal, especially since Isabel's eating schedule always seems to end up being the same as mine. So, I end up eating a lot of things that aren't good for me: cookies, squares, brownies, all the goodies left over from the baptism on the weekend.

Staying Sane: I read if I can keep my eyes open during middle of the night feedings. I watch Netflix while she sleeps on me and won't let me put her down. I've reached out to our neighbours and other nearby moms in order to hold on to friendships and a little adult interaction. Some days, I do nothing but sit on the couch and snuggle her sweet self. I expect nothing more from myself.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Faking It: A Stair Solution

Because our attic is brand new living space, one of the things we needed to address during our renovation was a brand new set of stairs. Have you ever looked in to new stairs? Even low-end models made with cheap wood and no extra details go for thousands of dollars. Of course, that includes measurements, manufacture, and install - easy peasy.

We're not easy peasy people though, and we don't have multiple thousands of dollars floating around to spend on a set of stairs. DIY time!

It's not quite done yet, but the hardest parts have been figured out and executed, and the Husband is pretty proud of his work. So, how did we do it?

We started with this:

The Husband and his dad built a strong, but not exactly pretty set of stairs out of fairly cheap wood. They felt amazing after months and months of living with a kind of rickety set of temporary stairs. These stairs became the base for the final product.

We found a company nearby that specializes in restoring and recovering stairs. Most of the work they do involves ripping up carpet and covering the basic wooden stairs beneath with higher quality wood. This is essentially what we were doing, except that we never started with carpeted stairs. We called them in, had them take plenty of measurements, and ordered all the pieces. We thought briefly about hiring them for installation too, but, in the end, the Husband wanted to take a crack at putting it all together.

When the pieces finally arrived, it took the Husband a little bit of a learning curve to put them all together. There were still cuts to be made to get the standard pieces down to the right size and a little creative thinking necessary for figuring out how our railing fit into the whole picture. But, finally, many weeks later, we've got a set of stairs stained and sealed and only missing some white spindles. (The company made a mistake in ordering our spindles and didn't order any longer ones to go up the angle of the stairs. So, we only have half for the stairs.)

Other than trim, these stairs are pretty well the last thing to finish in the attic, and certainly the last thing required for us to close out our permit. Of everything, in some ways, these stairs were the most exciting part of the attic renovation to see come together. We had no stair building expertise before we began, and yet, by carefully muddling through, we figured it out and have ended up with a finished product that, to me, looks just as good as something installed by professionals.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Isabel's Baptism

Isabel was baptized on Sunday. She didn't sleep well at night or during the day for two days before hand. She was bright eyed and fussy; I was stressed and running on 5 hours of sleep and caffeine.

But this event was so important to us. From a theological standpoint, baptism is one of only two sacraments celebrated in our church. It's more important than a graduation from catechism, the ordination of a pastor, time spent volunteering, or the passing of a collection plate. A baptism is even more important than a marriage.

So, together, the Husband and I presented Isabel for baptism, promising, in doing so, to raise her with the knowledge of our faith and the knowledge of grace so that one day, she may accept the promise God has already given to her.

I know she might not. In fact, I know that the way in which I hope to raise my daughter may result in her father and I watching, hearts breaking, as she struggles and fights against faith and ultimately walks away from God. I'm willing to take that risk. It is my hope that whatever faith she claims for her own is not followed blindly, accepting the rules and regulations of religion without question, but a faith developed through questions and and doubt, a faith made stronger by uncertainty and a healthy respect and acceptance for new perspectives and ideas. In baptizing her, the Husband and I place our trust in God that he will guide her through that journey to a place of full trust in him, and help us to walk alongside her in love, no matter what.

But now, on to the pictures of our adorable sweet baby in a 65 year old baptismal gown.

Our church's pastor was away on Sunday, so we got the incredibly special privilege of having Isabel baptized by her grandfather, my dad, aka, the Farminarian.

The baptismal gown was purchased many many years ago by my grandmother's parents for the birth of their first boy. Yes, a little ridiculous that their first children, daughters, didn't merit a new dress, but none-the-less, it's pretty special that Isabel wore a dress that has been worn by 4 generations of my family. I love the symbolism contained in those yellowing folds of fabric.

Throughout the day, I tried to think of the photos I have cherished through the years of myself as a baby, making sure to snap a few for Isabel to one day flip through. She is lucky to have four great grandparents alive, so I did my best to capture photos of her with each one, snuggled in the arms of people I hope she will grow up to know.

Ultimately, it was a good day, full of love and joy from so many directions for her new, little life. And I survived, despite the stress and the caffeine jitters.

(The Husband and I are both members of the Christian Reformed Church of North America if you're curious about our theological background.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When Your Dogs Are Your Babies, Until You Bring Home A Human One

Anyone who has read this blog for any period of time knows that the Husband and I are dog people, through and through. True, we have a cat too, whom I love nearly as much as Mocha and Kingsley, but there is nothing quite like the relationship we have to our two four-legged canine fur-babies. We even used them to announce the anticipated arrival of Isabel.

I'll admit, I was a little nervous about how they would react to a new little one in our household. How would they handle those hours upon hours of screaming and fussing? Would we have to worry about aggression, never fully trusting them in her presence? Would they act out, angry and upset that our attention had been diverted away from them?

In the months before Isabel's delivery, I read article after article about mixing dogs and babies. They all say the same things - never leave baby alone with the dogs; send something, like baby's first hat or blanket, home for the dogs to sniff before bringing baby home; learn to read your dog's signs of discomfort so you can act against it. All useful advice, but I'm not sure any of it actually prepared me for what it was going to be like bringing Isabel home.

We brought her in, sleeping in her car seat. The dogs were thrilled to see us. After all, we had been gone for two days. I took some time to greet them. I had missed them too, after all! And then, Isabel squawked. It was a little noise, but it was enough to divert their attention toward the car seat. Kingsley started to bark, his loud, protective, territorial bark. Mocha whined, crawling up on the back of the couch and wiggling her butt, the exact same reaction she has to the first squeak of a new toy. She thought Isabel was a squeaker toy, brought home just for her.

It was chaos.

I'm not sure how we got Kingsley to stop barking. Some of the details of those first days home with Isabel are a little fussy in my head. But eventually he did and eventually Mocha realized that this noisy thing was not a squeaker toy, but a living thing. And, in a matter of a day, they settled into a role of mild curiosity and curious affection.

They seem to have settled in contentedly to this new life with a baby. They're learning to sleep through 2 am and 4 am nursing sessions. They're getting used to walking with a stroller. They're being taught to give her space when she's napping.

Shortly after the Husband and I decided that it was time to grow our family, I remember looking at Mocha and wondering how I could love a baby as much as I love my dogs. Almost simultaneously, I began worrying about the opposite thing. How could I love my dogs as much as I did when a little human being arrived, demanding everything I had?

Neither worry has blossomed into fruition. In bringing Isabel home, as the dogs settled into a quiet acceptance of her presence, I realized there was space for all of them in my life. Isabel is getting most of my snuggles these days, and sometimes I miss the puppy snuggles, but just having them there, sleeping beside the couch as I nurse, or sniffing beside the stroller as we walk Isabel to sleep has become a constant that I cling to just a little. Our life has been turned upside down, but Mocha and Kingsley are still exactly the same.

See the tongue? This kid is going to grow up covered in dog slobber.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

So Much Progress: Attic of Awesome Update

It's been a while since I properly updated about the attic. In fact, it's been a while since I've updated about our house at all. But, believe it or not, there has been a lot going on with our attic renovation and our little dusty bungalow. With the help of a cuddly baby carrier, I somehow managed to clean up and finally take some more or less decent photos of all the work we've accomplished over the past month or so.

Before I share those photos though, let's flash back a little. Our attic started out as your typical unfinished space, not even designed for storage.

We spent a lot of time reinforcing everything, ensuring the joists were strong enough to a) hold a floor and the weight of people and furniture and b) allow for us to take out a supporting wall on the main floor. We ran new electrical and plumbing for radiators. We added in knee walls and closets. We spray foamed. We drywalled.

With drywall up, we primed, put down beautiful dark engineered hardwood floors, hung closet doors, and moved our bedroom into the nearly finished space.

The attic stayed pretty much like this, other than a few furniture rearrangements and the addition of a duct-less A/C unit for a couple months, until my first week of maternity leave. At 39 weeks pregnant, I painted the walls with the help of my mom, somehow defying my usual failure at picking paint colours and ending up with a steely grey I was incredibly happy with. During the week following Isabel's birth, the Husband worked away at the stair railing.

We're not actually done yet, surprise, surprise. There are all sorts of little details to finish: trim, lighting above the stairs, painting the closet doors, and a little decorating. But, we're at a point now that it's comfortable, nothing huge hanging over our heads. So, for now, we're settled in, enjoying the space, proud of the transformation we accomplished.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Introducing Isabel Sonya

Isabel Sonya was born with an impressive cone head on June 24, 2014 at 8:38pm. She was 1 week and 1 day overdue, and a beautiful 7 lbs, 9 oz. Bringing her into this world and the subsequent first week of her life have been the hardest things I've ever done.

Moving through a bit of a fog, day to day, diaper change to feeding, to burping, to feeding, to diaper change, to nap, I'm not sure I've fully come to terms with the drastic change in our lives. One day, we're driving the dogs for a quick visit to the dog park and sitting up late watching movies on Netflix, waiting for a baby to come, and the next, any trip anywhere requires an extra 15 minutes so we can clumsily strap Isabel in her car seat, and late nights only happen because Isabel just dirtied yet another diaper and will need another good 20 minutes of feeding and half an hour of comforting before she'll sleep for two hours, if I'm lucky.

People are very quick to tell new moms that it gets better. I've already seen the truth of this in small ways as we've settled into something that looks almost like a routine for night time feedings and diaper changes. I'll be completely honest: I'm looking forward to it getting better and better and better. I'm looking forward to the day she really smiles at me, the night she sleeps through, the moment I realize she can hold her head up on her own. I know she'll never be so tiny again; I know time will move fast and one day I'll be wishing for these days back, so I'm doing my best to savour them through a haze of contented exhaustion and confusion, but I'm also looking forward to the days ahead and all the changes I know are on their way.

I can't wait to meet the person she is to become.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Right of Entry and Difficult Neighbours (Or, Installing An AC Unit Shouldn't Be This Difficult)

This is a long story. A bit of an unpleasant story. But, I promise, it has a happy ending! Well, a happy ending for our little house, anyway.

Three years ago, in the summer we bought our house, I told the Husband that I would not suffer through another summer in Toronto without air conditioning. This city gets hot in a way I never experienced growing up on a farm in the country, or while I was attending university in Kitchener-Waterloo. But, due to our penny-pinching ways, combined with our uncertainty about our renovation plans for this little bungalow, two more summers passed, with no AC beyond a weak window unit in our bedroom to allow us some relief while we slept. This year, with Baby V on the way, we knew it was time to change that.  We signed a contract for a ductless AC system back in January, once the attic was drywalled and ready for the unit to be installed. Then, we waited patiently for the weather to turn and our installation appointment to be booked.

Meanwhile, we knew we had a hurdle to jump. For maximum cooling efficiency, the unit needed to go on the east wall, from which cold air would blow across our attic bedroom and fall down the stairs along the west wall. This also meant that the condenser line needed to run along our house's exterior east wall. There was just one problem: our neighbours.

Our neighbours are an unpleasant older couple with limited English language skills. We used to think that our biggest problem with them was related to an insurmountable cultural and generational gap, but after meeting their peers in the community, it's impossible to continue to give them the benefit of the doubt. We've had moments of 'good' relations with them, but they never last. Our neighbour's driveway runs the length of our house. In order to install our air conditioning unit, our contractors would need access to our house via his driveway, in order to lean a ladder against the house for oh, 3 or 4 hours, tops.

Most neighbours, most people. This should not have been a problem. We knew it would be.

When we got news from our contractor that they were ready to install back in March, the Husband bravely made the steps across the property line to talk to our neighbour and let him know that we needed to access the house in order to do this work. (I have long banned myself from talking to this neighbour beyond a wave or a hello in passing. His method of communication tends to be hostile, and my automatic response is to be hostile back. The Husband is very cool-headed on the other hand, absorbs rather than reflects.) Ok, our neighbour said, but first, he wanted three things: proof of insurance so he can be assured that he is not liable, a letter on a lawyer's letterhead, with a lawyer's stamp, outlining the work to be completed and the times access would be needed, etc. and $150. We knew his request was way outside the necessary, but we did our best to fulfill his requirements. We got our contractor to send us their WSIB information, and I drafted up a pretty letter, a contract, really, that outlined every piece of information he wanted. Did we take it to a lawyer? No. Bringing lawyers into it seemed unnecessary and ridiculous.

Of course, he didn't accept it. In hindsight, we know he never would have accepted anything we did, even if we had bent over backwards to fulfill his commands. When he refused, we said, Ok. We'll go to the city.

By this point, we had done all our research. The City of Toronto has a way to deal with these disputes. They have to, since houses are so close together around here. We cancelled our original AC installation appointment and applied for a Right of Entry permit. This permit would allow us the access we need and provide our neighbours protection as well, since the permit includes investigations to ensure we leave his property exactly as it was. We included a little extra work to be done on the permit in order to repair some of the worn flashing on the side of our house, killing two birds with one stone.

Four weeks or so later, our permit was granted. Of course it was. There was no logical reason that we should not be allowed to do this work. But, along with the news that our permit was granted, we received the most bizarre, colourful, exclamation-mark-and-spelling-mistake-filled letter from a 'paralegal' I have ever seen. Essentially, our neighbour and his legal counsel - his son - would not acknowledge the permit and insisted we would be trespassing if we moved forward. We called the city. They had received the letter too. We adjusted the dates of the permit, and the city representative assured us she would take care of meeting with our neighbour and figuring everything out. We went ahead and booked the installation.

A few days before the four days of access we had outlined in the permit, we had our paperwork in hand. Our neighbour had added a few conditions, all of which we could and would honour happily. The Husband stopped at the liquor store and picked up a nice bottle of something for them, a little thank you gift that we hoped would help the situation go down a little more smoothly.

Monday. Our neighbour contentedly moved his truck so the Husband could fix up a bit of the siding including the flashing along the side of the house. Relations seemed accepting, jovial, even. But then, there was a bit of a nasty turn. Our neighbour's son, the paralegal, showed up and together, he and his dad began insisting that we would not install the AC line on that side of the house. They had two arguments:

  • We have three other sides of our house. There is no need to put it on that side of our house.
    False. If they understood the configuration of our attic bedroom, they would know this. The AC unit would affect the headroom of the stairway on the opposite wall, which would push our attic renovation - which still needs to be inspected - outside of Ontario Building Code. Besides, installed on that side of the house, we'd have a delightfully cool attic, but the cool air would be trapped, unable to fall down the stairs like it's supposed to. The other two walls are all slope. Putting the unit on the main floor is pointless. 
  • Putting the condenser line on this side of the house was inconvenient for them, since it would need maintenance every 3-4 years.
    How is maintenance every 3-4 years inconvenient, when all it takes is our neighbour moving his car up his driveway 10 feet? He doesn't even have to park it on the street! Besides, what maintenance do they expect? All the joints for this pipe are firmly on easily accessible parts of our property. 
We had one other option: run the pipe on the inside of the house, leaving us with an exposed pipe, but neighbourly relations more-or-less intact. Over the course of the day on Monday, the Husband and I hemmed and hawed about our decision. On one hand, we hated to let our neighbour and his son bully us into submission. On the other, did we really want to put up the fight? 

Everyone we consulted that day said yes. Yes, absolutely. Don't let them push you around. You have done nothing wrong. They do not have the right to tell you what you can and cannot put on the side of your house. Stick to your guns. 

We called the city to warn them that things were going to get difficult in the morning. We called our contractor to let them know we would be running the line on the outside of the house, sticking to our original plan. I made plans to stick around for the first couple hours in the morning before heading to work, being there to support the Husband as much as I could. We slept like shit that night. 

Our contractor showed up at 8:15 the next morning. Sure enough, when the Husband crossed the property line to ask our neighbour to move his truck so we could begin work, he flat out refused. He would not accept that we would be running the line along the side of the house. We called the city representative. She said she would be there in 15 minutes. 20 minutes later, the Husband started calling her every 5 minutes. Our contractor paced and let us know we needed to get the job moving or he would pull his workers. Our neighbour's son showed up and added his car to the driveway, further blocking any work from starting. Impatient, I attempted to engage our neighbour, to at least get some conversation going, to at least attempt to understand. He yelled at me, broken English and logic I couldn't understand mostly. I cried.

The Husband called the cops. 

Our contractor looked at his watch. Gave us until 10 am.

Finally, two representatives from the city came, one bearing a fine, the other with the strong character and authority needed to stand up against the situation. Still, our neighbour and his son dug in their heels. Threats of charges did nothing. My presence, 38 weeks pregnant, became important as the city representatives took detailed notes for the court date that seemed inevitable. 

10 am. Still, that giant white truck didn't move. 

Finally, we gave our contractor the go ahead to change the plan and run the line inside. What choice did we have? If we let them leave, we would be reimbursed our deposit and they would wash their hands of the situation. Getting another AC company to come out before the baby arrives seemed unlikely. Our neighbour sat on his front porch and smirked. 

5 minutes later, a cruiser pulled up. The cop, the city representative, and the Husband rehashed what was going on. The cop did not seem optimistic. I went inside, closed myself away from the activity of the contractors and sobbed. Throughout this pregnancy, my hormones have been pretty steady, but that day, they just couldn't take it anymore. Our neighbour had won.   

15 minutes later, the revving of a large truck engine. I stepped out of the guest room, eyes all puffy, mascara everywhere to meet the Husband coming through the door. The truck was moving. The original plan was back on. It felt like a miracle. It wasn't. It was merely municipal legislation and protective systems doing what they're supposed to do. Still, it felt like a miracle.

Here's the thing: by obstructing the work from happening, our neighbour was in violation of the right of entry permit which we had obtained legally. Violating these permits is no small matter. A first offense - requiring the city to come out at all - is a $95 flat fee. From there, if he didn't back down and comply, the city would take him to court, where he would be handed a fine of up to $25,000. The fact of my pregnancy could have worked against him in court, somehow, apparently, as could the change in our plans, required due to his obstruction. One of the city representatives spent the whole incident taking detailed notes and photos, documenting every aspect of the conflict. In the end, the sheer amount of the potential fine had our neighbour climbing into his truck to move it out of the way. 

Four hours later, we had a ductless air conditioning unit blowing cool air quietly over our bed. It was smaller than I expected and, with no exposed piping, looked great, there on the wall above our heads.

Was the lack of exposed piping worth the fight? No. Really, it wasn't. It may have brought the value of our beautiful attic renovation down a little bit, but we would have gotten used to it, and the housing market is strong enough in this city, a single exposed pipe would not have affected our house value that much. Any kind of relationship we may have been able to have with our neighbour has been destroyed. But this wasn't really about the pipe. This was about standing up for ourselves. This is not the first time our neighbour has pushed us around; it would not be the last. Giving in would have done nothing to protect us from him in the future, would have done nothing for our own self-confidence in dealing with him.

And now what? Do we firmly ignore him and his wife for the rest of the time we are neighbours? Or, as the brightness and warmth of summer drop down on the city, do we return to friendly waves and hi-how-are-yous that will be awkwardly ignored as they had been in the past? I don't know yet. But, we'll figure it out. In the meantime, we have a bottle of ozou to drink. In a few weeks, of course.

(I have been slightly uncertain about sharing this story here, nervous of any legal ramifications to putting it out on the great, wide Internet. As such, I have not named any names including that of our contractor. However, despite their impatience with the situation, we were very happy with their work and would highly recommend any of their services - unless, of course, you are stuck in a similar neighbourly situation. If you are looking for a recommendation for a great heating and cooling company in the city, feel free to send me an email and I will send you more details about the company itself.

If you are curious about Right of Entry permits, what to do if you need one, what to do if your neighbour has one, etc. I'm happy to share further details of our experience.)