Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Meet Clementine



Clementine is a terrier mix of some kind. She lives in San Francisco, but came to visit with my brother and sister-in-law this past weekend. She's adorable and terribly difficult to capture on camera. She hardly stopped moving the whole afternoon.

Clemmy, you are a delight.

Kingsley is also a terrier mix. Together, they exemplify how truly different terriers can be from each other.



Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Introversion, Azure, and Summerlicious Cake

I am looking forward to the end of July, but I don't know how to feel about the way this month has passed. I feel like I've been on my feet all month without actually getting anything accomplished. Here we are at the 24th day, and I feel out of breath, like I've been running through the days, but I can't think of anything that I've actually done. There have been no obligations that go with the rest of the year. And yet, I feel wrung out.


I have my theories as to why this is. 

You could say I've had a free summer this month. The youth group I lead went on hiatus for the summer mid-June along with most other programs at the church I'm active in. No more evening meetings, no more navigating the triangle of my life - home, work, church - if just for a few short weeks. 

But, still, we have been busy. There have been camping trips and weddings. A visit from an old friend who has been gone a very long time. Organized events and pool parties with our Bible study group. A long overdue Sunday visit with my grandparents - all four of them in our tiny house.


All wonderful things. I wouldn't trade any one of these events for the world. I wouldn't trade the upcoming ones either. Another wedding. A girls' weekend with a couple of my best friends. Yarn shopping with my mom and - maybe - my knitting club at Spinrite's tent sale back in my home county. I look ahead and see no break. But, I also see important moments and memories, time spent wisely with people I care about and who care about me.

I've known for a couple years now that I land pretty clearly on the introverted side of the introvert-extravert scale, but I don't think I've ever clearly understood what that means so much as this socially busy summer. I'm like this cake. (I know. It's a weak metaphor. Bear with me.) My energy, my contentedness, even, is getting eaten up by each event, each social interaction. I know my presence makes people happy in the same way this cake sent tingles through my taste buds. Once I've given up all my energy, though, there's none left. I need to step away. Recharge. 


By the end of the summer, I'm going to need to bake another cake.

Dear introverts: what do you do to recharge? 

Dear extraverts: occasionally, I envy you. 

(The Husband and I went to Azure at the InterContinental Toronto Centre for Summerlicious on Saturday. It was a decent chance to recharge before an incredibly busy weekend, spend some time together, and, of course, enjoy some amazing food. Like this cake. I wanted to lick my plate. But, you know, Azure is kind of classy. I resisted the urge.)

(My introversion is among the reasons I haven't been blogging nearly as much lately. I haven't had the energy to engage my social media community as much as I'd like. I'm cool with it. I hope you are too.)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Adventures in Waterproofing

Most of the time, the Husband and I are weekend renovators. Spending time with the dogs, cooking, cleaning, running or exercising, and zoning out for a few hours all seem like more important activities during the week. Finding the energy to come home and get at whatever project we have on the go... it just doesn't happen.


However. Since our walls turned into taps and spewed water all over our basement floor during the Big Rain of 2013, we don't really have much choice in the matter of work versus relax. With new tenants on their way at the end of August, we have a tight deadline to get the basement apartment back into livable, dry condition. So, to work we go.

Admittedly, I don't do much of this work. There's still all the household stuff to keep on top of during the week, and despite my shirking of patriarchal expectations in lots of other things, my interests and my husband's interests have us falling into traditional gender roles most of the time. So, he and a friend work downstairs. I cook, do the dishes and the laundry, sweep the floors, play with the dogs.

This doesn't mean I'm not allowed to talk about what's been happened downstairs, right?

So far, in the waterproofing journey, the Husband has done two things.

The first step was to make sure the crack, which had formed around an old pipe sticking out of the wall, was fully and 100% sealed up, He went above and beyond and dug down along the foundation wall outside, found the pipe, removed it, and completely filled the hole left behind.

He did this on Monday. It was hot on Monday. I felt bad for him, especially when he discovered that the previous owners had buried a whole bunch of cinder blocks instead of disposing of them properly when they built our front porch.


Second step: seal the whole wall of the front bedroom. There were pretty clear signs of the mortar breaking down and inexpertly patched many years ago. The whole wall felt damp to the touch in a way that the adjacent wall did not. We picked up a waterproofing concrete - King Xypex High'n Dry. As directed by the bucket of powder, we scraped and scrubbed down the wall with simple water and a stiff metal brush. After mixing the paint-like concrete up, the Husband attempted to slap it on the walls with a paint roller, but quickly discovered it was useless with the heavy mix.


A whitewashing brush worked far better, allowing him to smear it on thickly, but evenly enough. Before painting, he had to thoroughly douse the wall in water, so the cinderblocks of our foundation were glistening with moisture. It seems counter-intuitive, doesn't it? Completely soak your walls in order to waterproof them!


By the end of the night, I had finished two loads of a laundry, made the kitchen shine, swept the floors, melted into a few puddles of sweat*, was thwarted in a simple DIY project by a lack of materials, and half scrubbed the bathroom. He had accomplished this:


It looks so much better already.

Next steps down here? We'll have to rebuild the stud wall, and then we're calling in someone to spray foam for even more waterproofing. We've ordered new windows from Fieldstone Windows, which should help significantly with rain coming through the ancient wood frames. We'll update and fix the flashing around the house, which will help to make sure water is being directed away from our foundation. And, of course, drywall, mudding, sanding, and painting in the room itself to finish it all off.

We're getting there.

* It was 91*F in our house last night.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why I've Been Leaving My Camera At Home


On the weekend, we went to Bon Echo Provincial Park. It's one of my favourite places, fully exemplifying the beauty of my country and my province. Rocks, trees, water, all put together in the most artful way. So much to see, so much to stand in awe of, so much to document.

But, I left my 'good' DSLR camera at home. On purpose.

I've been doing this more and more often. Two weekends ago, we went to a wedding. I always used to enjoy playing photographer at weddings, reveling in the challenge of getting the best shot of the bride and groom possible. Once again, I left my camera at home*.

At both of these events, I wasn't totally camera-less. I brought my phone along on the weekend and kept it charged even though I don't get any service up there north of highway 7. It has a 5MP camera that did just fine for snapshots of the dogs and their clumsy attempts to swim - or avoid swimming.


The thing is, I didn't miss it. Perhaps I'm losing what little interest I had in photography, and if I were dedicated to the craft, I wouldn't let anything stop me from carrying that thing everywhere. But this is the problem: carrying that camera from life event to life event made the documentation of that event less about creating photos for fond remembrance and more about creating photos for art. It added pressure to get the right shot, the best angle, the sharpest image.


I still love the challenge of composition and lighting, but there is a time and place for all of that. I'm not a photographer, and every so often, I must remind myself that there is more to a special moment than capturing it with the best light balance possible. Perhaps in a little while I'll start carrying that camera with me again, but with the careful realization that a single quick snap of the shutter is enough, and that being present is far more important that turning the moment into art.

Since a lot of you are fellow bloggers, I'm sure you have thoughts on this, and for those of you who are not, sharing our lives on Facebook has become paramount to every event. So, what do you think? Do you carry your camera everywhere you go? How do you maintain balance between focusing on the photo and the moment itself?

* I have a feeling that, with the rise of digital cameras, new etiquette for their use during ceremonies is slowly going to develop. The Internet is already seeing the shift!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Three Things for Thursday: The Running Edition

I am now in my third week of consistent, almost daily running. It feels great to be able to say that, but I will always remain slightly skeptical of my own determination to keep it up. In an effort to remain excited about it, today, my three things are all about running.

One: My Favourite Place To Run



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Toronto is sliced down the middle (down the right, really) by the Don River. Tucked between the river and the Don Valley Parkway winds the Don Valley Trail. It's paved, well-maintained, and I love it. I love it because it's a little less of a harsh environment to run than along sidewalks. There's no stoplights to slow down my pace and very few places where it crosses a road at all. It's got a couple entrances placed perfectly for me to create a route that's almost exactly 5km, but is long enough for distance runs for the weekends too.

The Don Valley Trail is also a challenge. Because it's a valley in the middle of the city, there's an altitude shift of about 100ft, represented in the longest most tiring hills I have ever met as a runner. I can maintain a running pace up these hills, but barely, so they present a strengthening challenge, both mentally and physically. 

Also, the Don Valley Trail has skittish rabbits that will sometimes run along the path with you. What's not to love?

Two: New Running Shoes

This was long overdue. Last Saturday, I bought a new pair of running shoes.

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My old running shoes, on the left, were five years old and at least half a size to big. I'd bought them on clearance while in university, hated them, and bought my first pair of proper (read, expensive) running shoes from the Running Room just a few months later. I turned back to them two years ago when Mocha dug her teeth into those proper running shoes and destroyed them. Because of my lack of consistency with running and any kind of working out, I never felt like I could justify replacing them, even though I knew they were all wrong for my feet. 

This time around, I told myself that it doesn't matter if I stop running next week, or the week after. I might not remain consistent, but at least I'll have these shoes for the next time my legs want to run. And, who knows: maybe they'll be encouragement enough to keep at it.

Three: My PowerSong

I use Nike's running app. It's a lovely little app that tracks my distance and my time. Every mile, it breaks in through my music and tells me what mile I'm at, how long I've been running, and what my average pace is. Sometimes, this is even enough to encourage me to run faster. 

The app has a feature called a 'PowerSong'. You can set the app to play one particular song when you tell it to. The idea is to pick the kind of song that gets the bounce back into your feet for the moment you need a little extra umph to get you going or keep you going. I don't actually use the feature, (I hate having to look at my phone to do anything while I'm running) but I definitely have a PowerSong.


I can't get enough. It's such a happy song, one of those songs that makes me so grateful for the important things. I'm sure I looked like a complete idiot on my run yesterday when it came on, running with the goofiest grin plastered on my face. 

Do you have a 'PowerSong'?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why You Should Really Get A Permit for Your Renovation

I've been excited about writing this post for weeks. It's the kind of post I've written and rewritten in my head over and over. Sadly, I didn't think this news would come with quite such a let down.

The exciting news is this: we've got permits! This means I finally get to come clean with the real reason we haven't done any work on our attic in months.


I'm sure lots of you are giving me the side-eye at the moment. After all, we took down that wall between the living room and the dining room weeks ago. We've been working on our attic renovation for a few months now. No, I will not try to convince you that we didn't need permits at the time. We did. We cheated.

Here's the story: we struggled with our drawings. The Husband is a structural engineer, but he doesn't do his own drafting and he's not an architect, so getting the drawings in order to get our permit felt like a slog. It's a process we started way back in September with our original, full two-storey addition. But, when spring came, we knew we needed to get started or we would never get done.

So, we accepted the potential consequences*; we broke the rules.

I don't recommend it. Yes, a multitude of renovations get finished without permits, and there's a good chance that we wouldn't have been caught, even if we had continued and finished up the whole attic without ever getting the piece of paper stuck in our window that says we're allowed to. I know our house would have been sound without having someone from the city review it for us – the Husband is a structural engineer, after all. Making sure structures are sound is what he does for a living. And yet, even though we started without it, even though I trust the handiwork of the Husband, his dad, and his brother, I insisted we get that piece of paper.

Why?

Even structural engineers aren't exempt from the bylaws related to renovating. We could have been caught. But, more importantly: resale. Really, this is the only reason I was concerned about it. Say, we sell the house in 3 years. Say, we get a really great offer. Way more than asking, no conditions, and the buyers are happy with whatever closing date we choose. Score, right? And then, they ask one little question just before signing on the dotted line: were the attic renovations done properly, with a permit? If we can't say yes and present the proof, there's a good chance those buyers could walk away. For this reason, and this reason alone, taking the time to get the permit and the inspection done properly is more than worth it.  


We started without a permit, yes. But, when we reached the point that requires inspections, we stopped. We got ourselves in order. We jumped through a full month of hoops. We spent a month calling, and emailing, and hearing crickets. A month of mistakes on the city's part, a month of dragging our heels, a month of frustration. But, finally, that permit is in our hands, granted to us with one condition: we need a letter from a structural engineer to prove that the supporting wall in the basement is strong enough to support the post which supports the beam which allowed us to rip out the wall. (I think I might know where I can find such a structural engineer to write us such a letter.) We can book our inspection, rework whatever we need to, and move on to the fun parts – flooring, drywall, closets.

Except, oh, wait. No, we can't.



Priorities suck.

* The consequences of not having a permit can suck more or less, depending on the stage you're at with your renovation. For us, considering the point at which we stopped, we would face a substantial enough fine but nothing more. Note that the fine is lesser if you've applied for permits, but just haven't gotten them yet. If you have finished the whole renovation and get caught, the city can force you to rip out any finishings, drywall, flooring, etc. so they can do a proper inspection. Then, they'll also slap you with a fine. Not fun! Definitely not recommended.

Moral of the story: get your permits in order, on time. If we hadn't dragged our feet so much, our attic reno would essentially be done by now, or at least to a useable point. 

Don't do what we did. 

Do you have any good permit stories? The time you didn't get one? The time you did? The time your neighbour didn't get one? 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Woes of Home Ownership: Basement Flooding

In case you haven't heard, Toronto flooded yesterday. Streets, highways, buses, subways, GO trains, it all came to a standstill in a great big puddle of water.

(Check out the Globe and Mail's gallery of twitter photos for a little urban flooding craziness. I am grateful I got home when I did.)

Our basement flooded too. I came home to this:

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A solid inch of water and mud spread itself out from the front bedroom, pooled in the bathroom, soaked into the pile of construction waste in the middle of the living room, and flowed back into the laundry room. Thankfully, the kitchen and back bedroom - where a friend of ours has set up camp for a few weeks - were untouched. 

We grabbed mops, towels, buckets, and shovels. We got to work. This is what we did.

How to Handle a Flooded Basement


  1. Identify the location of the leak. You can clean up all you want, but if you're still going to get a torrent of water coming into your house, you're going to be mopping up all night. It was pretty easy for us. Around this random pipe in our wall, a crack had developed. We knew about it, but, since we weren't expecting quite so much rain today, we hadn't got around to fixing it. It was like a tap, rushing water and dirt into our basement.
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  3. Once you've identified where the water is coming in, fix it. We used King Plug-Tite, from Home Depot. It's essentially like cement, but a super fast drying and tightly bonding one. Our fix is, at the moment, only temporary. We want to dig down, figure out what the pipe is, cut it back and cap it so that it's not sticking out of our wall.
  4. Starting cleaning. It's going to take a long time, but it's an absolutely crucial step to getting your basement back to normal. Use mops, towels, whatever will absorb and soak up to water. (Our shop-vac was working great until the power cut out and stayed out for nearly an hour.) You especially want to focus your energy on areas around perfectly good drywall. Mould loves standing water, plus damp, plus drywall; a flooded basement is essentially its perfect home.
  5. Once you've got all the puddles absorbed and the mud scooped up and cleaned out, bring in the dehumidifiers and the fans. Another crucial step! Especially in damp weather, basements take a long time to dry out. In fact, there's a good chance our basement would never dry out without a little help. We've got two dehumidifiers and a fan, all running at full blast. We'll keep them running for a few days, certainly until it stops raining, in order to get it as dry as possible as fast as possible.
  6. Whatever you do, try not to give into despair. Don't burst into tears at the sight of water gushing into your basement. Don't turn your back on the mess and completely ignore it. Don't curl up in a corner with your dogs and give yourself over to misery. 
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Trust me. Everything will be all right in the end. A flooded basement is not the end of the world. We'll still hit our end-of-August deadline for our finished and newly dry, waterproofed basement. 

We're not worried. Just tired.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Garden 2013: Growing Herbs

We have a full garden with tomatoes, melons, squash, sweet peas, beans, broccoli, peppers, and lettuce way at the back of our lot, but I am pleased that I chose to plant some herbs in containers a little closer to the house. Everything is growing and growing well. More than once, we've had to cut back our oregano, and our indoor basil plants have been flourishing in their little pots while we wait for the outdoor plants to mature.

June 006

Weeds have sprouted up around the pots, which, these days, are nearly overtaken by a pile of concrete from our front yard project. I do my best to keep the pots themselves weed free, however, in order to give the little herbs the best chance possible to fill that soil.

So far, the basil, sage, and parsley have been doing the best, unless, of course, we turn our attention to the oregano. It's in its second year and spilling over the top of the pot with leaves as thick as the greenest foliage.

June 001

The only disappointment among these pots is my rosemary. It sprouted, and continues to grow, but slowly, far slower than the rest. I love rosemary. Next to basil, it's probably my favourite herb. I have no idea when we'll be able to start harvesting. Or, even, if we'll be able to harvest. With luck, next year will be better; I hope all  my herbs come back with the strength of that oregano.

June 009

Over the summer, I hope to gather my favourite recipes that put each of these herbs - sage, parsley, thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano, lemon balm, and mint - to good use. I will  have to learn how to put some of these to use. Lemon balm, for example, I've never used in my cooking before and mint, I've never used outside of a cup of tea. Soon, I hope I'll be able to share some of these cooking adventures with you.

Do you have any suggestions of recipes I should check out for any one of those herbs? Have you planted any herbs? How are your gardens doing?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Dreams and Reality: When Fun Renovations Must Be Usurped By Less Fun Renovations

Two summers ago, when we first moved into this house, we tore through two kitchen renovations and a bathroom renovation, from start to finished in about three months. We kicked ass. I was proud of us. I thought we would never be one of those people who allowed renovations to drag on and on, living with dust curtains, rooms full of tools, and patches of mud on our paintless walls.

It's time to admit it. This time around, we're going to be one of those people. Dear friends who renovate for months, even years, I have a new respect for you.

Because, here's the thing: I get it now. I get how it happens. I get how things come up and priorities shift, how budgets get re-allocated, and our time gets funneled away to other things, just as important. I understand: this is just how life works. 


Our attic looks no different than it did weeks ago. In fact, I don't think we've done anything up there in almost a month. Unfortunately, it looks like it's going to stay that way for a good many weeks longer. Our priorities have shifted and we have no choice but to turn our attention elsewhere. 

Namely, down here:

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This is the front bedroom in our basement apartment. It's damp. Too damp. Last month, when our tenants made note of a couple puddles of water that showed up on their floor, we knew we would need to do something to solve the problem. Obviously, the room didn't look like this then. We've made some cosmetic changes in the days the apartment has been empty. To diagnose the issues, we ripped down the drywall from the outside walls. We discovered far less water damage than expected, but plenty of speckles and watermarks all the way up the wall, a symptom of the poor condition of our siding and flashing. 

Full-on waterproofing seems to be out of the question: it's ridiculously pricy - though understandably so - and we have some unfortunate neighbourly relations that are turning my hair grey and would render the project unpleasant to impossible.* Besides that, we're constantly assessing our home, how long we'll be here, and what is likely to happen to it when we leave. Our prediction? Our little bungalow will fall into the hands of a builder who will adore the long lot. He or she will raze this little house down to its foundations and rebuild. It's just what happens to bungalows around here. So, what's the point of an expensive permanent fix when a well-executed temporary fix will carry us through to the day these walls disappear?

So, we're prepping for a little interior waterproofing: plugging the visible cracks; painting on a polymer membrane, spray foaming with waterproof insulation, drywalling, and a coat or two of waterproof paint. New siding and flashing will help our efforts significantly, as will new basement windows. It's not a permanent fix, but it might be a five year fix. If we're still here then, it will be time to bite the bullet and go for the full solution.

Of course, all of this is going to be a lot of work. And, as seems to be our style, we haven't got a lot of time to complete it all in. Waterproofing, drywalling, windows, and paint, all of this in two months. Come the last week of August, we'll be welcoming two new tenants to our little two bedroom apartment. We better be ready for them.

In the meantime, our attic isn't going anywhere, right? 

* I have thought about writing a blog post about this. But, every time I sit down to write it I find I'm unable to fully express how difficult the situation has become. And then, I talk myself out of burdening the blog world with the negativity of that relationship.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Goodbye, and the Echoes of an Empty Space

On Saturday, our tenants, our 'downstairs friends', pulled a U-Haul up in front of our house and began a game of Tetris, loading boxes, bookshelves, chairs, tables, and every bit of their belongings up into the back of the truck. I distracted myself from what was happening with my knitting and episode after episode of Portlandia and Bewitched. They're off to bigger and better things, new adventures, new experiences. I'm excited for the opportunities ahead of them, but I was sad to see them go. 

After their truck pulled away, I wandered through the empty apartment, acknowledging the end of something. They were our first tenants and, after almost two years, to be completely and utterly alone in the house felt odd. The wide open space echos. It feels smaller without their presence.


This apartment will be empty for two months, and it's probably good that it is. We have a few things to address down here: new windows; a little waterproofing; a cheap dryer that needs either replacing or repair, whichever is worth it; paint - I'm thinking a neutral light grey this time. 

At the end of August, the apartment will be occupied again. Sometimes, I worry. What if it's not all they expect it to be? What new unexpected situations will come up? Will we have to deal with personality conflicts? As our tenants drove away, I acknowledged that what I was saying goodbye to was trust, security, and friendship. We'll be able to find all these things in our new tenants, I'm sure but none of those things happen immediately.

Good luck with everything, J and D. You will be missed!