Fall and Winter in the House (2014)

Since my last timely post (published in July), I went decidedly radio silent on the house. It’s not that things weren’t happening, it’s that so many things were happening that blogging about them felt ridiculous. Now that Winter is coming to a close and we’ve lived a full year (and one month!) in the house, I’ve learned a lot more about the home and how we live in it.

A Brief Recap Of This Year

When we bought the Apple House, we didn’t know much about it. We viewed it (before we bought it) the dark for the most part. It was November, the sun was going down crazy early, and we were house hunting in the evenings and on weekends. We only saw the home fully illuminated when we had it inspected in the middle of the day, in full daylight. Once we moved in, though, we began to realize what we’d bought. The house just goes on and on. One day in the late Fall, I remarked to Mark that I hadn’t actually been in the basement (except to visit the laundry room) in months. In fact, I wasn’t even using the basement at all. It gave me a bit of a frisson to think about – there’s so much living we can do in a basement, so much potential. Sometimes, that’s how I feel about the whole house. There’s just so much space, so many stories to tell.

Over the past year, we haven’t quite figured out where everything we own is going to go, or what every room we have should feel like. I took the summer off from blogging and we took a hiatus on all forms of home improvement. We didn’t unpack. We fleshed out the essential parts of our home – the kitchen, the master bedroom, the technology and TV items. I paid attention to the primary “zones” where we live. Conclusions: two bathrooms, a large master bedroom with walk-in closet, one living room, a kitchen and a laundry room are all you need to live. You could convert this recipe into a condominium, actually. Although we live in a giant house, we actually live in a much smaller footprint inside that bigger cube. We’ve been limited to eating, sleeping, and watching TV. The spare bedrooms with their closets filled to the brim with boxed up books – ignored. We haven’t built a single bookcase.

Importantly, we spent the summer outside. Mark decamped into the garage, and spent the summer drinking beer, blaring music and working with his friends on tuning cars. I decamped into the front and backyard. In the front yard, we cut back the overgrown cedar hedge, dug out leggy and overgrown shrubbery, and tried to revive the flower beds with fresh plants. I kept all the flowers beds in the same places and shapes, but I never figured out what I needed to do to truly revitalize the yard and garden. I didn’t try too hard, though – still burned out. At least the beds were colourful and clean, if not sophisticated or particularly aesthetically pleasing. I nearly wore a hole in the front lawn where I stood, staring at the beds and trying to figure out what I wanted to see, what change the house was crying out for. Maybe this year it’ll come to me.

For me, this summer was all about staring at the house, trying to figure out how to bring some harmony and beauty to its facade. When we bought it, the house was a bad example of 1980s suburban architecture and it needed a big, bold, (potentially costly) kick in the teeth to make it desirable again. The first major change was choosing the roof colour (easy enough, not a lot of options). We chose an asphalt shingle in a golden brown palette that referenced cedar shingles, which has partnered beautifully with the red brick and creamy-yellow vinyl siding.

Then, the windows… they urgently needed to be replaced, and without a doubt a mistake in their design would be irreparable. That being said, making a bold choice in their appearance might revitalize the house and totally clear out that bad 1980s style. I called up Lambden Windows and doubled down on my instinct to make a big, expensive, risky change. I ordered up vinyl windows with interior mullions (grills) that ran across the top of the window only, a sort of Arts and Crafts look. The exterior of the vinyl windows can be provided in a wide range of colours at no extra cost, and after a great deal of consideration and discussion with Mark, we opted for a shade of brown that we felt was attractive in both the sun and shade.

It paid off times a million – the house is transformed. The house is much less dominated by its large 1980s style roof (the light hearted golden brown of the new roof is visually lighter and more friendly) and the beautiful windows with perfectly proportioned mullions have created a more traditional feel to the house. The windows are more friendly too, with their nice mullions. More approachable. I painted the front door and screen door an ivory colour, bringing a bright spot to an incredibly dark corner.

The garage door was changed from pale khaki to the same medium brown as the neighbour’s house, making the big picture look of our house and their house a little more harmonious. (FYI, their house and landscaping are prettier than ours, so we’re definitely going to borrow some of their charm until we have ourselves figured out.) Just a note – I used Behr Marquee exterior paint and I was amazed. I applied it to metal and wood without sanding or priming, and it stuck like glue. It has a nice satiny finish, and it dries VERY fast. I 100% endorse using this paint, let me tell you. Huge fan.

The shutters on the house are still dark brown, and we didn’t take on brown gutters. More work for the Behr Marquee paint in the spring, I think. We’ve been considering buying additional gutters for the house, though – maybe we’ll just replace them all.

Moving my attention to the backyard, I spent most of the spring and summer trying to figure out the story of the backyard. I couldn’t identify most of the plants. We cut down a cedar (which we later regretted doing – it was strategically placed to block a line of sight into a neighbour’s house) and we cut back some massive shrubs. Some grapevine had grown up over a trellis and was ripping up the roof of the shed and tying together the branches of the eponymous apple tree. That was delicate work, pulling the grapevine out of the apple tree. It was so important to cut off as much as possible, and tug as little as possible. I didn’t want to break apple tree branches and was 99% successful in that. I got the grapevine out before the apple tree even had leaf buds or flower blossoms, which was a big win.

Then, one day in May, the backyard blossomed. The giant crabapple bloomed, the other giant tree that I thought was a crab apple also bloomed, and the apple tree exploded with flowers. What a show. The wild violet weed that’s devastating lawns in Ottawa also blossomed, and the backyard was a fairy land. That “other” giant tree? Not a crab apple. Turns out, it’s a giant sour cherry tree. I don’t know how to cook with sour cherries, so I’ll look up recipes and hope for the best this year. The magnolia bloomed – dark purple flowers with pale pink insides. Incredible, just incredible.

The massive, well established clematis never blossomed, however, and I think that’s because it didn’t get enough sun. It just grew and grew in the shade, maybe reaching out for some sun to produce flowers in? But I lost momentum. The weeds got ahead of me by a lot. I found more and more flower beds lost inside overgrown lawn and weeds, and it was just too much. I found a peony planted almost underneath a deck. I found iris behind a mock orange.

A friend of mine started a private facebook group for people who, for emotional reasons, struggle to face their messes. I was added, and was powerfully inspired by the work of friends and family to confront their secret hoarding ways. I photographed and shared my problems. This is my truth: the herb garden full of NOT HERBS, the weeds, the dead lawn, the empty plastic flower post, the falling apart trellis…. and I feel like I can’t do it, I can’t fix it. The weeds are too much, I can’t handle the heat, I’m so burned out ANYWAY, and my allergies are rough. I need to buy mulch and compost to fill up the beds oh no I can’t do it.

But I did it. I faced it down, and took pictures of the results.

Our side yard had filled up with a huge amount of yard waste – the broken down trellis, cut up trees and cedars, lawn waste, and eventually a work table from the basement ended up out there. I hauled it all to the curb in the late fall, early winter. The City took it all away, and I felt like a fool for letting it pile up. This was the summer when we found out that the City green waste collectors are able to take away EVERYTHING you leave at the curb. EVERYTHING. It was astonishing.

We went crazy at Halloween. I bought a 9 foot tall inflatable Grim Reaper. I carved four pumpkins. I handed out four boxes of chocolate bars, and blared a Songza Halloween playlist out the front window. We walked over a few streets to see a house that had a false facade up, converting the whole place to Castle Anthrax. There was a Monty Python party in the garage. It was amazing. I swore again, for the millionth time, that I was going to someday make a great Halloween costume.

Remembrance Day, we went downtown for the Ceremonies. Last year was the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, and recently a deranged man had killed a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We really wanted to be there, and so we were. It’s important to go, even though why it’s important is a bit difficult to define. Maybe just because World War I and II, the Korean War, the second Boer War and the War in Afghanistan need to be witnessed, need to be commemorated, maybe I just feel that even if you aren’t a member of the military, that it’s essential to show up and silently be present, to demonstrate remembering and respect. It feels good to go, to stand in a silent crowd that big. The singing of the national anthem is beautiful. Canada didn’t conduct the sort of commemorations that Europe did, which is somewhat unfortunate. The commemoration activities on the anniversary of the start of the First World War in Europe were incredible.

And then Christmas! We fit every last family member into our house, and it was glorious. We emptied our fridge, cleaned it, and then restocked it to the point that I thought the doors wouldn’t stay on. It was wonderful, and exhausting. I bought another queen sized bed and we used an inflatable bed for our niece, and then there you were. So many family members in one household! What a crazy good time. We did all this, and I haven’t even mentioned the wedding. Along the way, yes, we have planned a wedding. (So much for taking it easy.)


May, 2014: a summation of events thus far

I’m not an apologetic blogger. I blog when I blog, when there’s something to say. It’s been awhile since I last blogged (months) and it’s best for everyone that I only blog when I feel like it, because then I might have something of interest to contribute. That brings us to now, when I have something of interest to report.

We’ve dedicated Spring 2014 to the exterior of the house, which I haven’t been able to capture well in photographs. The first thing to happen was a new roof. We had seen during our home inspection that the underside of the roof was black in two spots, and we suspected that leaks had happened, were happening, or were immanently about to happen. Further, shingles had come off the roof and were actually in the eavestroughs and all over the backyard. I picked up a shingle in the backyard last November and it crumbled in my hand. (We still bought the house, as you know, because Mark is crazy. To be honest, I tried to walk away.) This spring, I trolled through the backyard with a grocery bag picking up garbage and shingles, and to a one they all crumbled in my hand. It was unbelievable.

We chose to work with a roofer that our real estate agent recommended to us very strongly. I gave the man a call and was instantly impressed, and after an estimate and quite a lot of communicating back and forth, we opted to work with him without even seeking other estimates or questioning other roofers. Sometimes you just know for a fact that you’ve found the best. The end result is an A++ roof that looks, frankly, amazing. Also, post spring time rain storms, I can verify that it is in fact waterproof, and that’s 90% of a roof’s job.

Our house is red brick and cream siding (I’ve lamented that fact before) and honestly, the red brick often reflects a lot of light and tends towards orange. The former roof was a medium-to-dark brown, and it looked really bad. The dark brown was just a very bad choice, both aesthetically and environmentally. A dark roof absorbs heat and heats up the inside of your house. It’s just smarter to go for a roof that’s lighter in colour: go easy on the environment, decrease the heat you create in the summer, decrease the heat stress on your roof so it lives longer.

In terms of the aesthetics… I can’t quite say why the former roof didn’t work. I can often explain quite coherently why something works or fails aesthetically, but this time I’m at a loss. The colour was maybe too monolithic, and maybe it was too depressingly dark, and maybe it just made the top of the house look grumpy, I don’t know. I lack an explanation for why it was so bad, only that it was. When I walk the dog I eye the houses on our street that also have dark roofs and yanno…. the dark roofs don’t look good on the other houses on our street either. The street next to us has smaller houses that are tucked in closer together and THEIR dark roofs look really good, and the houses have charm. It’s inexplicable. Maybe the rule is The Bigger The House, The Brighter The Roof.

Our roofer brought us sample boards of roof shingle. We took them outside in the late afternoon light (the golden hour) and eyed our choices. The only one worth considering was “resawn shake”, a multi-coloured shingle that sampled all the shades of cedar without actually trying to look like a cedar roof.

End result: the wood under the old roof hadn’t rotted, and a new roof went on immediately. The roof looks amazing. The house looks amazing. It doesn’t mimic a cedar shake roof: rather, when I look at it I see a pixellated pale brown roof in cedar colours, and it is perfect. Overall, we made a guess at what would look good (I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know how to choose and I really took a leap of faith) and it paid off in spades. The front of the house gets a lot of afternoon sun, and that warm golden light makes our roof glow in the brightest, most golden of ways.

Speaking of gold, surely the roof cost us a million dollars! It did not. Everyone who looked at our house guessed that replacing the roof would cost $10,000 but it only cost us $6,700. That’s tax in, with an upgraded shingle, and new roof vents. That’s why you need to know that my roofer is called Joe Lowrey, and his business is called Lowrey’s, and you’ll want to go to http://www.lowreyroofing.com to find Joe, and his phone number, and if you need a roof or someone you love needs a roof, you call Joe.

The guy is great, his roofers are pros, and he replaced our roof in a day and a half. We found two nails TOTAL in our driveway/yard after his team ripped off the old roof and put on the new one. We got instant, perfect results. Most importantly, though, is that Joe is a very nice man and I trust him completely. He cared about us, he cared about our horrible roof situation, and he made us his top priority this spring. Our roof went on the MOMENT the temperature would allow a new roof to be installed, and I am so grateful.

Moving along to other things: I’ve spent the spring raking out the yard of (I would guess three) years of debris and waste. I pulled five large size compost bags of leaves from the backyard, ten from the front yard (full size maple tree, natch!), endless crabapples, piles of grapevine and thorny rose canes were cut and hauled, and then oversized and badly placed cedar trees were cut down in the front yard and left at the curb.

God bless the City of Ottawa and their green bin/yard waste program that took away EVERYTHING we left at the curb, even the sticks that weren’t tied up as per the City’s guidelines. GOD BLESS YOU, CITY.

But why aren’t there photographs? Oh yeah, well… yeah. See… yeah.

The giant messy mess was scraped up and carted away, but what it left underneath was a… giant messy mess. The grass in the front yard and backyard is patchy at best, and there are large swaths of the yard that are bare dirt. The before/after pictures I took resulted in “that’s still a “before” picture right? result. Without the monetary resources to cart in INFINITY dirt and buy INFINITY mature plants, there hasn’t been much to show. It’s very sad, especially since my lower back has fucking had it up to here with this shit. (Direct quote from my lower back, no edits, no punches pulled.)

I’m hoping that later this summer all the pansies, hydrangeas, hostas and dirt shovelling will result in maybe just one photograph that is worth taking. Maybe just one. That moment, though, hasn’t happened yet. I continue to wait and hope.

Coming Soon!

I’m happy to say that I’ll be writing two guest reviews for iScotch.ca in the coming weeks, which is a tremendously fun opportunity for me. Thirty Year House isn’t just a blog about the house we’ll own for the next thirty years, this is a blog about having lives again, to be frank. We gave all our time, heart, sweat and attention to our townhouse because it was a stepping stone to this house, and we’re damn tired. We’re looking forward to reconnecting with friends and having a chance to play with other kids. Of course, since we’re adults, “playing with our friends” can mean guest posts in blogs!

So coming up soon, I’ll be writing about scotch from Highland Park distillery, which is the most northern distillery in Scotland. This will be unbelievably interesting because I’m not a big drinker anymore, the only time I’ve had scotch it was at the end of a marathon evening of drinking whereupon it FINISHED ME, and I have zero experience or knowledge of how to appreciate food and drink. Ernest Goes To Scotland, basically. Peat?! Hoy-uck! In mah drinkin’ glass?? Golly!

I’ll also be writing a piece on Ungava gin. Ungava gin is currently considered by some to be the best gin in the world, and it happens to be made in Nunavik, on the Ungava Peninsula. For those who are wondering what Nunavik is (a territory you’ve never heard of?), Nunavik is a comprehensive land claim agreement and region. You’re in for a treat, because my day job is related to comprehensive land claims and I’ll be pairing talk of the drink with talk of the region.

In honour of the scotch and feeling like an imposter when it comes to writing about the appreciation of spirits, here’s some Dallas Green, “Death of Me“.

Tell Me You’re Going To Blog This

…is what my coworker said to me as she cried with laughter when I told her about cleaning our jetted bath tub.

When we got the house, we photographed the jetted bath tub because it was so disgusting. The previous owners had used (and left behind) a rubber mat in the tub. It was stained orange-brown with long hairs wrapped up in its suction cupped bottom. The jets were stained, grimy, and clearly had hair caught up in them too. It needed an exorcism, is what I’m saying. Second best: kill it with fire from space.

Now, I’ve often described hot tubs as “a crockpot of people sweat and genital secretions with a testicle bouquet garni“. I mean, a jetted tub has water lines, and the water lines are full of the water from the last bather, right? Ugh. My house has a stanky “hot tub”, now more like a “cold tub”, which I would probably prefer to call “an infection tub”.

Cleaners were hired to clean out the house, and while they made the bottom of the tub shine, they wouldn’t do anything about the jets. It was left to us. Inexplicably, they scrubbed the rubber mat clean and folded it up. ….I have NO idea.

Our home inspector had suggested that we use one cup of bleach, a full tub of water, and then run the jets for a good long while to clear the system out. Therefore, the night we moved in Mark and I went to WalMart to buy bleach and a new blanket for the dog. We were dead tired, and we stood in front of the racks of bleach in quiet contemplation. Mark reached down and picked out the cheapest, smallest bottle of bleach I’ve ever seen. It said, simply, Extra Strong Bleach. No brand name.

“Mark, don’t you want to get Clorox or Javex or something? A brand name?”

Mark rocked gently on his feet, like a zombie waiting for a thought or impulse to occur.

“There’s a lot of Clorox and stuff, like, I think there’s a reason why. I think that stuff is… better.”

Mark just stood there, turning grey from exhaustion. I caved immediately. He was DONE. I couldn’t explain why people bought Clorox and Javex instead of Extra Strong Bleach, I knew there was a reason, I figured it had to do with scent, none of the Clorox bottles mentioned scent, and my man was dying in front of me. It seemed important to get him home ASAP and just go to bed. The monetary difference wasn’t a huge deal, and there was no evidence that the brand names were better than Extra Strong Mystery Acid.

Huge. Mistake.

1) Never cut your boyfriend/fiancé any slack. Never.

2) Trust your gut.

We went home, the dog loved his new blanket, and the next afternoon it was time to take on the tub. I’d be lying if I said I was dismayed. I love really dirty things – I love to clean them. I love to clean complicated VERY dirty things, like children’s toys and hamster mazes and yes, jetted tubs. The weirder the object, the more satisfying the work. During the move we’d found a really old toothbrush and I was elated. I would use it to clean out the jets! YES. So excited! I was already feeling the glowing satisfaction of a pristine white tub with that bleach fresh smell and polished up jets. I could visualize it. I love the smell of Javex. I was SO ready to do this ugly job.

The toothbrush worked wonders. I was so satisfied. Everything was working out.

I plugged up the tub and turned the water on, heat on max. As the steam began to rise, I opened up the bottle of Extra Strong Bleach. I recalled that the home inspector had said to use one cup of the stuff but naawwww. I wanted my tub to be sterilized. I broke the safety seal very carefully and poured until my feelings said I’d reached the right point.

The stench of cat pee blossomed like a nuclear mushroom cloud.

BLEACH IS MADE FROM AMMONIA. Jesus god I think I knew that but like I didn’t understand. Javex and Clorox are probably leading bleach brands because their products are made from ammonia (probably, maybe there are different origins for bleach) but don’t stink of cat piss!

Even worse, I am so allergic to cats that the smell of ammonia was making my skin crawl. CATS ARE NEAR: I CAN SMELL THEM said Paranoid and Allergic!Janine. WE SHOULD BREAK OUT IN HIVES, MAYBE.

The hot water was shunted to cold to reduce the spreading stench, and I closed the bathroom door. I didn’t have any rubber gloves, there wasn’t enough water in the tub to dilute the bleach to the point that it wouldn’t melt the flesh off my hands (because I’d dosed the tub until my feelings said stop!) so I was committed. I worked on priming the bedroom ceiling as I listened to the tub fill, considering the eternal conundrum: can a tub be sterile if it smells like cat piss? It had never occurred to me that the answer to that might be an emphatic yes. Considering there was a third of a bottle of bleach in there…

Eventually, the tub filled to the point that the uppermost jet was covered with three or four centimeters of water. I cannot emphasize enough at this juncture that I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I have no experience with jetted tubs.

The power switch is outside the bathroom. You flip the power to the tub on, I suppose you’re supposed to get in, then you push a water proofed button on the tub to start the jet function. I flipped on the power, I turned on the tub, and an incredibly loud rumble signalled that Things Were Happening. The water in the tub was suddenly moving and then BAM. Like a vision of the water fountains in Versailles being started for the day, the two jets on the back of the tub began to stream water. For one hot second they were contained under the water line, but they rose above the waterline as the motor under the tub revved up to full strength.

At first I thought it was going to be okay but no.

I recall seeing them rise about an inch above the water line, but nothing after that because that’s when I began to react to the instinctual knowledge (by this point I was all about instincts) that I was in shit. I don’t know what I did, it happened so fast, but the ultimate outcome is that those two jets blasted me in the face with heavily bleached water. I was turning away when it happened (instincts!) so my right eye took the brunt of it, but I want to be clear that my entire face was thoroughly soaked. My nostrils were full of cat pissy water, my right EAR was full of it, and worst of all my eyes were saturated.

Oh shit.

Oh shit oh shit.

MY EYES. I kinda need those?

Oh shit.

But it wasn’t done, the jets weren’t at full strength when they got me. No, at full strength those bastards were hosing down the bathroom vanity and mirror. I was ineffectually batting at the water, trying to deflect it back into the tub with my hands but it was a fools errand. The floor began to run with water when I recalled that I could kill the power to the jets from outside the room.

I did so.

The water foundation died instantly, and the water falling to the floor made a self-amused slap when it hit the puddles on the tile.

My whole world was the stench of cat piss. My eyes were doing alright, so I dried off my face, but as Mark came to ask why I had been screaming, it started. My right eye began to burn.

Oh shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit.

I ran to the other upstairs bathroom, turned on the shower, aimed the shower head at the wall and for the first time in my life EVER, I held my eyes open under running water. Even with the water running over my face, filling my right ear, everything EVERYTHING ALL THE THINGS smelled like cat pee. Everything. My eyeballs were like *scccreeeaammmmmmm* of horror because they knew. They knew. They weren’t damaged by the bleach, my eye sight is fine, but they knew. They were scared. They knew they also smelled of cat piss. They weren’t happy about it.

Mark taught me that a jetted tub needs to be filled up to at least an inch to two inches above the highest jet. Where were you when I needed you BEFORE, O Fount Of Jetted Tub Wisdom That Is Called Fiancé? An inch of water is enough to deflect the strength of the jets. We ran the tub for an hour, and when it was done the jets were glossy white and yeah, cat pissy.

I drained the tub and refilled it with hot water, and an all purpose LAVENDER scented household cleaner to get the cat pissy water out of the lines. I cleaned up the standing water on the floor (cat pissy towels!) but to my surprise, the bathroom mirror dried itself and is SPARKLING.

So…. cat pissy silver lining?

Moving Day

Mark left to get the moving truck about 5 minutes ago, and I let Zaphod out of the master bedroom where he’s been snoozing.

“Where’s the Man!!!?!”

“He’s gone to get the moving truck.”

“What’s that?!?”


“What’s ‘moving truck’ mean?”

“Oh! Oh dear. Zaphod, when a man and a woman love a house very much, sometimes they…”


“No, baby.”

Further Developments

….and so, in the fullness of time, we took possession of the Apple House, and it was good.

A day’s worth of time of a cleaning crew was given unto us, and today they cleaned up the Flies, and the House was no longer the House of Flies, it was rebirthed as the House of Body Hair That The Cleaners Missed.

Lo, a phone call was made, and the cleaning lady was made to return on the morrow to finish the job because SRSLY. The house is empty, you have the time to clean out the insides of the bathroom cabinets. The Word of the Lord, amen.

And in that time it was discovered that the powder room sink leaks terribly, and that the powder room sink cabinet needs to be removed, and a new sink must be purchased, and new taps, and there was much rejoicing, for LO I DO LOVE RENOVATION, and verily this is my jam.

The dessicated poop that was revealed to all in the master bathroom toilet was rehydrated and flushed, praise be unto Me, who used an orange juice jug to refill the toilet, and who laughed the entire time for indeed it was SO GROSS and yet, I did say I wishethed for a challenge.

For thine is thy fixer upper, the power tools and the stories, earl grey tea lattés, amen.

Hello My Name Is

I should probably get around to introducing myself. I’m the OTHER HALF. Mark, by name. Known across a multitude of car forums by.. well, that’s not important, is it?

 And I had originally thought I’d just talk about my thoughts for the house, and my priorities and the fun we were going to have talking out design ideas and… but that’s not the way Janine and I work. And anyone who knows us, knows it. I had my thoughts on the home inspection: my priorities are always the function over form (car too: give me performance, and it can look like hell) first, which means all the nits that are picked (she’s going to change that before this gets posted, mark my words) in a home inspection got a viable, italicized list, with fixes and estimated costs and…

 Screw that. It’s not time for that yet.

 So, lets start here, with Janine’s own words:

Game over, seller.

 Your junk pile is ours.

 It’s mine to turn into a gem, and it’s his to turn into the ultimate support system for the garage. (We have different priorities, and that’s fine, because I respect his garage and he doesn’t say no to my paint choices.) People need boundaries and their own “spaces”.


The statement there isn’t entirely accurate. It’s KIND OF ACCURATE. Yes, the garage is gonna be a definite play thing for me, and yes, there’ll be design stuff to deal with there.

 I do say no to her paint choices. Regularly. At which point, there’s ranting and raving, because I don’t know the difference between oatmeal and creme grey, and dammit, it’s OBVIOUS when you look at it in the 3pm light on a fall day during the equinox. or something.

 I don’t know interior design, is what I’m saying, but I know waht I like. And I know that if I don’t know what something is going to look like ahead of time, I inherently dislike it on the face of the discussion.

 This makes Janine bonkers.

 This making Janine bonkers makes me bonkers.

 You can see why we get along, right?

 There’s currently an ongoing war about whether or not there will be a plethora of pink in the house. It goes like this:

 Janine: I’m going to do this, this and this, it’s these wonderful pink shades

Mark: No pink. Seriously.

Janine: it’s more a salmon/peach type of flavor

Mark: It’s pink. You just said it was pink. it looks pink.

Janine: it won’t in the sun between 3pm and 4pm, in the fall, it’ll look rosy and warm.

Mark: *gets out phone to google* “rosy”. That’s PINK. YOU’RE NOT FOOLING ME.

Janine: it’ll be fine WHY WON’T YOU TRUST MY VISION?

Mark: Because your vision is PINK!

Janine: it’s not!

Mark: it is!

Janine: It’s not!

Mark: It is!


Mark: NO PINK!

 This is only half in jest. It’s at least fifty percent of the truth. Maybe less.

 Mostly, what I’m saying is, we have very different visions, and extremely different ways of attacking projects. She’s talked a bunch about design and color already, both interior and exterior. I’m not really thinking about any of those things. And honestly, despite the somewhat facetious display above, I’m generally fine with what she’s looking at doing, style-wise. She did brilliantly with the townhouse, before we sold it. In reality, our tastes are similar, with hers being more adventurous than mine.

 Where we really differ is the way we attack projects. She is superbly detail oriented. She’s said it herself, she’s a perfectionist, and she gets hung up on the details. I, on the other hand, dig my hands in and sweat.I pre-plan like crazy, and get all my supplies together first. I don’t mind breaking things, I don’t mind building them, and (with a laptop and google handly) I don’t have any issues doing something I’ve never done before. I can get plumbing right… after she points me in the right direction for the correct style fixtures. I’ve done laminate flooring, a deck, spent a summer doing roofing. I worked in landscaping for years, and while my kneejerk reaction to landscaping now is “pave it all”, if you need a tree trimmed or stump dug out I’ll be in there with an ax and shovel and that tree WILL get moved. And I’ll make you some nice lookin’ flowerbeds when it’s done. I’ll fix my own tools where I can, and happily.

 I am king, with a caulk-gun.

And I’ll provide design input where I feel appropriate. Because I can, and it’s not all about the garage.

 I’m looking forward to this house. Janine and I have really disparate views on where it all goes (the kitchen alone is going to cause a multitude of high volume discussions, I’m already sure) but it’s going to be fun along the way. There are design cues throughout the house that I want to pick up, and as she said, the garage will be a thing that gets done in the same way. there’s no need to neglect that space: I plan on spending a lot of time there with friends and fellow enthusiasts. I’m a garage kind of guy. So, it’s gonna be interesting, and useful.

What you’ll probably see from me here (as you may already have guessed) is counterpoint to Janine’s more regular discussions. Also, probably a bunch of step-by-step DIY stuff, and documentation of the colossal fuck-ups I’m undoubtedly going to make. And the garage and basement plans, and probably a lot of landscaping. The individual fixes that are, in and each, minor, but put together, much larger and more time consuming. And the general high-larity that will come from doing all of this, and living the life with Janine.

Planning Ahead

There’s a lot of snow outside, and even more filling up the driveway of the Apple House. Mark and I drove past it while on Christmas vacation, and the city snow plows had given us a seasonal gift of a 4 foot high wall of compacted snow and ice. No one is clearing off the path to the front door either, although some hard core postal worker is still trudging up to the front door to leave fliers. Poor bastard… also, poor us, because we are in for a nightmare of a workout. Thank the LORD I go to the gym.
Despite the fact that it’s the season for hot drinks, mountains of blankets, roaring fireplaces and movie marathons, I think both Mark and I are a bit obsessed with thoughts of spring and the exterior of the house. We were at the house because it had warmed up unexpectedly and snow was melting, and we wanted to know if the snow on the very very messed up roof of the Apple House was melting. We were in for such a great surprise! Despite all the snow we’ve had this winter, the prevailing winds in our new ‘hood picked up the snow from the East roof faces and dumped it all on the West roof faces. The weak spot in the roof, the big crisis spot that we wanted patched so urgently, is on the East side of the house and miracle of miracles, there was only about an inch of snow over that spot. The West side of the house had about a foot of snow, and it was forming an incredibly impressive drift over the front of the house! The Apple House looks like an emo kid with a heavy sweep of bangs hanging in his/her eyes.
I fell in a snowbank. I am a graceful Canadian swan. 
I pulled myself out by holding onto our Subaru Forester. 
When I ran out of station wagon to hold onto, I almost fell back into the snowbank.
Mark couldn’t even look at me, it was so embarrassing to watch.
That’s not the only creeping I’ve been doing, though. I’ve been working on figuring out what to do to improve the exterior of the house. Right now, the house is the worst of the 1980s in Canada. Any Canadian (who would notice these kinds of things) will tell you that in the late ’70s and in the ’80s, there was this insane Canadian civic love affair with dark chocolate brown: libraries were painted chocolate brown, park signs were chocolate brown with yellow letters, trim on houses were glossy chocolate brown OH GOD THE MEMORIES. Everything that was provided to the public by the provincial or municipal governments (it seemed) got painted chocolate brown! Our house kind of falls into that category: cream vinyl siding, red brick, and dark chocolate brown trim (and shutters).
This colour combination has always strongly reminded me of a nanaimo bar, which isn’t BAD because yum? But it’s dated to be sure. Since we have to put a new roof and new windows on the house, we’re in a position to make significant changes to the appearance of the house. This is brilliant! However, if you’re gonna be choosing a new roof and new windows, it’s a good idea to have a vision for the whole exterior. The roof will come from one supplier, the windows from another, so it really falls to the homeowner to have a master plan.
So what do you do with a red brick and cream vinyl siding house? (Answer: google image search the crap out of red brick houses!)
The internet seems to say that your only options for a red brick house  are black shutters with white trim and windows, but that’s pretty much what we have now and it doesn’t look good at all. It really, really looks… dark? Dirty? Boring?
I decided to assume that the windows would have charcoal grey trim (more on that later), and that the roof would be a medium grey. The choice of roof colour is a big deal: the darker your roof, the more heat it’ll create and the more your insulation will have to work at keeping your house cool. Since that’s the case, I think a medium grey will be both dark enough to have class, and will be light enough to not create too much heat.
After futzing around with Microsoft paint and trying out a wide variety of colours, I created a milky oxblood red (applied to the shutters, front door and garage door) that just happens to look absolutely incredible with a charcoal windows and cream vinyl siding. The look is very “modern farmhouse”.
I’m hoping that in real life we’ll find a garnet/oxblood house paint that looks absolutely incredible with the existing brick. The colour I created on my computer is darker, browner and somehow has a smooth milky-ness that sets off the brick instead of creating a sense that the whole damn house is an OXO cube. Win!
But the tricky part becomes this: in my successful mock up with the imaginary oxblood house paint, my starting point was those grey frame windows. The mock ups with pure white window frames clashed with the cream coloured siding.
Well, we have a quote for getting grey frame windows, but they’re more expensive than white windows. So now my question is…
…if I wanted to put grey framed windows on the parts of the house that face the street, and white frame windows everywhere else, would that be such a crime?

Getting To Work

One of the interesting things about the Apple House is that the bathrooms were recently renovated, and they’re nicely done. There’s no reason to undo decent work, even if it isn’t exciting stuff. I would never waste well done construction, I’ll make it work. My starting point is a little… dark, though.


The walls and ceiling are a shade of blue-grey (not a bad choice, previous owners) and obviously the vanity light doesn’t throw much light. That’s outrageous! ITS ONLY FUNCTION IS TO THROW LIGHT. Light fixtures of the world: you serve a noble purpose! You throw light around rooms for people who can’t see in the dark. You’re noble, you save lives when you do your jobs well. This light, though, is giving y’all a bad reputation. I need a solution.

The bathroom vanity is original to the house, the counter top is laminate, the sink is fairly new, the taps are okay. Given all of this, I think I’ll donate the entire unit to Habitat for Humanity. It can be installed in a house right now, or sold to support building houses for low income families. I’m 100% into that, always.

Here’s where my head is at:


In 2007, I took a solo trip to Morocco and I took a lot of pictures, like you do. I worked really hard on developing my pictures, probably too much, because as soon as I had them printed and was satisfied with them, I became unbearably bored with my prints and just wanted to get rid of them. I never hung them unless I had to (had to is defined as staging the house or doing a rush job on decorating a room for guests).

Here’s the game plan:

– paint the room cream, or a warm creamy pale grey;

– reframe some of my photography into slimmer frames, suitable for lying very flat on the wall in a high traffic area,

– the West Elm shower curtain (shown above) is already in the mail;

– remove the towel bar, and install multiple towels bars across the room for multiple guests;

– a new vanity, very modern, with warm wood tones;

– I brought back two hand of Fatima door knockers from Morocco. One is antique and graceful, the other is very small and crude, but very very sweet. The smaller hand was a gift for Mark, the antique is mine. They’ve been waiting for a home for 7 years, and it’s about time I put them up somewhere. Maybe one on the bathroom door, maybe one the vanity or on the medicine cabinet.

– the vanity top  with integral sink in pure white, to bounce some light around;

– find a mirror like the one in the inspiration photograph in the upper right hand corner, but that’s gonna take some looking and budgeting. It’s a Moroccan bone inlay mirror, and they’re available here and there.

– and finally, if the budget allows, getting an electrician to advise us on and install pot lights to bring light into every corner of the bathroom.

This is it. This is the first plan for the new house. It’s the first fix. I described it to Mark, he likes it, and that’s good enough. This is good enough.