Unfounded #SOL21 5/31

One way or another, I thought we should get out of the kitchen. 

Earlier that day, the construction crew had excavated in order to waterproof our kitchen foundation. But instead of a true foundation, all they’d found was a cinder block wall just casually supporting our kitchen, approximately 14 inches back from the edge of the walls. It was as if, at some point in the past, a couple of guys decided to dig out a basement, and while they were at it one of them looked around and said, “Hey, whaddya think about throwing a few cinder blocks up here? Just in case, ya know?” And the other guy said, “Think we should dig on over to the actual edge of the entire house above us?” And the first one said, “Nah, what’s a foot or two? It’ll still hold things up for now.” 

Which meant that now, in 2018, when the foundation crew stopped for the day, we were left with a trench and a flimsy wall rather than the soil that used to help support the kitchen. We also had a small mountain of dug-out dirt towering over the trench. Not ideal, but before they drove off, the guys assured me it was “solid enough” until we figured out what to do. 

The tornado threw us for a loop. We don’t have tornados here: this is a government town, and things like that are just a little too dramatic for our tastes – and Ottawa isn’t exactly Tornado Alley. In fact, we were so surprised when the radios and cell phones started blaring about a tornado watch that we kind of ignored it. It just didn’t make any sense. One of my friends hopped in the car with her child to come over to visit. Even if there was going to be a tornado, she said, which seemed ridiculous, it wasn’t due for another 30 minutes. As my friend walked in, she commented that the wind and rain had really picked up.

She was right about “really picked up” given that it had been a lovely day right up until the tornado came. We sat down in the kitchen, our usual gathering place, and poured a “nice to see you” drink. Andre walked in a few minutes later – he’d biked home from work – and he, too, commented on the wind and the rain. “It was so pretty earlier,” he mused as we handed him a drink.

Did I mention that our kitchen was no longer supported?

Mere moments later, through occasional wind-blown gaps in the rain that was now sluicing down our kitchen window, I could make out cascades of water gushing down the pile of mud and directly into the ditch next to our definitely-not-to-code kitchen foundation. “You’ve got to see this!” I gestured my guests over to the window. 

We looked out, gasping, and at that moment, as the wind howled around us, we realized that we were watching torrents of water flow into the trench below us next to the sort-of-supportive cinder block wall. Standing next to the window meant we were standing over the trench – which meant we were standing over thin air. The lights flickered. One way or another, I thought, we should get out of the kitchen. 

As we settled into the (well-supported) playroom, the lights went out. The kids were horrified and delighted. We rounded up the flashlights and the candles. Within minutes, the winds died down and the rain stopped. From what we could see, the trench had quite a bit of water in it, but there wasn’t much in the basement. Nevertheless, once the tornado had passed, we decided we were better off at a friend’s house for a while. In the end, we were lucky: our house held up, probably because the tornado – which turned out to be several tornadoes – didn’t directly hit our part of town. Our power was out for a while, and school was cancelled the next day, but the foundation crew had been right: that old cinder block wall was, indeed, solid enough. Somewhere in the early 1900s whoever dug out our basement must have known what they were doing after all – thank goodness.

Thanks to https://twowritingteachers.org for hosting this annual challenge

Piano: Slice of Life 19/31 #SOL20

Today we decided we had to move the piano. We had to move the piano in order to set up the work area and plug in the computer. We have to plug in the computer because sometime soon we are going to have to start working from home. This week is our March Break, so everyone has been off; next week, reality will hit. We’re going to need that computer.

Unfortunately, the piano was here:


You can totally see the piano, right? Just back there under the blanket. I mean, no problem at all.

Obviously, I hid upstairs while Andre tried to clear enough space to get it out. I got a lot done upstairs.

Eventually the path was clear and it was time. We tried to slip sliders under the piano’s feet so that it wouldn’t gouge the hardwood floors. Only it turns out that the piano has wheels. Great! Wheels! We maneuvered it away from the wall. Um… it was still leaving marks on the floor. Time to use the sliders after all.

“The backside is heavier. Let me just lift it up and then you can slide it in really quick.”
Groan, gasp, quick intake of breath.
“It’s ok, try again. It’ll fit, but that angle’s not going to work.”
We started to giggle. We are terrible.

After all our work, the piano rolled off the sliders during our first good push/pull. Now what? We looked around… carpet remnants! After another slightly naughty conversation and an awful lot of lifting and sliding, we got the piano’s wheels onto two carpet remnants. Now all we needed to do was slide it down the hallway and into the dining room.

Actually, let me amend that slightly: we needed to slide the heavy piano on two random pieces of carpet down a narrow, freshly painted hallway without marring the newly refinished hardwood floor.

Our 11-year-old, lured by the siren song of his parents struggling, came to perch on the stairs and watch.

With our first heave, the piano slid right off one of the pieces of carpet. Undaunted, we pressed our now-laughing child observer into action: his job was to squat between his father’s legs and keep the carpet roughly in place. Andre pulled; I pushed.

“3…2…1… GO!” Down the hallway we went, inches at a time, over the treacherous air intake grate, past the door frame, narrowly missing the bit of wall that juts out for no discernable reason.

“DAD! Your bum is in my face!” We ignored Thomas and pressed on.

Hours (ok, minutes) later, we were in the dining room and near-ish to the piano’s final resting space. We paused. Only one challenge remained: get it into the corner.

We pushed one side back, Thomas vigilantly ensuring the carpet remained in place. Then the next. Then the first side… the second… there! It was in. Now to remove the carpet. We held the middle and one side and tilted the piano a tiny bit and… voila! The carpet came out. The second side was even easier.

We stood back to admire our handiwork. Thomas cocked his head to one side and said, “You know, I’m not sure it really goes in this room.” Then he laughed like a maniac and ran down the hallway and up the stairs.

That piano is staying where it is.






Over the edge: Slice of Life 17/31 #SOL20

It is only Tuesday. I had to double-check that after I wrote it. I checked twice. Still Tuesday. I’ve been holding it all together pretty well, but today has taken it out of me.

7:30am – after a restless night, the phone startles me awake. How am I still asleep at this hour? On the other end of the line, my mom is saying that she is going to go ahead and drive up for her planned visit. My grogginess disappears. I ache to see her, but she should NOT cross an international border (with corned beef and cabbage in the back seat, and a giant stuffie in the passenger seat) for a brief visit during a global pandemic. I know it sounds really obvious when I put it like that, but I really really want to see her right now, and I know she wants to see us. What usually feels like an easy drive with a quick pause at the border is insurmountable in the new reality of COVID19.

9:00am – Eric and Andre have made sausage biscuits (which I pretend is “homeschooling”). I post a picture online because he is so dang cute and immediately feel guilty because it’s basically all show. By now, all the construction guys have arrived and they have a LOT of cutting to do. For much of the day, one guy is in the basement cutting through the concrete with a wet saw (?), another is sawing and hammering something just outside the front door, and two more are either finishing siding – pound pound pound – or cutting through brick to finish a window on the second floor. Sometimes the whole house vibrates. I spend the morning trying to either a) convince the children to unpack their bedrooms or b) do some work for my online course. I am successful at neither.

Every few minutes, the noise crescendos and everything I am thinking about disappears. Eventually I cobble together enough thoughts to realize that I am living Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”; this would make a good slice, I think, but as soon as the idea takes shape, the pounding recommences, the walls shake, and the crew continues to work.

I try to unpack but run into the tetris conundrum: we can’t put anything in the master bathroom because they are cutting a window in the wall, so the bathroom stuff is stashed mostly in the closet which means that I can’t move the things from the bedroom to the closet which meant that I can’t… you get the picture. I call a friend. As we talk, the fire alarm goes off – for the first time.

At least the continuous bone-rattling clamour mostly prevents me from worrying about how to reconcile social distancing and construction work. In the precious seconds between chainsaw buzzing, I console myself that these men have been crawling all over this house for 9 months. They spend more time here than at their homes. And our house isn’t actually all the way finished, so we don’t have a lot of choice. We clean a lot and don’t hang out with them much. It’s the best we’ve got. 

12:00pm – I keep trying to work. I have essays that need marking, an online course that requires reading, and a blog that needs writing (that’s this one), but the more I try to focus, the more I feel sick. Am I feverish? I don’t think so, but my head hurts a lot. Our exchange student, God bless him, asks if he can go to his girlfriend’s house. I feel like I should say no, but Europe has closed its borders; Canada has all but closed its border; Ontario has declared a state of emergency; this pandemic could last for months, and this poor sucker of an 18-year-old is stuck in our nearly-finished house with a tween and a mouthy 9-year-old while the walls shake from construction. So we say yes, with strict instructions for them not to go out at all. He smirks and says that “shouldn’t be a problem.” Sigh.

1:15pm – The fire alarm clangs on and off for over an hour before they figure out what’s causing it. The furnace guy comes to check the furnace and then leaves again. My head is still pounding and now my stomach hurts, too, so I go for a walk in the neighborhood – nevermind the occasional “wintry mix” that is our weather. My heart falls as I walk past shuttered business after shuttered business. The coffee shops, restaurants and hair dresser, all closed. The playground in the park is abandoned. Only the local pot shop is thriving: the line stretches down the street. So this is what it’s come to.

3:45pm – I walk for a long time and my head starts to clear, but eventually I have to go home. I’ve just put in earplugs (as useless as getting out a broom during a tornado) and settled as far as I can from the noise, when an infernally loud beeping begins. It’s not the fire alarm; now, between shrill yips, a calm computerized voice says, “carbon monoxide detected” over and over and over.

We grab the kids and hurry them down stairs as the construction lead comes in and begins to open the windows. Clearly we need to get out of the house, but everyone is quarantined or social distancing. And while it’s not actively spitting snow/rain/sleet, the skies are ominous. I think on my feet and suggest our friends’ place – they’re still on vacation (in Mexico! imagine!) and their house is empty. We know the code for their keybox. We hurry down the street only to discover that their back gate is iced shut. The kids offer to scale it just as the wintry mix begins again. I text our friends; they are delighted to let us use their house. The kids find the key box & get the door open. 

3:55pm – we are in. No one is hammering or sawing or pounding. There is no fire alarm, no carbon monoxide. I don’t have my computer or anything to do. No matter: I sit in the glorious silence. Slowly my headache subsides. The boys are on the other side of the house, watching TV and I am just sitting. I have not done any of the things that needed doing. I have not read or marked or written. I haven’t unpacked or cleaned or cooked. I haven’t organized or even been able to think all day long. And I am so tired. 

I text my friend. I say that I am tired. He replies,

A move plus no school plus a deadly furnace plus a pandemic is a lot to happen in a week. 😦

6:00pm – as we walk back to the house, now free of smoke, carbon monoxide and sawing of any sort, I get a message from my sister: her boys are out of school until the end of the school year. She is panicking. My 9-year-old starts to say how awesome that would be when his brother hushes him. “This is really serious, isn’t it, Mom?” he asks. I nod. “Maybe I’ll start a journal when I get home,” he says quietly.

And then I know I am over the edge. I will need to sleep before I can think properly again. It’s a lot for one week – and it’s only Tuesday.  




Welcome home: Slice of Life 11/31 #SOL20

Dave, the builder, surprises me at the second floor bedroom window. He’s installing siding.

I thought this post would write itself. I thought, easy peasy. We’ll get home and I’ll write about how great it is to be home.

We officially moved home yesterday evening. HOORAY! We had just enough time to get everyone into their own beds and get to sleep. It was glorious. I took today off as a “moving day” (which is a really lovely thing for my employer to offer). The day went mostly like this:

Um… have you seen the measuring cups?
Shoot! The mugs are still at the apartment! Maybe you can use a glass for your coffee? I’ll use the travel mug for tea.
How on earth did you shower with no soap in there? No, nevermind, don’t tell me.
I can’t find my long-sleeved shirts. Do you have any idea which box they might be in?
Oh my gosh! Boys! You have to get out of here! It takes 10 minutes longer to walk to school from here! You’re going to be late!
Wait – where’s the hairbrush?

Not long after the kids were off, the builders arrived. Bang! Bang! Bang! Tssssst…. tsssst….zzzzz… BANG! They were finishing up the siding. And they still had to cut the dryer vent… and we can’t put anything against the walls or in the closets yet because the painter has to do touch-ups on Friday. The final drawer pulls for the master bathroom aren’t in, so we can only open two of the drawers. There is a giant orange work trolley thing in the corner of our kitchen.

All day long, I was looking for a moment to write about that showed gratitude or humour or just, you know, my-new-house-is-great-and-also-I’m-appropriately-humble. I couldn’t find anything because, honestly, I the only thing I was feeling was overwhelmed. Every time I tried to sit down to write, I thought of something else I needed to do. I spent a lot of time opening the computer, scrolling aimlessly through social media, realizing I had forgotten something important, closing the computer to go do the suddenly important thing, realizing I hadn’t written anything, and starting the process over again.

The kids came home and scotch-taped saran-wrap to the freshly painted walls. I cannot explain this. A neighbour came over with his dog and the dog pooped on the new carpet. He was mortified (but it was perfectly easy to clean). I lost the phone handset in a pile of bedclothes and put blankets over the windows since we don’t yet have curtains or blinds. Finally, I had to take a walk to clear my head. There is an awful lot going on.

Today was a glorious mess, and guess what? We are home.



Almost in: Slice of Life 8/31 #SOL20

Today was going to be my day of not writing. I had pre-forgiven myself & reminded myself that I started this month’s challenge knowing that I might not write every day because our renovations are finishing up and we’re moving home. Yesterday, the movers came & took nearly everything out of the apartment we’ve been renting for nine months and moved it all over to our house. They didn’t take everything because of the *tiny* hiccup where our house has not yet been declared “fit for occupancy.” (See here for the whole story.) Which means that we packed and then unpacked all day yesterday, then went back to our almost barren apartment and slept on air mattresses (with two very freaked out cats).

Today promised to be another long & exhausting day with only the air mattresses to look forward to tonight. I woke up ready but already tired. No point in writing, I figured. No one wants to hear about unpacking. And then this happened:


Our friends showed up. Tara and Isabella organized almost our entire kitchen. Ed built one of the kids’ beds while Andre toiled away at the master bedroom. Peter and Anita showed up with beer and more kids. Carmen and her girls popped in to say hello and one stayed to help (her sister had a class, or I’m sure she would have stayed, too). Lara & Reagan came with banana bread and stayed to set up Thomas’s room.

Even the 9-year-olds got involved. We challenged them (ok, bribed them) to clear the 4-ish inches of ice from the front walkway. Look at this: img_2404

Not only did they use an ice chopper and a sledgehammer, but our next door neighbour, Mike, came over and gave them lots of tips while he cheered them on (but didn’t do it for them). They got that entire walkway cleared from a winter’s worth of ice.

And now here I am in a house that is newly full of friendship and laughter. The inspector may not think this house is ready for occupancy, but I know that it is.

And how could I not write about this day?

(PS – I will be even happier when we get to sleep here – maybe tomorrow.)


Pipe dreams: Slice of Life 6/31 #SOL20

The movers are booked for tomorrow. My husband has been packing for days. The cats are freaked out, the children’s room is somehow magically both packed and a complete mess, and the kitchen is bare. After living in a small apartment during almost nine months of renovations, we are ready to go home.

(Originally, these renovations were supposed to take four months, but then it turned out our kitchen was actually the old stable, and it wasn’t exactly firmly attached to the house and the foundation was, well, somewhat less than stable. The project grew.)

The builders have been putting the finishing touches on the house. For me, finishing touches are things like putting up the light fixtures and putting down the carpet. For them, apparently, finishing touches include things like moving the plumbing in the basement so that the bathrooms drain more effectively – or something like that. And yesterday, as they dug into the basement floor, they discovered – completely by accident – that our 110+ year old house still had pipes made of clay.

Notice the use of the past tense. The pipes disintegrated.

You can see the clay on the end of this pipe; the hole that was left behind is in the background.

Did I mention that we are supposed to move in tomorrow? Unfortunately, when the inspector came yesterday – right after the whole, “oops, my shovel went right through that pipe” debacle – he declared the house “unfit for occupancy.”

Luckily, our (truly amazing) builder has already fixed the pipe problem. Unluckily, booking a housing inspector requires *at least* 24-hours notice. So… the movers come tomorrow but we can’t actually stay in our house until Monday. Or maybe Tuesday. Also, Andre – who is wildly prepared – had already packed all of the food, most of the kitchen and all but two sets of clothes for him and the boys. I’m the only slacker and, thus, the only one with clothes.

Now, I will admit to feeling a little sick about all of this, but my 12 year old’s over-the-top pre-teen reaction helped me put things in perspective. Upon hearing about the pipes, he heaved a giant sigh and threw himself onto the couch: “I just knew something like this was going to happen. I am literally going to die if we have to stay in this apartment.”

I mean, he might die, but we’ve lasted nine months. It seems like we can make another three days. Right?