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On the folly of not clearing the leaves in the street

This past autumn, my city decided they weren’t going to pick up the leaves that fall into the street in my neighbourhood. Normally they come by once each year after most of the leaves have fallen and enormous street-sweeping-leaf-picking-upping machines haul away the detritus. But not this year. Instead, as a cost-cutting measure the leaves were left to lie in the gutters. There are really a lot of leaves in my neighbourhood, since it features many large maple and oak trees and many of them overhang the street.

Fast forward to November. Now the leaves in the street have been driven over, parked on, and generally reduced to a thick fibrous mash covering much of the surface of the street. It’s very slippery to ride a bicycle on this mess.

Leaf mush

Then it snows. People drive over the snow plus leaf mash, turning it into a stiff slurry that slides to the sides of the street and freezes solid, blocking all the drains.

Then it snows again. Because the plows push the snow to the side of the street and because even when it does warm up a bit none of the meltwater can make it through the leaf slurry covering the drains, the snow builds up on top of the frozen leaf slurry. People park on it, crushing it into ice.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Now we have a berm of solid ice a good 15 centimetres thick and two metres wide between the street and the sidewalk.

Ardagh Ice Berm

It’s taller than the sidewalk, so any meltwater from the berm and from people’s front yards can’t go anywhere. On warm days the sidewalk becomes an enormous deep puddle.

On the street side of the ice berm, the meltwater also has nowhere to go since the berm forms a solid barrier between the street and the (inaccessible anyway because they’re under six inches of ice and frozen leaf slurry) drains.

The temperature is supposed to reach highs above freezing for most of this week, with rain and perhaps more snow. What falls on the street will stay there, making a swamp; what falls on the sidewalk will stay there too, joining the meltwater from people’s front yards, forming deep puddles during the day that will freeze into treacherous slipperiness at night.

It is going to be a very big mess. There will be many soggy basements and many irate calls to the city.

I’m not sure what they thought would happen here — I predicted this very state of affairs back in October when I heard they weren’t going to sweep the leaves. And I would put quite a bit of money on the cleanup costing far more than it would’ve cost to sweep the leaves in the first place. Sigh.

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Poe Pillow

I finished this project in December but just managed to deliver it to its intended recipients — it was a wedding gift for Ruby Nite and her now-husband — last week. In the interim between finishing it and delivering it, the pillow lived in my office, so all my colleagues who saw me working on the embroidery during many long meetings and teleconferences also got to see the final product.

Pillow - front

The raven and word design on the front and the thorn design on the back are hand-embroidered, mostly in a split backstitch. It’s a bit clearer on the larger version on Flickr: front, back. The actual pillow-cover construction I did on the sewing machine, though — my taste for hand-sewing doesn’t extend quite that far.

Pillow - back

The cover is designed to come off for washing and ought to hold up through a fair number of machine cycles. I figure whenever one is making something for people with kids or dogs (they have a dog [so far]), it had better be something that can stand some chewing and some washing.

I’m pleased with how it turned out!

…and now I need a new project to keep my hands busy and my mind clear for meetings and teleconferences…

Ah, destruction

We started to bash up the hideous, much-hated cabinets from our ex-kitchen (well, more of a “kitchen” really) in the back bedroom. YAY.

(Before - taken in 2002)

(Before - taken in 2002)

I haven’t flung any chunks out the window yet, but it will definitely happen. I really loathed trying to cook in there — it was a zero-bum kitchen, the kind in which you are doomed to get in your own way no matter what, and you’re forever juggling things on the fourteen inches of counter space. Ugh. Taking it apart will be the most fun we’ve ever had in that room by far.

I started by removing all the cabinet doors. D was making noises about keeping some of the horrid ugly grubby hardware — “They’re perfectly good hinges!” — so I had to get all stompy-footed and veto that plan. WE CAN AFFORD A FEW NON-GROSS HINGES, OK?

Next up was the really fun bit involving bashing things with a hammer.

Action shot of D smacking the cabinets into bits

Finally only the backboard was left:

Plywood cabinet backing

Of course, since it is our house, the previous owner had attached it with not one, not two but FOUR different kinds of hardware. From left: some sort of antique dock screw or lagbolt or something, slot screw, square screw, mysterious hex head bolt. All different lengths, all requiring different tools to remove.

We are not fond of our house’s previous owner.

Variety of hardware, as usual

Next up: taking out the sink so we can bash apart the lower cabinets. Then bashing apart the walls, which are kind of trashed anyway and (more relevantly) completely uninsulated. Since there’ll be a small child’s bed pushed up against the two outside walls, we feel insulation might be nice, hence the need for actual framed walls and not just plaster over brick. It’s likely the floor in there will also need to be pulled out and replaced.

But we may drag out the bashing-apart phase for a while, since it’s much more fun than framing, insulating, and drywalling. THAK SMASH!

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Of record collections and cabinetry

Quotation of the Day for June 30, 2008

“It’s no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently or if your favorite films wouldn’t even speak to each other if they met at a party.”

– Nick Hornby

Back a million years ago when my record collection kept to itself, I used to file them in the order I acquired them. This made perfect sense to me — if you want The Smiths, check the shelf of stuff I bought in 1986 — but of course it was utterly impenetrable to anyone else. I think it took several years of cohabitation before I was talked into blending our collections, going with the more conventionally sensible (but soulless!) alphabetic scheme of organization. The collections seem to agree well enough.

Our film choices would definitely speak to each other if they met at a party. “My Tiger Claw beats your Drowning Monkey,” one would say, and the other would say “No! Drowning Monkey is the best kung fu! Die, fool!” and off they’d rumble until Kung Fu Mom stepped in to trounce them both.

I am recording this here as solid evidence that we do, in our house, generally get along, as we contemplate the possibility that if we want our kitchen installed before the middle of August, we may have to do it ourselves. Like, together. Because it’s hard to hang wall cabinets solo. Stupid booked-up Ikea installers…

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Larval kitchen

Kitchens, at least, ours, have a larval form, in which they appear in vast numbers (159, to be exact) of bags and boxes:

Unassembled kitchen - 2

Unassembled kitchen - 1

How long is the larval phase? We shall see.

Countertops have an extra, post-larval delay phase, since they won’t come to make final measurements for those until the cabinets are in place. But fine. At this point, what’s another month?

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An overexcited post about drywall.

Once upon a time a long long time ago there was a downstairs kitchen in our house. It looked something like this:

Kitchen, before

…and despite its extreme ugliness when we bought the house we fully intended to use it for a time, then switch to the upstairs kitchen temporarily while we renovated.

But no. Once we started running water and flushing the upstairs toilet — and after my poor mother had spent an entire day cleaning the downstairs kitchen — we discovered that over in that corner the cabinets were mounted on a sheet of plywood, which Safety-Averse Former Owner (SAFO) had affixed there many years ago. It was there to cover for the fact that there was a massive, sewage-leaking crack in the house’s soil stack (the big pipe that carries all your wastewater to the sewer) behind the wall. It had been flinging sewage into the wall for so long that below cabinet level the wall/plywood/whathaveyou had dissolved, and the cabinets were full of dust and dried sewage.

Ew. Even if we had been able to clean the cabinets adequately, that wall had to disappear to get the stack fixed, which meant the cabinets had to go. Also note the extensive water damage on the ceiling due to SAFO’s ineptitude with tiling the upstairs bathroom. And there was no insulation in the walls, thus no space for wiring for things like lights and dishwashers. We’d need to build proper frame walls for that. Plus the roof developed a leak that ruined more of the ceiling and another wall.

So we ripped it all out, down to the brick. There was sewage soaked through all five layers of kitchen flooring, right down to the eighty-year-old joists.

I have no handy pictures of this phase, but here’s a shot down into the kitchen from the similarly destroyed upstairs bathroom to give a sense of the level of destruction:

Joists between bathroom and kitchen

You can see some of the new walls being framed in the lower room — they’re the new-looking 2x4s.

Then we got the plumbing and wiring totally replaced, closed the door on the kitchen and worked on the upstairs bathroom instead, because it’s really irritating to only have a functional bathtub in the basement. Especially one in a room with no heating vent and with the cast-iron tub touching the two outside walls — in winter, the tub got so cold you could burn your feet on it.

The bathroom’s now done but for several very tiny details and its very pleasantness has thrown the irritatingness of the tiny upstairs “kitchen” into sharp relief. If you can count the number of people that can work in a kitchen without bumping into each other, our upstairs kitchen is a zero-bum kitchen. You get in your OWN way in there, what with the fourteen inches of counter space, no drawers, and half-broken stove.

But look! Here’s that same corner of the downstairs kitchen yesterday morning: Kitchen, April 17 2008

Whee, drywall! (You can even see a bit of the ceiling there.)

And after drywall comes paint, and after paint comes the floor (which has been stacked up in the basement for several years) and the trim, and after the floor and the trim comes a crew of nice men who will install, you know, a kitchen. And there will be much rejoicing.


55: Approximate weight of a sheet of 1/2″ x 4′ x 8′ drywall, in pounds.

9: Height in feet of our kitchen ceiling

639: Approximate number of muscles in the human body

600: Approximate number of those muscles that will hurt the next day if you spend a lot of time lifting 1/2″ x 4′ x 8′ sheets of drywall up to the ceiling, balancing with varying degrees of precariousness on ladders and the corners of tables, and holding the drywall sheets up there while they’re screwed down. This includes the muscles between your ribs (the ones that make it hurt when you breath), the muscles in your instep, the full pectoral suite, the full gluteal suite, and more. Many more.

39: Approximate number of muscles in your face. I am happy to report that you can drywall without pulling these.*

*Assuming your marriage is good, that is. I suppose if you spend the day frowning and hollering at your spouse while also holding sheets of drywall over your head, you may be risking your facial muscles too. And then how will you call your RMT, hmm?

Very sensible advice.

Quotation of the Day for October 7, 2007

“Fix what you can. Call the rest authentic.”

– Sarah Graves, offering home renovation hints in her novel Trap Door.

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Grubby, but not crabby

The water heater is busted. Happily, though, it’s busted in a way that has not (has not yet, let’s not tempt fate) leaked water anywhere. Also happily, it’s a rental so it’s Somebody Else’s Problem.

Unhappily, there are five people in the house at the moment — three large and two small — and we’d all like to avoid the ninja-shower thing, character-building as it is.

I called Direct Energy yesterday and they had someone out to have a look at it within hours. Great. Buddy agreed that yes, it was dead and yes, we could replace it with a larger one, and yes, it could probably happen today. Great.

I called this morning to make the appointment; dispatch called me back. Next Wednesday, they thought they might be able to come out.

Ummmm, no. No, no, no. We are not doing without hot water for a week.

Four phone calls and the intervention of a supervisor later, we have an appointment for 9am tomorrow morning. It was in their system as a straight replacement, not as something broken.

I’m writing this because, despite the glitch, it’s been an unusually pleasant customer service experience(*). They answered the phone, they were polite, they were nice, they took initiative to get things done. They called me back when they said they would, and they were clear that a week without hot water was not considered acceptable.

Of course, we’ll see if they actually show up tomorrow.

(*) Buddy the repair guy took exception to the placement of some of our machinery relative to the placement of the furnace, which is vastly inconvenient for us, but eh, he was doing his job.

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Quotation of the Day for January 5, 2007:

“I’ve been waist-deep in a dead hippopotamus, and I’d rather do that than change diapers.”

– Eric Humphries, production manager at Skulls Unlimited International, on getting used to his line of work. The company claims to be the world’s leading supplier of bones, both human and animal, which they clean and process at their Oklahoma City facility.

The other day I went out to turn the compost and one of the worm bins had gone anaerobic.

Oh god. The stench.

I’d forgotten one bin was lacking drainage holes in the bottom, so the whole bin was a nasty swampy soup resembling raw sewage. The worms were still alive, though, so I spent an unhappily penitential hour messing about with bins and piles of dry leaves and shredded newspaper and trowels and several cubic feet of odorific anaerobic compost. (And a drill, of course, to put drainage holes in the relevant bin so this won’t happen again.)

Like Mr. Humphries, I have spent a certain amount of time messing about, unfazed, inside dead animals. And I have changed my fair share of diapers. But slimy-stinky half-compost? Eeeeewwwwww!

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Why I’m always so tired after vacations

Errands. I spend my vacations doing errands, cleaning the house, and — inevitably — painting things.

Today we (minus Maddy, who spent the day happily playing at daycare since she would’ve been bored to tears by all of this) pursued a missing bit of a plumbing fixture, took many boxes of books downtown to the Trinity Book Sale, looked at glass block for the shower wall, and searched out more Mill Street Coffee Porter (highly recommended). I did some laundry and D did some drywall sanding, because once the mudding is done I can paint and it just wouldn’t be a vacation without the smell of primer in my nose. AND we went to Ikea in search of bathroom cabinets.

Cabinets which we found, only a little bit hidden (who decided to display bathroom cabinets in the Bedroom section?).

And they were okay, but they had the dreaded “speak to a ‘co-worker’ about these items” tags.

But we quickly found a “co-worker” who told us where they could be found in the warehouse.

And they were actually there.

All of them. Frames, doors, shelves — all on the shelf, exactly where they were supposed to be, in the colours and sizes and quantities we needed.

We’ve clearly blown our Ikea karma for the next decade or so. Woe is us when we go to acquire kitchen cabinets…

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Originally uploaded by morecoffeeplease.

Much progress in the bathroom: real, modern wiring (now mostly hidden); insulation (also now mostly hidden); plywood on the bits that will have wainscotting and greenboard on the bits that will show. And the window is new too.

Not visible in the photo is the cementboard around the shower area. It really deserves its own photo, since the screws that hold it to the wall behind it cost a minor fortune and it would be a shame to cover them with tile before properly showing them off.

The wire sticking out of the wall on the right near the light switches will control the programmable thermostat for the floor heat. Never again will anyone in our house have to step on an icy bathroom floor first thing in the morning. Aaah.

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What passes for New Year’s fun at our house

We raised, if not the roof, the second floor of our house by a centimetre or so. (Not by partying, sadly.)

Safety-Averse Former Owner (SAFO) decided that cutting great huge chunks out of the joists was a good idea — hey, why not, just because they’re structural doesn’t mean you really need them, right?

Chunkified bathroom joists

— which made the upstairs bathroom & back bedroom kinda sproingy. We’d like to tile the bathroom, so we needed to make things more rigid so our tiles won’t crack. The large metal pole on the right in the photo below

Looking upstairs from downstairs

(looking up into the bathroom from the equally-destroyed downstairs kitchen) is one of several similar poles holding several joists up a bit, levelling them with the other joists, while we screwed 2x8s to the worst-destroyed joists. The photo below is looking down into the kitchen from the upstairs.

Looking downstairs from upstairs

It’s immense fun to push on a hydraulic jack and — with one hand’s easy effort — feel the entire second floor shift upwards. Highly recommended.

And then it was nearing 11pm and since we figured the neighbours might not enjoy the deafening thunkathunkathunka of the impact driver at that hour, we broke for some Veuve Cliquot.

Today D. is finishing up making things level and putting some thick plywood subfloor down.

New subfloor

Soon the plumbers will arrive and rip out absolutely every vestige of the old plumbing and will give us nice, new, properly-installed, non-leaking, non-corroded pipes and drains, yay!

Maddy’s very excited because all of this means that she will soon have a white bathtub in which she’ll be able to see the pretty colours in her bath salts (which aren’t apparent in our hideous old blue tub).

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Kitchen destruction

Thanks to the tool of power, courtesy Lee Valley

Dave with the Tool of Destructo-Power

…our downstairs Once and Future Kitchen is about as empty as it can ever get.

Exposed brick & ceiling joists

Now we can rebuild it with modern conveniences, such as wiring and insulation and intact plumbing.