The roof over my head

The living room ceiling has leaked since I moved — we moved — into this house. The first winter I was here, barely holding it together and nursing a newborn on the couch, I watched with horror as the brown spot that had been growing steadily bigger on the ceiling finally opened like some portal from hell and released a flow of dirty, icy water onto the floor.

At the time, it was both a reality — something was broken — and also a metaphor: the carefully constructed walls around my life were breaking down, letting in the demons. Or, at very least, the elements. Greg, our (angelic) next-door neighbour, ran out of his house when he saw me attempting to scale a ladder up the side of mine in December. He and my other angelic neighbour from across the street ended up on the roof, hacking away with axes to break up the ice dam that had melted into the chimney flashing. The next summer, we got new shingles, and assumed that the problem was fixed.

It was. That is, until it wasn’t. A couple of years went by, and then the roof leaked again: same spot, same seam in the plaster. Guys came over and re-tarred the flashing. Things stayed dry for months. We had the ceiling repaired and replastered. It leaked again. More tar. And on and on it went, months going by with nothing happening and then some freak windstorm or snowfall and I’d wonder what that dripping sound was. And then it would stop raining and I’d go back to denial. I mean, if the roofing guys couldn’t figure it out, how was I supposed to know? How were we?

That, of course, was a metaphor, too: the way things slide into disrepair, and the ways you fix them, and they hold for a while, until they don't any more. 

And then, I designated this past November as maintenance month. While everybody else was writing novels and blogging daily, I was getting the car tuned up and mending the holes in seams. In November, I changed the filters on the fetish vacuum. I hacked away at the summer garden and put it to bed for fall, raked all the leaves. I filled in forms and sent them off. I went through kids’ clothes, my e-mail inbox, the basement. I made chicken stock. I hung photos. I put up the net over the ping-pong table, made all the phone calls, got the winter tires put on. I went to the chiropractor. In essence, I tried to think of every niggling thing I could think of, every open loop, every loose end, and I tried to deal with it, close it, tie it up.

I called the chimney guys. And I called them repeatedly, because you know how they get busy and don’t come the first couple of times, or on the date they say they're going to, but I was on a mission. Because this house, which has been subtly and not so subtly transformed over the last year as I have gone from “we” to “I,” needs to be safe. It needs to function without threat of the elements coming through, without me wondering what kind of black mould has been festering in the attic, right over my head.

The chimney guys came this past weekend. They erected scaffolding, ripped out the old flashing, took up the shingles to check for rot: none. (None!) They laid down waterproof membranes and new shingles, installed actual new flashing, sealed it tight. They sent me pictures from up above as they went along. In the spring, once the snow melts, they will come back and replace the missing bricks in the chimney. The job went so well, my chimney guy told me, that he would knock a bit off the original quote. And it’s guaranteed: if it leaks, they’ll come back and figure it out.

This may or may not be the end of the story. But it’s a new chapter, and I’ll take it.


Remember Zelda? Also known as that dresser I bought off kijiji for $50? The one I was going to refinish?

She’s dooooooooo-one!



Actually, she’s been done for a month and a half, after a five-day marathon of refinishing that was pretty much as intense as I imagined it would be. And at least as equally rewarding. She’s been ensconced in the newly painted bedroom for at least six weeks now, and I keep meaning to post about her, but somehow the effort of blogging about refinishing the dresser has seemed like so much more work than actually refinishing the dresser.

I think it’s because I had envisioned writing a “how to” post, wherein I would detail all the steps and tools and products that I used. But I don’t want to write a how-to post. There are plenty of lovely how-to posts out there already, including this one, which I used as a guideline. What I really want is to tell you how immensely satisfying and addictive it is to pour a thick layer of paint remover over a surface and then watch the layers of yellowed varnish bubble and curl and dissolve; that I could scrape that gunk off smooth wooden surfaces for days, getting down to base layers. And that I did scrape gunk off smooth wooden surfaces for days, listening to podcast after podcast, stripping off and replacing latex gloves, going over the entire surface — top, bottom, sides, legs, all nine drawers — twice with the remover and then again with steel wool and then again (and again) with the hand sander. And then the three layers of stain, the two of varnish, sandwiching in the coats between first thing in the morning and lasting at night, colonizing the deck and the dining room, fans acting as ventilation.

She’s not perfect, but of course she is.

This weekend, I am once more without kids, and, for a change, without a major project. Of course, I have half a dozen smaller projects on the go — I’m nearly finished a massive reorganization of the garden beds, foraging back-lane raspberries, revising that budget, All The Filing, editing a newsletter, figuring out the ending to that story, etc. There’s dirt under my fingernails. I made chicken stock last week, and then soup. I ate all the chard from the last-minute vegetable garden I planted in a fit of get these seeds in the ground and see what happens, and then I replanted the chard.

But after the initial flurry of activity involved in reclaiming this space, I think I'm starting to actually live in it, inhabiting it more than simply shaping it. I’m trying to remember how to slow down, forcing myself to sit quietly with a book or a newspaper or — more radical still — just my breath. Maybe that’s natural, the beginnings of the shift from summer to fall (yes, yes, I know it’s too early, but before you protest, I can already feel the chill in the evening air). But it’s something else, too, and it’s good.

I think I'll call her Zelda

I have a new baby.

Vintage kroehler.

Vintage kroehler.

I haven’t settled on a name yet, but I’m taking suggestions. She’s a little rough around the edges, but for $50 off kijiji, she’s a steal.

I’ve been looking for a new dresser for a little while — you know, to go with the newly painted bedroom (which I painted LIKE A BOSS, I might add; photos forthcoming). In my search, I’ve discovered something kind of interesting about furniture in general: there’s no middle ground. Either it’s essentially free or it’s a billion dollars, with very little in between except for MDF crap. I'm right about this, arent I? Witness: the dresser that I really, really, really want to buy except for every single one of the nearly three thousand dollars it will cost.

So, so pretty. So, so, expensive.

So, so pretty. So, so, expensive.

So, yeah: kijiji won that contest. But I’m actually kind of ecstatic about that, because, perversely, it means that I CAN HAZ ALL THE PROJEKTS. (Also, I’ve somehow convinced myself that I’m now $3000 richer.) It wasn’t enough to spend five days painting the bedroom. Or the following weekend touching up the hallways and the doors (and they look marvelous). Or completely refolding every single thing in the linen closet. Or any of the other roughly zillion household projects I’ve taken on in the past few weeks. I want more, apparently — more backbreaking, painstaking, fiddly steps involving power tools and chemicals and dust and fumes and dozens of opportunities to screw up. Bring it, I say. I watch myself say that, and I know what’s ahead, and I still want it. There’s a metaphor or twelve in that, too, but right now I’m too busy googling “refinishing very thin veneer” to do that kind of thinking. Which is probably a good thing.

There’s a very good chance that my new dresser is going to be (even more) gorgeous. There’s a much higher chance that it’s also going to hurt. I can hold both those things in one hand right now, before I’ve entered a hardware store.

 I'll keep you posted.