Monday, August 28, 2006

The return of the coffee girl

In a few days time I will indeed be taking up my old barista equipment.
I got the job.
Once a coffee girl--always a coffee girl. . .

For three evenings a week I will now be located at 97 Main Street.
Visitors are most welcome.

Note: Cuppedia: From the latin sweets or delicacies. (In case you were curious.)


Just a little list I happened upon today. A non-exhaustive list, I might add, of homebuilding costs:
  • Private Septic or Public Sewer
  • Private Well or Public Water
  • Electrical Service from Utility Company
  • Private Fire Sprinkler or Public Hydrant
  • Gas or Oil Service from Utility Company
  • Drawings & Specifications Development
  • Permits & Special Fees from Building Department
  • Site Access and Street Culvert as well as Driveway
  • Excavation/Backfill/Grade
  • Foundation/Structural Slab-on-grade
  • Flat Concrete/Aprons/Patios/Sidewalks
  • Frame Lumber/Trusses/Labor
  • Decks/Porches/Veranda
  • Roofing/Flashing/Ventilation
  • Windows/Skylights/Solar tubes
  • Siding/Exterior Trim
  • Gutters/Downspouts/Stormwater
  • Fireplace/Stove/Insert
  • Plumbing and Trim Fixtures
  • Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning
  • Electrical and Trim Fixtures
  • Exterior Doors & Garage Doors
  • Weatherization/Firestuffing/Insulation
  • Drywall/Tape/Texture
  • Paint Interior/Wallcoverings
  • Paint/Stain Exterior
  • Cabinets/Counters
  • Interior Doors/Trim/Hardware
  • Floor Coverings
  • Appliances
  • Bath Accessories
  • Clean-up/Recycle/Landfill
  • Landscaping
  • Contingency
  • Superintendence
  • Profit/Overhead
  • Sales Tax (if applicable)

Thursday, August 24, 2006


"The only thing that has ever smelled worse in my 33 years as a fireman, is a dead body."
-Ottawa Fire Chief, upon inspecting our home at 5:00 a.m. this morning-

6:00 a.m. I am sitting across the street from our house, staring at a HAZMAT team buzzing about our front porch. They suspect we have a hydrogen sulphide backing-up from our sewage pipes. I can't even describe how dangerous that possibility is.

6:16 a.m. The meters haven't picked up any traces of toxicity. So, the chief is officially stumped. They are suctioning out our inside air with a pump. Then we are on our own.

11:00 a.m. I have sought refuge at my mom's. In her great mercy, she took us in. And in watching my three children for a few hours, has allowed me to partially recover from a 4-hour night. My head feel like it is stuffed with cotton, and has a persistant throb. And my eyes, swollen and slightly purple, won't fully open. The worst of it all, is that me and my children stink. Really, really stink. And I assume we will continue to stink for weeks to come.

The story. . .

At 3:00, I woke up. I have been waking up at that time for a couple of weeks now. At 3:30, my senses were assaulted by a smell I can only describe as chokingly, suffocatingly rancid. It was only logical to assume it was a skunk, but it seemed be powered by a strong chemical undertone. We called 911. Two reasons: 1.Either a dangerous gas was blanketing the house OR 2. There was a skunk that had come to torment us from Hates, who needed to be given the same treatement as a knoxious gas.

I called my poor sister, (soundly asleep on the first floor), urging her to wake her roomate and meet us outside. I later found out that she nudged Rachel awake saying, "Bad smell. Dangerous. Must leave." Or something equally vague. Needless to say, Rachel was not impressed, and didn't move all that quickly.

We congregated across the street, our kids stowed away in our car, nestled in heavy blankets. Three fire engines and the fire chief's SUV arrived 7 minutes after we called. The fire chief informed us he could smell us from three blocks away, and proceeded to have the house checked thoroughly for toxic gases. He came and went to ask us the most interesting questions:
1. "Do you have cats?" (Kate and Rachel have two pre-pubescent female kittens--hardly capable, on their worst day--of producing anything of this magnitude.)
2. "Do you have any interesting gifts in your basement? Say. . . from Iraq?" (He informed us soberly of cases where the discovery of old shells and bomb carcasses had kicked the severity of seemingly innocuous house-calls up a few notches.

By 7:00, the trucks had all pulled away, and we were left with this highly unpleasant, but perversely humourous diagnosis: "We think a skunk must have up and died under your front porch. You probably oughtta call the landlady."

The combined smell and skunk and death now defines our day. We can't leave it at home. It follows us. I got the hint, when after waking up from a nap, my mom wisked the pillows away for washing. I suspect we will be treated a wee bit like lepers in the next week. Humbling. So, to those of you who live far away-- stay away. For those who live close by, please don't run away screaming when you see us coming. I don't think I could take it. Just smile, and feign indifference, atleast. Oh, and do laugh. Laugh hard. But do it now, when I can't hear you.


Hydrogen sulfide: A colourless, toxic, flammable gas that is responsible for the foul odor of rotten eggs and flatulence. It often results when bacteria break down organic matter in the absence of oxygen, such as in sewers. Hydrogen sulfide is considered a broad-spectrum poison, meaning that it can poison several different systems in the body, although the nervous system is most affected. The toxicity of H2S is comparable with that of hydrogen cyanide. Exposure to lower concentrations can result in eye irritation, a sore throat and cough, shortness of breath, and fluid in the lungs. These symptoms usually go away in a few weeks. Long-term, low-level exposure may result in fatigue, loss of appetite, headaches, irritability, poor memory, and dizziness. Higher concentrations tend to be fatal.

Skunk: The best-known, most distinctive, and often most notorious feature of the skunks is the great development of their anal scent glands, which they can use as a defensive weapon. They produce a mixture of sulfur-containing chemicals that has a highly offensive smell. The odour of the fluid is strong enough to ward off bears and other potential attackers, and can be difficult to remove from clothing. The smell aside, the spray can cause irritation and even temporary blindness, and is sufficiently powerful to be detected by even an insensitive human nose anywhere up to a mile downwind.

Both highly formidable foes. From here, I can tell you, the hydrogen sulfide isn't sounding so bad.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Small was the plan. I grew up in a small home, and rather than finding it restrictive, I found it cozy and comfortable. Keeping a rapidly expanding family in mind during the design phase, I attempted to squeeze everything we would need into the smallest possible space without compromising on comfort. It was like an elaborate jigsaw puzzle without one solution. I had to play with the pieces until they fit us best. It was a puzzle I thought that I have cleverly completed. Until the hole, that is. The tiny, tiny house-shaped hole. . . Yesterday, for the first time, I was overcome with sharp-edged pangs of uncertainty and doubt about our home.

Lured by a week's-worth of Aidan's animated reports about the progress of the house, we carved out time for a visit late afternoon. Pulling in, I could see very quickly that the site had been completely transformed since my last visit. There sat the garage--naked, but waiting patiently to be dressed. And there, to the right of it, where only a week ago there was nothing but dirt, rose up the basement walls of our house. The posts were in for the porch, providing my mind's-eye with just enough base material from which to create a clear mental picture of what will be.

It wasn't until Aidan suggested I climb onto the "porch" and take a look at the basement that the elaborate image I had been cradling in my mind began to waver and lose shape. I peered over the edge of the poured concrete. A voice in my head was telling me I should just step back and look another day-- That if I looked now, I would see something I didn't want to. Something that would make me second-guess everything I had planned and hoped for. But I looked anyways. And what I saw was an impossibly tiny space.

I frantically began mentally mapping out the floorplan. It just wouldn't add up. I tried to reconcile the rooms that were in my head with the space that was visible before me. I tried in vain. And the panic began to set in: Did I go terribly wrong somewhere? Was I completely off with the measurements? I don't know the first thing about planning out a house. What made me think I did? What if it is a complete fiasco and nothing fits anywhere? How sad it will be to have laboured over a house that doesn't make any sense. And how shameful to be the one responsible for the conception of something ridiculous.

At times like this, when my thoughts are darkly introspective and feverishly frenzied, I have no choice but to abruptly cut them off, or they will gnaw away at any semblance of peace I have within me. Were it to stop there, I would perhaps keep myself in a holding pattern of self-torment for a while. But when a mother is taken over by acid-laced stress and anxiety, her little ones are not immune. Her husband is not immune. And so I found myself retreating to a very familiar place.

I am a God-talker. Anyone with me? I rarely formulate graceful prayers. The mental resources just aren't there these days. All I can do is talk. Rain out thoughts from an over-saturated mind and trust that He can make sense of them. And as I become more aware of God's sovereignty, my anxieties become more benign. They aren't necessary completely irradicated, but they do me and mine less and less harm. As of yet, I am still experiencing waves of unease. Waning, yet still rolling through. But believing in a big God means that concerns over things being too small are quickly washed away.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Working Man

There is some of the same fitness in a man's building his own house that there is in a bird's building its own nest. Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged? But alas! we do like cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their eggs in nests which other birds have built, and cheer no traveller with their chattering and unmusical notes.

~Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)~

Is there more joy to be gained from a thing that has been created by one's own hand than otherwise? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I, for one, enjoy my warm winter hat, yet strongly suspect I would enjoy it considerably less, (while feeling the winter chill more), were I the one to have laboured over its creation. (As of yet, I have shown a humble aptitude for knitting.) Shall we agree, then, that, despite the poet's words, some things are best left in the skilled hands of others?

If there is one element to the poem that has resonates with me, it is this: the act of creating brings great joy. Never before have I seen this truth more at work than this past year, in my own home.

My husband graduated from university with a degree in Computor Science. While I have yet to grasp even the most basic functions of a computor, I have sought to understand the appeal of my husband's work, for his sake. I am still seeking. Aidan says it was the potential for creativity that initially grabbed him. The ability to find unique solutions for problems, and to build something beautifully elaborate from beginning to end. Now give a man like that-- a man who gets excited about code-- a chance to build a house. . .

Aidan is a calm, deliberate man by nature. His actions are seldom governed by emotion. And he is not given to spontaneous outbursts. But lately-- I have come to know a different man. At any given moment, one might witness: Little on-the-spot jigs; sharp hand claps followed by "woo-hoo!"; or lengthy and passionate discourses about the day's work.

If he has always been in the business of creating, then what has sparked the change in him?
I suspect it has everything to do with an inherent pleasure to use one's hands. There is great satisfaction in exercising one's intellect, but I believe that in order for that satisfaction to come to full fruition, there must often be a tangible, hands-on element to it. A farmer sowing seeds, a surgeon performing an operation, a man building a house. . . These labours involve drawing from inner resources and channelling them through the body, to produce a solidly visible yield: a field, a healed body, a house.

Right now, Aidan is out in a forest using his hands. Building. Creating. Something his computor cannot offer him. And while I have yet to witness the emmergence of my husband's "poetic faculty"-- he certainly is singing like a songbird.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Photo Journal: Day 8

I must confess, the reason this house update has been a long time coming is that I was intimidated by the pictures. The kids and I have not been able to get out there all week. And without being able to see the process for myself--I'm lost. Josh did a photo shoot on my behalf, and returned with the most complicated set of photos I have ever seen: Piles of dirt everywhere, heavy trucks and machinery, a concrete container that will apparently hold our sewage, rows of pipes and gravel. . . chaos. From what I have gathered, the garage is now framed, shingled and ready to be wrapped in Tyvek. (We'll soon be able to make it look pretty.) The hole for the house has been dug, and the septic bed has been prep'd. But all the complicated details remain obscure. To me, atleast.

The house hole.

The septic bed.

Our talented roofer: Dave.

This week we will have the basement poured for the house. And then the building process will be on a much bigger and more complicated scale. I will try to keep it all straight.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Thank You

These photos are just a pictoral swatch of the lovely evening that was my birthday party. I wish I had each and every one of you captured on film, but that just isn't so. Memorable tid-bits:
  • Kids everywhere. the way it should be. Running, jumping, giggling... occasionally screaming.
  • Beautiful day. Sunny and crisp.
  • Devoted girls: Karin, Kate and my mom did all the work. They spoiled me with lots of love, babysitting and GOOD food.
  • My traditional birthday meal: Curry and Naan bread. Can't get better than that.
  • Death by two cheesecakes--Praline and Mocha.
  • Open-air movie. Dave and Aidan projected one of my favourite 80's flicks, Crocodile Dundee, onto the wall of the house. We wrapped ourselves in big blankets and watched it under the stars.

Thank You All.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Coffee: One of the simpler pleasures of my life. The rich brown of the beans and the gloss of the oil. The smell that fills even the biggest space and then lingers. The sound of a gurgling, sputtering pot being brewed. The comfort of having a daily ritual.

We found a flyer in the mail late last week: Cuppedia. The first coffee shop in the neighbourhood. My initial giddiness was dampened somewhat by the awkward business hours. A closing time of 5:00 p.m. does not leave a mother of three with many opportunities for coffee shop downtime. But I had to at least take a peek at the place.

I promptly fell inlove. Leaving her little brothers to snooze at home, Caelah and I set off to explore. I knew I liked it the moment we walked up the front steps. The shop is sandwiched snuggly between a 15-story apartment building, and a corner grocery store. It occupies the bottom floor of an old red brick house, and is fronted by a big freshly-painted porch. Both on the porch, and off, are scattered a handful of sturdy black patio tables. Inside, the walls are painted grass green, while everything else is either a glossy new black, or silver. I loved it. I made a mental note to apply the exact same colour scheme somewhere in our new house.

Being the bottom floor of a house, the place went on and on: Coffee counter and baking up front, and a huge hardwood space at the back, with couches, and a kids area. Let me repeat--a kids area! I have always given downtown Ottawa's food/retail scene a failing grade for the lack of effort put forth by businesses to accomodate moms. Needless to say, Caelah has given it her approval. "The place is so great," she told my mom over the phone, "it has kids toys."

I spoke with the woman to whom the shop belonged, and guess what? She wants me to consider working there. She has a young daughter herself, and responded empathetically to my desire to get out of the house every once and a while. And after telling her about my years at Second Cup, she told me that once they extended their hours, she would definetly be in need of a coffee girl.

So, I will drop off my dusty resume, and see what happens. Will the, once highly skilled, barista take up her grinder and steam pitcher one more? Stay tuned. In the meantime, I will steal away for a coffee as often as I am able. There goes the pocket change.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Country wedding

Weddings. I am of an age where there is always one somewhere on the horizon. And I look forward to each and every one. Not just because they symbolize something intrisically good and beautiful, but because each wedding offers up a distinctly unique character study to the careful observer. Weddings are essentially a dual-distillation of a personalities, (granted that the couple has conferred and concurred on the various elements.) When you attend a wedding, you are entering into a microcosm of two lives-- A single-day convergence of all things beloved. Thus, to be a part of the day is to be honoured. And it is an honour that is not lost on me.

This particular wedding was borne of two country kids: Small town. Stone church. Clay pots and hay bails. Sunshine and sunflowers. . . There was an informality to it that was so refreshing-- A Kick-off-the-shoes, let-your-hair-down, breathe-easy air about it. And at the end of the evening, I found myself being spun around on an old wooden barn floor to the irrisistible sound of good fiddling. Feet stomping. Hands clapping. Docey-doe's and Alaman left's. My husband had me by the waist, and we were both laughing.

May this be an ode to love and laughter at a country wedding, and to all things good and joyful.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Photo Journal: Day 5

It looks like those drawings we've all done as kids: a square with a triangle on top. And, no, the squat opening on the right is not a special door for those small in stature. It will be a full door. It just hasn't been cut out yet.

Our "stairs."

Tim Horton's advertisement?
You know those black & whites you see all the time in diners: construction workers perched high above the city on steel beams? This is my version--My crew.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Photo Journal: Day 3

Three days and four to five men... this thing is going up fast! I was told it would, but it has been incredible to see. So far, this has not remained a mistake-free zone. A few things cut too short, super adhesive glue stuck to fingers, a forgotten window. Nothing we can't fix.

She's smiling, but inside she's terrified. Kate and I were encouraged to climb the ladder and walk around on the "floor" of the loft. The floor was composed of slim joists a foot apart, and an unattached piece of plywood, a quarter of which was hanging off the garage. Did I mention we were wearing inappropriate foot attire?