Monday, November 12, 2007

Divided We Live

Major first time home buyer error: don't think that you can easily change the floor plan. You can change some small things in your home, like removing a wall, but it is DIFFICULT to move your stairs. For some naive reason, I thought that we could change the stairs to make the space more open if we wanted to. Of course we can change it, but it will be very expensive!

The first photo shows a view of the dining room towards the living room and front door. The stairs are a nice feature in the room, but wouldn't it be nicer if you could see through to the living room, both above and below the stairs? Check out the second photo which is a reverse shot of the living room, towards the dining room and kitchen.

The wall with the cow painting is hiding the stairs. You can see all the way down to the kitchen and sunroom, but the dining room is hidden. It would be great to showcase the stairs on this side too, and allow the light to shine through, and really open up the space.

But this is just a dream. There is no way that we'll be able to change the stairs at this point. So for now, they will remain on the wish list, like getting rid of the pink bathroom. For now we will continue to live divided.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stepping Up

One more look back: the stairs. When we bought the house, we thought that we'd just pull off the stained grey carpet and paint the stairs. Boy, were we wrong!

First we had to remove the "peel and stick" tiles, which ripped off the finish on the stairs, leaving a lumpy mess. Pulling up the dirty carpet seemed vile, until I spent about 45 hours stripping the layers of paint with a heat gun, and then with lovely scented paint stripper. How much of the paint was leaded, I wonder? And then painting with oil based paint. I did the second coat on Christmas day, before going to my sister's house for dinner. But it is funny how I had forgotten all the work, until I looked at these pictures.

Looking back a bit more

So the front hall was a success, but the dining room with the hand painted Klimt mural - what can you do with that? Four coats of Fresh Start primer, followed by two coats of Manchester Tan. The result: a dining room that doesn't give your guests indigestion. Another success story.

The kitchen: before and after, which has been well documented in this blog.

It's always good to take a look back now and then

It is easy to get down on yourself, thinking that you haven't done enough to your house. But take a look back at some old photos and you'll see the impressive transformation. Take for example, the front hall, which is now part of the living room.

Mint green paint, knotty pine wainscotting, and DARK. We tried to lighten it up with paint, but that wasn't enough. So we tore down the wall, drywalled the stucco ceiling, some fresh paint, and voila... a room that you can live in!

Now I don't feel so bad that I haven't finished painting the kitchen yet!

The pink did not stop on the main floor. It continued up the stairs and into the hallway, bathroom & "master" bedroom. We removed the "rushing rivers" mural on the closet doors, pulled down the pink pinstripe curtains & burgundy mini blinds, and then gave it a couple of coats of paint. The old futon looks pretty shabby in this photo. It is a work in progress-the room is not done yet.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Best of New York (in my humble opinion)

We are now at the airport waiting for our flight home. I've already downloaded my photos and we have a few hours to kill, so I've decided to make a list of the places that we liked, for our next trip to NY. It seems very anal to write it all here, but figured that this way I can tell all my friends (and possibly some strangers) without having to look it up all the time.

When we weren't in New York's awesome museums (MOMA, Guggenheim, etc.) or shopping with the Canadian dollar worth more than the US (for the first time since 1976!) we were walking, eating and drinking. We had a rule that we wouldn't eat at the same place twice and that we'd always try something different if possible - especially all the micro brews that they have. Bartenders were generally very helpful in describing the various beers and would often let you sample it before committing to a pint. And with so many different restaurants to choose from, making a decision was usually the hardest part. That and finding something affordable in the more upscale neighbourhoods. Here is our list, by neighbourhood.


Lower East Side

Russ & Daughters - 179 E Houston St., just east of Allen. - the BEST selection of smoked salmon and any smoked fish anywhere. The store is over 100 years old and quality is amazing. Best place to get a bagel with cream cheese and lox. Yummy! My only regret is that we didn't eat here more.

Katz's Deli - 205 E Houston St, at Ludlow St. - Traditional and crazy big New York deli that's been there since 1888. The best corned beef that I've ever tasted, and I was full for 12 hours. Sandwich comes with a big plate of pickles and pickled green tomatoes. Very fresh and fun to see the photos of all the celebs who have been there.

Pink Pony - 176 Ludlow St. (between Houston & Stanton) - Large and airy place with interesting decor and a great menu. Went for breakfast one day and would have liked to try their evening menu. Delicious. They list all of their purveyors on the menu, and most of the ingredients come from the neighbourhood. Great local feel.

Sugar - corner of Houston & Essex - not in the guide book, but we thought that we'd give it a try. Dan thought that it was the WORST of New York, and I guess that compared to everything else we'd had, it was. But, it was really not that bad. I'd recommend it for a coffee and a snack if you're in the area, but not for a meal. They do have free wifi.

Little Vesleka - First Ave between Houston & First - Strictly takeout and a few outdoor bistro tables for breakfast and light meals. A mini version of the well known Ukrainian place on Second Ave. Good coffee. It is across from Sugar and we wish that we'd gone there instead. Next time for sure.

El Sombrero - 108 Stanton St. at Ludlow St. - great Mexican restaurant in a happening neighbourhood. We walked past it dozens of times but never at meal time. There just wasn't time to check it out, but we will next time for sure. Always busy.

East Village

Frank - 88 Second Ave (between 5th & 6th Sts.) - Great traditional Italian food. Tiny with great atmosphere and menu with lots of Italian favorites. I had the homemade ravioli with beets & ricotta. Delicious.

Cloister Cafe - 238 E 9th St. (between 2nd & 3rd Aves) - tranquil garden to enjoy a refreshing drink. I didn't try the food, so can't vouch for that.

Cucina di Pesce - 87 E 4th St. (between 2nd & 3rd Aves) - Great priced Italian food with an excellent value "early bird" special (before 6:30 p.m.) which is good for the Off-off Broadway theatres in the area. We went later and still enjoyed a good meal. Dan thought that it was amazing, but I rate it more in the good range.

Sidewalk Cafe - Avenue A around 6th Street - I don't remember the exact address, as we're not that keen on going back. I remembered eating there when I was in NY about a decade ago and stayed on the Lower East side with a friend of a friend. I was so pleased to find it, we had to try it. It was our first morning in Manhattan, and the place was packed. Sadly, the food wasn't as good as I had remembered. I would skip it next time.

Yaffa Cafe - 97 St. Mark's Place - Recommended by a local coffee shop employee, and I have also been there a few times on previous trips, but this 24 hour cafe did not measure up to my memories. Their menu is too varied. How can they do everything well? It is a good location and a cool decor, but I think that the quality of food has slipped. The moral of the story: only go to a 24 hour restaurant when all others are closed. The long hours have a negative impact on the quality.

NoLIta (North of Little Italy)

Cafe Colonial - 276 Elizabeth St. at Houston - Based on the fresh food concept of colonial restaurants in Brazil, bright with high ceilings and friendly staff. Delicious brunch, but the rest of the menu looked good too.

Cafe Gitane - 242 Mott St. at Prince St. - Small but tasty food with a French flair. Yummy and great atmosphere too. I've been here on three separate trips to NYC and still love it.

Cafe Habana - 229 Elizabeth St - it sounded good and looked packed whenever we passed by, but didn't have time to try it ourselves. I'll put it on the list for next time, that's for sure.

Midtown West

Hourglass Tavern - 373 W 46th St. (between 8th & 9th Aves) - In "restaurant row" near the big Broadway theatres. A good choice if you're in the neighbourhood, but I wouldn't go out of my way to try it. Great atmosphere and nice staff, good food too. They have an hourglass on the wall above each table and during busy times, they turn it so that you don't overstay your welcome during the pre-Theatre rush.

Upper West Side

Vinyl - 507 Columbus Ave (at 85th St.) - We went to meet a friend from Toronto who is working in NY. This is her new neighbourhood, and a place that she's been a few times. It has a great decor of vinyl records and recording artists. The menus are old album covers (mine was Bonnie Rait, but Dan's was some old musical starring a then unknown Tom Bosley) which was fun. We met quite early in the evening so it was full of tables with young children and even one birthday party. But it was still quite cool and the decor was fun. The food was delicious and reasonably priced too. They have two other locations: one in Hell's Kitchen and I don't remember the other.

Brooklyn - Park Slope

Coco Roco - 392 Fifth Ave (between 6th & 7th Sts) - Peruvian cuisine - very very good. We ordered off the daily specials menu and were extremely happy with our choices. The ceviche appetizer tray was awesome. Five different types of seafood all 'cooked' in citrus, so it is tender and delicious, like sushi. I highly recommend trying it, if you haven't already. Great service and good prices too.


Hands down, the best drinking holes are found in both the Lower East Side and the East Village. A bit more gritty and unique than other areas of Manhattan, and filled with interesting looking characters. Anything but generic. But, I guess that it depends on what you're looking for. This area is more like Toronto's Queen Street West or Parkdale, not Yorkville. I understand that Brooklyn is the place to be for that type of ambiance at even better prices, but regrettably, we only made it out there once.

Lower East Side

I don't think that you could go wrong on any place on Ludlow. There are a bunch of bars close together, and we tried a few, and liked them all. I just don't remember all the names. On weekends, it gets beyond packed with non-Manhattan-ites in their trendy outfits.

Max Fish - 178 Ludlow Street just below Houston - High ceilings, interesting decor, and local hipsters come to drink with their dogs.

Local 138 - 138 Ludlow Street, just down from Max Fish - darker, moodier place with good music and friendly service.

East Village

d.b.a - 41 First Ave (between 2nd & 3rd Sts.) - This place was below our apartment and we foolishly walked past it many times, en route to other bars. Fortunately we stopped in for a pint before going to the airport and wished that we'd gone earlier. Amazing selection of beers and bourbons, great staff and good character. It was packed most nights after 10 p.m.

Lakeside Lounge - 162 Ave B (between E 10th & 11th Sts.) - I've been here on several prior trips to NYC. Small dark place that often features bands. They have a photo booth in the bar, where I have crowded into with friends in the past. On this trip, we visited on a quiet Monday night and it just didn't have the same energy that it usually has, but I still liked it.

Beauty Bar - 231 East 14th St. (between 2nd & 3rd Aves) - An old beauty parlor with all the hair dyers and equipment now used for patrons to enjoy a cocktail. They have a manicure special: $10 which includes a free cocktail. A bit bar with a good selection of beers, but also lots of old beauty products on display. They have a big back room where I saw some stand-up comics on my last visit to NYC. This time we just enjoyed a pint in the front room, and the fact that we were two of only a handful who were not asked for ID at the door. It was Friday, so the crowd was a bit younger.

One and One - First Ave at 1st Street - Almost across the street from our apartment, it was close and had a good happy hour and great vantage for people watching on Houston. We sampled their awesome Happy Hour wings at only 10 cents per wing and washed them down with $4 pints. Yum. The pub itself was less interesting, but the location made up for that.

Midtown East

Old Town Bar and Grill - 45 E 18th St. (between Park Ave & Broadway) - Over a hundred years old, huge ceilings and huge booths, and a bar that runs the length of the place. We sat in a booth with an autographed book jacket from Frank McCourt, claiming that it is the only bar left in NY where you can talk. Good conversation levels. They serve food too.

Pete's Tavern - 129 E 18th St (at Irving Pl.) - They claim that it is New York oldest original bar. I'm not sure what the original part means, although it did look old and had lots of character. We had a beer at the bar, to fuel our walk home from the Flatiron building. It is said that O. Henry wrote his short story "The Gift of the Magi" in his regular booth here. We sat at the bar right beside this booth, and it had a "reserved" sign on it the whole time, but nobody sat there. En route to the bathroom, I saw tons of photos of various celebs eating there: Rosie O'Donnell, Bill Clinton, Johnny Depp, etc., but none were there that night.

Midtown West

Rudy's - 627 Ninth Ave (between 44th & 45th Sts.) - a dive bar with free hot dogs and cheap beer, and vintage bartenders. Reputed to be popular with the broadway performers (think cheap and close by) but the theatre was in while we were there, so instead it was full of Hell's Angels and frat boys. An interesting and potentially dangerous mix.We sat in a circular red vinyl booth that was majorly taped up with red duct tape. I wanted to take a photo but was worried about the biker guys. We had our pint and got outta there. (I had been there before and found it fun that other time.)


Fanelli - 94 Prince St at Mercer - an old bar with a great vibe and killer location. Good place for a cool refreshment on a day of shopping, or even at night. On my last trip, we enjoyed a few glasses of wine while chatting the the bartender. This time we were left on our own to soak up the ambiance.

West Village

We walked all the way over from the East Village, just for a change of pace, but found the area to be lacking in the kind of original places we had found on the east side. We went to The Blind Tiger Ale House on Hudson St., as I'd been there on my last trip to NYC two years ago, but it has been replaced by yet another Starbucks. Boo. But we soldiered on to:

White Horse Tavern - 567 Hudson St at W. 11th St. - It's claim to fame is that Dylan Thomas had his last meal there, before going to hospital with alcohol poisoning. It is decorated with lots of white horses all over. I thought it looked kinda cool, but Dan said that it seemed as authentic as a Firkin (a chain of generic pubs in Ontario). It was full of generic white people and we were sitting too close to a loud guy who was visiting from another part of the US, and thought that everybody would want to hear his take on the characters on Leave It to Beaver. One of the most expensive pints we had in New York and definitely not the best. I'd give it a pass.

Brooklyn - Park Slope

The Gate - 321 Fifth Ave at 3rd St. - Great beer selection and a BIG patio. A great place to relax after a long walk.

Brooklyn - Carrol Gardens

The Brooklyn Social Club - I didn't get to this place because I forgot to take the address with me when we went to Brooklyn, and surprisingly, we did not walk past it on our long long march. My friends tell me that it is amazing, and I do regret that we didn't get to see it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

September Sunburn: One of the Dangers of Walking to Brooklyn

This photo was taken before the sunburn, on the first or second mile on our walk to Brooklyn. For my birthday, I thought that it would be fun to walk to Brooklyn. We started out in the East Village, at First Avenue and 3rd Street marched our way to Park Slope. Without a tour guide, we may not have chosen the best nor most direct route, but we certainly saw a lot of variety. At times, Dan didn't seem too happy, especially in the discount shopping area of Flatbush Ave in downtown Brooklyn, where we really stood out. Plus, it was HOT and humid! And I mean hot. Whenever it seemed like we were really on the wrong path, we would see the red double decker tourist bus go past, so we kept going.

Finally we made it to the lush Prospect Park lined with fancy homes and filled with young mothers and their babies. Exhausted and thirsty at this point, we made out way down the slope to 5th Ave and found the welcoming pub, The Gate. Across from a smaller park full of even more children, we had a delicious pint and then continued down 5th to Coco Roco, a delicious Peruvian restaurant. (If you go, try the Ceviche - it was heavenly!) At the end of a satisfying meal, Dan looked at me and asked: "can we take the subway back?" Of course! I am crazy, but not that crazy.

Look at this map and see our route (more or less - sometimes it wouldn't let me go down one way streets the wrong way). Apparently it was 6.6 miles, but it felt longer.

View Larger Map

Saturday, September 8, 2007

I can finally see the light!

What would you do if your boyfriend jets off to Vegas for the weekend with his much younger work colleagues? If "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas", then "what happens in Toronto, is likely not worth gossiping about".

In keeping with that slogan, I decided that I had the physical and mental space in the house to finally tackle one of the items in the kitchen reno that has remained incomplete. I remember convincing my friend Chris to drive me across the city just before Christmas (in 2006!) to get the pot lights from Wolfe Electric, so that I would have them to show the electrician during his upcoming visit. We inched through rush hour traffic, purchased the three pot lights and transformer and I was set to install them. The electrician came to the house the next day and he ran the wires from the electrical box to the kitchen for the new microwave range hood, and the under-counter pot lights. He could not install them yet, as we had to replace the drywall, install the new cupboards, install the backsplash tiles, and all that. But he kindly explained to me how to install them, and I jotted it down on a scrap of paper, pictured below.

Nine months passed. Somebody could have had a baby in that time frame, but my lights were still not installed, and my memory of the electrician's tutorial was pretty fuzzy. But then I remembered the instructions. I pulled them out, but the cryptic scribbles didn't make that much sense.

- 2 red leads to black & white in box
- white to top screw on current outlet (white side)
- black to TOP new light switch
- jumper to black to BOTTOM of new light switch (push the jumper into back of switch)

I was baffled as the transformer didn't have two red leads, but it did have two blue leads. Then I remembered - the electrician had told me the instructions for a different transformer/pot light combo that I returned to a different store. Anyway, I improvised. And in this case, the results were not dangerous, and things worked out nicely. No arcing, no blown bulbs - just fully functioning pot lights that light up the fabulous glass tiles in our new kitchen.

So Dan returned from Vegas with stories of being in a night club where Brittany Spears had been, only hours before her botched performance at the MTV Awards. And I bragged about my handy work at home. Brittany's career may be over, but there are lots of lights that remain to be installed!!!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Spontaneous Sunflowers

Our house is now hidden by a giant sunflower - and we didn't plant one. When it sprouted in the spring, we were going to pull it out, as we were unsure what it was, but when I noticed that the neighbours had one too, I thought that it couldn't be a weed.

Our garden has been dug up three times in the first year and a half that we've been on Montrose. The last excavation was this spring, when they were installing the new gas meter. All my bulbs and perennials were dug up, so we had no idea what might sprout up this year. Our bulbs were likely in somebody else's garden, along with all the compost that I'd replaced the clay with. They certainly didn't return the compost to my garden. The 7' deep hole had been refilled with clay. I had worked so hard on the garden last year, only to have it dug up again. I kinda gave up and didn't put as much effort into it, because they might just dig it up again. So when this mystery plant sprouted up, I just let it grow.

As it grew taller and taller, I had to wonder: did Dan cash in his retirement savings to buy some magic beans? Was he sucked in by returns which would out-perform the stock market? He doesn't seem like the lottery/dreamer type, but you never know. What else could explain the giant mystery plant in the front garden? Would it ever stop growing?

Finally some flowers formed when the stalk stopped growing at about 7 feet. It is too short to climb. Maybe it is an inversion of the 7 foot hole that was dug in the garden last summer? How symbolic. Or maybe a bird or squirrel dropped the seeds there. Yeah, that's much more likely than the magic bean explanation. Either that or spontaneous sunflowers.

Monday, July 9, 2007

My Love Hate Relationship with Ceiling Fans

I love ceiling fans. They are energy efficient and they don't take up any space. I hate them because they are a pain in the butt to install. All those wires, and you have to stuff them into that tiny box in the ceiling. The remote control, the fan blades, the poorly written installation instructions -- it can take a few hours to put one up. Plus, the decent looking ones are not cheap. But, I have three of them. Until last night, the third one was sitting in the box for over six months. Why? Because it required moving one fan from upstairs to downstairs and the second was a new install. Plus, one had a wall mounted motor controller, while the other was remote control. But the heatwave dictated that this was the time to finally do it.

A few frustrating hours later, we had three installed and fully functioning fans. Victory. Except, when I went to turn on the circuit in the basement, I discovered that the basement lights and the dining room light were no longer working. The lack of light in the basement made it impossible to find the voltmeter with a flashlight. One step forward, two steps back. Well, at least the reduced lighting and the additional fan makes the house feel a bit cooler during this heatwave. And hopefully it won't take six months to get this next repair done.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Second blown clutch on 2004 Mazda3: do not buy from Dufferin Mazda!

I just received word that Dan's relatively new vehicle has blown the clutch again. He was calling from Palmerston Blvd while awaiting the tow truck. The car had zero km on it when he drove it off the lot on September 19, 2004. It is less than 3 years old, and this is the second time that the clutch has broken. Is this really normal?

Now you might think that he doesn't know how to drive a stick? (I'm sure you'd expect that if he was female.) But, he does. With his 1991 Integra, the original clutch lasted more than a decade. As did the Honda that he drove before that. And the brakes on the 2004 Mazda3 needed to be replaced after just one year, whereas the Integra held out for over 5.5 years. Sure, city driving is hard on a car, but do the parts really expire in a year? Or is this a problem with Mazda?

Dan's phone calls to the Dufferin Mazda dealership were often not returned. He also wrote letters. And in the end, they said that it was normal wear and tear, and they would not pay for it. Nor did they pay for the tow truck up to the dealership, or for the rental car that he had to rent for five days while they fixed the clutch the first time. The level of service and customer support at both Dufferin Mazda and Mazda Canada are deplorable.

Look out Mazda. Look out Dufferin Mazda. You have a new enemy.

Now you may be interested to know that Conservative MP Wajid Kahn (who crossed the floor in January 2007 from the Liberal party) is the former owner of Dufferin Mazda. And as this clever writer says: Mississauga MP (and former Dufferin Mazda dealership owner) Wajid Khan further weakened the reputation of used car salesmen by betraying Liberal voters and defecting to the Conservative party. Switching parties mid-season? How can we trust this guy? When he retires from politics, will he be back full time at the dealership, doing television ads in a jailbird suit, a la Mel Lastman?

At Dufferin Mazda's website, they have the nerve to write: We do it better, we do it for less. Do they really???

Have you had a problem with the clutch on your Mazda? Do you have service horror stories with Dufferin Mazda? If so, comment and let me know. It is time that they learn that word-of-mouth can be negative as they witness the power of online communications.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fighting Fires

As a young girl, I wanted to be an electrician, but I never wanted to be a firefighter - not until Saturday.

I was at the Upper Montrose street festival for the annual "trading of the junk" - a street-wide yard sale. I hauled a bunch of my stuff up there, in an attempt to clear some space in the basement. I sold a bunch of junk for a loony at a time. In the end, I had a pocket full of change that added up to about $50, which I was planning to use to take my father out for Father's Day.

The festivities were just beginning: make your own cupcake, the kiddie bike parade, the adult vs. children hockey game, street dance, etc. But, I had to get going to the comedy club. En route, I passed the firefighters display at the end of the street. A pair of pants were rolled down around a big pair of rubber boots, sitting on the street beside the truck. All the parents were bringing their little kids over to have their photo taken sitting in the truck. Well, since I don't have any kids, I jumped right in there myself. I stepped out of my sandals and into the boots. It took some effort to get all those layers on, which felt great on a hot and humid day. Not only hot but heavy. With all the gear, I was carrying almost an additional 100 lbs. Yikes.

The guys were great sports, and seemed like a lot of fun, but I decided that firefighting was probably not for me. I'm afraid of heights, plus I don't like shift work. So I hung up my suit and put my sandals back on, and made my way back down to Lower Montrose, where my career ambitions return to being just an electrician (or at least until I install the new light fixture that I got at the yard sale).

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Super Mom the Electrician

With freshly painted walls, all those mismatching outlets and switches were bringing down the decor on Upper Montrose. So, I went up to show Dee how to rewire them with fresh new white decora outlets. Basically, you just need to turn off the power to the circuit, unfasten the two screws, pull out the outlet, loosen the terminal screws and remove the wires. Take note which wire was connected to which terminal. You will find that each outlet can be wired in a few different ways, so my non-professional advice is to rewire it exactly the way you found it. Then you need to gently push the outlet back into the box, making sure that none of the wires pop off a terminal. The only thing that makes this job difficult is that the wire is very rigid, so it can be hard to bend it and cram all the wires back into the box, without the wires coming off. But once it is in, you just just fasten the outlet to the box with the two screws, put on a fresh new cover plate and then turn the power back on to the circuit. Use a tester to make sure that the outlet works properly and celebrate!

I was very proud of Dee. She rolled up her sleeves and gave it all she had. Some of the screws were caked in paint or had been in place for decades, making them difficult to loosen. Sometimes it took two hands, but she completed her first outlet, just in time to feed the baby. Now that's tough work. She has to feed that little guy every two or three hours. On our first night on the job, we completed the living room outlets and got started on the master bedroom, until it got too dark. So, we called it a night and put little Skittles to bed.

How does this super mom juggle a baby with an electrician apprenticeship? Slowly, but with increasing skill. And she'll have the satisfaction of knowing that she was the one who rewired the outlets herself. Or maybe she'll become my personal shopper in exchange for some handy work around the house. It remains to be seen as neither of us in a huge rush. After all, it is summer!

If you want to rewire your own outlets and need some tips, check out this article or grab a book from the library. Be careful that the power is off and remember what I learned in my high voltage class in University: most people who get electrocuted die from the fall, not from the voltage itself. So just make sure that you're on the ground, or put some pillows around to break your fall.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Painter Paints

Ally is one of my friends who can paint. Really paint - like pictures that you'd hang on the wall kinda painting. But here she is helping out our friends on Upper Montrose, painting the trim and shelves in the new living room. When she was done, the room looked fab but her hands were caked with latex paint. She kept rubbing her face, but she didn't notice. I guess that's the way that artists react to paint. They embrace it. I was painting ceilings at the time. I reacted to the paint by becoming speckled, like a rare tree toad.

It is hard to believe that I didn't have any experience painting until the past two years, when we moved into our little pink house. Of course, I had painted before, but not that much. The pink demanded that we learn to paint quickly, or hire somebody who could do it. I was prepared to hire somebody but Dan thought that we should try it out ourselves, so we did. So, he has only himself to blame for all this DYI stuff we do on weekends.

Anyway, Ally and The Duke are looking to buy their own Money Pit. Ally confided in me that she hates painting. Hopefully she either finds a place that was recently painted, or else I can give her the name of some great painters. But if she asks nicely, I'll come over and paint her ceilings, if she wants. Let's just hope that there isn't any wallpaper!!!!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Don't Welcome These New Neighbours

The last person that you want to move into the house next door is this guy. It is even worse if he takes to sunbathing on your back fence!!!

Sure, baby raccoons are cute but they are also very very destructive. And when you see one baby raccoon, you know that a whole family is close by.

Dan came home at lunch and found this guy being chased out of our neighbour's yard, so he set up shop on our fence. His sibbling was trapped between the compost bin and our fence. Dan went back to work and was surprised to find they hadn't moved in 4 hours. We had to make them feel unwelcome or they would take over, so we pulled out the garden house and sprayed them away. It worked. This guy moved over one more yard and sat there. Later that night, I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye. We turned on the light and saw a big mamma raccoon with SEVEN babies on our neighbour's garage roof. They were on a rescue mission to fetch the two that had camped out in our yard all day. Just to make sure that all eight of them felt very unwelcome, we got the hose out again for a late night shower. They got the message and ran.

I know that a family of raccons live in the attic of our near neighbours - about 4 houses down. They love garbage night and all come out to sample the Montrose buffet. We put our garbage out in the morning, but most of our neighbours have a garbage phobia and insist on setting it curbside at the earliest possible moment: 6 p.m. in winter and 7 p.m. in the summer. It's like putting out raccoon bait! But I doubt that I can change their behaviour. They love to hose their sidewalks down daily and they love to put the garbage out early. What can I do? So for now, I put hot sauce on the back fence, to keep the raccoons remembering that they are definitely not welcome at my money pit.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

You need to have the right tools!

Have you ever stripped wallpaper?

It is not fun. My house had one wallpapered bathroom and two wallpaper murals. My friend Chris removed one of the wallpaper murals for me, and then he helped me strip the bathroom, over the course of two days. TWO DAYS. It came off in little strips and gouged the wall to shreds.

Hours after the newest residents of Upper Montrose took possession of their new house, Chris rushed in to strip the wallpaper off the upstairs bedrooms. He finished one bedroom in 10 minutes. The other bedroom's wallpaper would not strip. Not at all. So that's when Chris said: you need to have the right tools. He got on the horn and found us a steamer. Ian ran out to get it, and then we got to work.

It took forever to get the flipping thing working. Then the heat and steam poured out. And we got to work - stripping, and sweating. The smallest bedroom in the house, which was only half papered, took us 3 hours to do. We finished around midnight, then cleaned up, and called it a day. We went back in the morning only to discover that the wallpaper in the mainfloor powder room was equally stubborn. So two of us crammed into the smallest room in the house and got steamy. I cannot imagine how long it would have taken to do this without the steamer. It just goes to show you that the right tools make all the difference!

Friday, May 18, 2007

New Kid on the Block

Obviously this house is not new to the neigbourhood, but the occupants are. Today, my friends and their 3 month old baby take possession of this lovely 3 bedroom home on "upper" Montrose, just up the street from my own money pit. This will be handy when they require a babysitter or a handy woman. A wise move on their part.

After my day at the office, I will stop by and help out with the mini-makeover that a home needs when its occupants of over 20 years move away. I plan on spending the May 24 weekend there, removing wallpaper, scrubbing walls with TSP, and painting. I am looking forward to the painting and the physical labour. We haven't done any work on our house for about two months, although there is a long list to do. For some reason it seems easier to get work done outside the house. (Although, I have not yet done anything...)

It won't really be like spending a weekend at the cottage. I think that it will be better: we won't spend any time in the long weekend traffic, no bugs, and I won't miss my Saturday morning squash game. Plus, we will have some great new neighbours.

From all of us Monty's: welcome the three newbies. We'll meet you in the back laneway at dusk for a dance off.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Bathroom Envy

I never thought that I'd have bathroom envy, but here I am, coveting my neighbour's powder room!

Maybe you had to see the 'before' shot to truly appreciate this remarkable transformation, but this cloud white dream has absolutely no affiliation with it's former self. Talk about extreme makeover. And, just like on TV, they did it in record time. The demolition began on a Saturday and the transformation was revealed at a huge house party only 6 days later. The work was completed by two savvy men who were also juggling full time jobs at the time. How the hell did they pull this off? "No sleep", was one comment that I heard.

I was called in on day 2, when the shutoff valve was not really shutting off the water. Having completed a 9 week plumbing course at Central Tech, I am the most logical person to call in this situation. I got out my propane torch and plumbing supplies and rode off on my bike, to see if I could help. I cut the pipe and tried to solder a cap on it, so Matthew could tile the floor without water dripping onto it. But, it kept leaking. Just a slow drip leak, so we tied a rag around it and he carried on. The plumber came a few days later to install the new toilet and sink, and he informed us that you can't get the copper hot enough if there is any water in the plumbing system. We did turn off the water and drain the pipes in the basement, but our fatal error was not draining all the water upstairs too. Lesson learned, if I am ever brave enough to do more plumbing!

My favorite part of this story was that Matthew rented a paint sprayer so that he could cover the spray foam insulation and the ceiling joists. Major overkill for a room that is only 4' by 3'. I was told that a gallon of paint was sprayed in a matter of minutes. The whole room was raining white. Imagine that.

Just as a reminder, the homeowners have placed a framed photo of the former bathroom just outside the door, so you can really appreciate the transformation. Maybe they'll send me a copy to post here!

Friday, May 4, 2007

A Renovation Vacation

It is always nice to get away from home and stop thinking about the little repairs that remain incomplete. But it turns out that home renos can follow you on vacation. While in Paris for two weeks, I was graciously invited to stay with my former neighbour Melanie and her husband Jerome. They moved into a charming house just steps from the Paris city limit in the village of St-Ouen. Both are interior designers by trade, so they are working on one majorly cool home renovation, already five years in the making. The house is deceptively small looking from the street, but beyond the pseudo-Mediterranean exterior hides a four bedroom, three bathroom home with a private sunny garden, a huge workshop, and a garage that currently parks three cars. A house this size in Paris is exceptional. And so are their building plans.

Melanie and Jerome are not only expanding their home, they are also expanding their family. Melanie was 5 1/2 months preganant when we arrived. I was there when she had her 2nd ultrasound and found out that it will be a girl. Exciting! But baby needs a bedroom, so the push is on to get the main floor done by September. Jerome completed the subfloor during our first week there, and they had a few different tradesmen in during my visit. I thought that they would have the inside track on all the best contractors & tradespeople in the city, but in fact, they said that good contractors are hard to find in Paris, just as here in Canada. So, they are in a holding pattern, waiting to get work done.

It seems that on either side of the Atlantic, home renos can be equally frustrating. Yet also equally rewarding. The work that they have done so far is very impressive, so I can't wait to see the next phase. Just one more reason to want to go back to Paris -- as if I need an excuse!!!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I've Lost My Cool

My nieces used to think that I was really cool. But that was back when I lived in a cool loft and I was single, so I spent all my time with them. But now I have a house that needs my attention. Walls to paint, tiles to grout - that sort of thing. At Christmas, I took them to see Wicked, as well the bright lights of Dundas Square. But it is always the unexpected that impresses them the most. We had about half an hour to kill, so we went to the Eaton Centre to unthaw. Alas, the girls had never seen our urban mall before, as they live out in Clarington Township, east of Oshawa. They were amazed by the giant christmas tree covered in sparkling crystals and the dancing fountains. They were also dazzled by the Disney Store. (The culture of consumerism is growing!)

As part of their March Break activities, the girls came to visit with their mother and dog on the weekend. We went to the ROM and the AGO -- all the cultural places that you should visit. But I can tell that they are just not as impressed with my small west end house as they were with my cool loft. I know this because Jessica tells me every time she walks through the door. She flops onto the couch and says: "I liked your old place better." She's very direct. What can I do to win back the cool? Is there anything that I can show them that can impress them, or are they already jaded at ages 10 and 12?

Saturday night we went to their favorite restaurant: Swatow. Sometimes I think that is the only reason they came for the visit, was to eat at Swatow. They love the "real" chinese food, the kind that you can't get out in Oshawa. But again, it is always the little things that impress them more. En route to the restaurant, Jessica spotted a rat. Now, we were in Chinatown, but it is the last thing that you want your little niece reporting back to her suburban relatives and classmates about when she boasts about her time in the big smoke. But she thought that it was cool. I know this because she kept saying: "Cool, my first street rat." Well, she quit saying that when she saw her first group of rats - 3 or 4, feasting on a mound of unprotected garbage. Then she said: "Cool! More rats." And she ran towards them. Her older sister did not think it was cool at all. She was suitably disgusted, as was I. Despite the fact that this was only blocks from my former cool loft, I have never seen a rat in Toronto. It was my first street rat too.

Well, with one youth adequately satisfied that a visit to their rapidly aging Aunt is still cool, I had to find a way to impress her older sister. I took her to Mitzi's Sister in Parkdale to see the lovely and talented Rhonda Strackit perform during Canadian Music Week. I have to admit that even I thought that was cool. Top that off with a ride home from "The Duke", and it was certainly a cool weekend to remember -- I hope.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Trouble with Trim

Like all jobs, it is the little finishing details that can drive you crazy. Have you ever tried to operate a mitre saw? Well, it is enough to drive you insane.

We planned to do the trim on Saturday, but the power was off in our neighbourhood for over 36 hours, which makes the mitre saw even more difficult to operate. Instead we went to Rona to buy the trim. With electricity at all outlets the next day, we were ready to begin cutting, except that the new trim was too tall for our borrowed mitre saw. We had the choice of buying a sliding compound mitre saw which retails at $1000, or we could exchange the trim for a shorter version. We chose the latter.

One more road trip to Rona and we were finally ready to get cutting. It seems pretty straight forward: 45 degree angles, inside corner, outside corner -- that kinda thing. But one wrong cut and then you get even more confused. Finally we sorted it out and got all the trim cut and nailed it onto the wall using this archaic tool called a hammer. It seems that people can only use those power Brad nailers these days, but we managed to get the trim in place using old school technology and some glue.

I'm sure that it was a thrill for our neighbours and their guests to have their Sunday dinner accompanied by the roar of our power saw and the soft percussion of our hammer. But with each finishing nail, I silently told them that if we get this done tonight, our loud renovation may soon be finished. Soon. For their sake, and for mine!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Different Kind of Labour

On Saturday morning, I woke up at 6 a.m. I hate waking up early on days that I don't have to work. Eventually I got up and got to work putting a 2nd coat of paint on the kitchen wall. But my mind kept wandering to my friend Denise who was labouring away at St. Mike's hospital. Around 9:30 a.m., with a paint roller in my hand, I heard the exciting news from Ally, the labour co-coach, that the baby had finally arrived! William (Liam) Elliott Brodie Brown was born around 6:20 a.m. to proud parents Denise and Ian. Weighing in at 7 lbs and 13 oz, he's a healthy little baby who took his time arriving.

I got to see Liam when he was less than half a day old. I was there for his first bath, first feeding and also took his first movie. I was there to help out but also to get some details to report to the world. After two days of labour, the new family needs a rest and requested no visitors. So, I am very honoured to be the family spokesperson. It is such a joy to be the bearer of such wonderful news. Everybody loves to hear about a new baby.

Child labour -- it is quite something. It is hard to believe that women keep doing it. You see the new mom's in the hospital and they all have that weary look of shock on their faces. I am a proud Aunt, but I am BBC - Barren By Choice. (I must credit my friend Kara for coming up with this term. We're planning to get t-shirts too.) And there are a few BBCers in Denise's circle, which is quite handy, cuz that adds up to more well rested babysitters and errand runners. I've even offered to do light housekeeping. Heck, anything but pushing out one of those kids. Yikes.

I'd like to dedicate this post to Ally, Denise's birthing coach. Denise was fortunate to have her on the team and stood with her thru the days of excruciating labour. Ally likes it when I blog about something beyond my kitchen which I think she finds boring. So now I have little Liam to write about and photograph, which is good, since the kitchen is almost done and Ally loves babies.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Mayhem on Montrose - The Ditch Witch

I think that it is a bad sign to come home from work and find an abandoned trailer loaded with a roll of yellow pipe sitting in front of your house. It makes you wonder what the city is up to now.

Our short time on Montrose has been rife with construction. The day that we moved was the day that they decided to tear up all the pavement and dig around in the sewers or water main. I'm not entirely sure what they were doing, but I did have to pay my movers for an extra hour while they sat at the end of the street watching the construction, since the could not get their truck past the work. The de-pinking of the door and pillars was delayed while waiting for the street to be repaved. Then the day before I left on my canoe trip, they dug an 7' deep hole in my garden, destroying all the back breaking work I'd done cultivating and planting. So you can imagine my worry when I see spray painted lines all over the sidewalks, and now this!

I was shuffling off to work this morning in a near blizzard, listening to the roar of machines in the near distance. There were 8 big trucks parked at the south end, all of them up to different destructive behaviour. One machine was drilling holes in every body's yard and then the guys covered it with a plywood square. Then a backhoe passed by. All this to replace the gas lines, I guess. Right now they are working on the east side of the street, so my tulip bulbs and lilac bush are safe for a few more days, but will they survive this next attack?

I got to the end of the street to see the biggest and meanest looking machine in their crew: the Ditch Witch. I wanted to take a photo, but I was intimidated by the half dozen men standing around it. So I went online and found this image which is even better. What does a construction crew need more than a shapely woman perched on a shovel, flying past an orange moon? Maybe the fellas were staring at me wondering where my shovel/broom was, not because I had a camera. But better than the name and sexy logo is the fact that they offer a platinum card for their customers with 3 months at no interest. I mean, how many people actually buy this equipment?

I am scared of the Ditch Witch and what it might do to my garden. Lord only knows what they are up to right now. All that yellow pipe may be in the ground already. Only time will tell. Let's just hope that their isn't a gas explosion like there was last week up at St. Clair and Mount Pleasant, where a house was destroyed and a woman lost her life. Compared to that, losing a few plants is not really that big of a deal.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Grouting: It is like learning the Cadbury Caramilk secret

I previously looked at tiled surfaces with very little interest. I had no idea what grout was or how it was placed so neatly into the spaces between all the tiles. Was it put on when you install the tiles to keep them evenly spaced, or was it just the extra adhesive stuff that oozes out when placing the tiles? Well, I can tell you that finally learning the grout mystery is akin to learning how Cadbury gets the caramel into the Caramilk bar - enlightening but trival.

My friend the internet taught me how to grout. I purchased the powdered grout and mixed it up in my own kitchen, then spread it on to fill the spaces using a basic tool called the "grout float", which is nothing more than a rectangle with a handle. Then you wipe off the excess with a damp sponge and wait for it to dry. Yes, it is that easy. But, it is time consuming, as my 24 square feet of glass mosaic tile represents 3,456 individual tiles. So we had to smear the grout between all 3,456 tiles and then wipe each one off a few times, to make sure that the grout does not ruin the sparkly appearance. I must say we because Dan got into it pretty heavy with the grout float, ensuing that each and every crevace was filled, giving himself with a nasty blister.

So with that mystery solved, I decided to ask my all-knowing friend the internet what it knows about the Cadbury Caramilk secret. Alas, I found a posting from 1996 with a simple yet cool animation and full explanation that unlocks the mystery, and has a wonderful artist's rendering of a Mikrovert ™ chocolate shell moulding plant. This is all very cool but it would be better if I could do it myself, like grouting. Now since the Cadbury plant is only a few blocks west of us, and our neighbour's son works there, maybe a trip to the factory is not really beyond grasp. But will they let me put the caramel into the chocolate shells myself? Doubtful.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Installing Glass Mosaic Tiles

Step 1: Buy 50 lbs of white thin-set and 9.48 litres of mortar admix, because that is the smallest quantity that you can buy it in. (This will cover 120 square feet - we are covering 24 square feet. I think we'll have a bit left over if anybody needs some!)

Step 2: Measure the amount of powder thin-set that you think you'll need by weighing it on your bathroom scale. (We opted for 10 lbs.)

Step 3: Put on your dust mask, goggles and rubber gloves, pour the toxic liquid admix into the power and stir like mad. Avoid inhaling deeply. (note: goggles provide better protection when they are over your eyes, not your hair!)

Step 4: Using a putty knife, smear the thin-set onto the wall where the first tile should go. Using a v-notched trowel, scrape the thin-set so that it creates ridges.

Step 5: Try to steady your shaking hands while you grasp one of the 12x12 tile sheets (that's 144 little tiny tiles per sheet) and place it on the designated spot. Slide it gently to get it level both horizontally and vertically. Press it down gently so that each little tile makes contact, but not too much so that the thin-set oozes between the tiles. (Thin-set between tiles is bad, because that is where your grout is supposed to go.)

Step 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5 until the surface is covered in tiles. Use tiny plastic spacers in attempt to keep the sheets uniformly spaced and level.

Step 7: Throw out the remaining thin-set before it hardens in your bucket. Wash off your brand new counter top and sink, removing all the stray thin-set, and wash all your trowels and tools.

Step 8: Marvel at how good it all looks while enjoying a victory beer. Worry about the next step, when you have to peel the plastic layer off the surface of the tiles without pulling the tiles off the wall (but do not attempt this for several days, when you believe that the tiles are permanently adhered to the wall). Also worry about the upcoming grouting process.

For detailed instructions, read this website. This is where I learned everything that I know about glass mosaic tiles.