Thursday, December 3, 2009

Renovation Time

We've tried but can't ignore the fact that our entire upstairs is in a state of flux, and that Eric still needs to do some major rebuilding before we're at the Gyproc stage of the game. We took the summer off - no point in working inside when we'd rather be outside - and to be honest, we were both exhausted from the work we did from January to May.

We passed the air-tightness test with flying colours. In fact, we're one point away from being as energy efficient as a new home, which is saying something considering our house is over 15o years old. (Or it says something about new house construction, but don't get me going on that...) We also got a nice energy rebate from the audit - let's just say it covers a chunk of the renovation costs. Our house is finally comfortable, and we're not heating the great out-of-doors any more. We've had a mild fall, but we've been heating with our woodstove downstairs for several weeks, and upstairs we often measure 23 degrees C. Considering we used to have -3, we are heading in the right direction.

In the above photo, Eric had to build a removable sub-floor using 2x4's and 3/4" plywood that he placed over the open stairwell. This was the missing link we needed to be able to complete the tear-down of the last section of wall in the stairwell. Thankfully, it's only large enough for one person to be on at a time - so Eric's the lucky one who gets to grace it.

GO Eric GO!
GO Eric GO!
GO Eric GO!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Whatcha doin'?

Just hangin' around.

Sorry, I couldn't resist. Poppy can shred my arms and I think she's cute. Everything she does is a still-life waiting to be recorded for future posterity. This cat had me from the minute she was born, and I can't count the number of times a day I pick her up for some kitten-huffing.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


We used to have about 3,000 cars pass by our house every day. We're located near one of the busiest highways in North America, the Montreal-Toronto corridor. We're also located near one of the highest accident areas, and it was not uncommon for the Ministry of Transport to re-route traffic over our street in the event of an accident. Not only is our road very narrow, it is also pock-marked with potholes and features crumbling edges. It's so bad, in fact, that when the lines are painted in spring, most of the outside lines are painted in the gravel and last about a month before washing away. It's not the most conducive for 18-wheelers and morning commuters hell-bent to get to work on time. Traffic used to wake us on many mornings, signaling another work day ahead.

But on October 16th, all of that changed. Thanks to the construction of NA30, a new highway that will create a periphery around the island of Montreal, our road became a huge crescent, and our house, as luck would have it, is smack-dab in the middle of it. This means houses to the north go north to get on to the highway, and houses to the south go south to get onto the highway, and we're left in the middle, enjoying our peace and quiet. It makes for a 6 km detour for us to get on the highway, most of it in the opposite direction of where we want to travel, and has added at least 5 minutes to every outing we make, but the solitude we gained is worth every bit of extra inconvenience.

It is wonderful to have windows open on warmer days, and not hear the endless drone of speeding cars flying by. I'd say 90% of the traffic that went by was not local traffic, but people in a rush to get to where they were going faster than if they went by the highway, ironically. We complained to the city and police numerous times about the fact the posted speed limit was 50 km/h, but the median speed clocked closer to 80 or 90, not to mention trucks with over-size loads using our road to circumvent the truck scale on the highway, or drunks leaving a popular "cruising-bar" close by using it to avoid police. We'd hear them speeding by in the middle of the night after closing time, and wondered who their next victim would be.

Walking along the street was virtually impossible, but now that we've become a crescent, people can walk their dogs in safety again, and kids can ride their bikes. People can actually use the street again.

To say that we're delighted is an understatement. People who live near by are generally courteous and drive close to the speed limit. We finally have the peace and quiet we feel we deserve.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fall Colours

We've had a wonderful fall! Beautiful colours, sunny days, and a bit of time to work on outside projects. No major accomplishments save for having finished planting our wind break. We planted over 100 trees - pines, oaks and ash - that were given to us by the Ministry of Agriculture to help create wind breaks. We are doing our part. We still have a few trees left that we planted in the vegetable plot, and we'll transplant these next spring as replacements for any winter-kill.

The kittens are keeping us busy. We weren't prepared for the level of attention and time 4 young kittens would need.

This is Poppy:

Can you tell she's here to stay? She's just the most snorgle-riffic kitten I have ever seen. Besides her angelic expression, her fur is one of her cutest features. It has almost a fake-fur quality to it, and makes her look like a little Furby.

Our entire house has been cat-proofed. Cooper needs to be kept apart from Plumette because she very defensive of her kittens, and now that they are getting older and more mobile, we've had to literally cover our couches in blankets, hang our curtains up over their rods, and prevent them from climbing upstairs and wreaking havoc in the construction zone. They have 2 play-attacks a day, once in the morning when we get up, and again in the evening before going to bed. I can't recall being woken by them once because they were playing in the middle of the night, something that sort of surprised me. They'd come over and see us if we woke up in the middle of the night and went downstairs to the bathroom, but we'd just ignore them and they'd go right back to the kitten mosh pit and sleep. It seems they have their own code of conduct.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Kitten Festival

Little Plumette came to us very, very pregnant. I don't have any experience with pregnant cats or even kittens for that matter, which is strange considering I have had cats nearly my entire life. We always made a point of adopting strays, and most of those happen to be younger cats abandoned when their cuteness has worn off, or older, feral cats kept alive only by their wiles.

It was Eric's fault. He was the one who went to pick up pregnant Plumette from our local airport. We - along with many others at the airport - had been feeding the little stray but no one wanted to take responsibility for her. She became a fixture, sleeping in the hangars, leaving dusty paw-prints on polished aircraft, and even mistakenly spending the night in someone's cockpit. We went to feed her nearly every night. She had food, water, and always came running with her tail high in the air, the top folding over like a question mark, when she heard our car. When it became obvious that Plumette was pregnant, we moved to Plan B which meant bringing her home to us.

Our house with 4 cats, 3 of whom are indoor and one who stays outside, had finally found harmony after the introduction of the Howarnator two years ago. We finally have peace, and Cooper, our dog and original foundling, slipped further from Alpha dog with every addition, deferring his bed and his status to the felines. Balance - we had it - until Plumie arrived, that is.

Plumie spent her first week under the guest room bed. She had her food, water, milk, a bed, and would crawl out several times a day as we went to check on her. Slowly, I'd start to find her sitting on the window ledge, or in the laundry room, staking out a spot to have her babies, I'd decided. From what I gleaned on the net, mama cat will try and find a safe, out-of-the way spot to have her babies.

I started to leave towels and large Rubbermaid bins around the house. I introduced her to the bathtub, a brilliant spot to have tiny kittens, in my mind. I knew she would decide where she would have her kittens, but I thought it best to make a few suggestions. Twice I found her beside the toilet paper in the bathroom cabinet. More than once I found her in the laundry room behind the dog and cat food bins.

Last Wednesday, timed perfectly with 4 days off, she decided where she would have her kittens, and Eric and I could do nothing but shake our heads in disbelief. She had them on the sofa in the living room, right beside us. Yes, little Plumette decided she wanted not one, but two midwives to assist her birth, and in the most obvious location in the entire house.

We grabbed a few towels and placed them underneath her. We still like our sofa and were honoured with the trust she placed in us, because she somehow understood that we would help her. The first kitten, a large black and white "Holstein" was followed a half an hour by a little calico. Plumette rested and started to feed the little kitties. Both Eric and I were hoping that this was the end, that her litter had only 2 kittens, but the cat pregnancy planner we found on the internet lied: she rested for about and hour and a half, and then delivered 2 more, one right after the other. By the fourth kitten, she was so exhausted that she ignored the newborn, so after some Google-fu, we cleaned the placenta off the kitten with a warm face cloth, and presented Plumette with her last baby. She promptly severed the umbilical cord and nudged him into place, suckling alongside the rest of the kittens.

At 2AM, we were confident that all babies were fine. Plumette was sleeping, the babies had all latched on, and we had watched as all suckled sufficiently in our opinion. With everyone off to a good start, we finally went to bed.

The next morning, all babies were suckling, sleeping or squirming around. We could finally assess the full litter:

We have nicknamed the first kitten Piglet, the little black and white kitten who weighed in at a whopping 150g. The second kitten, Poppy, is a calico and the only girl in the bunch, she weighed in at 125g. Bringing up the rear are two little boys, Pepper, named for his salt and pepper fur, and a black unnamed boy, who both weighed in at 125 g each. We were surprised to see that one kitten wasn't black but salt and pepper the next morning. It was hard to tell in the dim light and with the fur sleeked down post-birth, so we're not quite sure of their birth order. We were convinced both were black.

Here's the kitten mosh-pit the next morning:

Eric called this his "Kitty TV". All kittens, 24/7. He sat on the sofa on the opposite side and watched them for hours.

Poor Plumette, she stayed with those kittens for 36 hours before moving. We fed her on the sofa, premium cat food drizzled with a bit of olive oil, milk cut with water, poached chicken breast warmed with a bit of bacon grease, all served to her as though we were dealing with an invalid. The only thing missing was the silver platter. Plumie meowed and we ran to her beck and call.

When I say she didn't move, I mean she did not move, not even to use the kitty litter box. When she finally went pee, I had to use 2 hands to hold the scooper to clean the box out. She was overdue. Over the next few days, we would periodically have her come off the sofa to eat, and lure her over to the litter box in the hopes she would relieve herself, but she must have a bladder made of steel. I was worried that she would get a bladder infection, but so far so good, she is using the litter box once or twice a day, which is on par with Schatzie, our other indoor only cat.

Guess which one is my favorite?

You guessed it - it's Poppy who's got my heart!

So, the other day I went to work. Eric was expected home before me, and that's when I got the following call:

Where are the kittens?

Well, they weren't under my desk at work, that's for sure.

Immediately I knew where Plumette had hidden them: behind the speaker in the stereo room. I watched her make the tour the previous day and her fascination with the space behind the speakers in the stereo room was undeniable. Sure enough, that's where she was. Her little babies were in a pile in the corner, and she was happily nursing away.

Of course I got blamed for the end of All Kittens, All the Time, Eric's favorite show broadcast from a sofa near him.

So we let her be. She seemed content and so did the babies. We peer in on them several times a day, and everyone is doing fine and getting bigger.

And today, something strange happened. Eric crouched down and reached in behind the speakers to pet the kittens. Plumette was back there with them, and as if sensing Eric's curiosity, she pushed out all the babies with her front paws so that Eric could get a good look at them. I don't think I am projecting here, she was definitely showing off her brood with pride. It was really cute to see, she is such a proud mother and positively beams when we tell her how nice and good she is.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Summer of Oh-Oh Nine

What can be said about the summer of Oh-Oh Nine? Enough rain to make Vancouver jealous, and little time to get out and work on projects.

It rained:

And then the sun came out:

And we could count the nice sunsets on one hand:

The observant among you will note that our farmer across the road didn't even have time to finish mowing the hay on his field in one fell swoop before more rain came.

The rain hindered us in more ways that one.

(Even Cooper looks despondent).

Between rain showers, we worked on the slate patio that is still not done. We just ordered the last tiles we need to complete the job. It's not that we calculated badly, it's that we had about 30 tiles that were either split or almost unusable due to their poor quality. The good news is the company is replacing them free of charge, and the bonus is that we get to keep the old tiles because it would cost too much to return them. We can still make use of some of them as stepping stones, or in between garden beds (but don't even get me going on that...).

Our cedars really liked the wetness, but our strawberries not so much. Most of them rotted away before they even ripened. The ones that ripened tasted of water. It was not a stellar year.

All this rain made it hard to even take out the tractor and mow the grass. Heavy tractors and clay soils don't mix very well. I think Eric managed to get the job done maybe 4 times over the course of the summer. Our property looks like it needs a good weed-whacking, stat!

We added someone to our menagerie. Meet Plumette:

That's Plume-ette, not Plum-ette, because her tail is like a plume. Yup, she's missing a chunk out of her ear. She's super affectionate and was abandoned, until she met us, that is. We obviously have SUCKER printed on our foreheads, both Eric and I. And yes, cats sit on tables at our house. It's not encouraged, but it's also not completely frowned upon either, as evidenced above. Plumette was very pregnant when the above photo was taken, but her full story is for another post. That and many kitten photos...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Victoria is Up and Knitting

Cleaning Miss Victoria was a long haul. Somehow my planets never lined up properly, because there never seemed to be enough time to sit down and clean her well enough and put her back together again. Vicky's innards sat on a cookie sheet on the kitchen counter for much longer than was necessary.

I tackled the cylinders first, removing broken off jammed needles:

When that was done, I took the machine apart completely. This is how she looked before:
And when I took everything apart, a few things stumped me:

Her tension cams are really worn down. I couldn't decide if I wanted to take the Dremel to them or not.

Observe during cleaning:

The up-throw cams (there are two: a left and a right) were probably never cleaned in the life of the machine. The wear is a good sign, it means she was worked, and worked hard, but I still had to wonder if I should gently grind down this wear.

This is the felt that formed at the bottom of the cams I am holding above:

And yet another shot:

Miss Vicky was a crusty old gal, and she really put me through the paces. I worked on each piece until I was satisfied. Soaking this machine was not enough; I really had to take each piece one at a time and sand with 600 grit wet-sandpaper and WD-40 until each piece was clean:

I used an old kitchen paring knife and gently scraped the hardened grease off. No amount of soaking helped loosen the dirt which literally flaked off when I scraped it with the knife.

But once Victoria was put back together again, we had success:

I had her together and a tube knit in about 15 minutes! We have lift off!

I simply let the worn-down cams be; if they need grinding down, there is always later for that. For now, she's back together and the opportunity to take her apart again will no doubt present itself.

Now I just hope to find the time to move beyond tubes. I am keeping my fingers crossed that once our renovations upstairs are finished, I will get the chance to actually make a pair of matching socks. If not, there is always the Circular Sock Machine Society of America's annual meeting which will be held in Laconia, NH in 2010. What's another few months in the general scheme of things?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Saint-Lazare Fly-in

Saint-Lazare Fly-In Breakfast

In the middle of June, the little municipal airport owned by Cooper Aviation in Saint-Lazare (TC LID: CST3) holds an annual fly-in breakfast. This year it was held on June 14th, and the planets must have been aligned, because not only was it a warm, sunny day, but our agenda was wide open so we were able to partake in the festivities.

We got there early, but late enough that we had to park so far away we joked that we might as well have walked from home. Next year I think we'll bike over, even if it is a bit of a haul. The organizers thought of everything: there was even a shuttle to bring us "back" to the main area. I decided the night before that we would bring our walkie-talkies (do they still call them that?), so we could be independent. (Read: Ann could escape and wander whilst Eric carries on existentialist conversations with fellow aviation enthusiasts). We even remembered the camera, so we managed to take a few shots.

Kids and dogs and planes...what's not to love?

The fly-in breakfast attracted over 4000 people on June 14, 2009 - a record. It's a free event, so that might account why people came in droves this year. With the economy being what it is, it's hard enough to find interesting things to do with kids that won't break your bank account.

The "airport at Saint-Lazare" as locals call it, is a pristine, verdant local airstrip with both grass and freshly-paved runways. Big wooden barns ring the property, complete with babbling creek and weeping willows. It is as picture-perfect as any little airport can be.

At 10:30, a CF-18 did 2 fly-bys. It was amazing to hear and see. We were all watching the sky and ohh-ing and ahh-ing as he did a second pass. After the all-clear was given, the little planes from surrounding airports landed fast and furious one after the other. I think about 120 planes partook in the fly-in, a record number by all accounts.

A Harvard

Kids are encouraged to look and ask questions. I am sure more than a few kids decided, "this is what I want to do when I grow up!"

A Stearman

The orange-vested guys are volunteers; there were a lot that day, and it is thanks to them that the day went off without a hitch.

A Yakolev.

A Stinson Voyager

A Cessna 140

And last, but not least, Eric's little dream-machine, the Cessna 170.

At some point in time, I left Eric and went home. I arranged to pick him up at the end of the day, and called him on the walkie-talkie as I entered town. I watched as he sauntered down the little meandering drive-way, baseball cap askew and one shirt-tail flapping in the breeze. He had an empty water bottle in one hand, the walkie-talkie in the other, and a grin that went from ear to ear. He looked like your average star-struck 4 year-old. To say that Eric is an airplane enthusiast is a little bit of an understatement.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Well, we finally have some reward for the long hard winter we endured! That's right, peeps, it's Asparagus Time. So important, it deserves capitals! We are lucky enough to have three well-established beds of beautiful asparagus that provide us with a seemingly endless bounty for several weeks in the spring. This year my mother even got ambitious and pickled some. I am giving this experiment some shelf-time before breaking down and cracking open a jar. For now, we still have fresh asparagus, so it does not make practical sense!

Every year I try a few new recipes to expand my repertoire. At times, the copious amounts of asparagus seems daunting, and we make a lot of people happy with a "bouquet" of stalks, so I am always looking for creative ways to serve it up. This recipe has received thumbs-up from everyone:

Dijon Caper Dressing for Asparagus

(I assume you already know how to steam or boil or barbecue or roast asparagus...)

1/2 cup regular mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped capers
1 tablespoon milk

Mix all above ingredients together. I serve each guest with their own ramekin filled with this dressing. One of our favorite spring meals features barbequed steaks, steamed asparagus with Dijon caper dressing and baked potatoes on the menu.

It's our reward for shoveling snow and enduring deep-freeze temperatures for months on end.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

May 21st

Like May 14th, May 21st came and went. Winds howling at upwards of 80 km/h threw off the air-tightness test results with such wild variations that the audit was rescheduled for the beginning of June. That means we just bought ourselves a few more days. It also means we can't take the pace we've been working at down a notch.

Eric managed to creatively fix the rotten beam. Here's the before:

Another more detailed photo of the damage prior to cleaning:

Here's the during:

And here's the after:

Pretty crafty, huh? Job well done, Eric. I never cease to be amazed.

Don't worry about the rot on the outside wall - when we get around to changing the siding of the house (not next year, please!), we'll replace the wood. There was no easy way to repair it from the inside of the house, and it won't get much worse. It's probably taken 80 years for it to get that bad anyhow. A year or two more won't make much difference.

I cannot believe how quickly this repair went - we really gave it a go and worked non-stop for 2 days. The audit on the 21st gave us the motivation we needed to get this job done as soon as we could.
Here Eric is using the circular saw to start the pocket that will accommodate the partly-rotten beam. I had removed the rot from the existing beam with a reciprocating saw, and Eric took precise measurements of the new beam (that weighed about 100 pounds and took 3 guys to manoeuvre upstairs, (thanks JL and Frank for letting us abuse you once again). Eric made a template on a 2x6 that he temporarily screwed onto the formerly rotten beam, and then transferred these measurements to the beam above. I think if something would have screwed up here, we both would have had to leave the house for a few days to help repair our mental states.

It's 9:00 at night - Eric has managed to chisel out the pocket. Now all we have to do is lift it in place...screw it on...and call it a night. The extra work of the template proved to be beneficial, because the beam went up without a hitch.

Today we put up the insulation and finally closed the wall. Here's the before:

And after:

Everything is insulated with 2 layers of Roxul rock wool as well, but I have spared you the sordid photos of yet more insulation. You're probably getting the jist of it by now anyhow.

Yet another before:

And another after:

Tomorrow we are going to finish the reflective vapour barrier here and seal everything well, and then tackle the last exterior section in the stair well. We will have to jury-rig a scaffolding of sorts so we can work safely, and then we'll be on the home stretch.

Eric was going to sub the drywall installation out, but the person who will be doing this work will also be doing structural work on our barn, and honestly, the structure of the barn takes priority over the drywall in the house. It'll give me more time to chose paint colours and figure out what we are going to put on the floor, all those lovely interior details that take hours of shopping trips and leg-work. One more trip to Home Depot and this girl might become unhinged!

Today was an unseasonably hot day - about 28C or 84F - but already we felt more comfortable upstairs. As long as the structural aspects are complete, the insulation and vapour barrier up and sealed, we should be a lot more comfortable during summer hot spells than in the last few years. So bring on the warm weather, we're waiting!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Oh...and I forgot to mention...

...that we went on another road trip, and you know what that means, don't you?

It means that Ann, AKA She-who-walks-with-horseshoe-firmly-planted-up-posterior, found another, YES, another circular sock machine, or CSM for those in the know.

Drum roll please!

Albert and Marie, meet your new friend Victoria:

A close up of the crud, and I truly mean CRUD:

This machine is going to need major elbow grease to bring back its original shine. It's already in pieces, liberally sprayed with WD-40, each piece beckoning me one-by-one.

I wish I knew more about this machine. I haven't found a serial number, but from what I can tell, I think it is a Legare 47, probably one of their earlier machines.

Do you think it's time I actually cranked out a pair of socks?

Yeah, me too!

Once our renovations are over, and we have finished the slate patio, completed rebuilding the fence, and done a multitude of other outdoor chores, I hope to have some spare time to crank to my heart's content!

May 14th

May 14th came and went. We had been looking forward to this day, you have no clue how much, so when the auditor called to cancel his appointment and reschedule a week later, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry...

You see, we are no where near finished. By the 21st, we should have the upstairs air-tight, even if the Gyproc is not finished by then. Frankly, the Gyproc will be but a minor detail compared to the rebuilding we have done up until now.

Here is a brief synopsis of where we're at and what we found:

This was the former guest room, the 2x4 on the ground is where the wall is going...

And a view in the other direction, showing the window that was added above the front door at the turn of the century, completely screwing up the structure of the house.

Slowly, the division is taking place. Studs are up, the wiring follows, and soon we have:

...a new division! Complete with wiring and insulation. The only thing missing is the vapour barrier and the Gyproc.

I completed my tear-down of the wall on the left side of the window above. Lovely surprise behind the pine paneling:

More rot and mildew...worst we have seen yet! Wait, wait...there's MORE!

How's that for discouraging?!? Once everything was cleaned up, we assessed the whole situation:

I went wild with the reciprocating saw, and let's just say we're not exactly looking forward to rebuilding this. Part of the outside wall will have to be replaced when we take down the siding on the house because the rot is just to big to attempt from this side. The rotten wood literally shatters into splinters between my fingers, so working here needed a new set of rules. I call it "finesse", whereupon Eric rolls his eyes and puts on his hearing protectors to cut down the din...of my incessant complaining.

But forge on is what we are doing:

And yet another wall is completed!

And yet another! Can you tell we're just storming along? We finished the vapour barrier in this room also, so now we have matching disco rooms!

(And yes, we are aware the ceiling above the window is a bit crooked...we could have shimmed the living daylights out of it, but we decided it adds "character").

At least that's what we like to call it!
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