Basements – A Place for Home Reno Disasters

In this part of the world, most houses have basements. They are usually delivered to a new home buyer in a pristine, unfinished state. The basement is an empty canvas just waiting to be tenderly converted into a series of rooms that no architect would ever stoop to designing. Basements are generally developed by owners who have had very little experience in any of the trades needed to do such things. Basements usually have small windows, and slightly lower than average ceilings, so the comparison of a basement to a cave is fitting.

Our basement met most of that criteria when we moved in. It had been “developed”, but not very well. So over the years, we have modified the room placements, upgraded the materials, and improved the overall ambiance. This basement has been part of our lives for about nineteen years now, so it has seen it’s fair share of comings and goings. Everyone in the family has called it “home” when they were temporarily between homes somewhere out in the real world. A few relatives have done the same thing. And a steady flow of “stuff” comes and goes with the people and purpose that is prevalent at the time.

As the Never Ending Reno continues, we are  focused this week (or probably month) on the basement. It is our goal to sort through all the stuff that resides there and either keep it or dispose of it. To do this, it is important to decide what purpose each of the rooms now serves, and then put the right stuff in the right room. So, we designated part of the basement as an office for my Spousal Unit’s Company. And part of it holds the elaborate sump pump system that keeps us high and dry. Part of it is a dual purpose room – a dark room for the photographers in the family, and a wine making room for the drinkers. There are a couple of bedrooms, the obligatory bathroom, a sauna and shower room, a furnace room and a workshop. And the Family Room, which I will get to later.

It is likely hard to imagine how this many rooms could fit into a basement space, but as I said, no architect would approve of this floor plan. But you truly can create quite a few rooms if you don’t have much hallway, and if each room leads into the next. For example, to get to the sump room you pass through the Office, then the Workshop, and then the Dark Room. Or, you can go Office, Furnace room, Dark Room, Sump room. To get to the Bunkroom, you go Office, Family room, Bunkroom. As you may have gathered, the Office is right in the middle and it has doors everywhere you look.

As I mentioned earlier, the Family Room is the prime focus right now – mostly because it houses an extremely large and heavy sofa that required several strong people and access through a window in order to get it into the room. It was on the list of things to find a new home for. But getting it out of the basement was not a task we looked forward to, so I decided it would just have to stay, and I would work around it – and the treadmill, and the deep freeze. Besides, the sofa, and it’s matching chair, were the first new pieces of upholstered furniture we bought after we were married, and there is some sentimental attachment.

The sofa and chair were modern in their day, and the busy floral fabric was all the rage. Of course, our grown up children absolutely detest this furniture, but they aren’t the ones that still take afternoon siestas on the sofa…

So the sofa and chair are going to stay, and the walls of the room are going to be decorated with framed photos of the family. And that is why it is going to be called the Family Room… which sounds much nicer than the Treadmill Room, or Deep Freeze Room or, as the kids might call it – the Big Ugly Couch Room.

Value of the Stay-at-Home Workforce

Cartoon © Phillip Martin

My lifelong career has been a “Stay-at-Home Mom”. This came about for two reasons. The first was that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. The second was that my spousal unit and I decided that one of us would be home for the children. He had a better idea of what he was going to be, and what the potential was for his earning power. So he got to be the “Go-to-Work Dad”.

Staying at home would have been an easier choice if I had been living in my moms generation. But my generation was convinced that the road to liberation didn’t stop in a bungalow in suburbia. My generation wanted to be in the workforce. Many of them weren’t all that complimentary to the few of us who stayed “behind”. I was often asked by women what my career was. When I told them, their response was usually, “Oh, you don’t work.”

If I didn’t work, then what was I doing all day? Caring, cooking, cleaning, driving, advising, managing… well the list goes on and on. If I had been doing this work for someone else, I would have had  a job and I would have been paid. But because I worked for my family, I didn’t work.

If I wasn’t working, was I playing? By definition, work is a trade, profession, or other means of livelihood. Play is an activity that exists only for its own sake. It is absorbing, voluntary, and pleasurable. It does not have goals or compulsions. No, I wasn’t playing all day long. Perhaps what I was doing was a Hobby. A Hobby is an activity done in spare time for pleasure and relaxation. A hobby can have goals and compulsions. No, I wasn’t doing hobbies all the time either. In reality, it was a combination of all three things, done in small blocks of time, in no predictable order. I didn’t always realize how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to have such a flexible definition of what was work, play and hobby.

My husbands career was a mobile one. We have moved 15 times and lived in 4 countries. I unpacked our belongings all 15 times. Some people hire someone to unpack their stuff, and someone else to put it where it looks best. When I unpacked, it was like a big game of hide and seek. Then it became an interesting exercise to put things where they would work to the best of their abilities in a house that was nothing like the one it had been bought for.  Turning a house into a home… and then a patch of dirt into my yard – it was hard work, but not always work, if you know what I mean.

Apparently someone keeps track of what a stay-at-home mom would earn for her work, if she got paid for it. MSN reports that calculated that in 2007, mom would have earned $138,095 for doing the typical tasks that a mom might do in a day:  housekeeper, day care center teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, CEO and psychologist. (Feel free to substitute stay-at-home dad here, because more and more men are taking on this role.)

I’m glad no one has figured out a way to actually pay stay-at-home moms what they are worth.  The federal government would just figure out a way to tax it…

See Spot. See Spot Run – Old Words, New Meanings

In the early goings of Grade 1, my teacher hung up a large piece of heavy construction paper with the words “Books I Have Read” printed across the top. The paper was ruled off in boxes, with the top row listing each student’s name, and the left column listing the names of all the books. Once a student had successfully read a book, a piece of colored paper, with the book’s name printed on it, was glued in the appropriate box under the student’s name – glued with that clear LePage’s mucilage in the bell shaped bottles with the pink rubbery tops.

Dick, Jane and Spot © Addison Wesley

The books came from the Dick and Jane series. Though the words weren’t overly difficult and the stories not particularly exciting, the illustrations were warm and friendly.

We learned to read using both whole word recognition, and phonics. Both techniques have been employed over the years, sometimes one more than the other. Today, however, the material that is available in the early years of reading is far more varied and interesting than what we had. Teachers likely have more sophisticated methods of keeping track of the progress of a child’s reading too! Instead of a construction paper chart on the wall, there is likely some computer generated report that looks much more professional!

With the advent of computers, a whole bunch of new words have entered our vocabulary (RAM, megahetrz, gigabytes). And old words have gained new meanings. The sentence from the Dick and Jane reader that said “See Spot. See Spot Run. Run Spot run.”  showed up many years later in this slightly altered sentence –


If a person is not somewhat fluent in “computer” it is entirely possible for them to read a sentence, understand all the words, and have no idea what it actually means. As in:

Who is General Protection Fault and why is he reading my disk?

Back up my hard drive?  How do I put it in reverse?

Harley Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic CVO – 2011

1984 Honda V65 Magna

My Spousal Unit, The Car Guy, has ridden motorcycles for many years. He started with a Honda 50 Cub in about 1963. When he outgrew that, he graduated to cars, owning a string of them through the early years of our marriage. In about 1982 he decided to ride again, and purchased a 1979 Yamaha 750 Triple. This was sold, and then replaced with a new 1984 Honda V65 Magna.

Road trips with his buddies were replaced with road trips with his wife, when in 2005 he purchased his first touring bike – a BMW K1200 LT. The BMW, still in pristine condition, was put up for sale in order to make room in the garage for the new bike, a 2011 Harley Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic CVO. As the kids say, we are spending their inheritance…

BMW K1200 LT

The BMW and the Harley are both, of course, top of the line touring bikes. And though the Harley is brand new, the BMW is technologically as modern.

2011 Harley Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic CVO

So why replace the BMW with a Harley? A number of things, really. One is the sound. The Harley sounds like a motorcycle, the BMW doesn’t. As the author Ted Bishop points out about his BMW in his interesting book, Riding with Rilke “…at idle mine sounded like a Water Pik, at full throttle it sounded like an angry blender.”

Another consideration is the distance from the top of the seat to the ground. My husband is a generous 6 foot 2 inches in height, while I am a full foot shorter than that. The BMW really is designed to be ridden safely and comfortably by taller people, while the Harley can accommodate somewhat shorter riders. The lower seat height, and subsequent slightly lower center of gravity of the Harley make it easier to handle in city traffic. And the Harley is certainly easier to get on and off for both of us.

The Harley has more luggage space. The back trunk is more convenient because it flips open sideways, while the BMW’s flips open onto the passenger seat, meaning you can’t leave your helmet and jacket there while you rummage in the trunk for stuff. We live in a country where we can start riding in the morning in temperatures  just above freezing, and end the day with bathing suit temperatures. Storage space for the appropriate clothing is a must.

The Harley offers more variety for driver foot position, and has an anti-vibration foot pad. The BMW only has a single placement foot peg. The Harley has a heel-toe shifter which can be used as a toe shifter only, while the BMW is just a toe shifter.

The Harley and the BMW have heated seats. The location of the toggle is more convenient to reach on the Harley than the BMW, and more clearly labeled. The Harley also has more ground clearance, which will be nice when going over speed bumps or other unavoidable obstacles like that.

The BMW does have a few features that we’ll miss. The BMW has a reverse gear, an adjustable windscreen, and an electric center stand. It has a larger gas tank, and gets better gas mileage. The BMW paint type and color doesn’t show dust and dirt the way that the shiny Harley paint does. The BMW luggage trunks feel stronger and more durable, though time will tell… The BMW has larger rearview mirrors.

Update: 2017 – The Honda is still in the garage, the BMW was sold, the Harley was written off in an accident that ended The Car Guy’s motorcycle riding days. The Harley was rebuilt and went through two owners before it was purchased by our son-in-law.

Why I Support Halloween – 2010

With Halloween just around the corner, this Photo-Quote was a natural. The photo is a pumpkin my granddaughter carved, and the quote comes from Charles Schulz:

There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.
– Linus Van Pelt in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” by Charles Schulz –

Halloween will likely elicit the usual Church/State debate about religion. State, in this case, are the schools in Canada (and the United States) that have either renamed or eliminated Halloween.

I have been an ardent supporter of Halloween for over 50 years, and I have never thought of it as a religious holiday. When I took my kids out trick or treating, I knew I would be warmly welcomed by the people who knew me, and, by the ones who didn’t. I knew that my neighbours came from all walks of life and practiced all sorts of religions. But on Halloween night, we were one big happy community. Of course, there were always a few houses that didn’t participate. It never occurred to me that they might reject Halloween on religious grounds (apparently Halloween is offensive to most of the major religions). I just thought they had run out of candy.

Schools are pretty much trying to get out of doing anything that is going to offend anyone. They want to be culturally “all inclusive.” Christian religious holidays were the first victims. That is problematic, though. Canada was built upon mostly Christian principles.  Our country was woven together with  beliefs, and yes, holidays that reflect those ideals. When a school, or a municipality, tries to be “all-inclusive”, they run the risk of offending a very large portion of the population. (The International Religious Freedom Report for Canada, for 2006, states that 77 percent of the population claims to be Christian, and 17% claim no religious affiliation.) When the large offended group are also the people whose forefathers built the country, you can understand why people are a bit miffed.

I think what a lot of Canadians want is for the “State” to stand up for who we are. Yes, we are multi-cultural, but our strength comes from how we merged into one country.  Yes, we all came from somewhere else in the not too distant past (we aren’t a very old country, really), but we chose English as our native language (French is an official language at the federal level and is the native tongue of those living mostly in Quebec.) Yes, we are mostly Christian, and we observe the standard Christian holidays. Yes, we welcome immigrants, but we expect them to merge with us, not be distinct from us. We expect them to adopt our country and adapt to our ways.  This is what our forefathers did.

I have traveled to many parts of the world. My favourite trips were to countries that made me feel I was in a very foreign place indeed! What would be the point of flying half way around the world to visit a place that was pretty much like the one I live in? And that is why Canada has to define what it means to be Canadian. We can’t just be a mishmash of every culture and language that settles on our land. We have to stand up and declare who we are… A good first step would be to give each new immigrant a gift, with the greeting, “Welcome to Canada, here is your Halloween costume!”

Pink Jobs and Blue Jobs in Our Household

A while back, my spousal unit took on the task of repairing the toilet. He decided a plumber would fast-track a job that might involve “touching crap”. The plumber recommended a new toilet, and since low-flow units are all the rage, that is what was installed. Within a few months, the low-flow was sometimes no-flow (unless you knew how to jiggle the handle just right). Since repairing the toilet now involved new technology AND possibly touching crap, my husband wrote “Call the Plumber” on his to do list.

Months went by, and “Call the Plumber” had not risen to the top of his list. One of my girlfriends, a very handy type, said to me, “Just call the plumber yourself, and get the darn thing fixed.” My other girl friend looked horrified. “No, you can’t do that! That’s a blue job. And if you do a blue job once, it becomes a pink job for ever more.”

I hadn’t really thought about some jobs being pink jobs, and some jobs being blue jobs. In our household, job assignation was more a product of who had the time, talent and resources to do a particular task. My spousal unit is a car guy, so maintenance of vehicles is his job. I have the patience to put mud on drywall, so that is my job. I do most of the yard work, but hubby mows the lawn…  because we have a John Deere mower and that falls into the car guy category.

Hubby often cooks the meat and I cook the vegetables. If hubby cooks the meal, I do the dishes. If I cook the meal…  I do the dishes. Wait a minute… how did doing the dishes become a pink job? When The Spawn were still living here, the dishes were a rotating job that everyone took turns doing. Now, it is almost always my job – it has evolved into a pink job!

I am sure that my spousal unit is as reluctant to do the dishes, as I am to call the plumber, because we are each convinced that once we take on that job, it becomes our job for good. After all, grocery shopping  went from the pink to the blue domain with only one trip to the local market. And the family finances went from the blue to the pink domain when Hubby bounced the rent cheque forty years ago.

Now, I just have to figure out how I can get him to clean the toilets just once…

Update: another Blue Job!

The toilet bowls here at the south house had a really thick limescale buildup. When I put some blue toilet bowl cleaner in, it turned the limescale blue. Not pretty. So I asked The Car Guy to rustle up a product to remove the scale. One thing led to another, as these things do. He couldn’t make the product work without removing most of the water. He couldn’t remove the water without turning off the water valve below the tank. The valve wouldn’t turn, then when it did, it leaked. After a trip to the hardware store for a new valve and more lime scale cleaner etc, etc – he made the toilet bowls look like new!

Many Faces of Women’s Equality in Canada

Equality means many things to many people. In Canada, we take for granted equalities that are being fought for in other countries. These include being equal before the law, and having equal access to education, political participation, human rights, and free expression.

Which made me think about my grandmother, pictured here on her horse in the early 1900’s, likely on the family farm in Saskatchewan. I don’t know how much education she got, but Saskatchewan was responding to massive immigration by building schools as quickly as possible, with the goal of educating children until they were age 14. It was likely in one of those schools that my grandmother learned to read and write. Unlike many immigrants to Saskatchewan, my grandmother’s family were already English speaking. This would have insulated them from the discrimination other ethnic groups experienced.

When she married in 1909, she would have had the  same legal capacity as men under the Married Women’s Property Act of 1907. But she would not get the right to vote in provincial elections there until 1916.

Her career opportunities would have been affected by the constraints of a male dominated work society. She took the path of homemaker, perhaps choosing to marry a “town man” rather than a farmer in order to escape farm chores.

World War I changed the role of many women.  Some served in the military in the Canadian Army Nursing Service. Many took over the jobs of the men who were serving overseas. By the end of the war, women had shown that they were much more capable than men had thought they were! Change was in the wind. By 1920, Grandma would have been allowed to vote in federal elections, and could have run for parliament if she had so chosen.

In 1929, women won the right to be recognized as “persons”, which gave them the right to be eligible for an appointment to the Senate, attain a University Degree, enter a profession, and hold public office.

By the time my mother decided to enter the workforce, women had a much larger choice of careers. My mom worked as a music teacher, a clerk in a bank, and in a photo shop. Though the jobs may not seem too exciting by today’s standards, the locale often was. Her bank clerk job was in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, during the construction of the Alcan Highway during the Second World War.

In 1956, the Canadian Government enacted the Female Employees Equal Pay Act. It declared that women are entitled to be paid the same wage as men for similar work. Canada took a first stab at a Human Rights Charter in 1960, but it wasn’t until Canada’s Constitution was brought home in 1982 that Canadians, regardless of colour, religion, race, ethnic origin, sex, age, disability or belief were granted certain fundamental rights that no government can remove without cause.

It is one thing to have laws in place to define equality. It is quite another to enact them. Women continue to lag behind men in workplace equality.  Probably the single biggest reason is that women continue to choose to have children, and this often entails some sacrifice in their or their spouses careers in order to raise these children.

We act like that is a bad thing, but let’s get real here. Children have certain fundamental rights too, and their parents should be the ones charged with providing them with the care and support needed to raise them. If both parents think their careers are more important than their children, then they probably shouldn’t have had children in the first place… I’m all for women’s liberation and gender equality. I just don’t want to see the children get trampled in the morning rush to the office.