Thursday, March 20, 2008

Serenity Now

George Costanza said it best when he bellowed, "Serenity Now!" That is a mantra, almost a prayer, for when things get to be too much. When a situation is so overwhelming and stressful that you throw your hands up and want to scream. And never could it be more appropriate than when you're in the throes of home renovation.

Tearing your house apart in an effort to beautify seems like a good idea at the time, but it's a lot like baking a cheesecake; the visions of the end result override common sense and practicality, and before you know it you're covered in flour (or drywall residue) and wondering what ever possessed you to get started with this nonsense in the first place. Especially when you want Oreo cheesecake and your husband wants pina colada. Or in my case, when I want "Martha Stewart Living" and my husband's taste gravitates more toward "set of Miami Vice".

Luckily, many of the big things were already done when we moved in. The kitchen was complete (with the exception of a Polmolive-green tile backsplash which I'm currently negotiating. Trust me, it will be spectacular.), as was the dining room, and the flooring in the living room and hallway. The kids' rooms were a snap decision-wise, since Lightning McQueen reigns supreme in our lives, and army decor was the obvious choice for our older boy. But even though we didn't spend much time pondering the theme for each room, that didn't make the work any easier.

It was decided that I would take the kids out for the day while he completed room number one. God knows, I didn't want little three year old fingers to find their way around a tile cutting saw, and with a kid who constantly wants to be with his daddy, leaving the house altogether made the whole thing easier on all of us. Room number two required the same evacuation, only this time my husband came to find the carpet had been nailed to the floor, thanks to the infinite genius of previous contractors. Over three hundred nails, two nights of a wormy toddler sleeping in our bed, and plenty of colorful language later, the kids rooms were done. Now we were onto our main battlegrounds, which were the living room and master bedroom.

Round 1: The living room. Flooring excluded, the entire space had to be changed cosmetically. There is nothing more frustrating than explaining the subtle differences between burnt almond and chocolate milkshake taupe to someone who really and truly only sees beige. At the same time, I'm about as qualified to roam unsupervised around a hardware store as he would be at a makeup counter. So somewhere between my need for symmetry, clean lines, and faux-suede drapes with grommets, and his leaning toward vertical blinds, curio cabinets, and "I don't care, just hurry up and decide", we reached a compromise including dark brown panels with valances for the windows, baseboards and crown moldings, some well placed accessories, and a few plants, without a bit of scalloped lace to be found. Don't get me wrong, it looks absolutely beautiful and I love it, but the process wasn't without it's many outbursts of "Serenity Now."

Round 2: The master bedroom. This project was not a priority for me, not only because we're the only people who see it, but also because it was so far gone, I didn't quite know where to start. But apparently my complaining about how much I loathed our out-of-date room wore him down, and a bedroom makeover was my husband's wonderful birthday surprise. And by wonderful, I mean appreciated yet tedious and painful for him. I should mention, our entire room was covered with layer after layer of 75 thousand year old wallpaper. You may shudder and gasp, because I know he did. From 8:00 Saturday morning, he and the kids (and me, sporadically) ripped and soaked and scrubbed and scraped and wished death upon the people who put up the wallpaper, and all wallpaper makers in general. Of course considering the mess we were making, our massive Victorian style wooden headboard, along with the boxspring and mattress from our queen sized bed, had to be moved into the hallway, where it sat for two days obstructing traffic, while the smaller contents of our room bled into every other room in the house, making the MacDonald residence look alarmingly like Ground Zero. By Sunday night, the wallpaper was but a distant and horrible memory, and I had a brand new bedroom. My husband chose expressions other than "Serenity Now", and I can't say I blame him.

I'll leave you with this advice: don't renovate unless and until you absolutely have to. I say this as I prepare to tackle our biggest project, the bathroom.

Serenity now.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Enough Already

As I write this, it's storming like crazy, and the slippery roads have deprived me of the daily "pick up milk, get some gas" solo excursion that I have come to rely on. I have firmly decided that I have had it up to here (envision my hand a foot above my head) with winter.

Go ahead, I dare you to call me a sooky baby. I double dare you to give me the "it's Cape Breton, deal with it" speech. Because in my 29 short years on this planet, it may surprise you how much winter I've actually experienced.

I remember being a kid in River Bourgeois and jumping off our roof into the snow, since the only things taller than the snowbanks were houses and utility poles. And I remember walking through four feet of snow, standing at the bus stop while my face was lambasted with ice pellets, and the drive to school was like a scene from "Tokyo Drift." It may not be equal to our grandparents' "walking to school uphill both ways in a blizzard", but some mornings it was close.

But beyond any childhood flashback, or any Nova Scotian winter lament, is the horrible memory of "the North". As many of you know, I spent a few years living and working in the Arctic.

Have you ever seen the movie "The Day After Tomorrow" with Dennis Quaid? That movie showed the earth moving into another Ice Age at -75 degrees, and the planet froze over. Well, I can tell you with absolute certainty that something like that couldn't happen, because the day I left Qikiqtarjuaq (have fun pronouncing that), it was -72 degrees with the windchill. That is not a tall tale or an exaggeration. Absorb that for a moment. Think about people's reaction to -25 degrees, and then imagine having to deal with -72. I can tell you, it's not comfortable. And it's not even the same kind of cold we get in Cape Breton, it's a mind-numbing, bitter, bone-marrow-covered-in-icicles kind of cold that you have to feel to believe.

Here's an example: you know how you go outside in December with wet hair and it freezes and gets hard? Well that happens in Nunavut, too. Only it happens when your hair is DRY, and it also freezes your eyelashes and nose hairs. Word to the wise: never underestimate a 30 second frostbite warning.

In Qikiqtarjuaq, winter was almost year round. There were a few months that weren't AS cold, but even in August, I woke up to a huge, Titanic-calibre iceberg floating in the water near my house. When the "warm" weather came, we were all sporting tshirts and panting and sweating, and it was only about 12 degrees. The day it hit 19 was almost more than we could handle.

Then you have to consider the darkness. At a latitude that high, winter is almost 24 hour a day darkness. There is an hour or so in the afternoon when the sun rises slightly enough to give the horizon the appearance of dusk, but that's it, and for months. I don't know about you, but no amount of Vitamin D capsules can replace a day of sunlight for me. It was depressing. And I didn't just see this once, I was there for a few years.

So now, can we safely say that I've endured more than my fair share of winter? Haven't I made my case for the right to complain a little?

There are others living in the Strait area who have also dealt with many Nunavut winters, and these people, myself included, are the first to scoff at Nova Scotian complainers. Normally, I'm the first one to say "suck it up, it's not that bad", and in comparison, it's not. But still, that doesn't mean I don't get sick of it, especially at this time of year. It's the tease of spring that kills me. One day, it's 15 degrees and the sun is splitting the rocks outside. The next day, like today, my heat is cranked, and I can't even see across the road for the blowing snow. Make up your mind, Mother Nature! Is it over, or isn't it? Can we break out the bicycles or do we need mittens at the ready? I need some consistency here! Haven't I done enough winter already?

My luck, the day this goes to print it will be a balmy 20 degrees and every reader will be wondering why I'm ranting and raving at such nice weather. But don't say I didn't warn you. Cindy Day, with her Shirley Temple ringlets, red lipstick & "I love snow" attitude, is sure to curse us once more before the season is over. And when that happens, you'll all be echoing my sentiments, trust me.

NOTE*** I wrote this last Wednesday when it was storming in Port Hawkesbury...just so you all know, it was bad out a few days after that, again yesterday, and we're supposed to get up to 40cm of snow again in the next few days. It's Cindy Day, I'm telling you. She's a witch.