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September 12, 2013

Renovating my unfinished basement is already shaping to be a bit of a pain, and I haven’t even sunk a nail yet — more on that later, though. A while back I wrote about the confusion I was having over whether I’d need a permit to finish my basement. Swaths of The Vaughan’s website is written in dense, legal jargon that I found to be largely impenetrable. For a host of reasons, Megan and I have decided to do this basement by the book. So, if The Vaughan requires permits, then permits The Vaughan shall have.

The problem, of course, was that it wasn’t immediately apparent whether we actually needed any. Scan the Internet and you’ll find just as many people, each claiming to be in the know, arguing that you need permits as there are arguing you don’t. Considering the scorn I’ve hurled towards the City, I was loathe to email for an easily-understandable answer to the basic question: Does The Vaughan require permits for me to finish my basement?

Following a labour-intensive study, it turns out The Vaughan requires permits for me to finish my basement.

I probably should have read the City’s site a little more closely because, if I had, I would have noticed a link, buried among the jargon, to something called “Basement Finishing — Building Permit Application Requirements.”

Cryptic, I know.

Anyways, the first sentence of the first paragraph of the first page broke it down rather succinctly: “A building permit is required for finishing basement areas and/or where are new plumbing fixtures or existing fixtures are being relocated” (sic).

Grammar errors aside, I thinks I knows what it’s getting at.

The form provides a laundry list of requirements to be included in the detailed drawings I’ll have to submit with my permit application: window/door sizes, ceiling duct locations; the name of each room (I have decided to call the living room, Harold, and the linen closet, Sienna); ceiling heights, etc. Aside from the room names, most of the requirements will require a lot of precise measuring.

My father-in-law, who volunteered to draw up the layout for us, came over this past weekend to help me measure the basement. In the days prior to this, however, it had become apparent that Megan and I are borderline hoarders. Ok, maybe not by the literal definition of the word, but boy do we have a lot of stuff. I spent the better part of a weekend clearing out our junk. Seeing as we moved a little more than three years ago — and we had presumably already hucked a lot of things to the curb then — the amount of useless stuff we have is astonishing. Among the things I pitched:

And then there were the boxes… lots of boxes. The Vaughan recycles just about everything and graciously sends chaps out each week to fetch our respective loads. The key with recycling boxes, however, is that you need to flatten and, in many cases, cut them up before The Vaughan will cart it away. Megan and I are fully in favour of recycling. Flattening and cutting up things to get them recycled, not so much. It seems we’re actually more of a “toss it in the basement and take care of it later” family of recyclers.

Who knew?

Sadly, “later” was suddenly “now,” and I had to spend a chunk of my weekend doing away with all sorts of boxes: the box Owen’s stroller came in; two different ceiling fan boxes; a mitre saw box; and a cadre of smaller boxes from the gifts we received two and three Christmases ago… It was an astonishing array of cardboard. Each box not only chronicled the Wormalds’ storied list of gifts and purchases, but it also painted an unfortunate picture of my family’s laziness and sloth.

I’ll be curious to see where we toss our boxes when the basement’s finished.

Anyways, when all was said and done, I cleansed the basement of six bags worth of trash and five bundles of cut and flattened boxes. What might be the saddest part, of course, is that I still haven’t rid the basement of all the junk. While a few things will be given to charity, there are more than a handful of boxes still dustily waiting to be sorted. Seeing as I haven’t’ a clue what’s in any of them, I’ll be interested to see what relics from the ‘80s and ‘90s I find.

After clearing enough space for the time being, my father-in-law and I spent this past Saturday taking precise (well, somewhat precise; they’re in the ballpark I assume) measurements. Like I said before, the drawings have to be detailed: ceiling heights, beam locations, etc. At least initially, this all seemed straight forward. Then, once you start delving into the specifics of everything, you begin to realize that, legal jargon aside, city codes and bylaws are insanely complex and extensive. While some things are easily discernible (i.e., the insulation R-value requirements), others are proving far more difficult.

For example…

I have no idea, truth be told, how long it’s going to take for me to do the basic framing. To speed things along, I want to use a nail gun but, because I don’t know if it’ll take me a weekend or a couple months’ worth of weekends, I‘ve decided to buy the framing nailer rather than renting one. And, since I won’t use it much after the basement’s done, I’ll later sell it on the used market to recoup as much money as I can. In theory, I should save over the cost of renting.

Great plan.

While researching which nail gun to buy, I noticed that different guns use different types of nails. I won’t go into detail, but there are a few types of nails expressly-designed for framing nailers. As I read more about them, I learned that some municipalities have codes prohibiting the use of certain nail types. And, since we’re looking to get permits, and not wanting to run afoul of any of The Vaughan’s building codes, I decided to inquire as to whether the City required a particular nail for framing my basement’s interior, non-loadbearing walls.

This was the response I got:

What are the specs for the nails you plan to use? Do you have a spec sheet? Some types of nails used in nail guns are acceptable as long as they meet the requirements of the Ontario Building Code. Therefore once you supply the information I can confirm if the nails may be used.

The nails’ spec sheet? Seriously?

I read somewhere that 75-90% of the basements in the Greater Toronto Area are finished without permits. I now know why. How many people can honestly say they know the specifications of the nails they’re going to use to frame their basement? Will I need to tear down my work if I’m found to have used 3.25”, 0.120 diameter, smooth shank nails rather than 3.5”, 0.131 diameter, screw shank nails? Will my basement come tumbling down if my screws sport a stainless rather than a galvanized finish?

What’s next? Are they going to inquire about the latent moisture content in the toilet’s porcelain? The chemical composition of the broadloom? No wonder it took nearly a year to finish my fence. They were probably arguing over the type of screws they’d need to assemble it.

The Vaughan makes my head hurt.

September 9, 2013

The other morning, a Daycare assistant took Owen by the hand and seated him at the class’ breakfast table. She sat him amongst a small group of toddlers, each eager for the plate-full of waffles and syrup that awaited them, and carefully placed a bib on him. The young woman patted him on the head, leaned over, and kissed him on the cheek. “I love this little guy,” she said, “He’s such an angel. Everyone here loves Owen so much.”

Owen sat there, smiling, with his hands folded neatly on his lap.

“He’s always such a good boy,” she added.

I stood there and watched as he patiently waited for his waffles. I chuckled, said goodbye to my little “angel,” and quietly made my way to the door. Aside from the couple times he bit another kid, Megan and I are often regaled with such platitudes: He’s such a good boy; he’s never any trouble; we love him so much…

Don’t get me wrong, they’re likely true. Most everyone at Daycare seems to have legitimate affection for the boy. From his former minders in the Infant room, to all of the assistants, and even to the teachers in each of the other classes, it’s an almost daily occurrence for staff throughout the Daycare to give Owen a hug, a kiss on the cheek, or even a high-five at some point while I’m walking him to his room. They genuinely love the boy. And, for what it’s worth, he truly seems to love them as well.

And, having spoken with some other parents, and compared to other children, Owen really must behave well as we rarely hear an undue word about him. A friend once told us he had to sign Incident Reports about his daughter two to three times a week.

At Daycare, compared to some, Owen is a choir boy.

I shake my head, though, because I sometimes honestly wonder which little boy they’re referring to or, at the very least, I wonder what happens to that little boy before and after he comes home. It’s sometimes like I drop off Jekyll and pick up Hyde.

That morning had been somewhat trying. A bit less than two years old, Owen is now at the age where he firmly believes his opinion actually matters. Owen began the day demanding that he be dressed in one of three different shirts — none of which were clean. He cried as I presented him with different selections and fought me when I showed the temerity to actually try and dress him in one of them. He threw his stuffed Elmo doll at me after I finally tired of the drama and forced an unwanted shirt on him.

After Megan left for work (“escaped to work”; we’re hoping she comes back), Owen demanded that I put on one of his favorite TV shows. “Daddy, George! Sam! Elmo," he cried.

We don’t let the boy watch television before Daycare. He usually gets angry and puts up a stink when we need to leave before his show ends, so it’s simply easier not to let him watch anything at all. Still, the boy is nothing if not persistent and, on this morning, he tried desperately to finagle a Fireman Sam out of me. I reminded him that he didn’t get to watch morning TV and that he would get a show later that evening if he was good. He grabbed the remote control, told me that it was “his clicker,” hit me on the leg with it, and started changing the channel to random stations. Owen tossed the remote into the next room when I tried to grab it from him and then hurled himself to the ground, kicking and screaming. He was in full meltdown. I told him that his behaviour was unacceptable, threatened him with a “Time Out,” and put whatever it was I was watching back on.

We try not to acknowledge Owen’s meltdowns, particularly at home, as he’s often just looking for attention. As usual, the meltdown lasted less than a minute or so before he came to term with the fact that I wasn’t going to budge — he also remembered that he was hungry. The boy grabbed his bowl of apple slices from the table and spied Peanut, who was sitting on the couch. He decided the cat would enjoy some of his apple and, thoughtfully, tried sticking them into her ears. I scolded Owen for bothering the 'Nut — who smartly darted from the room when she saw the boy reaching for a third slice — and I reminded my son that the cat sometimes claws him when he does things like shoving unwanted apple into her bodily crevices.

He clearly didn’t like that Peanut had refused his generosity, and he further disliked my response concerning her ingratitude. After assessing his options, Owen then grabbed his cup of water. He walked up to me. He looked me in the eye, and he threw his cup at me.

And then he laughed.

This… angered me. Yes… angry. I was… angry, and displeased with my angel.

Such behavior is new. Any previous misbehavior on the boy’s part stemmed from his inability to share, or to his seeming disdain for younger kids — he can be a bit of a bully to kids that are either smaller or younger than him. Nonetheless, Owen is fast approaching the dreaded “Terrible Twos,” and his disposition is changing. Few parents that have lived through the "Terrible Twos" have survived without at least few scars. And, because Megan and I clearly annoyed the Hell out of someone important in previous lives, Owen’s starting this wonderful development period early.

Meeting out punishment is something we’re still coming to terms with. Neither of us are completely against minor forms of corporal punishment — the rare pat on the bum has its place — but it’s not something we look to as a first response. Besides, there was a time earlier when we’d rap his hand after some form of bad behavior, but this had unintended consequences as, after a while, he’d start popping our hands when we did something he didn’t approve of. That really wasn’t the desired effect we were hoping for.

Similarly, yelling at him has never done much of anything; he either ignores us, or it signals to him that he has our attention and does whatever it was anyway — just with an audience instead. (Mummy thinks he learned that from his Daddy.) Some parents are in favour of the hippie approach to discipline where they calmly discuss with their kid how their actions are hurting Mommy and Daddy’s feelings. The underlying theory is to try and teach the child that their actions have negative effects on the people around them. The flaw in this hippie logic, and what has always perplexed me, is that hurting someone’s feelings is often the kid’s goal in the first place. Telling them it does just serves as an affirmation that their actions are having the intended effect. Besides, my feelings weren’t hurt; I was just bloody wet and the boy’s too young to both clean the mess and/or get me a dry shirt.

In the meantime, I was a touch livid, so I hoisted Owen up, grabbed a chair in the dining room, and sat him facing the corner. We’ve tried “Time Out” before. It’s a bit of a pain as he constantly tries to climb from the chair and we spend a lot of time just scooping him back — by time he’s actually ready to sit still he’s long since forgotten why he was there in the first place.

Today was different insofar as he didn’t try to free himself. I went to the kitchen to dry off and to clean the water that had, by now, completely soaked parts of the couch. I realized my discipline might not be working as planned when, as I finished dabbing water from one of the seat cushions, I heard the boy singing. I peered around the corner and he was humming the theme song from the cartoon, My Big Big Friend.

He was quite chipper — which, as you can imagnine, was just the reaction I was hoping for. After all, nothing says discipline like sticking your misbehaving child in the corner so he can gleefully sing cartoon jingles to himself. He’s beginning to strike me as the sort of kid that would marvel at the pretty colours as he sat and admired whatever he had just set on fire.

With “Time Out” doing nothing, I stood him on the chair and lectured him about what he had just done. He smiled, said “Sorry, Daddy,” and gave me a hug. I put him down and then watched as he promptly grabbed a crayon and tried to colour the a kitchen tile orange and purple.

“Ok… time for Daycare,” I said, “Grab your shoes, Owen, you’re their problem. They’re going to earn their money today.”

It was no more than 20 minutes later that his minder venerated my son with the Daycare equivalent of Sainthood. I watched as he politely thanked his minder for his waffles. He smiled at his friends and then he waved at me just before I passed through the door. “Bye bye, Daddy,” he said.

Still not yet completely dry, I waved back and wondered if Peanut was able to get all the apple out of her ears. “Bye Jekyll. Be good and I’ll see you tonight, Hyde.”

I should probably hide the matches before he gets home.

September 5, 2013

While much of the focus of this blog has been on my son, Owen, and his zany hijinks, as many of you know, the origins of this site actually stem from a series of posts (delusional rants) I made on Facebook about the construction of a fence along the side of my house and street. (I have reproduced those posts HERE for anyone that doesn’t follow me on Facebook — they’re well worth the read.)

The ridiculous circumstances surrounding the erection of a simple, pre-fabricated wrought-iron fence were, at times, surreal. The fence took, from the time the first post was sunk into the ground, a little under a year to complete. I assumed we’d actually move past all of the absurdity once the last bolt was tightened into the final fence-y bit.

But I was wrong.

The grass in front of my house was damaged during the fence construction and I contacted the city about getting it mended. It was then that I learned no one could agree on who built the fence: The Vaughan claimed it was erected by the builder; the builder claimed it was erected by The Vaughan. One might have thought that figuring out who was responsible for building a fence would be simple and obvious.

One would have thought wrong, of course.

Regardless, within months of my request, the grass was finally repaired by, well, someone. This grandiose civil project was far from complete, however. The sidewalk in front of my home needed to be extended to join with the one running alongside my house, and the landscaping along the fence still had to be completed. Both, I figured, would be straight forward.

Yep, you guessed it.

During a conversation with a The Vaughan representative, I was told the sidewalk extension would be delayed until late summer because the existing walkway, which runs parallel to the major street beside my house, was fabricated in the wrong spot and would need to be torn up and rebuilt.

Yes. The Vaughan buggered the location of an entire length of sidewalk. No, seriously, it did.

I’ve chosen not to question how one locates a sidewalk incorrectly. The nuances of such would make my head hurt. A friend suggested that the mob, members of which are known to reside in The Vaughan, are likely somehow responsible for this debacle. It was theorized (by him, definitely not by me) that this sordid tale is an elaborate plot by the mafia to double and triple bill The Vaughan for its mob-controlled construction services. Delving deeper into the conspiracy, it also provides an explanation for why no one wants to take ownership of the fence.

[As a fellow resident of The Vaughan, however, I believe that the totality of the evidence clearly suggests that the mafia does not exist and that any suggestion to the contrary is little more than slander directed towards the friendly, hard-working mobsters in my community. It is completely reasonable to assume that skilled construction laborers and highly-trained engineers would have great difficulty reading a simple set of instructions concerning the placement of something so small and inconsequential as a few kilometers of sidewalk. To suggest there were factors beyond it merely being an innocent mistake would be libelous, completely short-sighted, and false. Now, if you will excuse me for a moment, I need to get Megan to look under the hood of my car… for no particular reason.]

So, while the city came to grips with figuring out how best to rip up and reposition the sidewalk, someone (the City, our building developers, benevolent Umpa Lumpas, a highly-organized group of voles) recently began work on the landscaping along the fence. Based on their work in other parts of my community, the different trees and shrubs they were about to plant were going to be quite lovely.

The process of locating where to plant the foliage, delivering it, and then finally shoving it into the ground, took longer than I might have expected — just short of three weeks. Seeing as the fence took nearly a year, it was naïve to think that planting a few bushes and trees could ever be done in a timely manner. At least not in The Vaughan. (And, if you’ll pardon me once again, I think it might be fun to plot some new routes I could to take to get to work.)

Each night, as I returned home, I’d be presented with the sight of a another tree, or a couple more bushes, having been planted along the fence. You can’t understate the impact green space adds to a community. In our case, beyond its wonderful aesthetics, the new foliage also helps to block and muffle the sights and sounds from the major road abutting our house. It’s commendable that The Vaughan (or, y’know, whoever) is investing considerable resources into the beautification of the community.

As I pulled the car into the drive last night, the landscaping crew was finally putting the finishing touches on its handiwork. All the trees had been planted and each shrub and bush had found its respective place along the fence. I took a moment to take it all in — it was beautiful. I was making my way over to the porch when I noticed something out the corner of my eye.

Standing on the sidewalk — the one that’s to be extended to meet the soon-to-be repositioned walkway— I realized something was amiss. They had planted a tree and a number of bushes in its path! This would suggest that, in the coming weeks, when the sidewalk is finally extended, someone is going to have to tear up the newly-planted foliage.

Whereas I initially believed that it had to be a mistake, the more I thought about it, the more it actually made sense — there’s precedent for this sort of thing. At one point, workers dug up and repositioned each fence post, and the city is currently planning to reposition the sidewalk, so why wouldn’t a tree and a couple bushes need to be moved as well?

Megan spoke with one of the landscapers and asked whether the plants wouldn’t block the eventual sidewalk extension. The guy suggested that, instead of building it directly towards the adjoining walkway, maybe the new sidewalk might possibly be curved around the shrubs…. Y’know, like art, sorta.

Which sounds totally plausible, and totally not ridiculous or made up.

I contacted the guy with The Vaughan I had spoken to earlier this summer and asked whether the bushes weren’t going to impact our would-be sidewalk extension. I even sent him a picture to illustrate my concern. He responded:

The internal sidewalk will be extended, but first the existing sidewalk [perpendicular to it] will be removed and relocated south, closer to the wrought iron fence. The schedule for construction will be confirmed in a few weeks.

Considering the way he masterfully avoided my actual question, you might mistake him for a politician rather than a lowly civil slug. To be fair, he probably hadn’t the time for a detailed response since he now suddenly had to figure out how to curve a sidewalk around newly-planted bushes.

In the meantime, let the digging begin. I’m led to believe there are local, totally NOT mafia-run, betting establishments throughout The Vaughan that would be willing to take wagers on how well the sidewalk construction will proceed.

Bet early. Bet often.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to check the bus schedules… for no particular reason.