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November 28, 2013

Sometime in early October, I, along with my father-in-law, started construction on The Great Basement of The Vaughan. It was apparent from the outset that this would be a Herculean build that would not only test the limits of my endurance and patience but also, and perhaps most important, stretch Meg’s wallet to its breaking point.

As I alluded to in an earlier post, I spent much of the lead up to the construction ridding myself of useless things I’d horded since the 1990s, and also on boning up on The Ontario Building Code. The latter of which proved important: where else would I have learned, for example, that I need a minimum of 24” in front of the toilet, or that by renaming my “workshop” a “storage room,” I wouldn’t need to punch a new window through the wall?

So, after countless redraws, I submitted my plans for approval. Then, once The Vaughan rubber-stamped my blueprints (which were actually black and white) and (most important) took my money, I was given the city’s blessing to instigate all sorts of basement-related damage and goodness.

While deriving the basic layout was somewhat easy, like always, the Devil’s in the details. For example, would we insulate the space with the pink stuff, or get it spray foamed? Carpet or laminate? Should we build a cage to encapsulate Owen in the corner of the basement, or save the space and simply loose him on the neighbourhood and let “the village” take care of things?

Important considerations, one and all. (Megan poo-pooed the cage idea, by the way.) The question surrounding the insulation needed to be dealt with immediately. The space was draped in crappy, builder-grade stuff. Leaving it on the walls would be both cheaper and easier, but it would also reduce the livable space. So, after some discussion, Megan and I decided to get quoted on the cost of spray foaming our basement.

Thus far, I’ve found most of the trades on the Internet. One particularly useful site lets clients rate and review their experiences with the different trades. The reviews tend to go to the extremes: good and bad (“I love them and want them to father my children,” to “Death to all spray foamers!”). I scientifically weighed my options and, in the end, picked the three with the most reviews. (Science!)

The first company was very workmanlike and professional. They came at the agreed time. They took accurate measurements of my basement, gave me some suggestions as to how to frame segments of the space in order to maximize the foam’s coverage. They even suggested that I needed less foam on one particular wall so as to try and save me some money. Their quote was in the ballpark I expected, and I was left feeling good about the potential to work with them.

The second company asked for the basement’s rough square footage and gave me a quote based on it. I was warned that the final price would be determined AFTER they came in and did their work. Spray foam isn’t like the fluffy pink stuff that traditionally insulates homes. It cures rock hard and needs to be chiseled once it cures. So, were my square footage numbers to have been proven “off,” or were they in a “I hear he has a cat; I hate cats; let’s screw over Wormald” sort of mood, it wasn’t like they could just remove it in a huff. I’d be stuck. So I asked for an in-person quote.

Months later, I’m still waiting.

The third company — easily the biggest in the region — was a peach to deal with. I filled out an online form on the company’s website and asked for an in-person quote. A lady called the next day, asked where I lived, and jubilantly told me to text her sales rep. Seeing as I was busy at work, I asked if she couldn’t arrange for the sales rep to call me (they had my number; she had just called me, after all). This was rude on my part, apparently, as she audibly grumbled and told me her rep was on the road and that it was dangerous for him to call me while he was driving.

I suggested, what with my out-of-the-box way of thinking, for the rep to call, y’know, when he had finished driving. After a short period of silence, the lady agreed and said she would email the rep my details and that I would hear from him later that same day. I was copied on her email shortly after the call. Two days later, I texted the rep as I hadn’t been contacted by him or anyone else from the company. I received a curt, one line response asking where I lived. I replied and this back-and-forth lasted five emails and two texts before he agreed, more than a day later, to swing by my place, first thing in the morning, later that week.

He never showed up.

I sent a quasi-mean email (I was clearly bitchy, but didn’t swear and refrained from questioning whether he had the capacity to chew gum without falling down) asking for an explanation. He replied some time later. Seems the calendar he used on his phone had suddenly “stopped working,” for some reason. He was very sorry and offered to come the next day. I hate it when things suddenly stop working. I find they do tend to work better, however, when you remember to enter the appointment into the calendar in the first place. But I digress… “It didn’t work.” Right.

We arranged for him to swing by my place the next day at noon. He showed up late. To be fair, he did call ahead of time to let me know that he would be tardy by 15 minutes. He then showed up 45 minutes late. Once he took his measurements and crunched his numbers, he offered me a quote 40% higher than the other two. I offered him some gum and wished him well.

One of the more interesting incidents through the earliest stages of construction occurred during a phone conversation with, you guessed it, The Vaughan. I initially made a call to a rep when we were still drawing up the plans. I had been led to believe that, by code, you needed 36 inches of space in front of the furnace. Three feet, however, would really impinge on the livable area and I wanted to be sure before I started framing, so I called the city and was told that, yes, I needed to leave that much space. Fine (actually, I swore, but whatever). The plans were approved and we started framing. At some point thereafter, I stumbled across a site that said the requisite space was much less than the three feet I had been told, so I again called and posed the same query, this time to a different The Vaughan rep. This chap told me that, by code, the minimum required space was only 18 inches (a far cry from the 36 I had been assured of earlier). He cautioned me to check my furnace’s user manual because most require 24 inches, regardless of what the code says.

So depending on who you speak to, I might need three feet, two feet, or a foot-and-a-half. I decided to go with two feet, freeing a full 12” from what I had initially set out in the plans. I mentioned my pending change to the guy on the phone and asked if I would need to file an amendment with the city. He said that, because it was so simple, and because it was still to code, I could get the inspector to approve it on-site…. At least he thought I could. I probably could. The more I spoke to him, the more he was definitely pretty fairly sure I could probably do this. Besides, it’s The Vaughan we’re talking about.

Definitely nothing could possibly go wrong.

Much of the hardcore, manly construction has been confined to weekends — weekend mornings, in particular (we need to stop around 12:30 when the boy goes down for his nap; and since we’re loathe to wait the two hours for him to wake, that typically marks the end of the build that day). Framing has been far slower than I anticipated; and I anticipated it would be slow. My basement is pot-marked with all sorts of ducts and pipes just below the ceiling joists, meaning they need to be carefully framed around. Similarly, the low-hanging ducts eliminate the possibility of making the frames perfectly square. As such, we’re having to make them bit by bit, with notches cut out along the expanse. Further complicating things is that, as I have discovered, my basement floor is hopelessly uneven (which will make laying down the subfloor a dream; fortunately, that’s for another day). An eight-foot frame will sit flat on once corner, and be lifted three or four inches off the ground on another. This makes aligning the beams against one another a smidge tricky.

Since I don’t have nearly enough space to set up enough saw-horses or tables to compensate, to get around this, my father-in-law will literally stand on the edges of the wood to ensure they line up evenly whilst I nail them together. I eagerly waiting for one or both of us to stumble just as I fire the nail gun. Just think of how badly hurt we could be!

Speaking of hurting myself… so far so good. The biggest “owie” was a nasty splinter. Luck was on my side, though, as I was eventually able to dig it out the next day at work. Nothing says putting in a hard day’s work like dipping into the company first-aid kit to staunch the blood from the hole potting your finger after you just spent 45 minutes extricating a sliver of wood burrowed deep into the recesses of your dinged digit.

How I’m not paid more is a mystery.

At present, we’ve framed about 70% of the basement. This weekend should bring me pretty close to completion. Then I can start boxing in the ducts. I’ll soon need to find an electrician so I can then arrange for some dude from The Vaughan to do the first of four (FOUR!) inspections. Kinda looking forward to telling him about all the amendments I’ve made. Maybe he’ll chew them over with a fresh stick of gum.

November 21, 2013

The past several months at Daycare have been quiet for Owen… at least insofar as he seemingly hasn’t mugged anyone, and I honestly can’t remember the last incident report that Megan or I have had to fill out. The boy seems content to spend his weekdays eating waffles and playing with his little chums — and he no longer seems inclined to club any of them!

I’ve always looked at Daycare as an awkward necessity: you need to spend a lot of cash so you can then go to work to earn the requisite money to send your kid to Daycare. It’s a mind-numbingly expensive Catch-22. While I appreciate the need to compensate the people whose hands you’re entrusting your son or daughter’s safety and well-being, I still can’t help but shake my head each month when Meg and I drop nearly a grand to compensate them. Next to diapers, there’s no quicker way to empty your wallet than Daycare.

(And don’t get me started on diapers. I’m still unable to fathom how something designed to be pooed and peed in, and then summarily thrown away, can cost so much. I keep expecting with every box I open to find diapers made from actual hard currency. It would be apropos… I know we could go the re-usable route, but the thought of washing soiled diapers reminds me why I wouldn’t make a very good tree-hugging hippie.)

Financial concern aside, Daycare has been a boon for Owen in many respects. He’s far more sociable with other kids and, to some degree, other adults. His minders have taught him how to count to ten how to recite the alphabet. He now possesses better table manners and, while I can’t prove it, I’d even go so far as to suggest that his teachers are the primary reason he doesn’t bite the cat anymore. And, were you to ask Peanut, I’m sure she’d agree, you can’t put a price on that.

From the outside looking in, Daycare is a Utopia. You’d be forgiven for believing that his daily sojourn there is more akin to dropping him at some sort of 1960s Hippie commune than it is to a highly-structured baby repository. They sit on the floor in circles, cross-legged, banging tambourines and singing happy hippie songs. They eat together as a group at a single, communal table. They even nap together. But putting aside all that god-awful hippie-ness for a moment, it’s hard to overlook that Daycare has diminished the boy’s predisposition towards violence, it has taught him a host of important life skills, and he seems to really “dig” the hugs and kisses his groovy, young minders lavish upon him.

Screw Disney, Daycares might well be the happiest places on Earth.

It was only recently, though, that I saw the light, so to speak, and finally appreciated Daycare Centres' true purpose. The key to gaining a fuller understanding of a Daycare’s darker reality, however , requires you look past its rainbow façades. It’s only once you peel the sun-shiny layers away, and look beyond the story books and hippie fairy tales, that you’ll bear witness to what might be the greatest evil facing society today:

Daycares are manufacturing biological weapons of mass destruction.

No, seriously.

They’re the breeding grounds for the most virulent pathogens society has seen since The Black Death, nearly 700 years ago. Only, instead of rats, the evil, shadowy figures running these facilities are using our children to spread their pestilence among the unwitting.

Namely, Us.

No, seriously.

Owen first began Daycare in the Fall, shortly before his first birthday. Within weeks, if not days, his nose began to run. Coincidentally, It was around that time I heard a radio host commenting on his young Daycare-aged kids’ many, and on-going, maladies. He complained how, within days, he’d inevitably fall prey to whatever new disease his kids would bring home. His co-host laughed. I laughed. Indeed, one would think society itself laughed at a grown-man complaining about his inability to ward off what I had then dubbed, “baby germs.”

As days turned to weeks, and as Owen came home with one contagion after another, like the radio host, I too began to get a little sniffly. My eye began to get a little runny. My tummy began to get...

Prior to Owen beginning Daycare, the worst ailment I could expect through any given winter was a cold. However that winter, over the span of six months, I, along with Megan, suffered through (in no particular order): three to four colds (it’s hard to discern when one ended and the next began; suffice it say, the last one required antibiotics); the flu, twice; pink eye; and one, possibly two, sinus infections.

I can say with complete honesty that I have never been so sick, so often, like I was after Owen started Daycare. I was disheartened when a friend, who had put three of her own children through Daycare, told me we could expect this each and every winter until Owen moved into primary school. Most associate these extended periods of illness as being part and parcel with a kid lacking a well-developed immune system to fall back on.

But Megan and I, adults both of us (well, Megan anyway; jury’s out on me), DO have fully-developed immune systems. We’ve each fortified them over the years with a medley of stout colds, flus and other things ungainly distempers. Frankly, we should have been more than capable of fighting off Owen’s “baby germs.” And yet, there we were, bed-ridden and feeble.

It was only recently that I put things together. A short while ago, Owen was again sent home with a stomach flu. His minder told Megan a “bug” was going around, so the boy would need to spend the day with Mummy, throwing up. The next day, however, Megan found herself complaining of many Owen's same symptoms. And then, the day after that, I too was stricken. This was made ever more enjoyable coming on the heels of the cold Owen gave us just a week earlier. It’s shaping to be a cruel winter.

A light went on somewhere between the fever and the vomiting: This was no accident. It was no coincidence. Owen’s Daycare, just as every other Daycare, had used my son as a Petri dish to cultivate new strains of pathogens and then unleashed him on us and on the rest of the community.

They wanted to make us ill.

The Typhoid Marys running the toddler rooms grew a new strain of stomach flu. Next door, the evil-doers charged with overseeing the infant rooms were harvesting ultra-virulent forms of pink eye. I’m frightened to think of what new manner of plague the monsters in the Pre-JK rooms might be festering during the children's naps.

And then, each night, shortly before you swing by to pick up your loved one from their laboratory enclosures, your child’s minders stash their protective biohazard gear, and then wave goodbye and watch as you unknowingly drive your pint-sized Bubonic Plague carriers home through the community.

Most troubling, were you to scan through the “Liberal media” for news about the shocking goings-on in our Daycares, you’d be embarrassed to see not a single mention of the horror befalling our great country. Instead, they offer nothing but biased complicity by distracting us from this tragedy with headlines focussing instead on Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor, the economic ineptness at the Provincial legislature, and with corruption at the highest levels of our Federal government.

Like any of that matters when our children are spreading Croup!

And this only scratches the surface. I really wish I could fully explain how deep this sordid conspiracy reaches…. But Owen sneezed on me last night while counting to ten and I now seem to have developed a cough that I just can’t seem to shake.

I’m so tired.

I think I better go lay down for a while….

November 12, 2013

One of the talking points between Megan and I recently has been our concern about our kid’s relationship with technology; or, more precise, how much technology is too much for the boy. Owen, having just turned two, is addicted to television. We, as parents, will have to shoulder responsibility for that. We should have done a better job limiting his exposure to the boob tube when he was, y’know, one-and-a-half. But, we didn’t, and now he gets the shakes if we deprive him of Princess Sofia or Jake and the Neverland Pirates. It’s sad that he can prattle off half a dozen television shows but he can only name two different colours.

So, having already struck out once, we’re girding ourselves for the next fight: video games. We don’t currently own a video game system, but the boy has played a few different games on our tablets — he likes them. Having once spoken to a friend, and fellow father, about his kids and their relationship to video games, I’m fully aware that, no matter how sold we are on limiting Owen’s access to them, it’s a tough field to hoe when everyone else in his class has one, or two, or even three different video game systems and he doesn’t have one. It’s difficult to try and rationalize to Owen that it’s best for him that he not play such games when EVERYONE else around him does all the time.

Megan and I often lament about whether Owen will ever be able to while his time away with creative toys, like Lego, or whether, once he’s a little older, he’ll completely cast aside his seeming love of books for non-stop TV and video games. It’s a frightful thought and likely the bedrock underlying all sorts of subjective dissertations about the downfall of today’s youth and society.

By the way, did I mention that my cell phone died the other day?

It’s true. My Backberry Torch, which didn’t live to see its third year, went boom. Or, kaboom. Either way, it was busted. Ok, it sorta worked. The screen died while the rest of the phone still, technically, functioned… which, sadly, compromised its usefulness seeing as you need to, y’know, see stuff in order to then do things. It’s ironic that you now need a working LCD screen to use an otherwise fully-functioning telephone. Somewhere, someone from the 1920s is laughing their ass off.

At any rate, after spending some time trying my best to fix it — and by “fix it,” I mean of course, switching it off and then on; shaking it; blowing on it, and then turning if off and on again — I calmly put the phone down and casually remarked to Meg that I would need to get a new one the next day.

“Oh bother,” I said. (In truth, there was likely a lot of swearing, but this seems the more romantic thing to say and likely what I really meant…) I then grumbled about how things don’t last like they used to. You know you’re getting old when you break out that line. It was no more than a minute or two later that I grabbed a tablet and checked my email.

Nothing new.

I surfed over to my cell provider’s website and started flipping through its selection of cell phones. I tend to research my electronic purchases before I buy them: I search for the top brands, read the reviews, see what new models are out and when any forthcoming models might be released. But my phone was broken and I didn’t have the time to put that much thought into things. Scanning the website, a couple models jumped out. They were priced right and would do what I needed.

I checked my email again and surfed over to Facebook to ask “the world” their thoughts about the two phones I was considering. After a quick read of my messages, I posted my question and decided I should start cleaning the basement. I’ve been working down there each of the past few weekends and I try to tidy up as much as I can afterwards.

No sooner had I gotten up, however, I heard the distinct sound of my Blackberry “beeping” an alert — I had a message on Facebook. (Like I said, the phone worked, I just couldn’t see or do anything with it. The alerts were a bit of a tease.) I made my way upstairs and took a seat at the desktop computer. I surfed over to Facebook and, lo and behold, two people had responded to my earlier query. I noted their suggestions and quickly checked my email and Twitter accounts.

This went on two or nine times through the evening before I finally went to bed. After one last check of my messages, I was out like a light. I awoke the next morning still undecided as to which phone I would purchase later that same day. After seeing Megan off to work, I checked Facebook and my email, bundled up the boy and we were out the door and off to daycare.

Upon meandering into work, and with a coffee firmly in hand, I booted my machine and emailed everyone I could think of that that might text me. It was important that I tell them to email since I couldn’t receive text messages. I checked both my work and personal email and spent much of the morning vacillating between work and reading cell phone reviews.

Late that morning, after a final check of my messages, I was off to the store. On route, my Blackberry buzzed — a text message. I was angry that I wouldn’t be able to read it. It would be lost, even with my new phone. I wondered aloud who it could be. Who missed my message telling them not to text? Had I forgotten someone? Was it important? Was it junk? Hopefully they’d call if it was important. I really wanted to read it.

@#$% ! ! !

I was still thinking about the missed text when I rolled up to the store and spent a few minutes scouring through the phones they had on display. After a short while, a store employee asked if I needed any help and, after discussing my cell-related needs, we settled on the Samsung Galaxy S4. It’s wonderful! It boasts a 5” HD screen, a 1.9 GHz Quad-Core Processor, 16 BG of memory, and makes use of the super-quick LTE network.

I like it.

Once I signed the requisite forms and paid the requisite money owing, I made my way back to the car and quickly drove back to work. Upon returning to my office, I immediately checked my email and messages and set about installing the BBM messaging system; porting my contacts over; and setting up my email, Facebook and other similar accounts on my phone. And, within minutes, I received my first message.

I smiled.

This new phone is ridiculously more advanced than my last one. I can surf the email many times faster than my Blackberry ever could. The number of applications available to it dwarf the ones I could have ever hoped to have gotten just a day earlier. I ceased mourning the loss of my old phone.

My cell phone is dead. Long live my cell phone.

A bell rang — I had a Twitter message! I was astounded by the crispness of my new phone’s display. The colours were so vibrant and bright. I spent the rest of my lunch hour letting my friends know that they could again text me. I was back in business!

I hope Megan and I are better at limiting Owen’s exposure to technology. TV is like a drug. Technology is addictive.

I would know…