Scary Merry Christmas!

Foolishly thinking we’ll be in our new house by Thanksgiving, we list the bilevel for sale in July and negotiate a Nov 1st possession date. Our aim is to have two weeks to vacate and move. 

But as the end of the summer turns to fall, we are so far behind schedule that we kiss those two weeks goodbye. Then as Thanksgiving rolls around we revise our thinking and are sure we’ll be in by the end of November. Donna & Ron, whose dog we are sitting while they are in Crete, are away all of November and we happily move in to their place, still thinking we’ll be out just as they come home at the end of the month. Then we start to realize that we will be bunking with them after they return home and will be lucky if we are in by Christmas. 

The concern is what we will do with the 13 people coming for Christmas. Four are staying a week. Six more are coming for two nights. And three more are coming for dinner. We briefly consider rescinding our offer to host. As tempting as that is, we worry this will be Craig’s mom’s last Christmas. And, as she is now living in a care home in Vernon, it falls to us to cobble together some kind of festive family gathering.

Thus is the start of two months of intense on-site work as we labour to get to a December 17th finish line. That is the only day the movers are available.

What starts as 8 hour days quickly becomes 9, 10, 12 hour marathons to get as much done as possible. The day I realize there will be no main floor kitchen is a tough one. Ditto re: bathroom vanities as they are being made by the kitchen cabinet maker and he is nowhere near ready to install.  There are only three toilets for 6 bathrooms. The back yard is littered with construction debris, including a broken toilet.     

The stairs to the third floor have no handrail or railing. The movers love it, as long as no one trips. Four of them show up at 9 on the dot on the scheduled day, and it takes a mere 2 hours for them to schlep the mountain of belongings from our double garage into the house. There are still multiple tradespeople working and the dirt and dust are interminable. Sawdust and drywall dust everywhere. The furniture is already dirty from being in the garage where there have been saws buzzing for months. Now it is all covered in dust that accumulates as fast as I wipe it away. 

We can’t move any of our furniture into place as the finishing carpenter and the painter are still at work on baseboards and walls. The concrete floors are slightly uneven such that the baseboards do not lie flat and must be planed to fit. It is painstakingly labour-intensive. The doors are slightly too big for their frames and must also be planed. EVERYTHING is taking longer than expected!!

So we continue to bunk with Donna & Ron. We are now into 12 – 14 hr days at the reno, and rarely see them. 

Bathrooms are outfitted with laundry sinks. More toilets, rationed to 3 per customer at Costco, are purchased. The plumber hustles to get all of the fittings installed. The tilers work long days to get the tubs and showers tiled. A cleaner shows up to help with all of the sweeping, vacuuming and dusting. But for every accomplishment there is a corresponding disaster.

The in-floor heating refuses to work. For two days the plumbers and electricians tinker with the extensive network of pipes and drains, regulators and valves. I panic when I catch sight of the calendar and am reminded it is now Dec 20. Our first guests arrive in a few days. The house gets chilly as the thermometer starts to register below zero temps. When the floor finally starts heating and doesn’t stop, the house becomes like this summer’s heat dome. We have no thermostats yet, so we have to wait for the plumber to return and adjust the settings. 

Dec 22 marks our first night in the house. It is eerily quiet and calm, even with Soda & Pico on the bed together. Until the plumbers awaken us early the next morning while it is still dark out. The tilers arrive next. A man is outside installing siding. Two electricians show up to give us more lights. By the end of the day, we are feeling like we might just have pulled this whole thing off. 

Craig drives to Kelowna to collect our niece and nephew, Kirsten & Scott, from the airport. We put them to work making beds, hanging shower curtains, stringing lights, decorating the tree, clearing snow from the sidewalk. For not the first time in our lives we find ourselves wondering why we didn’t have kids. They are so helpful!! And we are so exhausted!!

All goes well for about a day. We ski on the 24th. The snow is perfect, the temp a tolerable minus 10, no wind, no lift lines. I stay at the back of the pack to watch over Craig, who makes his way very gingerly down the runs. He is afraid that a fall would do damage to his ravaged aorta. And he is out of cardiovascular shape, easily winded. He quits at lunch and I carry on with the kids for a couple of hours. Amazed that my energy is sufficient to keep up to them. 

Brent & Heather arrive with Abby, their new puppy, and we get a meal on the table with relative ease, grateful for the kitchen in the suite, trying to not complain that it is down a flight of stairs. Everyone sleeps well. Not a creature stirring, not even a mouse. Just a 7 month old labradoodle who desperately wants to play with our 14 yr old cat. Ain’t never gonna’ happen, but that doesn’t stop her from trying. 

Christmas morning dawns. The floor temp has stabilized at a comfy level. Everyone’s bathroom works. The tree is still standing. The turkey is ready for the oven. All seems well until Craig comes looking for towels. Lots of towels. Why? I ask. I can tell there is something he doesn’t want me to know. What? I ask. 

A small leak, I hear him say. In the suite. Under the cabinets. I am dumbfounded. Vanessa, the plumber, is here within the hour. She too is dumbfounded. The only short-term solution is to turn the water off to the entire ground floor. She’ll return tomorrow with her tools to open the wall and investigate. In the meantime, there is Christmas dinner to prepare, sans water. As well, two of the bathrooms are in the basement and are now out of order. And the only washing machine is in the suite and now decommissioned. AARRGGHHHH!!!!

I’m starting to think that Santa Claus hates me. Or that there must be a lesson I’m supposed to learn. 

Maybe it’s that we push too hard. Bite off more than we can chew. Perhaps this time our reach exceeds our grasp.

Or maybe the house is hostile to us? Does not want us here? Does not like what we have subjected it to. Demolishing. Adding on. Altering. 

Is it possible there is a ghost with an axe to grind? A former inhabitant who does not welcome our presence. 

For some reason I need an explanation for the series of events that have waylaid our progress and almost killed Craig. My rational mind cannot accept that this is all just random. There is no way random operates in such a calculated way and this is all starting to feel decidedly unrandom. It’s starting to feel personal. I retreat to my sitting room to brood and sulk.

Outside my door I hear laughter, the raised voices of a card game, seasonal music. Big flakes of snow are swirling in the dimming winter light. Neighbours’ Christmas lights are starting to twinkle and glow. The Kamloops clan arrive: Curtis & Wendy, Mackenzie & Eric, Quintan and his finance Alex. Two more dogs: Stella & Blue. 

The house is warm and full of love and life. Heather and Wendy have taken over cooking the turkey. Donna & Ron arrive with mashed potatoes, roasted veggies and their schnauzer Soda. We gather at the table in the time-honoured tradition of sharing food and fellowship. 

Really, what do I have to grumble or stress about? A small leak. Like a mosquito, punching above its weight. Doing more damage than just swelling the baseboards. Robbing me of my sense of joy and peace. Turning my merry Christmas into a scary Christmas. But only if I let it. So I am trying my darnedest to be cheery. A glass of chilled sauvignon blanc helps. As does an easy fix to the leak: a cap not put on a drain clean-out. Huge relief! 

We know other problems lurk, the trades return next week and we will have more moments of panic. But in the calm of this frigid Christmas week, surrounded by family and friends, we take the time to exhale and revel in the wonder of our new home. And to count our many blessings, including Craig’s recent Queen’s Counsel designation, recognition of the work he has done as a family lawyer, leader and mentor and community volunteer. Way to go Craig! Bev’s most significant accomplishment … hmmm … does being Craig’s spouse count?

It’s been another year for the record books, for all of us. And as we say adios to 2021, very much looking forward to turning the page on the calendar, we wish you a Happy New Year.  

  1. Stevan says:

    You need to do more writing and skiing and less plumbing.
    Merry Christmas and happy new year. See you guys soon.

  2. Well done – in every way. Family photos are so warm and beautiful. You did it!!

  3. You two are astonishing! Well done for keeping on going when most would give up.
    Congratulations Craig on your achievements. Bev you deserve a medal.
    Your house looks wonderful just like the two of you.
    May 2022 be a little easier for you. Wishing you the best for this year!

  4. So fun to read this! Well done and congrats on the house almost done. And I can easily say something else you’ve accomplished- innovative leader of neonatal nursing care education in the province for many a year 🙂

  5. Charlotte Sutcliffe says:

    Congratulations on finally having a beautiful home. A lot of hard work that you both can be proud of. One way at looking at this you are done no more construction of new homes! Congratulations to Craig on receiving the Queen’s Counsel Designation. That is quite an honor. Enjoy your new home. Wishing you and Craig a happy and healthy 2022.

  6. Sharon Brubacher says:

    ‘Way to go! Once again choosing success over defeat with all the opportunities for both. ‘Love your stories and photos. So happy you are in. To a great 2022 for you both or three. xoxo

  7. Larry and Bev Amundsen says:

    You guys will obviously not let Murthy’s Law get in the way of anything you decide to do. Congratulations on overcoming all those challenges. Let us know when the bugs are worked out of everything and we’ll be out in a flash. On second thought that may not ever happen so expect a springtime visit regardless. See you in 2022.

  8. Brian & Renee says:

    Reads like a sprint that turned into a marathon, and you made the finish line.
    Love the happy ending
    Here’s to a winner year that is 2022

  9. Derek Swain says:

    Congratulations to you both on surviving the trials and tribulations of building – and to Craig on the QC!
    I always enjoy your writing, Bev.
    Best wishes for a better New Year – we can all do with that!

    Please send me your new contact info.

    • Derek, Happy New Year! Looking forward to catching up with you sometime soon. Hope all is well. Bev.

    • We are now at 3605 20th St, just down the hill from where we were last time you visited. B

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