When we fall in love, we don’t see faults or flaws. At the very least, we might see ‘charming quirks’ that could be changed. But usually, we’re so besotted, we either don’t see these, or we ignore them – at our peril. Regardless of whether the object of our love is a person or a thing, the most likely result will be copious tears, sleepless nights, and spiralling financial costs. But at least, if it’s a house, there’s a greater likelihood you will be able to change it to suit you. Such was the case when we decided that our beloved “cottage” needed new siding. We suspected that, once the split log “siding” was removed, we would find some flaws, rot beneath. I put “siding” in quotation marks for a reason, which you will learn if you continue to read.
Day One (November 13) – work begins on the south wall; the place I thought would present the most problems and the greatest challenges. The carpenter, Brad and his assistants, twin brothers Randy and RJ, tore off the log siding, revealing some rot along the bottom of the tar-paper covered plywood sheathing. Using a reciprocating saw, they removed four feet of the plywood to reveal that the rot was not widespread, the floor and rim joists were in good condition, and the insulation intact. I told myself it was a good omen, forgetting that repeated life experiences had long ago demonstrated to me that God is a woman, and she has my sense of humour.
I have to drive some friends home – about an hour away. Brad says that, when I return, we should talk about the bathroom window. That was another point that we feared would be a major re-build, positioned as it was in the shower. Why does anyone ever put a window in a shower?!
Day Two (November 14) – Randy arrives at 8, and tells me that Brad stopped off at the building supply store for… what else? Supplies. While he waited for him and RJ, he would begin to remove the log siding from the west wall. I go into the master bedroom to fold laundry. Seconds later, I’m startled by a sudden, loud noise coming from somewhere within the 1000 sq. ft. dwelling. I regain my composure and rush out to the main room. Seeing nothing there, I go to the second bedroom. A pine shelf, constructed by one of my son’s when he occupied that room and fixed to the wall, is lying on the floor. A chunk of drywall is still attached to it. My eye follows the debris trail up to a hole in the wall, through which I see daylight. “Sorry!” calls Randy from the other side of the wall. Brad arrives a short time later and confirms what he suspected: there are no studs in the west wall. The team decides to work on the east wall while Brad determines how to tackle the west wall.
The east wall is in worse shape, by far, than the south wall. Floor joists rotted and sistered by the contractor hired for the job when we purchased the place ten years before are okay. The rim joists are not. They crumble as the logs are removed. I am reminded of a friend’s description of the whole grain granola favoured by his former partner, which he referred to as “Sticks and Twigs”. All that’s needed is a little milk. On the bright side, we can use it as mulch for our garden next spring.
Below: East wall by patio door. The cut out area is where insulation was eaten by miceRotted floor joists, east wallEast wall with new, sistered joists (and my husband’s thumb)
The sliding glass door in the master bedroom that leads out to the stream running past the house is sitting in a rotted frame. More rot in the plywood next to the door, and just a little way beyond that is a blackening strip leading all the way up to a hole through which two wires protrude, marking the spot where an exterior light once illuminated a door covered up in the 1980s when a new owner extended the original one-room dwelling to make a two-bedroom home with an indoor toilet. “Is that live?” Brad asks my husband. “I don’t think so,” he replies. “Is there a switch inside?” he asks. “Yes,” replies my husband. “Andria found it behind the refrigerator, which stands where the door must once have stood.” Brad asks my husband to go inside and flick the switch. He does so, and hears a chorus of three voices on the other side of the wall, yelling in unison, “Shut it off! Shut it off!” Upon rejoining them outside, they told him the wires were, most definitely, live. They arced when he switched on the line.
They remove the blackened plywood next to the patio door and under the live wires and discover that mice have eaten four feet of insulation in the wall that stands next to my bedside table. I recall the night, a few years back, when I wakened to the scurrying of mouse feet and switched on the light to find four of them – an adult and three babies – playing Ring-around-the-rosie around a leg of that bedside table. At the bottom of the joist is a mound of mouse poop. How the hell many mice over how many years did it take to produce a mound like that? And if the insulation caused the intestinal effects which produced such prolific shits, why did they keep eating it? I derive some comfort from thinking that, ultimately, it killed them. This is not in keeping with the vegetarian life I try to embrace.
Day Three (November 15) – Brad, Randy, and RJ remove the old patio door and replace it with a new one. They continued work on the east wall, revealing that, while the estate paid for carpenters to sister the floor joists in the bedroom because the floor had the buoyancy and bounce of a diving board, they didn’t touch the joists running under the kitchen floor next door. Brad, Randy, and RJ spent much of the day sistering those floor joists, and replacing the rim joists. They cover over their work to protect it from the elements, ready to continue the next day.
Day Four (November 16) – Work continues on the east wall. We’re further encouraged and reassured when no further surprises are revealed. Blissful fools.
Day Five (November 17) – Work began on the west wall, starting on the southwest corner; the second bedroom. They removed a couple of the split logs on the exterior, then removed drywall on the inside bedroom wall, revealing that the “wall” consisted of a sheet of gyproc, 1” Styrofoam, and ½” plywood nailed directly to the exterior logs.
Hole under the corner kitchen cabinet, open to the outside, permitting mice and god-knows-what-else access to the cozy space.
Too big to be called a ‘nest’, this was dubbed by a friend as a mouse resort.
West “wall” of the 2nd bedroom.
Brad, Randy, and RJ rig a tarp that provides shelter from the rain that pelts them all day, but provides no relief from the biting wind. By the end of the day, they had installed proper studs (thus shrinking the room by a few inches), insulated, roughed in a new window, and sheathed the exterior plywood against the elements.
That evening, we felt the effects of the new ‘weather-tight’ walls. A friend came to spend the weekend and, since the guest room was out of commission – both because the new insulation was exposed in the walls, and because we’d had to use the space for storage of items moved because of the renovations – I suggested he sleep in our bed. My husband was away, and our 12-year old Lab, Joey, likes to get up early in the morning for a pee and breakfast. I would sleep on the daybed in the living room, with Joey curled up nearby in front of the woodstove. That evening, while we sat on the daybed, our friend exclaimed in mid-sentence, “Oh!” and pointed past me. I turned and saw a mouse scarpering across the floor, having appeared from under the daybed, and heading for the kitchen. A few minutes later, I had occasion to use the toilet and, whilst seated on the throne, another mouse dashed out from beneath the bathroom cabinet. I stamped my foot and he retreated from when he came but, seconds later, he ventured forth again. He retreated when I yelled and stamped my foot.
We retired around 2 a.m., and at 5:30 I wakened suddenly, wondering what I’d just heard. A shuffling sound came from the kitchen counter on the other side of the room. I crossed the room in the dark, flicking on the light over the stove when I arrived, and startling a mouse making his was across the counter. Doubtless he was surprised and disconcerted upon learning he wasn’t nearly as stealthy as he’d believed himself to be, because he bounced across the stovetop and disappeared behind the microwave.
I concluded that the mice, newly deprived of some of the network of runs they created in the walls over the past thirty years, were forced to find new routes. I comforted myself with the knowledge that, soon, all their old, familiar routes within the walls would be sealed off completely and conceding defeat, they would move on to other territory.
Day Five (November 19) – I spend Sunday afternoon moving books and items from a shelf by the west wall in the living room, to permit the carpenters space to work on Monday morning. I try to maintain walk and working space by moving the shelf unit to the area by the wood stove where our dining table sits, and stacking some items on the shelves, and redistributing others around to other stacks in the house. I’ve never played Tetrus, but think I would master the game very quickly. The daybed, desk, and remaining bookshelf are shoved against one another, occupying space in the middle of the room, back to the bedroom wall. I am satisfied with my efforts and reward myself with watching a British crime show on Netflix, seated on the daybed in the middle of the room. Before I retire that night, I move the computer into the master bedroom, resting it and the cart on which it sits, next to the bed. I leave the phone and internet router connected until the next morning, when I move them into the bedroom.
Monday morning brings high winds and snow that is more ice pellets than snow. I disconnect the phone and router, and put it next to the computer in the master bedroom. Work begins on the next section of the west wall shortly after 8 a.m. They will remove the double window, install studs, rough in the area for the new window, and insulate the lot. Though the rim joists crumble when they remove the exterior logs, there are no new surprises.
Brad calls me just before 5 p.m. I tell him I’m on my way home. He tells me that they’ve lit a fire to take off the chill, for the comfort of both Joey and me. What thoughtful sweeties! I arrive home, and open up the damper to build the flame. Thanks to all the new insulation, the place warms up quickly despite the chill outside.
Day Six (November 20) – Work continues on the west wall. No further surprises, thus lulling us, once again, into a blissful denial and encouraging us to think nothing worse awaits. Again that night, I move the computer – which I’ve rolled out in order to watch Netflix – into the bedroom, along with the phone and the router.
Day Seven (November 21) – Brad calls me on my mobile early afternoon. “We’ve hit a snag.” I wait. “We were cutting out the rotting rim joist with the reciprocating saw, and we hit a wire.” “Shit!”, I say. “Is everyone okay?” “Oh yeah,” he reassures me. “The breaker did its job. But you don’t have power to your stove.” I can live with that, I think. I have a microwave, and in the garage I have a Coleman stove. I’ve lived in more primitive circumstances. This is just a blip; a hiccup. No worries, I tell him. Then he tells me they discovered there’s a hot wire from the box that goes towards the north wall, but is not connected to anything. Someone drove a nail through the wire, thus making it cold from the nail to its end, but hot from the box to the nail. Who the hell built this place, and what the hell were they thinking when they drove a nail through a hot wire? Then I remember that, when we first moved in, we had the electric baseboard heaters replaced. The electrician informed us that the genius DIY-er who installed one of them used a spliced extension cord rather than proper wiring. I’m amazed the place hasn’t burned down!
By the time I arrive home late that afternoon, they’ve gone for the day. I’ve brought home Chinese take-away, and I’m glad because I’m hungry. And there’s a community meeting at 7 to talk about a new county program to help with renovations connected to energy conservation, like insulation, doors, windows, heat pumps. But I know I also have to have time to begin to remove stuff fixed to the north wall so Brad, Randy, and RJ can start work on the north wall the next day.
I arrive at the meeting shortly after 7. On the way in, I pass a car leaving. There are only three others in the Centre parking lot. I’m half an hour late, and the facilitator/resource person left. In fact, he was the car leaving as I arrived.
After the meeting, I return home to move furniture around yet again, and decide to reward myself with another Netflix show. But when I go to the place where the phone and internet cables once plugged in, I see nothing. Next to the place it once stood, I can see the electrical outlets are still intact. Gingerly, I pull aside some insulation batting, thinking the plate might be concealed behind. Nothing. I take a flashlight and go outside. Twisting in the wind, I find the plate, still connected to the line. Never mind, I tell myself. I’m sure it can be fixed tomorrow. I go inside and get ready for an early night, welcoming the opportunity to get caught up with that novel I started a month ago.
By 9:30, I’m nodding (by which I mean that, in my reclined position, the book keeps dropping on my face), so I let Joey out for his final pee of the day, brush my teeth, and retire.
Day Eight (November 22) – All is well until 3:30 a.m., when I’m wakened by what seems to be a mouse rave at 3:30 a.m. Even Joey can’t sleep in the midst of all the activity. Scrabblings along the south wall; then the closet; then, I swear, the sound of tiny mouse claws turning over a single seed before suddenly dropping it on the bedroom floor, and a ‘tick’ as it hits the floor; calisthenics and gymnastics along the bedframe and cross supports; a zip line? Some dismounts end with a gentle ‘thud’ preceded by what I imagine to be futile attempts by tiny claws to hold positions. More scrabblings in the kitchen. I lay, drifting between awake and asleep, envisioning the path the critters are following, based on the sounds I hear. A thin metal pan, not quite level, teetering under the weight of a tiny mouse body; another (the same?) body, scaling the wall, only to lose its footing near the top, and skittering to the bottom; and suddenly, the fluttering of a body crossing the pillow near my ear. I sit up with a roar, wrenching poor Joey most rudely from sleep.
At 5:15, I concede defeat, and get up to make breakfast. I switch on the light over the stove, only to discover a surprised mouse who scitters across the stovetop. I make coffee and ‘scramble’ some eggs in the microwave. As I sit down at the table, I catch a glimpse of movement to my right. I look at the plastics recycling bin, and see a plastic bag “floating” its way across the top. “Get out, you bastard!” I yell. He seems to know exactly to whom I refer, because he darts out from beneath the bag, runs along the perimeter of the bin before disappearing down the side.
Later that day, after work, I buy old-fashioned mousetraps. In the past ten years, I have refused to buy poison to kill mice who invade our space, concerned that their cadavers will be consumed by other animals who will then suffer and perhaps die because of the poison. My greatest concern is my dog who, though never demonstrating any appetite for consuming anything on the hoof might, upon being presented with opportunity might, like a tourist in an unfamiliar country, decide to try the local fare.
My preference is for catch-and-release and aversion tactics. I tried the latter when squirrels not only consumed most of the bird seed in our feeders, but drove away the birds for whom the seed was intended. I read on the internet that adding chilli peppers to the seed would discourage the squirrels without any effect whatsoever on the birds. At first, it seemed to work and then, I was thoroughly disconcerted one morning upon discovering little sombreros and mini-bottles of tequila at the base of the feeder.
We had some success with catch-and-release of a rat who appeared at the feeder a couple of years ago. S/he was a challenge. Rats are not easily poisoned, preferring to sample a new food in small quantities. If it doesn’t make them ill, they will return to indulge. If it does, they will avoid it thereafter. Any animal of such discernment and intelligence merits my respect, and reminds me of why I am a vegetarian. After several weeks of sampling apples which my husband nailed to a piece of wood in the catch-and-release trap, we caught a rat. Ron loaded the hapless creature into the back of his truck and drove it several kilometres towards a military base. He crossed a river, parked by the side of the road, and off-loaded the trap. He opened the door. The rat emerged cautiously, looking around to take in the surroundings. He looked back at Ron and, with an expression indistinguishable from reproach or surprise, he scarpered off to explore his new home.
But after one sleep-interrupted night, followed by a sleep-deprived night, I no longer give a flying fuck about anything involving any remotely humane solutions to my current rodent infestation. I have only bloody-minded annihilation on my mind. I go to the hardware store to buy old-fashioned mouse traps; the kind my Dad used to use around our cottage. Never having baited or set one, I assume that this low-tech version of rodent control will be simple to set. It isn’t. I call my husband, who is conveniently and unavoidably detained elsewhere until the weekend. He walks me through the instructions to set the traps. It seems simple enough.
“These are single use traps, right?” I ask. “No,” he says. “You have to remove the dead and re-use the traps.” “Shit,” I say. “Will there be a mess?” “No,” he says, somewhat hesitantly. “At least, not that I recall.” Hesitation means he’s lying. I expect better of him. He is, after all, a therapist. More importantly, he’s my spouse. There’s a lot riding on his response. Especially because I dreamed last night that he told me he was having an affair with a strawberry-blonde named Linda.
Peanut butter is my bait of choice. I must set the traps in a place where Joey won’t disturb them and get hurt: the kitchen counter; on the floor by the fridge; by the recycle bin. As I bait the traps and consider having to clean them out in order to re-use them, I wonder if mediaeval executioners had a similar responsibility, or whether they just let the gore and the stink pile up. They had the advantage of not having to set bait, of course. Not like the customers complain or, if they do, it’s going to amount to anything. But my thoughts change as I lay out the traps. I think of tip-toeing into my children’s rooms to set their Christmas stockings by the bed without waking them, thinking of their excitement upon waking to find Santa has visited. Momentarily horrified at the allusion, I wonder what a therapist would make of it. Then I remember that I’m a therapist. I shrug and am reminded of why a therapist can’t be their own therapist. And that makes me smile and think of my friend and therapist, Linda, who reminded me of the fact a year or two ago. Hey. Wait. Who was that woman in my dream with whom my husband was having an affair?
That evening, while waiting for a take-out of haddie-bits-and-chips, I glanced through the pages of The Grapevine, a community newspaper. The horoscope for my sign said something along the lines of “well, Sagittarius… you always lead a charmed life, and these coming weeks will lead you on to some great gains…”. It urged those under my birth sign to buy lottery tickets and prepare for a big win. Prophecy? Or another example of God’s sense of humour? That remains to be seen.
Later that evening, after baiting and setting the traps, I sit half in dread that the traps will work, half hoping they won’t wake me from sleep, and half wondering what revenge the survivors will enact. Math was never my strength.
I hear them, a quiet and discreet shuffling; squeaking. Doubtless they’re waiting for me to retire. Perhaps they will read this, and judge me. And if they don’t read this, they will certainly judge me for what’s about to happen to some of their buddies. But I’m anthropomorphising again…
10:41 p.m.; the mice are subdued, though not silent; rain pelts down and I can hear it through the new walls (even though they are better insulated than the old). Does the prospect of imminent confrontation with the executioner really focus the mind and spirit? I’ll ask the mice…
Day Nine (November 23) – the night passed without incident. I wake before the alarm. 5:30. I lie in bed, listening. Unlike the night before, which was still and quiet, high winds provided white noise, preventing me from being wakened by every click and tick. But in a few seconds, I hear scratching coming from the kitchen. Or is it the closet? Or both?
I get out of bed and head for the kitchen. I reach for the light over the stove, but hesitate, drawing a deep breath for the carnage that awaits. I switch on the light. Nothing. The trap behind the microwave, the trap behind the fridge, the trap on the kitchen counter, the trap by the recycle bins. All empty. I think of the 1997 film “Mousehunt”. Perhaps it was more documentary than comedy.
The crew shows up. The day is beautiful – sunny. Also brisk. That means the conditions for those working will be numbing.
Day 10 (November 24) – This is the day they approach the biggest challenge yet: remove the outer wall, while trying to preserve the cabinets and – more importantly, for me – the ceramic tiles I installed along that wall. All day I expect a phone call. None. Does this mean there are no challenges or, that work-arounds have been found?
Brad calls around 2 p.m. to say they’re stopping for the day. They removed most of the upper cabinets, which only serves to underscore the extent of what must be done. Brad has been losing sleep about how this part of the kitchen can be done without both destroying the tiles and requiring that the plumbing be moved. The tiles cannot be saved, but he comes up with a plan to ‘bump out’ the north wall at the kitchen so that plumbing will not have to be moved. I’m grateful.
Dear friends offer yet another night of food and, if required, a bed. Grateful acceptance (again), but we determine that we will sleep in the chaos. But my partner hasn’t been here in a week – before the upheaval began in earnest. What dreams await?
Day 11 (November 25) – We awaken, refreshed in the midst of chaos. I ask my husband to check the mousetraps. None are tripped. All are licked clean of peanut butter. My husband points out that I’ve set the bar in the wrong slot, which prevents the trap from being tripped. He also suggests that I use more peanut butter.
We go out to buy a new range hood for over the stove; one that can be vented outside. Resigned to the fact that we will be unable to preserve the kitchen tile, we shop for more, and are disappointed to discover the colourful ones we chose only a few years ago are now out of stock. We pick up groceries. And wine. We invite our friends who fed me and gave me a bed earlier in the week, to join us for dinner. We spend a pleasant evening, and play Dominoes after supper.
Before bed, I doctor the traps, adding sunflower seeds to the dollop of peanut butter.
Day 12 (November 26) – Once again, all traps are licked clean. Next to one trap is a fleck of peanut butter, as if one cheeky bugger wanted to leave his own personal flourish. Undaunted, we set the traps again.
I sit at the dining table and knit, while Ron marks papers. I hear an all-too familiar sound: a critter chewing on wood somewhere beneath the lower kitchen cabinet. I go to the cabinet and pound on the base. That works for all of a minute before the critter is at it again. I put our Bose in the lower cabinet, select a Saint John rock station which, happily, has just started an AC/DC tune. I crank the volume. We leave the Bose in the cabinet when we go out to get groceries.
When we return home, we aren’t in the door long before we hear the snap of a trap. Ron confirms the kill. A few minutes later, we hear another snap, then another. It seems the rock music is flushing them out of the lower cabinets. After the third kill, things are quiet. The rest of the evening passes uneventfully.
Day 13 (November 27) – It’s a good news/bad news start to the day. The good news is that my husband is not going on strike after all. The bad news is there’s snow in the forecast. Within minutes, a small blizzard obscures the view outside. Brad and his crew arrive shortly after I go to work. A couple of hours later, my husband texts me a photo. The lower cabinets are removed, revealing the secret they’ve hidden since we moved in: a large hole in the corner, beneath the cabinet base, and a nest composed of bits of insulation, paper, plastic, and assorted odds and sods that covers about two square feet. Cozy. And filthy.
That wasn’t the only discovery. Where the other two studless walls had Gyproc, Styrofoam, and ½” of plywood, this section of the wall didn’t even have the plywood – just Gyproc and Styrofoam. With lower cabinets removed, (including the kitchen sink) Brad and his crew call it a day. They need more supplies. Cha-ching!
Over a fish-and-chip supper, we console ourselves with the thought we’re finally free of mice. In almost the same way that the two brothers in the film Mousehunt got rid of their mice – by having the house torn apart around them.
Day 14 (November 28) – The final tear down of the wall behind the tower that brings electricity into the house, and the remaining section of the north wall happens today. We didn’t wait for the crews to arrive, instead choosing to vacate the property: Ron to his office in Wolfville with Joey, and me to my office in Lawrencetown.
Days 15 through 35 – Brad, Randy and RJ continue work in some brutal conditions: high winds, snow, frigid temperatures, and even colder windchill. They persevere, making the place weathertight and cozy, and restoring the kitchen.
We decide that, when done, the place can no longer be called a “cottage”. It has graduated to “home”. For that reason, we determine not to replace the hooks inside the front door where we once hung coats. Instead, we make a trip to the new Ikea at Dartmouth Crossing to purchase a wardrobe. Once there, we realise we will need our truck to carry home our purchase, because three large boxes won’t fit in our Corolla. We go home empty-handed, and return two days later.
Given that the place is torn apart and littered with our belongings dislodged from their usual places, and the tools belonging to the contractor, we have a single pathway through the confusion to navigate from front door to kitchen, to bedroom, to bathroom. Where will we stash three large boxes? Under the bed. They just fit.
January 3, 2018 – Brad, Randy, and RJ finish piecing together the last bits of siding, and pack up their tools, trailer, and truck. They will return in the spring to restore the deck. Their timing is impeccable. We are anticipating the first major storm of 2018, the force of which continues as I finish this post. But we are warm, snug, and dry — at least, until we have to go outside and shovel!