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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Pack up your troubles, or where there’s a will there’s a way

Going through our late Dad’s (and Mom’s) belongings is very interesting.  For instance, what was formerly merely an item, an object, or a thing, is now an artifact, and has therefore gained a value it did not have before.

Even things they owned — and did not use — are precious.  The glasses that were only for company.  The handkerchiefs neatly folded in the sachet. How can I just give these things away when they meant so much to our parents that they kept them, unused, for years?

Someday soon I will realize that grasping these objects is not going to bring back my parents, not even for a moment. But not now.  Now I will put the items into boxes and store them.  The irony of this is not lost on me.

But there is a lesson here for me.  If I don’t use something I will give it away.  It has to be that way.  There is no sense in moving into a smaller, simpler home if I don’t adopt a smaller, simpler life.  Dragging all my belongings with me like some great carapace is not going to protect me or nurture me.

As a side issue, we found a file with all the important papers in it carefully locked in the strong-box my parents kept.  There was even a list of things to be done when they died (we followed it to the letter).  But there was no will for my father.  Oh, there was a copy of the will.  But no original.  The copy had the name of the lawyer who had drawn it up.  He moved away many years ago.  I googled his name and found his ex-partner in the law practice.  He had a number of an office where the original lawyer worked.  Or at least where he used to work.  But they gave me his cell number and eventually I was able to leave a message.

There were two things that made this “not a big deal”.  One was that everything was in my sister’s and my names.  So we could move ahead with things that had to be done.  The other was that when we showed up at the government offices and told the nice clerk our father had passed away, she said she was sorry, and then asked if we wanted to perform a will search.  So apparently this is not an uncommon occurrence.

We’ve heard from the lawyer who has the will and he will send it to me.  But I will a) update my will, and b) organize my papers to make sure I can find everything when I need it.

This method looks like it could work for me, as I am an unrepentant “piler”. And I will go paperless as much as I can.

Of plans and permits

To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.

Lady Bracknell, the Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.

This vacation has not gone according to plan.  Not my plan, anyway.  My father did not come out of the hospital.  While in there, hoping to recover from a bruised foot and back, it was discovered that his kidneys were functioning at an ever-decreasing level of effectiveness, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.  He slipped away in his sleep early one morning as we were preparing to visit him.

Everything had been set up so my sister and I are joint owners of my parents’ condo, and there were surprisingly few hurdles.  But oh, so many little things to take care of when you just want to sit down for a day or two and just…..grieve.

My sister had already started clearing things away when she was here after our mother’s death at Christmas time.  But there were still boxes of books, bags of clothes, furniture and just stuff to give away.  And boxes of photos and clippings to go through, but not now.

We are trying to get papers in hand that will allow us to sell the condo.  We love it, as did our parents, but we have been coming up here for the past 40 years.  There is little that Nelson, BC holds for us now.

On the plus side, we can pick up our permits at Vancouver City Hall for the laneway build. There are many fees to pay, but then we will have the permits and will get started.  When I am back home this weekend we will make arrangements to meet with our designer/builder Novell to talk about the next steps.

Right now, I am being very, very kind to myself.

High land costs down under mean the end of cottages

I believe you know I am a supporter of living small.  I was just in a neighbourhood a few weeks ago that had undergone a change in the other direction.

I remembered a neighbourhood close to our new house that had been primarily small bungalows that had been constructed in the late forties.  The entire area had been built for returning soldiers after World War II, and had been street after street of similarly designed homes of 1000 to 1500 square foot size.

BungalowI’m a boomer, and when I was small we lived in a house much like this — maybe you remember homes like this — two bedrooms on top (your Dad probably put another in the basement when you and your siblings outgrew the one bedroom). One bathroom for the whole family.  An eat-in kitchen or a tiny dining room.

But when I saw the neighbourhood again recently, I had to look for these old bungalows — they had been replaced by McMansions.  I felt a real sense of loss. But I understood why.  If you visit the site Crack Shack or Mansion, play the game to see if modest bungalows like the one above are dilapidated shacks or worth the price of a mansion in another city.  Who am I kidding — a dilapidated shack in Vancouver IS worth the price of a mansion almost anywhere else.  Because it’s all about the price of the property.

I can understand why someone who buys one of these homes would tear it down, and for another $300K or $400K, build a huge home that dominates the lot and leaves no yard to speak of (or play in).

And Vancouver is certainly not the only city to “suffer” from this.  Even Down Under,  the land crunch is being felt.  In this article we learn that Sydney, Australia is seeing their bungalows (or “cottages” disappearing).   And the reason is

Bob Schwartz, chief economist of Pitney Bowes Software, which did the analysis, said two- and three-bedroom houses were becoming ”too small” for the Sydney housing market.

”Those types of houses are in decline because they are simply not the best use of space,” he said. ”The small cottage just can’t cut it with high land prices.”

I am hoping that the option of increasing the living space in the home by building laneway homes will slow or stop this trend.  As nice as these large houses look, it doesn’t increase the densification of the neighbourhoods, and it completely changes their character.

 

 

What’s new, you ask?

I am back in Nelson, lovely Queen City of the Kootenays.  It’s impossible to describe how lovely this place is, so:

Nelson

 

My sister and I are up here to visit our father, who celebrated our arrival by slipping on a wet bathroom floor and ending up in the hospital with a bruised foot and back.  Being 89 years old presents its own problems in the healing process, so it’s not likely he’ll be home before Sis and I have to head back to our other obligations. We visit him in the hospital and chat with the doctors and nurses and generally try to be good daughters.

But there is good news this week, and that is that DH and I have found a place to live during the build.  DH took on the task of combing Craigslist and Kajiji looking for suites in the area to rent.  We really wanted to move into our new neighbourhood so we could watch over the build process and also get used to our new stores and local amenities.  There aren’t any apartment buildings in the area for rent, just basement suites. Luckily. after a couple of false starts,  he found one just 10 blocks from our new home, in the basement of a large home.  It’s close to transit and shopping, and most importantly, close to the action as the build goes on.  The landlord didn’t ask us to sign a lease, so we will be renting month to month, ideal for us. It has 8 foot ceilings and is quite bright.  And it’s small, so we’ll get used to just keeping what we need.

Because I will be up at the hospital and away from the computer, I may not be posting at my usual manic rate.  But I’m still here.

 

Densification comes to small cities

Meadow Lake is a city located in north west Saskatchewan, Canada about 246 kilometers north east of Lloydminster and 156 kilometers north of North Battleford.

So, out of the main hustle and bustle, then.

And it looks like a lovely place.  Lots of amenities, and tons of fresh air and open spaces. An up-and-coming place, with people moving there all the time.

The city government also sees the cost of its own growth. According to this story in the local publication, the Meadow Lake Progress,

If Meadow Lake hopes to live up to its title as a ‘city’ and become a real urban centre, it needs to look at alternative forms of housing.

As it stands, the city faces a shortage not just of affordable housing, but of purpose-built rental units in general. Ask any young professional what the rental situation is like here and they will lament on the challenges on finding a decent apartment. Basement suites are more common, but self-contained rental units are rare and as a result are priced at a premium.

But they are doing something about it. By calling for densification through laneway and coach homes.

Many municipalities are only now learning the true cost of urban sprawl, as long commutes increase emissions, congest city streets and put further strain on our infrastructure.

But there is a way to embrace alternative housing and increase the density in our residential neighbourhoods while still meeting fire, safety and accessibility standards. Council should put their heads together and figure out the best way how.

Of course, I am a fan of densification in residential areas — and it’s good to see that others are seeing the value in it.

Laneway House pilot project proposed for Regina, Saskatchewan

We think of the prairies as wide open spaces, with lots of room to build.

But Regina, Saskatchewan is seeing the benefit of housing densification within its cityboundaries.

From the civic website:

The City of Regina is considering a zoning change that would allow for the development of 11 laneway homes on a single block in the Greens on Gardiner. Currently laneway housing or any secondary suite not attached to a single family home is not permitted.

This pilot project relates to two goals in the City’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy, which is currently under consideration: “Foster the Creation of Secondary Suites” and to “Develop and promote prototypes and pilot initiatives of innovative housing forms.”

Looks like laneway homes are the way of the future in many urban areas.

An overview

All last week I’ve been home from work with a pinched nerve in my back.  Ugh. Also OW! I’m taking a prescription that will help alleviate the nerve pain, but it takes 2 weeks to work, so in the meantime I’m relying on my old standbys, extra-strength Advil and whining.

However I have been rising from my bed of pain and inconvenience to do the exercises my physiotherapist assigned me, and to pack some boxes of things we are putting into deep storage — the storage space we have rented to put things we won’t need for our temporary home during the build phase.  These things include three decorative teapots, some of the dozens of mugs we have managed to accumulate, “plain” martini glasses we bought for our yearly martini parties (from the dollar store, cheaper than renting!), a set of lager glasses (drink from the bottle!), and flower vases (no frou-frous at the temporary place!).

Then yesterday, DH picked up the van he had reserved from ZipCars and doing all the (literally) heavy lifting, managed to fill the entire thing and then regurgitate its contents into the storage space.  I stood by and gave him the benefit of my opinion.  We also made a stop at the bike repair shop where he is getting his old, classic bike reconditioned, and some side trips to the transfer station, then to some recycling depots when we found the transfer station would not take old tires or old paint (who knew?).

And now our condo storage space is empty and ready for more packed boxes.

We thought it would take two hours, it took four. Luckily, DH was able to extend the reservation on the van on the spot with his cell phone.  Also unlock and lock the van with his cell phone.

When DH was using his cell phone to unlock the van, he stood beside the van, the signal travelled up to a satellite, then back down to the van he was standing beside.  It’s funny to think of that.

But that made me think of this:

VancouverHadfieldIt’s a picture of Vancouver, taken from the ISS by our own Canadian satellite jockey, Chris Hadfield.  I joked to a friend that I could see my house — but you know, I can!  It’s easy to pick out which main streets are which, and work out approximately where our building is.

Cubbies and crannies make cozy comfort

We are currently packing/winnowing our belongings for our move to our temporary home–and putting some things away for “deep storage” — only to be opened once we are in our laneway home.  Christmas decorations; vases; my collection of insulators(yep, you heard right, insulators); my “good” dishes and crystal; you know, stuff you only use once in a while.

But why keep them at all?  If you only use them once in a while, or if they are not useful (i.e. insulators), why keep them?

Because they hold meaning for me.

In our new place, we will have very limited storage for clothes — one closet shared by two people.  We are hoping to have some shelves to store some things like jewellery, hats and accessories, but for the most part the closet will be the total of our clothes storage.  This is not such a big deal to me.  I am not that interested in clothes. And shoes?  I was able to clear out half my shoe cupboard because I discovered four pairs of identical low-heeled black pumps, and near-duplicates of every other pair of shoes I own.  A small closet will be fine for me.

On the other hand, the metrosexual I married loves clothes.  He also dresses carefully, takes excellent care of his clothes and shoes, accessorizes thoughtfully.  He will cringe when it comes to sharing a closet.  And he will find a way to store everything he really wants to keep.

That’s the point I am trying to make.  You get rid of a lot of things, but you will find a way to keep everything you really love.

Like in this apartment.

Books1

Just 240 square feet, you’ll see art on the walls and books every where.  Even in a little cubby library off the lofted bedroom.

Books2Adorable, non?  And almost magical, in a Narnian kind of way.

What is it you couldn’t give up? Not in a “one minute to leave a burning building” situation, but where you could only take the most precious of your belongings?

 

A neighbourhood of small homes?

It’s my dream that someday our little laneway will nestle in a neighbourhood of similar homes….up and down the lane.  It’s also my dream that until that happens, our fellow laneway owners will gather together in a “virtual” neighbourhood online, and I hope that any lane dwellers will get in touch with me to see if that can come about.

However, there is already a neighbourhood of homes of 500 to 800 square feet each — in Toronto.

According to this story from Spacing (thanks for the link, Colleen!)

Craven Road was once known as Erie Terrace, but before that, these lots that now house tiny buildings were attached to the back of properties on Ashdale Avenue — properties that used to extend back from the road over 140 feet. Ridout says those who lived in the houses gave people materials to build places at the back of their lots. When there was a dispute over whose land belonged to whom around 1910, the City stepped in, expropriated the land, and created a tiny road between the houses on Ashdale and the rear lots.

These homes remain, and are being cared for by their owners.

craven3-600x401

They are charmers, aren’t they?  And the homes that are being built in the neighbourhood continue the style and grace of the originals.

Another common trait of the road is construction. Many people who have moved into tiny houses on the tiny street have decided to tear down their houses completely and start over from the ground up. With small lots, there isn’t a lot of room for expansion, but some architects have taken it upon themselves as a personal challenge to create the most innovative, modern, desirable designs despite the restrictions. Other people simply choose to add another floor on top of their house.

But the thing that makes this neighbourhood truly stand out is the sense of community among its inhabitants.

 The one thing that hasn’t changed about the neighbourhood is that some strange force exists between the people who live on Craven Road, holding them together, as though the fact they all live in similar sized houses makes them more than just neighbours, but instant friends. The term “Tiny House Society” has even been thrown around, effectively making everyone on Craven members of the exclusive group. The voices of people saying hello and speaking with one another is common background music while walking down the street.

I’m not sure how a virtual neighbourhood would work….we couldn’t make it exclusive — no passwords or secret handshakes — but friendly and open.

Any idea on where to start?

Another visit with the Home Discovery Show

Yesterday I was happy to talk again to Ian and Steve at the Home Discovery Show on CKNW and the Corus radio network.  We chatted about where we are in the process.

And where are we in the process?  Well the city wants to see a report on the soil stability by a geo-technical engineer, plus we need to have an architect sign off on the plans to make sure the structure can support the living roof.  PLUS it turns out that the height allowance for laneways is calculated differently than the height allowance for the average build (a calculation difference that is not mentioned in the literature and is so arcane that it cannot be described over the phone).  So it was back to the drawing board for our designer at Novell to lop a foot off the top floor (good-bye 9 foot ceilings).

But all that is done, so we are looking forward to having the plans accepted. Soon.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the demo has started on the basement, and the front and side yards were ripped apart for the new water supply.

That’s all going smoothly.  When they ripped out the basement rooms they found no moisture (yeah!) but they did find a little bit of asbestos in the tape holding the heating conduits together.  So that means calling in the experts, taping off parts of the basement, and taking out the asbestos safely in a process called abatement.

One step forward, half-a-step back.

Ian brought up an interesting point:  a lot of families fall apart over these little projects. But we’re all looking forward to this so much, we honestly have not had any differences at all.  Sure, we were crushed when we found out we couldn’t have a spiral staircase in the laneway (they need at least 12 feet clearance, which is basically the whole house).  And we still haven’t decided which yellow is yellow enough for the exterior, without being too yellow.  But these are just subjects for discussion, not points of disagreement.

Everybody just gets along.  And I think the compromise process is so smooth we don’t really notice it.

Right now we are looking for a place to rent.  We would love that to be in East Vancouver, so we can get used to our new neighbourhood, establish which Starbucks is “ours”, plot out our trips to our new grocery store, etc.  So if you hear of anything in the area around Rupert and Broadway, let us know.

We’re already packing for it.

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