The ongoing saga of the house

We’re in the fourth week of kitchen renovations, and I think it’s safe to say we’re in the home stretch. I think it’s also safe to say that the build phase was fraught with more peril than I expected. (Note, I wrote this a week ago – it’s been THAT kind of week!)

In our last update, we had torn out the entire original kitchen to the drywall and beyond. Over the course of the next week and a half, the kitchen was gradually rebuilt on the same footprint. First, walls and paint and the upper cabinet boxes:

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Then, new floors. Have I mentioned the new floors? We’re replacing cheap and boring ceramic tile with lovely warm wood-coloured tile that looks like knotty pine boards.

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Willie approves of the new cabinets.

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I have to admit to being fairly ambivalent about a lot of the choices we had to make. I knew we wanted light coloured cabinets, for example, and warm accent colours. I knew we were maintaining the same basic footprint. I loved the idea of an oversized farmhouse sink and butcher block counters, both of which were incorporated into the design. The one thing I coveted above all other things, though, were pot drawers. And now we have them – everywhere!

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Along the way, there have been a few mistakes, miscommunications and mis-steps. The wrong sink, for example, and the wrong drawer pulls ordered. Hidden drawers overlooked. I have to say, though, with each and every one of these things, whether the miscommunication was on our side or not, the construction and design team have immediately rectified or rebuilt or otherwise worked really hard to ensure that we had exactly the kitchen we wanted. I really can’t say enough nice things about Justin Linden and his team – they have been beyond awesome at every bend in the road.

When we got home from a few days out of town to find that the new microwave had been installed much higher than I had expected, I was worried about safety. The kids use the microwave regularly, and the idea of them reaching up over their heads to pull hot food out of it made my stomach clench up. All I had to do was mention it, and they pulled out the installed cupboard to insert one that fit the space better and brought the microwave down to a safer height.

I’m wretchedly behind in my bloggy updates, and truth be told, the kitchen is actually already done. Stay tuned and maybe I’ll get photos of the whole thing in the next couple of days. Spoiler alert: it’s AWESOME! I also have a post or two to write about things we learned about executing and surviving a kitchen remodel.

Bonus question: Anybody recognize the quote in the headline? It has absolutely nothing to do with kitchens, and there was no extraordinary technology involved in the renovation – but suddenly, out of the 1970s, that quote was in my head as I wrote this post.


We’ve arrived at the end of the first week of the great kitchen renovation project with sanity (barely) intact. In case you were wondering, it takes about a full week to adapt to the idea of not having a kitchen, and apparently longer to the idea of not having a sink, because I still catch myself moving toward where the sink used to be with the dregs of a can of soda or snack bowl to be rinsed or an apple to be washed.

We seem to be making good progress. We have passed through the destruction and discovery part of the remodel, which was definitely the most fraught with peril. We discovered several code violations in the wiring and a few outright fire hazards that added another chunk of change to the final bill for some electrical work, including no less than five (FIVE!) issues with the oven outlet alone. The previous owner’s habit of playing fast and loose with structural and electrical issues continues to haunt us six years after the fact, but at least the microwave hood fan will no longer vent to the gap between the walls (sigh) and we know that the household wiring is safer than it was before.

Here’s how we progressed each day of the renovation.

Day one was destruction and discovery day. Greasy stained drywall was removed, subfloor pulled up, mystery pipes were revealed, and electrical hazards became apparent.

Kitchen Day 1

Day two comprised more prep work, and the delivery of the bulk of the new cabinets and cupboards. Our dining room became a storage / staging area. Nerves frazzles and frayed.

Kitchen day 2

Day three was dedicated to electrical work. 15 amp wires that ran into 30 amp breakers were updated, dangling outlet boxes were secured, blatant code violations were remediated, and blessed routine was reclaimed from the chaos.

kitchen day 3

Day four brought fresh drywall and approved permits for the electrical, and a sea change from destruction to construction. Yay progress!

kitchen day 4

The one thing that the last week has illustrated is that we were insane to even consider taking on the kitchen renovation as a DIY project. There is no way we could have even identified, let alone dealt with, the issues that have come up so far. They weren’t devastating, and they were easily addressed by the contractors, but from tearing up the subfloor to the safety issues with the electrical, I have been grateful to have someone who knows what they are doing. Even if we did manage to install the cupboards and cabinets ourselves, it would have been putting lipstick on a pig because there were so many small but important structural issues that needed to be addressed so we could build upon a strong foundation.

I’m full of optimism for next week, which should bring subfloors and tile floors and fresh paint. I’m also relieved that the last of the major decisions has probably been nailed down, and I will no longer be frantically Googling various faucet models, ceiling fans and over-the-range microwave reviews. Trying to decide whether the drawer pulls need to harmonize with the sink fixtures may have been the nadir in decision-making “who really cares about this sort of thing?” hell, but we’ve made it through to the other side.

We’re managing meals with a mixture of takeout and sandwiches, and I bought more pre-packaged and processed foods in the grocery store today than I’ve probably bought in the last year. I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought packaged cookies, but hey, there were PC Points for Oreos today so I stocked up. An hour later, they’re already mostly gone, of course.

TL;DR? Week one was long and stressful, but could have been far worse. Having a team we trust doing the work has made all the difference in the world. And doing the dishes in the bathroom sink is far from ideal, but at least manageable. With the backdrop of the situation in Fort MacMurray playing out this weekend, I’m grateful to have my house intact and in one piece.

Stay tuned, the adventure continues on Monday!

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We’d just paid the deposit and signed the contract on our kitchen renovation, with work scheduled to begin in late May, when the contractor sent me an email. “We’ve had an opening and our next client wants to delay construction until June. How do you feel about starting on Monday?”

Um, Monday? Five days hence Monday, you mean? I looked up at the broken cupboards full of stuff that would need to be packed away, the clutter in the living room that would need to be removed to make way for a temporary kitchen, the dining room teeming with art projects and various paperwork that would need to be filed or recycled, and tried to wrap my head around the idea of having no kitchen to make meals or clean dishes for three to four weeks starting in five days. We’d have one weekend to finalize the last of the design plan (we need to pick flooring, a faucet, paint colour, counters and handles for the drawers and cupboards), pack the kitchen cupboards and drawers, empty most of the dining room, clear space in the garage for the delivery of the new cupboards, make a temporary kitchen, and plan a minimum of a week’s worth of no-stove meals.

“Sure,” I replied, because I have no sense of self preservation whatsoever. Carpe that diem, right?

We met with the contractor on Saturday to do a crash session on the remaining details: floors, counters, paint, faucet, and drawer and cupboard pulls. In other words, all the things that I thought were inconsequential. “I am more concerned with the fact of having a floor than what it looks like,” I told the contractor the last day we met to sign the contract. The contractor, who has gotten to know us fairly well by now, pointed at Beloved and said, “So, you’re coming with me to the tile store?” Meh, floors. Whatever.

To my surprise, though, picking out these finishing touches made me almost as excited as the idea of my coveted pot drawers. Since we are building on exactly the same footprint, with no new appliances, and on a very tight budget, I was really beginning to feel like the new kitchen might not be tens of thousands of dollars better than the old kitchen. Then I found out you can get ceramic tile floor that looks like knotty pine, and vintagey-cool drawer pulls that look like they might have come out of an old library. I am really happy now that I don’t have to wait for months to see it all come together, because for the first time I’m feeling really excited about the renovation, instead of just enduring it and grumbling about the cost.

Having said that, I am not looking forward to the next few weeks without a kitchen. We have our BBQ, which has a side burner for pots that I’ve never actually used but I checked and still works. We’ll have the microwave, although it will be displaced from its usual perch above the oven. And we’ll just roll the fridge into the dining room for the duration, so it will be accessible and functioning. I’ve picked up some big plastic bins to store food like cereal and snacks that might smell appealing to the dog, and I invested in a whackload of compostable paper plates. I think it is the dishwasher that we will miss most of all, and I am trying to decide whether washing dishes will work better in the (tiny) bathroom sink or the (awkwardly positioned and not incredibly clean) basement laundry sink or the bathtub is the least painful option.

Saturday and Sunday were a marathon of sorting and packing and discarding and wondering why the heck we have so many packages of yeast in the cupboard, and cursing the multitude of snack bags with less than six pretzels in each. I mostly stayed true to my inner environmentalist, filling the compost and cardboard recycling bins to capacity, but by late in the day Sunday I had abandoned any pretense of careful sorting and packing and was simply cramming stuff into any nearby container with capacity. And I swore to myself that we will never, ever move, because just packing the kitchen was enough to last me another decade.

Here’s the empty kitchen on Sunday evening, waiting for the destruction crew to arrive at 7 am on Monday morning. Before:

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After a full day of packing, trying to cook dinner on Sunday night in an empty kitchen was a bit of a disaster. You don’t realize how much muscle memory is involved in a familiar meal until you try to cook it when none of the tools or ingredients are where they are supposed to be! I can’t tell you how many times I opened a drawer or cupboard to find it empty – not unlike when the power goes out and you walk from room to room automatically hitting light switches and thinking “okay, I’ll watch TV – no wait, I’ll vacuum, no wait, I’ll….” Not to even mention the fun of meal planning for dinners that do not require a stove or much clean-up to execute. I’m seeing a lot of takeout and a lot of living room picnics in our future!

So tell me, bloggy peeps, what’s your favourite no-cook meal?


One of the boys has a peculiar but charming personality quirk: he abhors making decisions. Not only is he stressed by big decisions, but he actively avoids making even such minor decisions as milk or water with dinner. In general, he would prefer to be served with a decision made than to take an active role in decision-making.

I am beginning to think this might be a latent personality quirk he inherited from me as I die a death of a thousand paper cuts in the endless number of decisions involved in our pending kitchen renovation. From the fundamental “should we or should we not renovate the kitchen” to the minutiae of 3/8″ difference in sink depth, I am feeling completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of options at every turn.

We’ve narrowed down the options somewhat. We’re going with Ikea’s SEKTION design (it’s specified in some sort of international treaty that we need to capitalize Ikea product names, right?) sitting in pretty much the exact footprint of the existing kitchen, minimizing both cost and trauma to the change-averse members of the family. We’ve had a kitchen reno in our sights since we moved in almost six years ago, if for no other reason than to replace the spectacular bio-hazard that is the 1960s vintage faux brick backsplash wall behind the oven, and to do something with the gaping hole left when we had to tear out the over-fridge cabinets to accommodate our monstrosity of a fridge. (I have never in six years regretted investing in the biggest fridge we could afford at the time.) And over the years we’ve lost three full cupboard doors, with two more hanging at drunken angles, the brace holding the sink up has snapped, and the laminate on the counter has started to peel up. I’m pretty sure the previous homeowner invested just enough in upgrading the kitchen to last the length of the building inspection and not much more. TL;DR: we have some maintenance issues to address.

And, I have a wildly covetous desire for pot drawers. I swear, the real reason we are spending tens of thousands of dollars on this kitchen renovation is so I no longer have to lose my ever-loving mind every time I shift my way through eight nested stacks of pots and colanders because I am reaching for a pot lid or I send a precariously stacked Jenga game of plastic sandwich containers crashing across the kitchen floor in my search for the salad spinner.



So, a record of decisions made to this point: yes, we will renovate the kitchen. We will renovate the kitchen this year. We talked to the bank and worked out a budget, over which I choked and balked and raged and finally made an uneasy sort of peace. (Seriously, people spend HOW MUCH on kitchen renovations?! I spoke to more than one company that wouldn’t take on our project because it was just too small.) We decided on a white-on-white colour scheme in a country-modern, clean and simple style. We decided to build Ikea components into the existing footprint and to retain our original appliances. And we decided to put in a pot drawer every time the option became available.

Phew, that was a LOT of decisions. So, we’re done now, right? Someone will come over and wave a magic wand and we can has kitchen?


I think I’m probably nearing 20 hours invested on the Ikea website and with the Kitchen Planner, alternately known as The Most Aggravating Piece of Software on the Internet(TM). (Oops, there goes the potential Ikea sponsorship.) It actually works beautifully in store, and is a fascinating tool — if you can get it to load. The Ikea associate to whom I kvetched said it may have been because I was trying to run it on a MacBook, but I find it just as cantankerous and difficult to load on the boys’ PC. Every now and then I hit my kitchen-designing stride and started to have delusions about actually executing at least the design portion of the project ourselves, and then we hit a snag like a 38″ footprint for a 36″ cabinet, or confusion over MAXIMARA versus FORVARA, or the idea of not just finding and engaging but managing multiple subcontractors comes up, and we realize that we are in way, WAY over our depth. And also, I remember that I am pretty much completely lacking in mechanical aptitude, and the ability to assemble an Ikea wall unit over 16 hours does not make me a master cabinetmaker.

So, we’ve thrown in the (FRÄJEN) towel and have contracted the job out. Oh joy, there are MOAR DECISIONS. Finding someone to do the job has been painful. You don’t need to know the details, but suffice to say the story is long. We’ve decided to go all in, with a company that will design, purchase, manage and install the entire kitchen from start to finish. It will be four times the price than if we did it ourselves, but we will have an actual kitchen at the end of the process, which is a dubious outcome if we took on the project ourselves. And neither Beloved nor I will be facing felony charges for assault on a FINTORP.

All this to say, strap yourselves in and get ready for the next great bloggy series, “Remember that time DaniGirl lost her everloving shit over the kitchen reno?” Good times indeed.

Today’s question, my bloggy pretties, is about exhaust hoods. (There is a delicious irony in me reaching the breaking “exhaust” point and finally moving to crowdsource over an “exhaust” hood, yes?) We are not currently equipped to vent our kitchen exhaust outside, and while I don’t see it as being an insurmountable task, I am leery about punching a hole in the building envelope for any reason. Also, truthfully? I’d love to trim that item from the budget. I’m quite sure that our existing microwave/exhaust hood combo does nothing more than coat my forehead in aerosolized food particulate, but I am still leaning on investing in a recirculating new hood rather than upgrading to a ducted venting one. (And eep, did you know you were supposed to clean those filters? Did I mention six years? *cringe*)

Share your vast knowledge on the subject of range hoods, will you? Save me at least this one decision from the otherwise random and capricious impulses that have governed most of the key decisions to date!


It was almost three years ago that we first saw this house. I joke now (in that joking sort of way that has more than a nugget of truth in it) that there was a spectacular porch that I adored, an amazing treehouse that enchanted Tristan from first sight, and oh yes, a very nice house in between them. About two years before that, Tristan had confided to his Granny that the dearest wish of his wee heart was a treehouse of his own.

The treehouse was in rough shape when we inherited it. The rope ladder was a little tough for Simon and impossible for then two-year-old Lucas to climb. In fact, I’m pretty Lucas never actually set foot in the treehouse. I was up there a few times, but it didn’t feel terribly safe to me. It was made of plyboard and had begun to cant at an awkward angle. For the first year or so, we encouraged the kids to go up in it only one or two kids at a time, but by last summer it was clearly not safe enough for even one 50 lbs kid, and we banned them from climbing into it entirely when the plyboard floor began to rot through.

Dawn on the first day of spring

It’s a sort of a kid paradise in the backyard, with an enormous play structure, a swinging rope and a tire swing, which took away the sting from a treehouse you could see but not use. But this spring we noticed the playstructure too had drifted away from “weathered” and toward “rotting” in more places than one. Last year we replaced the swing set portion, but it was clear that the rest of it was deteriorating quickly. Beloved and I decided to act on our idle year-old plan of getting a quote from someone to get them fixed up.

A friend of a friend, and conveniently someone from our local school community, came out in June and took a look at the treehouse and playstructure with an eye to rehabilitating one or the other. The prognosis was grim. Neither could be fixed – they’d have to be razed and rebuilt. The playstructure would have probably come in around $5k to $6k to replicate (have you seen the insane prices on these things??) and about a fifth of that to rebuild the treehouse.

If you follow me on any other social media, you might have seen some vaguebooking status updates as Beloved and I debated the merits of trying to do the job ourselves or hire a competent professional. For perhaps the 300th time since we moved into this house of love and ongoing challenges, I wished Beloved or I were handy folk. Alas, no hero stepped forth to rescue us from our treehouse dilemma (hey, sometimes you just gotta ask!) and Beloved and I were left to our own devices. I’m pretty sure we *could* have adapted the plan put together by the contractor and built something that vaguely resembled a treehouse, but the more I thought of my children, and the neighbourhood children, to say nothing of the children I am occasionally paid to photograph, being suspended five feet off the ground on something Beloved and I built? Let’s just say I lost a little bit of sleep over this one. And it seemed like a crappy thing to do, accepting a quote and then filching the plan. But oh how I agonized over it all.

The day we finally decided that we’d rather invest in the treehouse than in some of the other home repair jobs that also desperately need some attention (and money!) around the house, I actually cried a little bit. I didn’t realize until we decided to go ahead with the project how badly I wanted to do this for the boys. There’s not much of a playground culture here in Manotick, and I love the idea of having the kind of yard where neighbourhood kids can play. And Tristan is 11 years old now – his treehouse years will soon be behind him. (Although Beloved said something about future girlfriends and the treehouse which I will judiciously choose to ignore.) I imagined it as a lure away from those infernal screens they all adore – but wouldn’t you know it, the household wifi reaches all the way to the treehouse! Mostly, though, I just wanted a safe place for them to play, to climb and invent and adventure and be boys.

With a little help from Mother Nature (thank you for two dry days in a row!) and our amazing treehouse building husband-and-wife team, this happened before our very eyes:

New treehouse

New treehouse-2

And apparently it’s good for kids of all sizes:

New treehouse-3

We love it. LOVE it! It’s safe and built with clear attention to detail, it’s big enough to support a handful of kids, it’s easy for even wee Lucas to get up and down by himself, and I can conveniently see what shenanigans might be going on through the rails. 😉 We decided to go with independent supports so we didn’t have to rely on the weed maple for structural integrity. I can imagine things like a rod for puppet-theatre curtains on the underside or perhaps a little clubhouse with benches — after all, I’m not averse to building my handy skills on things that are not suspended five feet off the ground! The only downside is that I lost access to a favourite tree limb for posing families during porch portraits but can imagine a whole new world of possibilities for my outdoor “studio” now.

After what seems like endless dithering and angst, I can only wonder why we didn’t do this sooner. Best! Treehouse! Ever!!


It went something like this…

** ring ring **


Hey Universe, it’s DaniGirl calling!

DaniGirl! Always a pleasure to hear from you, friend. What’s new?

Ha, as if you don’t know. Universe, you are a mischevious scamp!

Well, that’s true enough, but what in particular insipres you to say so?

You’re making me a little crazy with the good-news bad-news game you play. Couldn’t we just skip the stress of things falling apart and then things falling in to place to make them okay again and just stay on an even keel for a while? Do we have to do this every time?

Oh, I get it. You’re ticked off about the porch!

Damn right I’m ticked off about the porch. More like devestated – I moped for days when I found out that we’d have to tear up the porch and the garden in front of the house to replace the seeping sewage pipe that runs from the house to the septic tank.

Well, you could look on the bright side. A seeping sewage pipe is a lot easier to deal with than, say, a burst sewage pipe spewing unpleasantness all over your basement.

I know, I know! I am supremely grateful for that. And I’ve found what I hope is a decent contractor who will not only carefully disassemble the porch and dig up the pipe so the plumbers can come and replace it, but he’ll then reassemble the porch and give it the paint job that I’m now really glad we didn’t end up giving it in April like we’d planned.

See, that’s all good news!

But Universe — it’s the porch! When we first fell in love with the house, it was because there was an amazing treehouse in the back and this spectacular porch in the front, and hey lookit that, a really nice house sandwiched in between them. And now the treehouse floor is rotting and the porch — the porch! — needs to be torn up. And as if all that weren’t enough, you know I use the porch as my photo studio. I’m pretty sure nobody ever had to tear up Karsh’s photo studio to replace a damn poop pipe!

Now now, DaniGirl, don’t get yourself into a froth. You seem quite confident that your new contractor friend will put the porch right back together again, and with a fresh coat of paint to boot! The garden will grow back – it’s all good! And speaking of photos, didn’t you like that little gift I sent you under the guise of your monthly sales statement from Getty Images?

Erm, ya, I did kind of cry when I opened my sales statement this month and saw that it was four figures. I can’t believe some ad agency in the UK paid more than $4500 to use this photo of Beloved and Lucas in their advertising campaign. The part about potential use on a billboard has us all snickering. So that does help cover more than half the cost of the poop pipe repair and unexpected porch renovation. Um, thanks for that!

43:365 Beloved and Lucas playing Angry Birds

Watching your reaction was more than worth it, DaniGirl. You were pretty funny, sitting in the parking lot of the boys’ school, bawling your eyes out as you read the statement on your iPhone!

Ya well, you kind of caught me off guard with that one. I made more from the sale of that one photo than I have with the rest of my Getty sales combined! So, um, Universe, at the risk of sounding ungrateful….

Yes, DaniGirl?

Um, would it be possible to ask for one more thing? I’m not trying to be greedy, but… well, you remember when we replaced the furnace in December?

Yes, that was another big bill you paid out this year.

Indeed. I swear, we are rebuilding this house one disaster at a time. It’s like Steve Austin: “We can rebuild it… we have the technology.” Ahem, anyway, remember how the furnace guys found the coil for the air conditioner so full of dog hair that they said they couldn’t clean it, they’d have to replace it? And if they did that, they’d pretty much just have to replace the entire A/C unit? And we looked at the $5K we’d just forked out for the furnace and balked at the idea of spending another $3K on the spot to get a new A/C unit?

Yes, I remember all that. Seemed like a good financial choice at the time.

Ya, we thought so, too. It seemed like a very prudent plan to save a few bucks and do without A/C — in the winter time. Universe, it was bloody unbearable hot in the house yesterday. So if you don’t mind, could you keep the temps down to a nice mild 30C or so for the summer? I don’t mind it hot, but 42C in the humidex is a little much. Seriously, Ottawa was the hottest spot in the whole damn province yesterday!

Hmmm, I’ll see what I can do, DaniGirl.

Or, yanno, if you can’t do that, maybe another one or two of those jaw-dropping statements from Getty? Just, yanno, until we get the house issues under control again? Oh, and please, for the love of all things holy, could you please send a little extra protective vibe when they replace the poop pipe? I can handle the repair to the sewage pipe, but I still live in fear that something bad (and expensive) will happen to that septic tank. Replacing the septic tank would make the poop pipe repairs seem like, well, a drop in a very unpleasant bucket.

I’ll let you know, DaniGirl. You just keep taking those photographs!

Oh I will, Universe. You know I couldn’t stop now even if I wanted. Take care of yourself!

Always a pleasure to hear from you. Until next time, DaniGirl…


The one with the gas leaks. Plural. As in, more than one.

27 October 2011 Life, the Universe and Everything

I‘m at work, and calling Beloved to arrange for a ride home because I’m pretty much stranded. I’ve just dropped the car off for servicing and to have the winter tires installed and am still feeling crusty about the fact that apparently my dealership will drop you off in a courtesy shuttle but not pick […]

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DaniGirl versus the Yawing Green Canyon of Death

27 May 2011 The ongoing saga of the house

I like cutting the grass. It’s a reasonably mindless chore that takes physical but not mental effort, and you can do it outside. When you’re cutting the grass, it’s just you and the lawnmower and the great outdoors, and nobody is yanking on your leg asking for a cookie or to wipe their bum. We […]

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In which she discusses windstorms with the Universe

29 April 2011 Postcards from Manotick

It went something like this: *ring ring* Hello? Hey, Universe. It’s DaniGirl. DaniGirl! Always a pleasure to hear from you. How are you enjoying your first spring in the new house? Oh, it’s been gorgeous. There’s daffodils and crocuses, the boys love playing in the yard, and the porch is beyond awesome. I’m so happy […]

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In which being off the city water system suddenly became a very good thing

27 April 2011 Postcards from Manotick

Wow, I’m still in shock over the news today of a summer-long outdoor water ban for Barrhaven, Riverside South and Manotick. According to the news so far, the ban will prohibit not just lawn-watering and car-washing, but sprinklers and kiddie pools, too. OTTAWA — The City of Ottawa is immediately banning on all outdoor water […]

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