Dear family and friends, it’s that time of year again when I try to remember what happened over the last twelve months and share some photos on here in an attempt to keep in touch without making the effort to reach out to each of you individually.
Most people seem to agree that 2021 left a lot to be desired, and I must admit it was tough going a second year in a row without leaving Canada even once. For those of you who expect or even enjoy my charts and graphs, here’s where I spent 2021 and how many flights I took compared to past years:
Still, 2021 had its share of neat experiences. Fair warning: this update is almost entirely composed of renovation and wedding photos, and I won’t be insulted if you choose to skip past the former in favour of the latter.
Harpreet and I were stuck in Kingston for Christmas 2020 because of COVID so we woke up January 1st, 2021 still here. We went outside a lot that month to enjoy the winter wonderland around us.
We even found a porcupine named Henrietta nesting way up high in the hollowed out trunk of a long-dead tree. I had no idea porcupines were such amazing climbers!
The insulation in our house is older than I am, but in much worse shape. To keep all the heat from escaping, I decided to update the insulation in the two accessible knee wall attic spaces, and learned that you can fit 7 packs of insulation into a 2017 Hyundai Elantra if you remove the front passenger seat.
I started my final nursing school clinical placement on a trauma unit in mid-January in Toronto, so for the next two and a half months I split my time spending 5 nights in Kingston and 2 nights in Toronto each week, putting way too many miles on my odometer and still very much disliking online learning.
By mid-February I had started actually getting insulation into the south attic space, all the while trying (mostly successfully) to avoid hitting my head on the nails sticking down through the roof.
While back in BC in mid-February, my first nibling was born – Freja! We were all very excited for Josephine and Bryan!
I rarely limit myself to working on a single project at any given time, so I also started the first part of a bigger kitchen renovation project. I tore out two built-in benches from the kitchen nook, removed the restaurant table, and began trying to install cabinets and a countertop in the cramped space. The wavy walls in this 1950s house made it challenging to get things to fit, but I made decent progress.
This is the kitchen nook when I bought the house:
Once that was torn out, I installed 3 new 20A outlets then, with much contempt for the steeply sloped floor and uneven walls, got the cabinets in.
Next, I cut two pieces of acacia countertop and scribed the edges to match the wavy wall:
Before I could complete the upgraded kitchen nook, I decided to try decorating a birthday cake for Harpreet, with one of her favourite flowers: sunflower. This process confirmed two things: eggless cakes are not easy to get right, and decorating cakes is really, really challenging. It gave me all the more appreciation for the skills of people like my sister Lisa and my friend Isabel, both of whom are cake experts. While we didn’t finish eating the cake (let’s be honest, we each had a few bites then decided to just appreciate its looks instead), it was fun trying.
A week later I had finished staining and coating the new kitchen nook countertop with a food-safe finish, and bolted the two pieces together underneath with these fun countertop connectors:
The next day Harpreet and I went for a walk and saw two beavers! Not a great photo, but we were excited, and they were cute to watch.
Meanwhile back home in BC, two more niblings were born just six weeks after Freja. Lisa and Brad had twins named Oakley and Robin!
My last hospital shift in Toronto was March 31st and I was supposed to be moved out of my apartment the same day so I didn’t get a lot of sleep that week. I did learn how to squish a memory foam mattress back down to a reasonable size that I could fit in my little Hyundai, though. I put it in a sealed mattress bag, attached a one-way valve from a space saver bag, then sucked the air out with my shop vac while walking all over the mattress to squeeze all the air out. Once it was nice and thin, I rolled it up and used duct tape to keep it in shape. The duct tape turned out to be a lifesaver because the flimsy mattress bag tore in a couple spots while loading into my car, and the mattress would have quickly expanded back to full volume inside my car if it weren’t for the tape!
Back in Kingston, the roofing company arrived to install a new metal roof since our old shingles had barely survived their last winter.
In April, I started my preceptored / consolidation placement at Kingston General Hospital, which consisted of working a little over 30 shifts with an experienced nurse, gradually gaining more experience and responsibility before being let loose on the world.
I also started putting new insulation in the north attic space in April. It didn’t look so great before I started:
Of course one renovation project seems to spawn 2-3 more, and I realised this was my chance to install a much-needed ventilation fan in the bathroom ceiling, which is directly below this attic space. So I ran more cables up from the basement then watched some videos online, cut a hole from above in the bathroom ceiling, and put a fan in.
Then, on my birthday I came home to this!
On May 1st I nervously cut a big 6″ diameter hole in the side of the house, then much less nervously ran the bathroom vent through it.
On May 2nd I fixed the recently developed problem in which every time we flushed the toilet, some of it would leak down through the basement ceiling. My temporary solution had been to place a bucket of sawdust in the basement to catch the water, similar to the composting toilet method I learned from two Mud Girls cob workshops I attended, and that eliminated any nasty odours until I could properly fix it.
On May 3rd I spotted a tree cutting company taking down some trees half a block away, so I went over and asked and they happily brought me a free truckload of fresh wood chips a little while later. On May 4th I spread them out over the part of the yard that was still flooding occasionally (see the photos in last year’s annual update if you’re curious). The whole yard smelled like a Christmas tree!
On May 5th, a couple of dump trucks manoeuvred their way around our house and left a mountain chain of fill soil, mushroom compost, and topsoil. It took me several days to spread it, but by the end of the month the formerly flood-prone areas were significantly higher than they had been and a mix of wildflowers was starting to sprout.
While I was puttering away in the back yard getting all that soil moved, hundreds of bulbs we planted in the fall started blooming in the front yard:
We also started eating outside every once in a while, now that the weather had improved.
Then, on May 17th I got a message from our roofing contractor in BC: the new roof at Bowen was finally done, only 8 months later than expected and several decades since the last time new shingles were applied. Some of you may recall a glorious photo of Brad celebrating our success installing new roof supports in last year’s annual update, a major turning point in our restoration adventure.
Having finished insulating the knee wall attics in Kingston, and with the backyard finally ready to start turning green, in late May it was time to take on my biggest project yet: extending the kitchen into the living room and bringing it into this millennium. This is what it looked like when I bought the house 3 years ago:
And this is the view from the other side of that doorway, on May 26th, before it turned to construction chaos:
I soon began cutting into the ceiling and peeling away layers of drywall and paneling that had added up over the decades during previous renovations.
The final layers came off on June 1st:
Prem was arriving in mid-June for a visit, so I put the kitchen demolition on pause. On arrival, Harpreet presented Prem with a welcome panda cake, which was delicious. I got my second COVID vaccine dose 3 days later:
Two days later I did the 560km roundtrip drive to pick up my wedding sherwani outside Toronto:
The next day all three of us drove 200km the other direction to spend the day in Ottawa, including a trip to a French tailor there for one of my other wedding suits. The weather was perfect for a day outdoors exploring the town.
The day after that we went kayaking in Gananoque, just east of Kingston.
There are lots of turtles to be seen in this part of Ontario in the summertime, including these ones lined up in Lake Ontario just outside downtown Kingston:
More local adventures followed, including a small group trip to celebrate Harpreet, complete with sashes made by Prem for the occasion and lots of photo ops.
On July 9 I flew to BC for a two week visit to do a bit of wedding prep and finally meet my three niblings. Luckily for me, all three of them were in one place when I arrived from the airport and I got to spend a little time getting to know them. I think they like me…
I also spent some time out at Harpreet’s family home in Abbotsford, and used the opportunity to measure and photograph one of Raj’s rose arbours. You’ll see why in a bit.
Unfortunately I couldn’t stick around very long in BC as I had to get back to Ontario in late July to write the NCLEX in August. That’s the national licensing exam a new nurse needs to pass in order to become a Registered Nurse. Upon pulling in to the driveway I found that the former bare soil in the backyard had grown about three feet in two weeks, colourful flowers (and some weeds) were blooming everywhere, and the entire place was alive with bees and butterflies and birds!
Between studying sessions and time spent staring at the all the flowers in the garden, I finally put handles on the kitchen nook cupboards and took the blue protective film off the doors.
On August 1st, we drove up to Montréal to look for more wedding attire for me. To fuel a long day of shopping, we started with vegan affogatos at Saison des Pluies!
I also tried my hand at making floral arrangements from the wildflowers outside. They don’t compare to the amazing arrangements Julie designed a month later in BC with the bride squad, but Harpreet still liked them.
Our Chicago Peace rose had loads of great blooms over the summer, too:
Harpreet left Ontario in August and as soon as she did, I finished cutting a big 4’x8′ (144x288cm) hole in the ceiling, built two temporary walls on either side of the existing wall to hold up the western part of the house, then removed the old wall that had divided the living room from the kitchen for almost 70 years.
Then I cut the ends off the ceiling joists and lifted an LVL beam up into the void, followed by a second LVL beam, then bolted those two beams together into a single double-wide beam, used joist hangers to connect the joists to the new beam, tapped several 2×4 studs under each end to hold it all up on August 16th, and removed the two temporary walls.
Then I listened carefully for a few minutes, heard no creaking or cracking of the house, called it a success, spent a day in online orientation for my new job, and packed my bags to hit the road again. August 18th evening I drove to Ottawa, arriving at 11pm. August 19th I wrote my NCLEX nursing exam at a testing centre in Ottawa, adventured around town a bit, and wrote and passed my jurisprudence exam online in the evening. I woke up August 20th, saw that I passed the NCLEX, paid a bunch of money, and officially became a Registered Nurse. Then I barely made it to the airport in time to catch my flight to BC, saw my sisters for a quick visit, loaded my brother’s car up with lumber, and by that evening I was on Bowen Island being stared down by a backward facing buck that wouldn’t budge.
I spent the next few days on Bowen working on wedding decor. I got all the prep work done for our centrepieces then Harpreet came out and we assembled and stained them together. They turned out to be very popular with our guests!
Harpreet also designed some fun sign shapes like this one, which I cut out and sanded for Harpreet and Prem to paint later on:
Over the next few days I found logs from the beach and forest and turned them into decor bases, sets of tealight candle holders, and place card holders.
I also turned several pieces of driftwood into succulent pot holders, and made a frame.
Some old siding we pulled off the cabin three years earlier came in handy for this piece:
I loaded as much as I could into the car and drove it out to Abbotsford where the tent company was getting things set up.
A couple months earlier, I learned that one of my groomspeople, Vania, wouldn’t be able to make it from Sweden for the weddings because Canada wasn’t allowing non-Canadians into the country due to the COVID pandemic. Luckily my friend (and former boss from my time working at a lemonade stand) Martin agreed to be a groomsperson in time to get his kurta pajama tailored for the wedding. Then just over a week before the wedding I got the sad news that another groomsperson, Nate, wouldn’t be able to make it to Canada either because of bureaucratic delays with his paperwork in Germany. His kurta pajama was ready, but he wouldn’t be around to wear it. The day after Nate shared his sad news, I saw my friend Dave, who welcomed Nate to stay with him when Nate first moved to London years ago even though they had never met. Dave not only agreed to take Nate’s place as a groomsperson but happened to fit pretty well in Nate’s kurta!
The first week of September is a bit of a blur, to be honest. Lots of driving, site prep, wrangling supplies, etc. September 3rd was a bridal celebration, complete with a fantastic juggling performance by Tim, lots of food, and a quiz about the bride on which I fared quite well. Harpreet’s lovely parents, Davinder and Raj, kindly offered to host 3 nights of events at Harpreet’s childhood home in Abbotsford.
The next evening was the sangeet, which started off with mehndi artists drawing gorgeous designs on guests’ hands. I got a simple heart design with Harpreet’s name in Punjabi, drawn by the fastest mehndi artist in BC.
Guests took loads of photos under the two arbours I built, which were beautifully decorated by friends of Prem and Harpreet. My mom and sisters really enjoyed the evening!
The reason for the frame I made a few days earlier was so that Harpreet could turn it into this:
The aunties sang songs and danced, and eventually we were all dancing.
Later in the night, Nikki asked me how much I weigh, which confused me for a moment but then she hoisted me up on her shoulders while her sister, Sonia, and Gurkirat hoisted Harpreet up into the air for a dance.
After the sangeet we had one day off to prepare for the wedding, then we headed to the temple in Richmond for our big day. The following photos are all by @ronnieleehillphotography
After a light breakfast in the langar hall, we had our wedding ceremony surrounded by friends and family:
After the ceremony, we took photos with all the guests inside, had some portraits taken outside, ate a light lunch in the langar hall, then hit the road in a 1935 Rolls Royce.
We drove out to Campbell Valley Regional Park for wedding party photos and some more portraits in the bright midday sun.
After the photoshoot we had a short break to rest before the reception while Ronnie took some photos of the reception decor like the centrepieces we made with floral arrangements by Julie and the bride squad, blueberry jam by Harpreet, the truck that Heidi and Aman painted, the gazebo a group of people decorated, and the photo board I made from old siding.
Then we pulled up to get the evening started in Abbotsford:
We went to bed late that night, with phone batteries nearly dead, and slept through our alarms the next morning, causing us to miss our ferry to Galiano Island. The silver lining was that we were able to tidy up much better at the Singh residence so Davinder and Raj wouldn’t come home to a post-wedding mess. Then we caught the evening ferry to Galiano, checked into our cabins, talked into the wee hours of the morning and got a tiny bit of sleep before our second wedding day started.
In the morning, once the makeup and hair folks had done their thing, we headed down to Bellhouse Provincial Park for some morning portraits. Prem and I had scouted this location a in the summer of 2020 when we toured the gulf islands together in search of the perfect wedding venue.
Back at Bodega Ridge, the wedding venue, Harpreet changed out of her lehenga and had a much-needed nap while I sorted out a few last-minute details with the venue event coordinator, delegated some tasks to the groomspeople, and had a little more caffeine.
By 3pm Harpreet had woken up and changed into a saree, my dad and Davinder realised they wore matching outfits, and everyone was gathered up at the ceremony site, ready for our second wedding to begin.
I blame the serious lack of sleep over the previous two weeks for my inability to hold back tears as I read my vows out, but I promise they were happy tears.
After the ceremony, we took loads of group portraits, couples portraits, and family portraits. I’m really looking forward to sharing them with everyone sometime soon but here are a select few:
When Harpreet tossed her bouquet, Tim jumped higher than I thought physically possible and caught the bouquet, to many people’s astonishment.
We walked back down to the lodge for hors d’oeuvres and cocktails then a short while later everyone gathered under a big tent for dinner. We decided, instead of formal speeches, to have an open sharing circle facilitated by Stash, and we were blown away by the kind-hearted and hilarious things our family and friends shared with us.
One of the great things about having two weddings is getting two cakes made by my baby sister Lisa. We asked for something classy and floral and she came up with this beautiful artistry using edible flowers and lactose-free ingredients so I could enjoy it without getting sick. We were able to share a bit of cake with the kitchen staff and they gave it high praise, too.
Matt and Jenny kindly brought a big box of our centrepieces with floral arrangements from our Indian wedding reception over to Galiano and they were put to good use throughout the lodge:
With dinner and our sharing circle finished, we headed into the lodge for a night of good conversation and merry dancing.
After yet another short night of sleep, Harpreet and I said our goodbyes to anyone who was awake, then hit the road to catch our ferry to Mayne Island for minimoon part 1. We saw my parents again as they waited for their ferry, and we got to chat with Isabel and Ricardo who were en route to Pender Island.
On Mayne Island, we had the best midday nap ever at our rental cob cottage, then had dinner overlooking the ocean under bright pink and purple sunset skies while two orcas put on a show for us not too far off shore. This is the cob cottage where we stayed, and astute readers may notice we brought centrepieces with us here, too:
Harpreet spotted this cute tree frog on a pine in the Japanese garden:
After two restful nights on Mayne Island, we caught the ferry back to the mainland and spent a night at my parents’ place in Vancouver, before catching yet another ferry to Bowen Island for minimoon part 2.
Since the florals still looked amazing, we brought a few centrepieces to continue enjoying on Bowen, where we had made them a couple weeks earlier. We also went for some really nice walks to enjoy the beauty around us.
After a couple of peaceful nights and nice meals on Bowen, feeling much more human, we returned to the mainland so I could fly back to Ontario to work on the kitchen renovations and start my new job as a nurse on the neurosciences unit. Harpreet would catch up to me later. Most of the photos below are more renovation pics so if you’re not into that then scroll past to the end for one final wedding photo.
On arriving in Kingston I immediately got to work removing all the old kitchen backsplash tiles, chopping up the small countertop to access the pipes below, framing in a wall opening for a rangehood vent, adding more power outlets, and installing recessed ceiling lighting.
I got many splinters during this time, but this one was the most impressive in both its size and its ability to pierce so far through my skin:
By the night of October 1st I had lifted this and screwed in this sheet of drywall, with much frustration and sweat. I would definitely not recommend installing full sheets of drywall overhead without a second pair of hands or a drywall lift. Before:
I decided to use cement backer board to create a flat surface for the tile for the new backsplash, because the wall was super duper uneven and it would’ve been sooo much work to get it flat. A whole lot of shims ensured the backer board sits just right.
I was running out of time before Harpreet would arrive, and I knew she wouldn’t appreciate a kitchen with nothing working, so I set to work installing a power outlet for a dishwasher, staining a countertop, and getting some base cabinets ready in order to install the sink. The floor in this part of the house rises by over two inches in just twelve feet (5cm in 3.6m) which is pretty insane, so I had to do a lot of prep work to make all the cabinets sit level on the floor.
A few days after she arrived in Ontario, we took off for a few days of adventure in the Algonquin Highlands where we went for a few solid autumn hikes, visited a wolf sanctuary and a neat sculpture forest, and even got a canoe ride in!
Back in Kingston, I installed the sink and dishwasher, mounted a bunch of wall cabinets, Harpreet helped me install the rangehood over the stove, then in mid-November I fixed the gap in the floor created by taking out the old wall. This was much harder than I expected, but I eventually succeeded, and in doing so I took a lot of squeaks out of the floor.
Once the floor was in place, I put up the last base cabinets with another section of stained acacia wood countertop, and another power outlet for the temporary microwave home.
I also officially received my bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Toronto in mid-November, although I didn’t bother attending the virtual ceremony.
In the first week of December, I tiled the backsplash. It was my first time tiling so it’s far from perfect, but we were pretty happy with the outcome.
I was scheduled to work at the hospital the nights of Dec 24, 25, and 26 so Harpreet went back to BC to be with family for Christmas. In my time off work, I finished the kitchen cabinets so we could start using them and wired up some under cabinet lighting. I left a few details to be completed later, like the toekick and soffit, in order to turn my sights to yet another project.
On Dec 23, I started on my next project: redoing the bathroom floor, which was a collection of uneven tiles, many of which were cracked. This is how it looked when I started:
Harpreet would be arriving Dec 28 early morning, and I had three 12-hour night shifts in that period, but somehow I still thought I could get the floor done before she arrived. As it turns out, the flooring under the gnarly tile had lots of black mould and rotten parts so I had to remove a lot of it and sand the rest down to good wood while running three fans and a heater to dry it out; I had to remove the old toilet water inlet coming up through the floor and run a new water line inside the wall behind the toilet; I replaced the flange that connects the toilet to the stand pipe so the toilet water goes to the sewer; added loads of extra blocking between joists to stiffen up the floor and give the toilet something on which to sit securely; installed new plywood subfloor, blue waterproof underlayment, and vinyl plank flooring; and reinstalled the toilet.
I neeeearly made it, but Harpreet arrived with the last row and a half of flooring to be laid. Still, by the time we celebrated the end of 2021 we had a new bathroom floor.
We celebrated New Year’s Eve together at home by stuffing our faces from two charcuterie board spreads:
Because of COVID, this annual update has mostly comprised of renovation and wedding photos. We’re hopeful the next annual update will feature some international travel, and it will certainly include our relocation from Ontario back home to BC. We’re looking forward to spending more time with so many of our family and friends in the coming months, and as always I’d love to hear from you about your adventures in 2021. I still haven’t replied to everyone who wrote to me last year, but I will… eventually.
In closing, allow me to leave you with best wishes for 2022, and this epic double exposure wedding shot from Galiano Island: