16.2.22

My Secret to 90% off New Books

Books are probably the most common thing I buy besides groceries. Brad regularly requires books for work, I'm always looking to add to my collection, and I can't at all keep up with my kids who read way faster than I do (and love to re-read their favourites again and again like their mama). 


Yes, we love the library, but as I said we're re-readers and I'm nostalgic with my favourite books. If I'm not sure if I'll love it or I can tell it's a one-and-done kind of read, I opt to listen to the audio version on Scribd or borrow from the library. But I'm a book buyer through and through. I love paper books in my hands, I want to support the authors and the book industry, and having books around the house makes it feel like home. 


So yes, we buy a lot of books, but I'm going to share my secret with you. I buy a ton of them from The Book Outlet, which is a Canadian online discount store with incredible prices. They sell excess inventory and store returns purchased from various publishers. The books that I buy tend to cost $1-$5! Seriously, that's cheaper than my local thrift stores pricing! 


These books are new and in good reading condition, but 90% off! Here's a link for $5 off your first order of $25 or more. 




I'm about to start the book Midnight Blue, which was only $7 from The Book Outlet, and looks fantastic. It's about a young widow in Holland's Golden Age who escapes to Delft and begins painting  their iconic pottery (Delft Blue - fine china lovers IYKYK), revolutionizing the industry. They have so much historical fiction, which is my favourite genre.

They carry such a range too - I've bought Jamie Oliver cookbooks, Zondervan devotionals, Top Selling biographies and novels... everything! This isn't sponsored or in collaboration, but I had to share as I know many of you love books as much as we do!

6.2.22

The Best Herby Cheese Biscuits

I made a batch of these on Friday and we've been eating them all weekend with slow cooker chili. I knew I wanted a carb to go with our comforting winter chili (or any stew or soup, really), and cheese was on sale at the grocery, so I bought some cheddar and searched for a cheesy scone/biscuit recipe. There were so many but none that added herbs as I was hoping to do, and many used too much butter and cream, which felt redundant if you're already adding a lot of cheese. I love making scones, and always add tons of cream and butter in those, but with the cheese element it felt like unhealthy overkill. So I found several recipes and then significantly changed them until I came up with this.


INGREDIENTS
  • 2 cups flour (I used All Purpose)
  • 1 TB each baking powder, salt, and Herbs de Provence
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1.5 cups grated cheese (I used cheddar)
  • 1 cup milk (I used 2%)
  • 1 egg
STEPS
  • Whisk together flour, herbs, salt, and baking powder
  • Then cut in the butter with a fork or your hands, until well incorporated and no butter piece is larger than a green pea
  • Once flour and butter and mixed well, mix in grated cheese
  • Once those are mixed well, pour in milk and mix together with a fork or spatula
  • Mix into a ball, then roll out with rolling pin and added flour if need be (to prevent sticking to counter). Your rolled out dough should be about 1.5 inches/3cm high
  • Using biscuit cutters, cookie cutters, or a glass, cut biscuits into small circles. You could also cut into squares with a sharp knife.
  • Brush mixed egg on the tops of every biscuit (optional but really elevates the end result!)
  • Bake at 450 for 15 minutes

They are salty and light and delicious! I'm not a big cheese fan generally, but mixed into an herby, flaky bun I'm suddenly a devotee. Enjoy!

27.1.22

The Messy, Slow, Honest Middle

Before and After's are cool, but I'm here for the messy, slow, honest middle. 

Social media has taught us to expect quick fixes, filtered results, and picture perfect everything with minimal or invisible effort or hardship. Renovation TV would have us believe that in 27 minutes a home can be transformed. I know it's entertaining and mindless scrolling can be cathartic, but I worry that it's doing more damage to our hearts and psyche. It's simply not real life! I've always felt this, but the renovation is highlighting the sentiment in a new way. The messy, slow, honest middle is 99% of life and not only has it's place, but should be seen as beautiful.


This renovation will take close to a year and it's taken a decade of saving to get here. We're blessed with an amazing contractor who works hard and puts in full days, so it does feel in some ways like it's flying, but the reality is that we'll be in this stage of waiting for many many months. And prior to this work, we've dreamed of this home for years! Brad turns 40 this year and it will be the first time in 20 years of working from home that he'll have a private office (with an actual door!). Our three kids will have shared one bedroom for 11 years by the time we move into this larger home. Eleven years, and beautiful ones. 

The years we spent dreaming and waiting and learning to be content in our circumstances weren't wasted or to be wished away. They made us. I pray we never forget the lessons from those years, and don't waste the ones in the months to come.

Here's to patience, contentment and diligence in the not yet.

20.1.22

The Before Tour!

We are endlessly grateful for our new home! You can read about how we came to own it here. Now for the fun part - pictures! I did a video tour over on Instagram, which is saved in the highlight "⌂ before" but I've always preferred still photos to get a sense of a space, so here are a few. 

The home is a Greystone triplex built in 1905 and we have the main floor unit/condo, as well as adding a small basement. The basement is already dug but not connected to our home (the access is outside) so one of our biggest projects will be connecting our condo to the basement by building a staircase, and finishing the basement. When the basement is complete we'll have 1,800 square feet which is astonishing to us! We never dreamed of having this much space in the city (for reference, our family of five has been happily living in 1,000 square feet for 12 years).

We'll be putting in heated floors, new pre-engineered hardwood on the whole main floor, heated ceramic in the bathrooms, totally renovating the kitchen, taking down walls, rebuilding walls, installing a gas fireplace, renovating the bathrooms, changing the electricity and all finishings. In short, it's going to be a big project! Thankfully, I've been designing my dream city home in my head (and on Pinterest) for years now, so the decisions have been quite easy to make and planning has been relatively simple. We hired an architect to help us make sense of the basement and staircase, and a structural engineer to verify his plans. We also have a general contractor who will oversee and do much of the work, but we're saving a lot by sourcing all materials and professionals (engineers, electricians, etc) ourselves which avoids the contractor's 10-30% finders fee. 

Here's our entryway and huge 20 foot hallway! The crown moldings throughout are so magical. We also love the high ceilings! The new floors will have much wider and longer planks which will make this hallway really shine, I think! I'll be looking for the perfect narrow hallway table. We also have a really fun Spanish tile for the vestibule between the two sets of front doors. We'll be removing the radiators, opening the wall between the first two doorways to the left, and refreshing the paint (though keeping it white).


Our living room right now is quite small, but we're taking down the wall to make it larger. On the other side of the wall is a small bedroom/office which we decided to remove in favour of a comfortable large family room. We'll be installing built-in shelves on either side of the center space where a fireplace once was (wood burning fireplaces are no longer allowed in Montreal) and putting a frame TV there. We're also planning to install a gas fireplace on the wall of the former bedroom/office which will become the second half of our living room. The stairs to the basement will probably begin near where you see the large radiator above, and jut out into the former bedroom/office. Removing the radiators, adding recessed lighting and new floors, too.

Above is the wall that will come down to enlarge the space

Here's the wall that will come down from the POV of the bedroom/office

Here's the wall in the bedroom/office that will have our gas fireplace

Really glad to be adding another window to the living room! We've never had much natural light in our current condo so this is really amazing to us!

The dining room and kitchen will soon be one big room as we're planning to take down the wall which separates them. Here's the dining room:

Above you can see the loadbearing wall which will stay. The door into the dining room will all be open.

Here's the wall which will go down to open up the kitchen and dining room. You can see that it used to be open and a previous owner closed it off.


The dining room and kitchen will both have the same heated pre-engineered hardwood floors, new lighting, and removed radiators. We plan to sell the old doors and radiators as there's a big market for them here! It's been hard to know what to salvage when renovating a hundred year old home, but when we level the floors the doors won't fit at all and they're already very creaky and cracked, so we're ready to part with them. Same with the radiators - I know they're beautiful, but heated floors are by far the most comfortable and sustainable option. Radiators are also really difficult for furniture placement as they take up a lot of wall room.

The kitchen is being completely demolished and re-done! We have already designed our kitchen with Ikea and begun receiving boxes from them. When our order is complete we'll have Ikea in to assemble and install. Ikea kitchens are so easy to design and by far the best price available!  Ikea is also doing our quartz counters and backsplash. Thankfully we bought our counters during a 15% off quartz sale at Ikea, so we were able to afford doing a quartz backsplash with the savings. I've always loved the look of a continuous counter and backsplash, but quartz isn't cheap, so didn't think it was a possibility. 

This space near the back door used to be where the laundry was situated, but we're putting ours downstairs so this area will be a coat room of sorts, since we'll probably use our backdoor more than the main entrance.


Next up is the family computer area, which was really important to us! We believe strongly that kids shouldn't have their devices or internet access in their bedrooms if at all possible. Screen time can already be very isolating, so the idea of having their screen time in a communal, family space seemed like a step in the right direction. Social media pressures, cyber bullying, and pornography are real threats to children, so we made the decision long ago to prioritize togetherness and safety for screen time. We're really grateful to have this computer room area, but if we didn't have it, we had planned to have the family computer (doubles as my work computer) in the living room. We plan for there to either be no door to this room or a glass door - not sure yet!


Next is the solo kid room, which for now will be Lily's, but later on be Oli's. After 12 years of all three sharing, we're really happy to have two bedrooms to share between our three kids now! Oli and Chloe are very close right now so we opted to have them share for now, but as everyone gets a bit older, our girls will share. The solo kid room will double as our guest room when our out of town friends and family visit, so it will have a queen sized bed. This room needs new walls entirely! One wall will come down and be set back to make this bedroom a bit bigger. We're keeping the light though - I love it!


The kids' shared room is the largest room in our house and will sleep Chloe and Oli to start and later on, Lily and Chloe. I plan to write a long post about why we see no problem with room sharing, and in particular brothers and sisters sharing rooms, because my goodness have I received a lot of comments and questions! We won't be dividing this room because there's only a window on one side, for one, but mostly because we think it's a lovely large room that's perfect for sharing! More on that later. I love how they get a nice big window and an exposed brick wall. Like everywhere else, we're changing the floors, removing the radiators, and adding recessed lighting. You can see it's working to house all of the boxes for our Ikea kitchen right now!


Finally, the main bathroom. Currently the only bathroom, but we'll be adding a second one in the basement, which will also be where our bedroom is, the laundry cubby, Brad's tiny office, and a small bonus room which will just be big enough for a small couch and a TV. This bathroom is currently in two parts, one toilet room (without a sink) and one sink and shower room. We're uniting the two and borrowing space from our pantry to make the bathroom quite spacious for our kids and guests. The kids bathroom will have two sinks as well, which I think will help us out a lot in the teenage years!


Here's our little pantry which will be smaller after the bathroom renovations, but still more than I could ever have dreamed of! Storage in the city is so rare. Currently under my bed is a jumbo box of Costco freezies and other non-perishables. You just put things wherever you can! So having this pantry, even in a diminished size, is a huge blessing.


Obviously this tour lacks basement pictures, but I promise, it's just a hole in the ground at this point! I can't wait to share more and include you on this journey. We feel incredibly thankful to have this old, city home to call our own. Thanks for sharing in our joy! 

19.1.22

We're Moving!

This blog has become many things over the years, but it began as a place for me to share our newlywed nest with my family living a province away. From the start, it's been about making a home with a small budget, DIYs, thrift finds, and making our Montreal flat truly ours. From that initial rental, where we brought baby Lily home from the hospital, to our current home which we bought 11 years ago when I was pregnant with Oli, I've loved documenting where we call home. And now there will be a new space to fill the pages of this blog and our hearts. Yes, we're moving!

In front of our new home! 

After almost 11 years in our tiny condo, we are thrilled to be moving to a larger home in our neighbourhood! We've been so happy in our current home and it will be emotionally hard to leave. So many memories have been made here. But at the same time, we're ready. Our three kids, ages 8, 10, and 11 have shared one bedroom for their entire lives. We have never been able to offer our overnight guests more than our couch for the night, and have been limited in a lot of ways in this small space. That said, I am so grateful for the 11 years in a quite small condo, as it's taught me so much and really shaped our family culture and values toward minimalism and contentment. 

We started looking for a new home in 2021, though I'd regularly been browsing MLS for years prior to seriously looking. For us, our non-negotiables were three bedrooms, some sort of office space for Brad, who works from home, and staying in our neighbourhood, Le Plateau-Mont-Royal. Anything else was negotiable. Old homes, modern builds, triplexes, single-dwelling, sky rise buildings... anything was a possibility so long as we had one more bedroom than we have now and could stay in our beloved neighbourhood. The challenge being that Le Plateau is not known for spacious homes, three-bedroom homes, or affordable homes. The vast majority of homes in our neighbourhood have 1-2 bedrooms and are well under 1,000 square feet. It's a densely populated area with homes packed in like sardines, which coincidentally is one of the things we love about living here! The community, the vibe, the architecture... It's all so lovable. But house hunting here is tough. 

We were fortunate to buy our current home, which has two bedrooms and two bathrooms and is 1,000 square feet, over a decade ago. Buying back then meant that house prices were much more affordable, so going on to our second home was less intimidating, having that equity from our first place. But still, we were looking for months before we found anything in our budget with our non-negotiables. We had a lot of homes that felt right and fell through our fingers, some at the very last minute. Our hearts were broken more than once, especially one place where we had an accepted offer and the sale was nullified by the City after it was discovered that the seller had done illegal work and the home wasn't to code to sell. 

So what's our new place like?! You may have seen the video tour on Instagram, but I'll explain more in detail soon. The funny thing is that we'd seen our new home on MLS during our many searches, but never seriously considered it. For one, it needs a lot of work. The back porch is also shared with many neighbours, so there isn't much privacy, which was a hard pill to swallow since we have a quite large back balcony in our current condo. Now those elements don't bother us, as there is a large front porch and we have a great team working with us to renovate it, but at the time, it felt impossible. After losing the home where we had the accepted offer Brad suggested we circle back to what is now our new home. We couldn't really remember why we were so against it earlier and decided to visit. 

It was so bright! So many windows! And really large for our neighbourhood! Plus there was a possibility of finishing our portion of the basement, giving us even more space! But most importantly, it's in the heart of our neighbourhood and has enough bedrooms and office space. When we inquired we also found out that not a single offer had been put on the home. This is likely due to the fact that the market isn't as hot for larger homes in need of a lot of repair. During the pandemic many families left the city, and since our home is part of a triplex, it can't be used as an Airbnb according to the bylaws. Thus, the home of our dreams was untouched on the market and we ended up getting it for under asking price. I still can't believe it. It really feels like God saved it for us. 

I can't wait to share the before pictures and all of our plans for the home with you! 

17.1.22

Christmas, at last.

This Christmas was so incredibly special. With Christmas 2020 being a social distanced affair, lacking the togetherness we so sorely needed, Christmas 2021 felt all the more profound. The hugs were stronger, the gatherings were richer, the laughs were louder and the food was sweeter. 

Of course, we're still in a pandemic, so we didn't take gathering for granted, but as every member of our families is double vaccinated (except the kids who have had their first dose) and we all tested negative 24 hours before seeing each other, we felt we could go on to be together. As my family lives eight hours from Montreal, it had been over two years since I'd seen my grandmother and the kids' great grandma. How incredible to lay eyes on her again! 

Here are some photos of our three gatherings, in black and white. First we went to Fonthill, a little hamlet in Niagara at the southern part of Ontario where I grew up and where my sister and her family live, along with my parents and grandma. My sister's kids are only four and five, so two years without seeing them felt like meeting a brand new niece and nephew! Our kids reveled in the reality of cousins and we had incredible drinks and food for the three days we were with them! Gifts the first night with my parents at their house, then on to Lisa's house for the next two nights, with my parents visiting daily to join for meals.


 
After Fonthill we headed to an Airbnb we rented in Kawartha Lakes, Ontario. Along with Brad's brothers Mike and Rob, we rent an Airbnb for five days and take turns receiving Brad's parents, who have both re-married. It's a really easy way to be able to see everyone without driving all over! The first two nights we were with Brad's mom and Bruce, her husband, then they left and Brad's dad and his wife, Deb arrived for two nights. Finally we had one night just the "kids" before heading back to Montreal. 

Since Brad's parents live in Quebec and Ontario and his brothers are both in Ontario, we always choose a halfway point for the Airbnb, though this year it wasn't super central. We were just happy to find a space with the pandemic rules and everything! I highly recommend the Airbnb approach if you're part of a mixed family navigating seeing several sets of grandparents/parents! Plus with everyone chipping in, it's very affordable.


We live far from family, so gatherings like this only happen once or twice a year, and obviously less due to Covid. What a beautiful and truly enchanted time together. I'm thankful that we were all able to stay healthy and safe during the week together, and that our relationships with these dear ones could pick up right where we left off two years ago. 

Christmas began with a generous gift from a Father, and we felt that spirit of love and generosity throughout the week. My sister and her husband Andrew hosted us with some of the most delicious food and drinks imaginable, our kids were showered with gifts from their aunt and uncles and grandparents, and we laughed until our faces hurt many times. Our hearts left that week on a high, and Christmas worked it's magic once again.