23.5.22

Vancouver Island

The last two years have been scary and limiting and most of us have stayed put for the most part. From working from home, homeschooling, and mass-closures (especially in my province, which had some of the strictest rules in North America regarding the Pandemic), understandably travels were put on hold or cancelled altogether. 

In the summer of 2020, Canada had closed it's borders to international travels, so our planned trip was of course cancelled. We knew we wanted to do something for Brad's three week holidays, but of course had to stay in Canada. Bonus points if we could find something socially distant and in nature, as we'd just passed six months of curfews and lockdowns in our tiny urban condo with five people and were going slightly crazy. Lockdowns were challenging for everyone, so I don't want to claim it was harder on us than anyone else, but I will say if you lived through the pandemic without a back yard and have kids, it was particularly grueling. 

Thankfully Canada is a huge country, so we were able to travel within the country and enjoy a little adventure whilst keeping Pandemic rules, testing, and masking. We went to Vancouver Island and spend all day every day outside on the secluded beaches and trails. It was wild to be in such an absolutely mind-blowing landscape and climate, yet still use Canadian dollars! I couldn't believe we were still in Canada as it's worlds away culturally and mentally from Montreal. 

We stayed in Victoria, renting our friends beautiful home while they were camping. Then we went on to Salt Spring Island, renting a rustic cabin that came with hens and a super gentle dog! What an idyllic, restful few days. Then last stop was Ucluelet, a surfing town just south of Tofino. We still visited Tofino, but Ucluelet was much more affordable. We met up with friends from Montreal who were camping out West the same time we were there and had a beach day, complete with wet suits (which was absolutely necessary as the water was *freezing*). 


We usually travel to urban locations, but for safety reasons and also to give our bodies and minds a rest from isolation in the city, this destination was the perfect choice for Summer 2020! 

We cooked all of our meals, both to save money and because restaurants, though open, didn't feel safe. Vancouver Island wasn't masking very much in 2020, but since we were coming from a much stricter environment with higher infection numbers it felt really strange and wrong not to. I should add that we all tested negative before travelling out West and wore our masks any time we were around people, but that wasn't too often as we were usually out on the forests or on the beach. 

It was all absolutely charming and the absolute best place to catch our breath. I am so grateful that this option was open to us in 2020. Of course, many would have chosen not to travel at all and I absolutely respect that. 

If you're looking for a Canadian getaway, I can't speak highly enough about Vancouver Island. The only drawback to this location is the price and sometimes the weather. It's quite chilly on the coast, and there were times I wore a thrifted winter coat that I found while there. It was August! We definitely didn't pack enough warm clothes. The cost of food was astronomical compared to Montreal. Everywhere, but especially as we travelled further West to Ucluelet and Tofino. Grocery shopping was on a strict budget, and we ate Raman and eggs for most suppers! In that sense it reminded me of Iceland - absolutely gorgeous but very expensive. Vancouver Island was such a dream! 

Victoria is a city I could see myself living in, and that's not something I have ever said about a Canadian city apart from our beloved Montreal! 

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!