Saturday, March 8, 2014

Milestone Birthday for my Mom

Last week we celebrated my mother's 70th birthday. If you were to meet her in person I think you would be very surprised to hear this because she looks nowhere near her age. Don't believe me? The photo below was taken a few weeks ago.

See, I told you she doesn't look her age! Yes, she is a beautiful woman but more importantly, she is the kindest person you could ever hope to meet. She was (and still is) a gentle mother who always put her children's needs first. And now she is a doting, loving grand-mother to five grand-kids ranging in age from 20 months to 20 years. Our kids love many, many thing about their grand-mother but the one thing that they seem to mention all the time is her cooking. She is a gifted cook, one that could give many highly paid chefs a run for their money! 

The photo above was taken in the Bahamas a week before Mom's birthday. Although my parents are avid travellers they had never before travelled South to escape winter. This year was different as they decided to accompany us on our week-long vacation with the kids. We had a wonderful time and the weather was glorious but, as usual, it was hard to adjust back to winter temperatures when we came back to Ottawa. This is why I thought that the perfect theme for Mom's March 1st birthday party would be "The Beach".  If she could not  be at the beach for her birthday why not bring a little bit of the beach to her.

The table and mantel were decorated with starfish and shells from various trips.

We prepared Vietnamese roll-ups in rice paper as appetizers. 

My sister and her husband cooked a scrumptious Thai curry for the main course. The red peppers were stuffed with quinoa.

With our daughter Amélie being away at university we have temporarily lost the baker of the house so we bought a chocolate mousse birthday cake from the local bakery. 

Proud grand-mother with four of her grand-kids

Even the present we found her was perfect for the beach theme party. Through serendipity I 
found her a necklace with pale blue crystal beads and a gold starfish. I had not been looking for a necklace but when I walked into the jewelry store near my workplace at lunchtime it was the very first thing I saw. Meant to be for sure.

Cassandre helping her grand-mother with her new necklace.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Kitchen Reno (the final chapter)

The kitchen reno was finished a few weeks ago. We are thrilled with the outcome but don't have any burning desire to ever do a kitchen renovation again. All in all it was a fairly easy process with the one exception being that our cabinet installer turned out to be a pretty big diva. I will never forget one memorable occasion when he had an all-out screaming match with his boss because he didn't want to do what was being asked of him. My husband stood next to them looking bemused while I wisely hung out on the deck with Daisy watching all the drama unfold. It was quite entertaining I must say! Everything worked out in the end as the diva installer did what had been asked of him in the first place (all the while mumbling and cursing under his breath). We can now add this anecdote to our repertoire of kitchen reno stories! 

One of my favourite details of the new kitchen is the open shelves with subway tile behind. I filled the shelves with an eclectic mix of pretty and useful things. I have a thing for bowls and tend to collect them wherever I go. Here I've mixed bowls from Japan, Mexico and the Yukon. Weird combination of places I know!

Another of my favourite things are these pendant lights which we found at Zone in Ottawa. It's almost impossible for me to walk out of that store without buying something for myself or for the house.

You may recall in my previous post that I had asked the company that built our cabinets to spray paint the table and chairs in the same paint that was used for the cabinets. That was a decision that we were really happy to have made as it meant that we were able to reuse our furniture which we still liked very much but which looked dingy against the bright white cabinets.

As you can see, we went against the norm and had the island seating facing away from the kitchen instead of inward. The reason is simple: we love our leafy backyard and prefer to look outside while having breakfast rather than staring at the stove and microwave. Most kitchen designers tried to dissuade us from doing this but we are happy that we didn't listen to them.

So now that the kitchen is done we can start planning for our next reno which won't be for another year at least. Master bathroom with the sad vinyl flooring: Get ready, you're next! 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Letter to my daughter

Dear Amélie,

Today was your first day of class at university. How did that happen? I sometimes still picture you as the sweet little blonde girl that I dropped off at kindergarten all those years ago. I cried that day as soon as I turned the corner. I cried a little too when I said good-bye to you in your dorm room. That was harder than dropping you off at kindergarten. On the drive home your brother, your dad and I were pretty quiet. I'm sure we were all thinking about how much we're going to miss having you around the house. I kept thinking about all the things that I might have forgotten to tell you over the years. Are you ready for this? Am I ready for this? I guess we'll find out.

In the weeks when you had to decide which university offer you were going to accept I kept wavering between hoping you would choose the one that is only a 15 minute bus ride from home and then hoping that you would choose the one that is a 2 hour drive away. I wanted to keep you close to me at the same time that I wanted you to choose the more adventurous option. To no one's great surprise you chose to be adventurous. As much as I miss making you a cup of tea every night and lying on your bed so you can tell me all about whatever amazing thing some YouTuber posted, I now have to content myself with stalking you on Facebook to see the photos of you with your new friends. I'm living vicariously through you and wish that I had had the same kind of experience that you're having...well, maybe minus the rolling around in the mud and having people throw shaving cream at me, I don't think I would have liked that part.

So maybe I didn't tell you everything you needed to know before leaving, but hopefully I taught you the important things. One thing I didn't need to teach you was to be kind, because you are and always have been such a kind person. Don't ever let life change that about you. 

One thing's for sure I'm not worried about you, I know you'll be fine. You'll be more than fine, you'll be great. And keep posting those pictures on Facebook so I can see your beautiful, smiling face. Oh and work hard, don't forget that you're at university to get an education too, not just to have people throw shaving cream at you. 


Your mom  

Friday, July 26, 2013

Kitchen Reno (nearly done!)

Well it's been a little over a month since the kitchen renovations started and I'm happy to say that they are nearly done. Good thing because I've just about had it. Juggling full time work with a complete kitchen reno has just about done me in. Thankfully we chose to do this during the summer when barbecuing and dining on the deck was an option. I can't imagine doing this in February! 

As I sit here typing, the quartz countertops are being installed. All of the tradespeople who have been in our house have been incredibly polite and professional but I have to say that I am really looking forward to having the house back to myself and not sharing it with a constant stream of strangers. And so is Daisy the dog!

One of the most stressful things for me in this process was wondering whether the reality of the new kitchen would match the idea of the kitchen that I've been carrying around in my head for the last year. And I am happy to say that the actual real-life kitchen is even better than the one I was dreaming of. 

My very favourite part of the kitchen is the island. Its walnut top is quite stunning if I do say so myself. And the large pot drawers are way more practical than the disaster of a corner drawer we had before.

A friend suggested that I give a few tips and tricks for anyone considering a kitchen reno. My number one tip would be to hire a designer. Most kitchen cabinet companies offer this service for free and they will do plans even before you have signed a contract with them. During this process we had three different companies draw some plans and, although they were all pretty similar, we ultimately went with the designer with whom we had a connection from the start. She just seemed to get us and our style and we found out later that the style of kitchen we wanted was exactly what she would choose for herself. It really helps to work with someone who is excited about the project.

Also, make sure that the designer actually comes to your house before drawing up the plans. One designer never bothered to come and we were getting annoyed as she kept putting in a wall oven in her design plans even though we kept insisting that a) we did not own a wall oven and b) we had no intention of installing one. 

Another tip I would have is to not be afraid of speaking up if something doesn't seem quite right to you. For instance, our electrician had roughed in the pendant lights before the island was installed which meant we had to guess where the lights should be placed. Once the island was in its proper place it was clear to my husband and me that one of the lights was just a little "off". Thankfully, our contractor agreed and had the electrician come back and move the light by a few inches. Much better.

Here are a few pictures that were taken over the last two and half weeks. 

Sugar approves of the large drawers.

We were debating whether we needed to get new stools but decided to keep them because we still like them. Instead, we will have them spray painted in a bright white to match the cabinetry. We will do the same with our kitchen table and chairs which are off-white.

Side view of the island, my favourite thing about the new kitchen. You can tell from this picture that there is still an upper cabinet door missing as the holes for the pulls were not drilled in the proper place. A costly mistake for the kitchen supplier because they now have to build a new door.

And now...tada! a picture of the brand new dark grey quartz countertops which were installed less than an hour ago. The guys also put in our new (very deep) kitchen sink. We opted for a one large single sink rather than a traditional double sink, mostly because we rarely do dishes by hand.

So we are now entering the home stretch. Next week, the plumbing will be done, the drywall where the light was moved will be repaired and the backsplash will be installed. After that, I'm taking a nice, long vacation and enjoying the kitchen of my dreams. Cheers to that!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Kitchen Reno (here we go!)

As I sit here typing I am also watching men carry in the parts to our brand-new kitchen. This moment has been a long time coming! As anyone who has ever been through a kitchen renovation knows, the entire process is incredibly long and all-consuming. For us, it started about a year ago when I opened the corner cabinet and three pots fell out. My husband came running when I yelled: "I hate this kitchen!" And that was that. From that moment on my every thought was consumed with the details of our new kitchen.

I started by tearing out images from the stacks of magazines I had collected over the years and pasting them onto a large poster board (sort of like a 3rd grade school project). One thing was clear when I stepped back and looked at my collage, the style I was coveting was a classic white kitchen, not too fussy and hopefully not too trendy. I still wanted to love it in 15 years. 

Now seems like the perfect time to show you the kitchen we are replacing. It was still in good condition and I had some friends openly question our decision to spend big bags of money on a new kitchen when our old one was perfectly fine. But the heart wants what the heart wants. And this heart wants a new white kitchen.

Original kitchen with new(ish) appliances. 

This is the state of my kitchen right now...

And this is my dining room...

Finding food is an adventure.

Choosing the colour and style of the kitchen was easy but everything else was not. When I started pulling images from magazines I was 100% certain that we would be putting in marble countertops. But after nearly every person I spoke to, including our kitchen designer, questioned the soundness of putting in marble in the kitchen I caved and started looking for an alternative. 

My second choice was quartz. I thought I had found the perfect one from Cambria. On a small scale, Cambria's Torquay does a good job of imitating marble. On a large scale, not so much.

Finally, we settled on Devon. From Cambria's Desert Collection, this is how the company describes it: "Awash in gray and black, much like waves rumbling through the pebbly coves of Devonshire, England. Peaceful, neutral and simple, Devon is unmistakably the new black for contemporary or traditional rooms". Very poetic, I know, but hopefully it will look as good as its description. I guess we'll find out in a few weeks when it is installed.

In the meantime, here's a photo of my sample of Devon.

It looks concrete gray in this picture but in the natural light there's a hint of a brown undertone. 

By tomorrow progress will have been made and I'll be able to post a few more photos. Wish me luck and lots and lots of patience!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Peony Garden

It is nearly the end of June and so I feel I must write about my favourite flower. Lilacs have a wonderful scent and roses are romantic but I believe there is no flower lovelier than the peony. Mid-June, when my flower beds are resplendent with peonies, is my favourite time of year. Although they don't flower for very long, I make the most of it by cutting masses of the flowers and placing them in every room in the house. My work cubicle is also a little cheerier at this time of year as there is always a bouquet of these beauties on the corner of my desk. I find it interesting that co-workers who don't normally notice flowers comment on my peonies. It seems that no one is immune to this flower's beauty and scent. 

There are several varieties of peonies and they flower at different times so over a period of about a month there is always a peony to be found in my garden. Unfortunately, it has been raining heavily in Ottawa today so I fear that I have enjoyed the last of them. 

I knew nothing of these flowers when we moved into our brand new home 15 years ago. We had a great big empty yard with no flower beds, no trees, nothing but lawn. Fortunately, my dad who is a very talented gardener helped us out by designing and planting several large flower beds. He also transplanted some of his own peony plants into our garden beds. This means that the peony plants in our garden are over 30 years old and they are as beautiful as ever. 

The first variety to bloom in our garden. I don't know its name but its deep burgundy colour and peppery scent are heavenly.

Once again, I don't know this variety's name but I call it the tutu peony as it reminds me of a ballerina's skirt.

In full bloom. Most people stake their peonies but I do not because I like how gracefully they fall towards the ground.
One of many bouquets that I keep around the house during peony season.

Until next year, lovely peony, I look forward to seeing you again.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Spreading their wings

This past weekend was an emotional one. Saturday morning, bright and early, our son Tristan left for the Yukon. He will be gone for three months to work at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse. Three months is a long time to be separated from your child, even when he happens to be a 6'1 nineteen year-old. 

This is the second summer that he leaves home to go North. I knew that he had had a wonderful experience last summer but it still surprised me a little when he announced that he had intentions of leaving again this year. Not only does he enjoy working with the kids as a summer camp counsellor but he also gets to spend time with his family members who live in Whitehorse. It really is a fantastic experience for a young man and I'm happy for him, but still, I do miss him (and not only because he's our resident techie and mower of lawns).

Before he left he helped his dad finish building the pergola. I've included a few pictures of the work in progress. The structure itself is done and I must say that I'm very proud of my men, it looks fantastic! Now we wait for the canvas cover to come back from the shop. 

Tristan, helping out his dad.

Here is the pergola without its canvas cover. (Daisy really wanted to be in the picture, she kept staring at me, waiting for me to take it.)

The same day that Tristan left was also my daughter Amélie's last dance recital with the dance studio she had been attending since the age of six. That's 11 years of memories and it was a very difficult thing for her to say goodbye to that part of her life. She has chosen to attend university away from home in September and so it is natural that she is mourning the things she has to leave behind. Still, she is a very tough cookie, so when she walked towards us sobbing after leaving the stage for the last time it was heartbreaking for her family to watch. Why oh why do children have to grow up so fast?

Watching Amélie dance so beautifully and confidently I kept hearing the lyrics to a song she introduced me to the other day, by Little Mix. The lyrics go something like this: 
"Mama told me not to waste my life, she said spread your wings my little butterfly". 

And that's exactly what my butterflies are doing.