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.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Signs of Spring

Today was a perfect spring day. Here are a few signs that spring has finally appeared in our neck of the woods!

The crocuses are in full bloom.
The magnolias are flowering.

The tulips are finally starting to poke their heads out of the ground.

But the real sign that spring has sprung is that outdoor projects are in full swing. The gazebo that we put up last spring was a casualty of this year's long winter. Instead of buying a new one, my husband decided he'd attempt to build a pergola from his own plans. I have great faith in his abilities and I'm sure it will be wonderful once it's done, but for now, THIS is the state of our deck. Yikes!

I'll keep posting as progress is made. Hopefully by next weekend our backyard won't be quite such a disaster area.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Scenes from the weekend

Today is April 14 which means that Spring started a few weeks ago, right? Well, you wouldn't know it from the view outside my front window this morning.

Not exactly the Spring-like weather that we're used to seeing mid-April. That's why I decided to do a few things to help me feel a little better about this sad situation. 

I had a bunch of lemons which I placed in one of my favourite blue and white bowls.

And speaking of blue...

Take a look at my newest purchase. The bag's turquoise interior and daffodil yellow lining just make me happy. 

I painted my nails with Crazy for chic, the brightest pink I could find. 

We opened up the last bottle of wine from our trip to Italy and pretended to be sipping it from a sun-filled patio.

I read the May issue of Style at Home cover to cover and dreamt about gardening and outdoor entertaining. 

And the very best thing about this weekend are the tulips that my husband brought home for me. I love tulips and, if I can't see them growing out of the ground, the next best thing is admiring them inside my house!

Thursday, April 4, 2013


I have not been a very consistent blogger lately. The long winter we've been having in Ottawa has left me feeling lethargic and uninspired...quite blah actually. But today the winter blahs are gone thanks to a one week escape to the sun. My husband and I started going away for one week holidays during winter a few years ago; sometimes with the kids, sometimes without. This year I felt the need for the getaway more than ever. The last few months have not been the easiest for me and I had been feeling quite frazzled and physically exhausted. The week away could not have come at a better time. 

During our little vacation I didn't do much other than lay out in the sun or the shade to read, eat delicious food, drink mojitos, take long walks on the beach and, surprisingly, run.  I say "surprisingly" because I have never been a very good or consistent runner, but for some reason, I enjoy running barefoot with the sound of the ocean cheering me on. After the second day, I started looking forward to our 4 o'clock runs on the beach. 

We went sailing twice. The water really is that clear and turquoise coloured.
The absolutely stunning infinity pool. 
We had a few of these burgers. I didn't think I would like egg on a burger, but they were quite delicious.
Last walk on the beach before returning home. 
Many hours were spent doing absolutely nothing under these cabanas.

After a week of this routine I'm feeling strong again and ready to face the real world. Bring it on world... but no more snow please, I've had just about enough of that!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

In a New York State of Mind

Those of you who have older teenagers know how difficult it can be to spend time together as a family. Lately, I'd been feeling as though we had all been going in different directions and it was time to find a way to reconnect. The solution: a quick four day trip to one of my favourite cities in the world, New York City!  

We drove from Ottawa to Poughkeepsie, in New York state, and then boarded a commuter train all the way in to Grand Central Station. It was a comfortable and interesting 1 hour and 45 minute ride along the Hudson River. I highly recommend this manner of travel...much more civilized than driving into the city yourself. 

We arrived in the late afternoon with plans to settle in and then go to the pizza place which I had found earlier on Trip Advisor. 

We arrived at our hotel in Murray Hill and went up to our room, opened the door and found this:

We joked that rock stars had been there before us and had trashed the room. No, it was simply that the room was scheduled for a complete cleaning and the front desk had not been informed. It all worked out because we were then re-assigned to a gigantic suite up on the 36th floor. The views from the two large windows were simply stunning and we spent a fair bit of time looking out those windows at the magnificent city all around us.

View out to the East River.

After all the excitement we were all very hungry and headed out to find our restaurant. We walked for a long, long, long time as apparently I had underestimated the number of blocks to San Matteo Pizzeria. Luckily when we finally got there, there was one table for four available. Very lucky because as soon as we sat down people started coming in looking for a place to sit and they were turned away. I'm so sorry that I forgot to take pictures of the place. Everyone around us spoke Italian and the owners seemed to know all the patrons. There was soccer memorabilia hanging on the walls and the tv was turned to the soccer channel, of course. We felt like we were back in Italy! And the pizza, ah the pizza, was absolutely delizioso. We all had different pizzas and no one was disappointed.

The next morning we headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We visit this museum every time we're in New York. In fact, Amélie always says that she wishes she could live inside the museum! The collections are stunning and there is always a cool new exhibit. This time it was Matisse.  Too bad we weren't allowed to take pictures. 

We also saw a few new things this time such as the Highline. Have you heard of this? The High Line is a public park built on a freight rail line above the streets of Manhattan. 

Walking down the Highline

Located on Manhattan's West Side, it runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues. Even in February it was an interesting walk but I'd love to go back and explore in the spring and summer.

That same day we also visited the Chelsea Market. This
 is an enclosed urban food court and shopping mall. An interesting fact about this place is that Chelsea Market was built in the former National Biscuit Company factory complex where the Oreo cookie was invented and produced. It was a cool place to visit for lunch but the only problem was that we weren't the only tourists who had decided to visit at lunchtime. The place was packed!

Walking through Chelsea Market...desperately looking for a place to sit and eat.
On our last day we did a bit of shopping, walked some more, took the subway and just soaked in all the special New York City energy. But the best part of the trip was spending time with my (almost) grown-up kids and reconnecting with them. Mission accomplished.

Friday, February 8, 2013


The view today from my comfy chair by the window.

It is snowing like crazy here today and it's a good thing that I had the day off because the last thing I want to do is go outside! I like these kinds of days as I feel like they give me permission for doing what I like best: snuggling in with a cup of tea and a good book. Aaahhh...paradise. For some reason I feel like sharing one of my very favourite books with you. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain is, in my opinion,  brilliant. You may have heard of it as Quiet is a New York Times Bestseller and the author is well-known for doing a Ted Talk on the subject. If you are an introvert yourself or if you have a spouse or a child who is, you MUST read this book. 

I did the test at the beginning of the book to find out if I was an introvert (even though I already knew the answer to that). Turns out I am introverted with an ability to be extroverted in key situations. In other words, even though I value and crave my alone time I am capable of appearing extroverted when the situation calls for it. At work, for example, or in social situations I don't have trouble making conversation with lots of people, it just means that at the end of a very social day I'm really quite tired and need to be by myself to recuperate. 

I only wish this book had been written years ago when my children were starting school. If this book had been available when they were younger I might have presented every one of their teachers with it at the start of the school year and kindly asked them to read it. That way I might not have had the same conversation with each of them during parent-teacher meetings from kindergarten to Grade 12. The conversation essentially goes like this: Your son/daughter is such a great kid. He/She is so polite, kind, listens well and is respectful towards the teacher and the other kids, BUT they don't participate enough in class. Really? Why did that matter so much to the teacher? The author explains that it is because teachers find it easier to teach what is called the extrovert ideal. Essentially, most teachers find it less work to teach the rowdier kid who lifts his hand to ask lots of questions (even the non-relevant ones) than the quiet, introverted child. Go figure.

Thanks in big part to this book I feel that there is a paradigm shift coming and the introverts of this world are starting to be valued for their gifts. After all, introverts are the thinkers and listeners of this world. I think Susan Cain says it best when she writes: "The next generation of quiet kids can and should be raised to know their own strength." Yay Susan!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Dinner with the Venetians

This weekend we were very happy to have our Venetian friends over for dinner.  My very first blog posts were about our trip to Italy. You can find my post about Venice here

I am not the most confident cook when it comes to dinner parties as I am always worried about the timing of things. When should I put the roast in? And what about the veggies? If I put things in the oven too early they will get mushy or dry, but if I wait too long I'll still be fussing in the kitchen when our guests arrive. I would much rather be having a glass of wine and catching up with everyone. 

This time I made things easier on myself by choosing an entire dinner party menu from the January issue of Real Simple magazine. The menu was easy to execute and the best part is that the article gives the reader a timeline to follow for a memorable, stress-free evening. And it worked! The food was good and I was free to chat away before sitting down to dinner.

I took some pictures of some of the dishes and then forgot to take pictures of others. Oops! So my solution was to photograph some of the dishes which are featured in the magazine. Sorry if they're blurry!

Carrots with spicy olive-lemon oil.  Steam 3 pounds of carrots for 6 to 8  minutes. Meanwhile, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 lemon (thinly sliced), 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives and 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper in a large skillet. Add this mixture, as well as 2 tbsp. fresh flat-leaf parsley, salt and black pepper to the carrots.

Herb-roasted pork shoulder. Very easy. Simply rub the pork with garlic, fresh rosemary and sage, 2 teaspoons of salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 3 hours and voilà!

The menu called for polenta but, instead, I prepared my tried and true roasted baby potatoes with olive oil and fresh rosemary.
Winter greens with fennel and croutons. Radicchio, Boston lettuce (I was supposed to use escarole but couldn't find any), fennel and home made croutons. Toss with olive oil, red wine vinegar, Kosher salt and pepper.

And the pièce de résistance...A vanilla cake with lemon icing baked by my daughter, Amélie. The menu from the magazine called for something else but we decided to go with this simple but delicious cake. The recipe is my great-grandmother's and a family favourite. Amélie played around a bit with it by substituting the icing's almond flavouring for fresh lemon juice and adding lemon zest to decorate. Absolutely yummy!

Our friends brought some lovely hostess presents. This stunning piece is from Murano. 
And they also brought this gorgeous bouquet of roses and hydrangeas. Fresh flowers in the middle of winter make me so happy.

It was a wonderful evening and we loved catching up with our friends from Venice. Now I'm looking forward to our next dinner party!