Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Party House

One of the reasons for our renovation was to create a better space for entertaining.  We usually had a least one big party a year but it had to be in the summer so we could use our outdoor space.  We have occasional dinner parties, and we love it when the kids' friends hang out at our place.

Last weekend, we tested out our new space with a Movember Stache Bash.  We ended up with about 75 invited guests at a family-friendly, buffet dinner and go-as-long-as-the-last-person-is-standing shindig.

How did the house do in its first real test as an entertaining space?

1 - We used the office as a bar - worked well until the end of the night when 15 people were jammed in the office and I had to move all the booze back to our much more generously sized kitchen.  Lesson learned: kitchen parties are centered in the kitchen because the booze is in the kitchen.

Why are these women wearing moustaches?

Could something here be to blame?

2:  The kitchen did work well as a gathering spot as intended.  Great place to chat near the snacks and ice.  Big island is good!

One corner of the kitchen

Photo courtesy of G. Hayes

3. I didn't take any pics of the buffet in progress as I was a bit too busy running to meet the needs of the kids at the party.  Note that although there were about 35 kids at the party, none are featured in the pics.  That is because they were tucked away in the basement rec. room or upstairs.  We ran two movies to keep the little ones happy so that we could all party down.
Here are some of the stache themed treats from the party.  I admit, I love theme food.  Ask anyone!
Photo by K. Thibeault

Mo Cookies - Photo thanks to K. Thibeault

We got several requests to make our Stache Bash an annual event, so in terms of creating a place for entertaining, mission accomplished.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


(I wrote most of this on Thansgiving weekend!  I was afraid that I had missed people so I am not publishing until now.  I'm sure that I did forget to mention people who have been supportive, so thank you first to everyone who has supported us!)

We are back at home and feeling grateful in so many ways.  First of all, we are so lucky that we were able to undertake this project.  When we look around our renewed home we can't believe our good fortune! 

We are incredibly grateful to our kind hosts during the time we had to be out of our home.  First, Kerry, Dino and family - they let us live in their home just two doors away and they made it seem like we were doing them a favour!  That is just the kind of people they are. 

Then, former neighbours Jen and Craig let us squat in their already sold home until the new owner took possession.  I know you won't believe our good fortune, but that house was just two doors in the other direction.  We are so grateful for your generosity!

Of course, we have an amazing family.  Drew's parents took us in in June when we had to vacate out house earlier that expected.  And in September, they took us in again.  The experience of never having to cook a meal or pour my own cocktail in the first weeks I was back to work  in September was unbelievable.  Thank you to Nan and Granddad for welcoming us as long-term house guests and for making our lives so much easier.  We promise we will eventually move all of our boxes out of your basement.

I want to express my gratitude to my mom and dad.  My parents gave me a very generous 40th birthday gift (a few years back ;) ) which allowed us to take care of most of our first mortgage.  It is hard to imagine that my dad won't get to see our house all finished.  He would have loved it!  Our guest room has been dubbed "Gran's room" and she has already had the first of what we hope will be many overnighters.   

Now all the other thanks:
Thank you to all of our neighbours for their patience and support.

First, to our immediate neighbours, those most impacted by the disaster construction zone.  I know that living beside a port-a-potty in the summer was no fun but you were still supportive.  Amazing!  Mark, Fiona and kids, Henrietta and Pete - thanks for being so darn cool during this long summer!

Kurt and Lois - thanks for inspiring the whole thing.  When you did your big reno a few years back, you set the bar for making a small home broken into separate rooms into a comfortable and spacious place.  I know that we had the "loudest reno ever", even on some weekends, but thanks for putting up with us with such grace.

Peter and Sheila - you saved our July.  The kids were not totally on board with the "renocation" and not going away for most of the summer.  Seeing your orange flag go up signalling that your flag was open to the neighbourhood was always a welcome and refreshing diversion. This summer many generous friends of friends also opened their pools  - thanks!

If you haven't started to get the picture yet of how amazing our street is, then read on, because there is more.

Our kids feel at home in most homes on our street, but none more so than the homes of their best friends who happen to be neighbours.

Paul and Andrea were always open to the kids joining them and their daughter (my daughter's BFF) so that Drew and I could head out on one of our many shopping outings for house supplies.It never seemed like a bother to them and the offer was always open to both kids. These two have been our friends since before we arrived on the street.  We moved in in September 1999.  A few months later, they showed up at our door to tell us they were looking at houses in the hood and would 5 doors away be too close. It has been great!

Jen and Rick, other reno-inspiring neighours, also kept their doors open to us and our kids during the reno. Their older son is our son's BFF and their younger son has said he wants to marry our daughter.  (It was later revealed that he really just wanted to live in our lego-filled basement, but you are like family anyway, K!)   A quick text or call and the kids were happily occupied while we ran around to tile, bathroom, electric stores.  I have to add that I never enter either of the above-mentioned homes without being offered a delicious and stress-relieving beverage.

To all of you who poured us a glass, asked how things were going, complimented the progress, toured the construction site, commented on how fast things were going, provided boxes, took the kids off our hands.... the list goes on.... THANK  YOU!!!  

I will update the thank you list as time goes on and my feeble brain remembers.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Botox for Our Home

It has been a month since my last post. No surprise  - there seems to be some connection to my return to work!  Things have been very busy at our site/house.

One of our neighbours commented after seeing the refinished exterior of our home that the stucco had taken 20 years off our house.  I don’t think that she meant that our house looked like it was built in the 80s!  Instead, it is like the house had a facelift.  We had a colour consult on the exterior and it was worth it to me. 
The new windows add to the new and improved face of our house.

We are moving back home in a few days.  All the plumbing is working, rooms have been painted and the floors are being varnished tomorrow. There will still be some finishing in the inside and  work on the outside left to do, including posts for the front porch and building the side entrance.   Here are some sneak peeks of some of the almost finished rooms.
Cupboards waiting for doors

Master bath in progress
We have been living at my in-laws for the past three weeks.  We have all been spoiled terribly.  Thank you for the hospitality, Nan and Granddad!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

In the Thick of Things!

Wow!  I thought things were busy at our house a few weeks ago.  I am hoping that now is the really busy time because if the need for immediate decisions gets any heavier, my head might just blow off!  Interestingly, people keep asking me why I don't seem stressed.  Hmm... I must be hiding it better than I thought.

Decisions made in the last few weeks seem to be about things we thought we had decided.  For example, we picked lovely bathroom tile for the master bath but, it is back ordered and we couldn't hold up the work.  So we had to go on the hunt for a similar tile (bathroom colour was based on the tile) that was available to work with the timeline.

More reno fun, our side door and our front door both arrived just slightly wrong but the problems were significant enough that the doors need to be returned.  The front door came with a very shiny white finish (it was meant to be paintable) and the side door opened the wrong way (into the light switches!)

We also had to chose a different granite because the slabs we picked were not big enough for the island, we had to pick paint colours, hinges and door knobs, tile patterns, etc.  Phew!  No wonder that when I was out for a much needed girls night I was yawning before 10 PM. 

New windows and roof over entrance
All in all, the process has been stressful but exciting.  We have all our new windows and stucco is ready to start this week which will completely change the face of our house.  Stay tuned for photos.  Here are some recent shots

The kids heading in to scope out the colours in their rooms
We have the unbelievable good fortune to be able to stay on our street for July and August.  Thank you this time to J & C,  we have stayed within two doors of our house during most of the construction process.

There have been two good omens in the past week.  I walked into the house one night last week to find several of my neighbours walking around our kitchen family room-to-be, wine glasses in hand.  I look forward to celebrating the end of this process with friends properly in that very room when we are back in our home.

Then this evening we had this sight over the house.  It has to be a good sign, right?
I hope that you can see the rainbow! Note that the gray on the house is not the stucco colour but the wall preparation for stucco.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Beehive of Activity

It is very handy to be so close to our house during renovation. (Thanks again, K & D!)  I could hear the buzz of activity outside this morning.  OK, so the buzz was really the sound of insulation being pumped into the house but there is quite a bit going on this morning.

In addition to the insulation, scaffolding is up in preparation for removing the old siding, putting in the new windows and putting on the stucco.  There are at least 8 workers on site and the foreman is on the run.  I love watching our money at work!

Now a little test... What is missing from the front of the house other than the old shutters? (Aren't those lovely dirt shutters being left behind?)  Not sure?  Take a look at an old shot to see ...

Watch while my wonderful father-in-law makes quick work of the removed items with his car and a chain.
  Apologies - I keep forgetting that I can't take videos in portrait mode - please tilt head to left. The nagging Canadian voice in the background is me ;)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sneak peeks

I was so excited when the walls came down between the addition space and the old house.  The feeling of space and openness we had been hoping for is becoming a reality.

Here is the before and after looking down the hallway from the front entrance:

Before - hallway with view to pantry and back door
After - no pantry and view to hole where French doors will go

Now before and after looking toward the front door:

Old front entrance with vestibule
view from former pantry spot- No more vestibule!

Another BIG change with the reno which is not visible in these pics is the elimination of the stucco ceilings.  The ceiling is getting either new drywall or a lovely smooth skim coat.

The real opening up of the house will be better illustrated when I will post some pics of the new spaces (family room, kitchen and master suite) next time!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Carpe Diem

My dad passed away 3 weeks ago.  I had to check a calendar to see that it really has been three weeks already. I want life to slow down so that I can wrap my head around it.  But life doesn't slow down.  It is either full speed ahead or it stops.

That was true for my dad.  When his cancer was diagnosed, he and my mom decided to squeeze all the living they could into the time he had left.  He saw family and friends, continued to travel the world and participated fully in community activities.  He went full speed ahead.  In the last week of his life, he spent Thursday in Ottawa having lunch with family, cashing in some wise investments, and taking his grandchildren to buy toys before watching my son's soccer game and having pizza dinner with us.  He also wanted to see the progress in the renovation.  I was concerned that he was overdoing it since he was in a great deal of pain and walking with a cane, but he knew he had to pack in as much living as possible into his remaining time.  That Sunday, on Father's Day, he finally was slowed down by cancer.  He could not get out of bed.  A day later, he died at home.

So, in honour of my dad, even though I feel like slowing down and taking time to just be sad, I keep moving ahead full speed.  I took time off from work, but I had to keep working - it was report time.  The reno didn't stop - we had decisions to make and the last of our stuff to move out.  (We have lived in three different places in the past three weeks.  Fortunately, we are now settled in the home of generous travelling neighbours for the next few weeks and it is very close to home.)  Our kids didn't stop being kids, wanting and needing things and desperately wanting life to return to normal for them.  Thank goodness.

I did stop blogging for a few weeks though because I knew that I would have to write this and I would cry - I warned you that there would be tears in this blog.  Before I get back to house blogging, I will leave you with some photos of my dad who lived life to the full right until the end.

Now I will stop crying and go carpe diem.

In the early days, with me and my brother in Halifax.

My parents, sharing a dance on their 40th wedding anniversary.

Memories of a Caribbean cruise.

Cocoa Beach - our annual Conrod family vacation.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Excitement on the Street

A wall?!  Now that is some real progress.  The basement looked small but when I opened our current back door and looked out to see the new rooms in progress - woo hoo!  Exciting.

But we have to take a little bad with the good.  Amazingly, after a slow start, the crew seems to be ahead of schedule, which means they want us to move out about two weeks earlier than originally planned.  We will sort something out, but yikes, at the end of the school year the last thing we wanted to do was uproot everyone.  But, if this might mean we move back into a finished house ahead of schedule, we don't want to hold up the works. 

In other news... have I mentioned what a great street we live on?  Probably once or twice. We all came together this week after a big electrical storm  hit Ottawa.  This tree came down on Wednesday night and when it took power out in our neighbourhood, we had a pizza party organized lickety split. 

And after dinner we set up lawn chairs to watch the firefighters close off the intersection and  the hydro workers use two cherry pickers to get the tree of the wires.

  Love the hood!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Best street EVER!!!

This week has been busy and very exciting!  Work has been going on every day, all day and where there once was a hole, we now have what is clearly the beginnings of our addition dream.
(FYI We are using Durisol insulated concrete forms.)

The cement truck is coming this week, by end of the day Monday we should have a floor, and framing should start on Tuesday, weather permitting!
But we remain ever mindful that while our family is looking out the back window watching all the excitement, this is what our neighbours have to look at in the front...

Piles of building materials, a POD and a port-a-potty.  All of our friends on the street are such good sports, so far, and we want to keep them that way.  One neighbour joked that her children will no longer be permitted to use their indoor facilities, hopefully keeping her bathrooms sparkling while her boys use the outhouse perched on our front lawn!  Brilliant!

Our neighbours' thoughtfulness has extended to offers of beds while they are on holiday, or even, crazy people, while they are still at home!  While the crew and building materials have taken over our driveway, our street friends have let us park in front of their homes.  Most seem unfazed by the noise, dust, big trucks and unattractive additions to the street view. We are even lucky enough to have been asked to "house sit" for a generous family two doors down for the month of July while we need to get out of our house.  (Thanks, K and D!!)

We are so fortunate.  Everyone is being very understanding and we want to keep it that way. It is going to be a long summer! That is why I have started baking...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Well, a hole in the ground

Now normally I would never be one to be anything but thrilled with a long weekend, but this Victoria Day weekend was a bit painful.  Sure, the weather was OK.  We did some fun family stuff and relaxed, but the whole time something was eating at me.  We had a huge hole in the backyard and I was impatiently waiting for something to appear in that hole.

I got my wish today when the foundation company showed up and got to work.

They had to pump out the water that had made its way into the hole first, but now we have footings.

  Our project manager was on site this afternoon and told me now the concrete will have to cure for a few days.  You can guess what that means...another weekend of waiting.

Friday, May 20, 2011

No going back now!!!

It is tempting to just put in a swimming pool in this giant hole in our backyard, especially as the days get warmer.  You may have noticed that in the last post from about a month ago, I felt that we might be getting a permit any day and the digging was soon to begin.  Well, the digging finally started yesterday.  
Patience is a virtue, and certainly one needed when entering into a major renovation.  Permits were held up, at least two different permits were submitted to the city for our project (we were hoping to use a new product but the city wasn't sure what to do with it...) and we waited. We are just accepting that we have little control at this point.  The city, weather, manufacturers, sub-contractors...  Any of these can disrupt our schedule.  

The permit is posted, we are official and there is no going back now!

Our neighbours are being very supportive and understanding as the big trucks arrive on the street around 7 AM and start the noisy process of digging up our backyard and driveway.  We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful community, the main reason why we are renovating and not moving. A friend of mine suggested that I start baking regularly to keep my neighbours happy.  So street, what should I start with:  muffins or chocolate chip cookies? 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hard to believe

Post from April 23- forgot to post it then.

I am channeling all of my positive energy into believing that a big digger will arrive in my backyard sometime next week.  The deck is now gone revealing all the stuff we had stashed underneath over the past 11 years :)

This space should be a hole in about a week with any luck, and then a foundation and so on...  It was over a year ago when we started meetings to determine the direction for the renovation-addition.  I don't want to count the hours of meetings, discussions, magazine cutting and packing we have done in that year.  Nor do I want to count the white hairs that have ensued.  

It is weird that we have done so much work for what will be going into a renovated home when we don't have the permit yet.  (Keep your fingers crossed - we should see it this week!)  We picked plumbing fixtures and appliances, worked with a designer on the kitchen layout, did some initial shopping for goodies to fill the place.  All fun!  Tile shopping this past weekend provided the toughest choices to date.  When I mentioned this to people they all nodded - yes, picking tiles was the hardest part!  So many gorgeous choices and huge range of prices!!!  We have picked tiles for the main bath and the kitchen back splash but are still working on the look for the entry and mudroom and the master bath.  

Here is one of the drawings to look at to show you what many of hours of meeting time have resulted in. More to follow.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Renovation Affirmations

When things get stressful in my life, I try to use the power of positive thinking, a habit I got from my mom.  For example, when I had less than stellar hostel experiences as a younger traveller, I would say to myself, " I can sleep anywhere for one night."  When my kids are going through a particular challenging period: "It's just a phase!"  If times are tough at work: "I love my job and everyone I work with."  So as I prepare for some of the stresses of  months of disruption in my home, I am thinking ahead to the affirmations that will help me maintain (regain?) sanity.

So far, I have been inspired by my friend who is almost back home - can't wait! - after living away for 6 months during the worst of her major reno project.  She seems to be going with, "We are so lucky to be able to do this kind of project."  Like it!  Big renos are expensive and it is true that we are incredibly lucky to have what we have and be able to live so comfortably.  Our family is fortunate in so many ways.  So what if we are slightly inconvenienced for a few months?   You can follow the story of their almost finished home renovation and her positive attitude here.

Another postive thought is, "In less than a year you will be living in your newly renovated home!"  This one never fails to make me take a breath and consider how time flies.  Though there will certainly be stress and inconvenience and the threat of poverty, it will be a distant memory in a few years.

Another neighbour kept this positive thought in mind during her renovation:  After having her home appraised, she checked listing for homes of similar size in the suburbs, and determined that if they got in over their heads financially, they would still have enough left over to provide a home for their family.  She could breathe again.

What am I telling my kids who know that we will have to leave our house for a while and that things will change  in the only home they have ever known.  I tell them, "Wherever we go, we will be together.  It will all be good!"

OM! (Yoga at our annual street party - one of the reasons to add on rather than move.)

Please share your positive thoughts and suggestions for daily renovation affirmations.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Live with it!

After a lunch hour visit from our contractor, designer and architectural technologist, we were all chatting about home improvement shows.  One of them commented that on many of the shows the designers, it seemed, ended up taking over from the homeowners, either by kicking them out and they would only see their homes when they were finished, or by taking over on decisions so that the owners lost "ownership" of the final result.

What I am enjoying about the process so far with our reno. plan, is that Drew and I are very active in all the design decisions.  Drew started a floor plan at least 2 years ago, and it went through at least 20 50 iterations  before the designer came on the scene. Drew measured the house, drew our current layout and then started playing with various floor plans.  Here is a peek into two layouts considered somewhere along the way for our second floor, but not what we have chosen to do. (Don't worry, we will reveal plans when they are finalized.  In the meantime, we will keep you guessing!)
  Yellow identifies our current home.  This exercise of looking at all these different layouts was at times frustrating, but I appreciate it now, because we worked through so many possibilities sitting side by side at our desk, that we knew what we did, and didn't want.  Once the designer got involved, she did bring new possibilities and limitations :( to light.    Sometimes we have had to stand our ground over things that we know we want, but it is only after considering her professional input.

  I have heard people say that before renovating a newly purchased house, one should live in it for a while to see the flow, how the rooms are really used.  Well, after 11 years, I feel like we know our house and how we use it.  We just want to love it again.

That is how we came up with our wish list:
  • larger kitchen with island - (When our kids talk about kitchens they like, they talk about sitting at an island or bar, open to the living area.)
  • extra bedroom - we would like to have guests once in a while
  • master ensuite and closet
  • mudroom
  • main floor powder room                                                                                                                   (All these things may seem basic to those living in new suburban builds, but they are luxuries for anyone living in an unrenovated post-war era home like ours.)
Then there are the little things we have dreamed of over the past several years:
  • more than one outlet in the dining room - I know, we dream BIG!
  • an outlet beside the stairs for our Christmas garland (thanks, Andrea!)
  • a real hall closet and proper entrance,  with room to move so we are not pinned into our 4x3 vestibule/closet when someone comes to the door
  • a living room layout that works
  • a fully renovated main bathroom - the only room we haven't changed, except to paint, since we moved in
I feel so lucky that we are ready and able to start this exciting project.

****Please note, though my husband may have named this blog, he does understand that "'Gimme, gimme' never gets!" 

    Friday, February 25, 2011

    Ta Da!!!!

    Since, as mentioned in my profile info, we have been planning for our renovation/addition for 11 years or so, I am SO anxious to get started.  We have been heading in the right direction since the summer/fall (or was it even the spring?) of 2010: meeting with architects, architectural draftsmen, contractors, designers... and of course, people at the bank.  We have even picked out plumbing and kitchen appliances, but it still didn't seem like it was real.

    I think today was the first day that it started to feel like we were getting there, and that is why today, I launch the reno. blog.  TA DA!!!!

    At lunch, we had a meeting with our designer and we were all happy (!) with almost everything.  The floorplans we have worked through for months, are now going to the architectural engineer.  Woo hoo!  And today - drum roll please- the designer said that we are almost at the stage of picking colours and finishes - fun time!  Drew has had all the fun poring over floor plan drawings and measurements in the last several months.  Now it is MY time - time to get out my lovingly constructed "look book" and start to play.  I look forward to sharing lots of fun details along the way.

    Quick background on decisions: 
    1 - As suggested by the title of this blog, we need more space: kitchen space, storage, bathrooms, and, generally, elbow room for two children who keep growing whether we feed them or not.
    2 - We decided to add on rather than move, because this way the choices are all ours.  If we moved into a place the right size with everything all done and move-in ready, it might be gorgeous (and expensive), but it wouldn't be our style.  We also LOVE our neighbours and street.  Leaving would be too painful. 
    3 - We decided to go with a design-to-build company (no architect) because our home/property allows only for a basic offset box-like addition off the back AND we are not making major changes to the current layout or exterior. Here is what we have now: a small two storey house with brick bottom and siding on top.  The two little people who share the house are pictured in front.  The photo is a few years old but gives you the basic idea.  I promise, there will be lots of before shots in future posts.  We will all have to be patient for the "afters".

    4 - We chose the company based on glowing recommendations after hearing so many horror stories.  The process has been long to get to this stage, but so far, we like the people we are working with. Let's see how my tone changes over the course of the next several months.

    Warning:  There will be tears!  No surprise to those who know me.