Making time for Me- and Sewing

This may come as a shock, but it is really hard to make time for myself now that I’m a mom. I haven’t even gone back to work yet and I can’t believe how tired I am All. The. Time. It’s probably also the weather and time change but I just have no energy lately! It’s been hard to work on some of the projects we want to tackle around the house because they aren’t really suited to “mom life,” AKA only having 10 minutes to devote to something before I have to prepare a meal, clean up, change a diaper, make animal noises, clean up, do nap time, make a snack, clean up, do bath time, do story time, do bed time, and clean up. Did I mention all the cleaning?

someecards dinner every night

Sewing, however, is something I can work on in stages. It’s also great “me time” because I can get totally absorbed in it and it’s a hobby I really enjoy that I can be truly selfish with (my husband is unlikely to ever tag along with me to FabricLand). I’ve completed a number of sewing projects since I got back into it a few years ago, but mostly just basic stuff like throw pillows and curtains (not counting my slipcover project, which involved basic techniques but was still a major undertaking). I’ve been trying to work up the courage to sew some clothing for a while, but I find it hard to motivate myself to push through the learning phase; I just want to my plan to work out perfectly and want to skip past the mistakes to get to a finished and flawless product. I know if I’m not 100% happy with the way something turns out, I’ll just never wear it and it would be a waste of time and energy. But after seeing a bunch of other people have success with the Scout Tee pattern from Grainline Studios and hearing everyone rave about it as a beginner pattern, I decided to go for it. I figured if I liked it, I could try one of the variations next.

sewing and cocktails scout tee variation

Split neckline variation 

Knit variation with a fuller back

dandelion drift colour block lace

Lace colour blocked variation

craft sessions longer sleeve

Longer sleeved variation

I just went with the bog standard Scout Tee pattern as is, and I’m so glad I tried it out! I am really happy with the fit and will definitely wear it. I like it so much that I can’t wait to buy different fabric to try it with! This pattern was awesome because it was easy enough but also challenged me, I got to learn some new techniques like the neckline bias binding and using basting stitches to attach the sleeves, not to mention refresh my memory on how to actually follow a pattern. Another new skill I learned with this project was how to use a serger, so my seams look pretty darn professional and finished (if you don’t look that closely :P). Shout out to my dad for letting me borrow it! Here is my Scout Tee (you can see I worked especially hard on my model “stare off into the distance thoughtfully” pose)

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I can’t wait to try the Scout Tee with different fabric. As I mentioned, there are a ton of variations on the pattern with some great tutorials. The author (designer?) of the pattern also has a great tutorial on how to do the neckline which I couldn’t have managed without. I would definitely recommend this pattern to a beginner, or seasoned vet looking for a quick project!

Let me know what you think! If you’ve been looking for a starter sewing project, the Scout Tee is a great option.

-C

DIY Foundation Waterproofing (in Canada)

As you may have noticed, the past few months have been pretty scantly blogged about, because we’ve been super busy with the world’s least sexy blogging topic of all time: waterproofing our foundation. I can’t imagine anything you could spend more time or money on that has as little visual reward- we spent months on something that we just covered in tons of dirt and gravel! But we can finally celebrate being done this massive project, and I want to share what we did and how we did it.

excavator cake

DISCLAIMER: We are not professional foundation experts. My husband is an electrical apprentice and I am a (currently unemployed) scientist. We researched this extensively online and talked to other people who have done it before, either for a living or for their own houses. Nothing I say here should be taken as being accurate or appropriate for anyone else; what we did was unique to our geography, foundation type, budget, and skill level, so please adjust accordingly.

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Before I get into the nitty gritty of it, let me remind you that we live in Canada. A lot of what we did is specific to our foundation structure, which has to be deep because the ground freezes during the winter. Basically, this project involved these steps in sequence: we dug down to the footing of our foundation around the perimeter of our house, repaired any cracks and damaged parging, covered the entire surface of the foundation as well as the footing with tar paint, attached platon membrane and ran O-pipe around the perimeter, jackhammered under the footing to feed the O-pipe into our sump well, covered the O-pipe and the bottom of the trench with 3/4 clear gravel, and then backfilled it all.

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Now, a lot of people expressed surprise that we would even attempt this. It is a very messy job that could go very badly if you don’t know what you’re doing- you could potentially destroy your foundation if you don’t do it properly, and have to dig it up all over again if you miss one crack or detail. There is a reason that there are professionals who do this for a living. But when we looked at the cost savings (we spent about 10-20% of what you could reasonably expect to pay a company), and thought honestly about our skill level and the resources we had available, we decided to go for it.

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Here’s why we were able to do this large scale DIY and what you’ll need if you want to do the same:

  1. Opportunity and sheer luck. We have access through my husband’s job to plumbers, excavators, and friends willing to work for a case of beer and a meal on their weekends. Not everyone is as fortunate and we appreciate that.
  2. A lot of patience. If you haven’t done this before, it’s going to take a while. Companies can charge what they do because people will pay it to avoid having their lives in upheaval. When we first started planning for this, my husband told me that he thought the lion’s share of the work could be done in a weekend or two. It has taken us over 5 months. Moving on…
  3. Flexibility. Things never go as planned; the guy you had booked to help suddenly can’t make it, the home reno store is out of the supplies you need, the soil around your house is entirely clay based and you have to invest in rubber boots for everyone helping, you need the parging to dry but the weather forecast is nothing but rain, the list goes on and on. Plus, spending your weeknights and weekends working in a mud pit when you have a full time job and a social life sucks. We had to give ourselves a break every now and then, or else we would have gone crazy(er).
  4. Preparing for the unexpected. We had a very experienced guy working the excavator but he accidentally took out our cable and phone lines, so we didn’t have internet for 2 months (the technicians would not come on site to repair it due to the unsafe work environment that a giant trench imposes). Occasionally we had to do some emergency repair work that we weren’t counting on, and made plenty of last minute trips to the hardware store. Shit happens!
  5. Tolerance for mess and dirt. The aforementioned clay soil meant that we had to put a lot of tarps down inside the house to avoid tracking it all over the place, and had to sweep/mop more frequently. We also spent a lot of time covered in dirt and tar paint, which meant more laundry. We should have bought stocks in GoJo Orange hand soap and paint thinner!

I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have, by which I mean reading your questions aloud to my husband and then typing his response 😉

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Speaking of my husband, he deserves almost all of the credit. He is camera shy so it only looks like I was doing a lot of work… a few weeks into this we found out I was pregnant, so I had to stop helping with much of the physical labour. I tried to make up for it by supplying food and beer when he came inside, exhausted and covered in mud. He figures that he moved about 30,000 lbs of sand and gravel, and most of that was him and a wheelbarrow. He didn’t want me to share that because it sounded like bragging, but I am bragging on his behalf. I have a very hardworking guy, who mostly tolerated my hormone-fueled neurotic outbursts.

Al and O pipe

I have to shout out to the company he works for too; they loaned us most of the equipment we needed, trusted us to use it, and spent hours of their time loading and unloading the excavator in between the times it was needed at the shop. A lot of people there also gave us invaluable advice and help, which we honestly could not have done without. Last but not least, we are forever indebted to the family and friends that helped us out with meals, general support, physical labour, and wheelbarrow loads of gravel (some with a newborn baby at home)- we owe you big time!

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Now, please join me in crossing fingers that we don’t find the leaks we missed during the Spring thaw.

-C

Our First Year

Whoa! I can’t believe it’s been one year since we got the keys to our house. What’s that saying, the days are long but the years are short? Yeah, that’s becoming so true the older I get. We have been working our little butts off on the foundation and while we have spent the past two months literally and metaphorically digging ourselves into and back out of a pit, it’s so easy to see all the work there is left to do instead of patting ourselves on the back for all the work we’ve done, you know?

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Aww, remember when we used to have flower beds instead of piles of clay?

So I thought I’d do another little sum up post of what we’ve accomplished, so that I don’t just spend my life thinking I’m a horrible slacker for not quite being finished everything I thought we would. Really, the only thing we thought we’d do in the first year that we didn’t get done is the bathroom reno, but we also never planned on doing the foundation in our first year either, so I think we can call that a wash!

Here’s my last progress post that I chronicled our first few months of home ownership in- wouldn’t want to get all redundant on you! (Psst… if you really want to see how far we’ve come, check out the photos from the realtor’s listing.)

Since then, here’s what we’ve got done:

Third bedroom: removed that hideous forest wallpaper, painted all the things, ripped up old green carpet

carpet before after2Kitchen: installed new light fixture, changed all the outlets, painted all the things, sewed and installed a badass valence that you can’t even tell I did a hack job on

One Room Challenge Kitchen Dear DIY – Bedrooms: ripped up the old vinyl floor that was under the carpet, pulled up SO. MANY. STAPLES. and had new carpet installed
– Guest room: moved our old double bed in, hung curtains, hemmed said curtains, put in a desk
Master bedroom: bought a new queen sized mattress, found an accent chair for the corner/clothes dump/sleeping cat and have somewhat of a colour scheme going on

accent chair

I am so glad I don’t have to look at that horrible vinyl tile any more

– Basement: cleaned and organized many times over by my husband. I hardly ever go down there and he’s pretty much always neatening things up, condensing the boxes that I half-unpack, mopping the floor, etc. Probably because he wants to establish it as his domain now when it’s crappy and unfinished so that later when it’s awesome he can have an 1100 square foot man cave.
Living room: bought a new sofa, found accent chairs, hung gallery wall with wedding photos, sorted out the entry shelf, organized entry closet, and hung blinds.

accent chairs

Yeah, the chair legs still have the wrapping on. Real classy, Cathy. They also spent their first few days in our house covered in plastic before I Scotchgarded them. #clumsyproblems

– Sunroom: cleaned out all the old carpet and crap that we’ve been dumping there as we worked over the winter, moved our old sofa in and found a cute coffee table.

sunroom_bright – Foundation: dug a 6 foot trench all around the house and garage, pressure washed the entire surface, patched parging, applied foundation paint, attached platon membrane, covered ground with gravel, laid O-pipe, covered with more gravel, and backfilled the whole mess. Not to mention cooking and feeding all our friends/family who donated their time to help out. Oh yeah and waged battle with a foot of mud every time we tried to go down there because it would not stop raining!! Sorry for detailing every little things but it has been a huge undertaking and I want credit for all the incremental things that meant we did not spend our summer bbq-ing, drinking beer, and relaxing at a cottage.

Ok now I don’t feel so bad that our yard needs to be re-landscaped. Looking back over this list also really gives me an appreciation for how hard my marriage has worked, too. I can see lots of things that I did on my own, my husband did on his own, or that we both worked on together- despite all the inevitable arguments about how many throw pillows are too many or what’s a reasonable price for an accent chair, we make a great team and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings us! I think there are a lot more projects in our future! :)

-C

Reflections on Home Ownership

This time last year, if you’d told me to enjoy the days of apartment living, I probably would have smacked you. As the little sister and youngest of all my cousins, I’ve always been the last to reach the levels on the life-event barometer: when I was in high school, my sister had started university. When I started university, my sister found her first job. When I was still in university (#gradstudentproblems) my sister got married and then bought her first house. You get the idea! I’m always so anxious to get to the next step that sometimes I forget to just be and enjoy where I’m at.

firstiwasdying

I moved out of my parents home at 18, so I spent 10 years renting. I lived in 5 units in 2 cities with 3 roommates- the last of whom would eventually become my husband. I hand-washed countless dishes and suffered through sharing laundry facilities, walls, ventilation, bed bugs, and hot water with strangers. While I anxiously waited for our future home, I kept myself busy with various projects, like sewing elbow patches on my favourite old sweater, attending DIY workshops, and making canvas prints using acetone transfers.

don't rush anything

But it’s funny how you gain perspective on things. As much as I couldn’t wait to get out of that apartment and become a proper grown up with a mortgage, I’ve caught myself thinking wistfully of all the time I used to have to devote to things like sewing, crafting, shopping, and flea market hunting. I also used to think our apartment looked really great, and I loved how easy it was to decorate. Now I find myself feeling a little overwhelmed with the larger space and it’s hard coming up with a cohesive look, not to mention keeping things tidy when we’re basically living in a construction zone 24/7.

As exciting as it is to know that we can do whatever we want with our house, I can’t wave a magic wand to make it happen overnight. It takes a lot of planning, a lot of hard work, and a lot of time (not to mention $$$). And all those jobs start to feel like just that- jobs. I can’t even remember the last time I had my sewing machine out for fun. Whenever I get a burst of productive energy, I notice the holes that I never patched or the paint that needs to be touched up. So my old Janome will have to sit dormant a little while longer, and even then it will probably only get to hem the curtains in the guest room.

make the days count

I’m definitely guilty of wishing my life away; I’m so impatient for the next big thing that will happen in my life that I forget to slow down and enjoy where I’m at. Living in the moment and being grateful for what I have, instead of comparing myself to others and feeling shortchanged, is something I really need to work on. And even though it took many stressful months to find our house, while we weathered the storm of my husband’s career change and felt the disappointment of making an offer on a completely different house that eventually fell through, I know that all the waiting was worth it- that other house would have been a strain financially and wouldn’t have been as good a fit as the house we did buy. I really do believe that everything happens for a reason!

no shortcuts

So if you’re out there reading this and you’re feeling like I was before we bought our house, like you can’t wait to put your own personal stamp on your space and you hate every minute of renting, know that it will happen in time. Enjoy the benefits of renting, and use the time to save up for your downpayment and reno fund. Cherish the phone calls to your landlord about the crack in the ceiling or the leaky faucet, and crack open a beer while you watch them fix it… because one day it will be your problem!

-C

Why I Love Second-Hand Furniture

I’m sure this isn’t going to be a startling revelation for most people, but I wanted to share how much I love finding the potential in slightly worn (but solid) furniture. While I definitely have a few things from Ikea in my house, like our new KIVIK sofa, and occasionally cheap will trump quality, I usually try to buy solid wood pieces. Buying solid wood furniture doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money if you keep an open mind and consider buying second-hand. I have had a lot of success by routinely checking thrift stores like Value Village for steals. One of my favourites to date has been these chevron-backed wooden chairs that were only $11 for the pair.

thrift store chair for milk paint makeover

chairs painted with milk paint luckett's green

I try to look beyond the colour/finish of an item, because it’s easy enough to throw on a coat of paint or change the upholstery. Stripping, sanding, and restaining takes a bit more work, but for the right price it can be worth the hours of elbow grease. I’ve also been really lucky to inherit some great pieces from family members. I scored our dining room chairs as well as my dresser from my sister and her husband; the chairs have been reupholstered twice and the dresser got new hardware and a new paint job last year. I’ve never touched the wood on the chairs- some of them are a tad worn in places so it’s on my “eventually” to-do list, but overall they still look great.

Dining room with lantern light fixture

dresser before and after restaining and painting with chalk paint

My sister also gave me the old coffee table that they had bought when she was finishing school and just needed some cheap furniture in their rental unit (actually, writing this post has made me realize how much of my furniture originally came from my sis and bro-in-law… Thanks guys! Maybe I should have called this post “Why I Love My Sister and Kev”!). The colour and style left a lot to be desired, so I painted it and asked my husband to install a shelf to make it prettier and more functional. I found storage baskets that fit our board games and it became a functional storage space too! I can’t forget to mention the sectional sofa that my in-laws gave us, which I slipcovered with canvas– my biggest sewing project to date.

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In the past year I’ve been on the hunt for a few more pieces, and two success stories that I am pretty proud of are a solid maple dresser from Kijiji for $40 and a cute little end table that I found at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for $21. As soon as the snow melts, you can bet I’ll be in the garage giving them some love with a bit of paint and stain.

If you are looking for a “new” piece of furniture, make sure you check in first at your local thrift store, browse Kijiji, or ask family and friends… maybe they have something they are looking to get rid of that you can rejuvenate with some new paint or fabric. Try to get creative with how you can change the look of something that isn’t exactly what you want, and you might score a deal on something solid that will last a lot longer than a lot of stuff you can buy brand new, for a fraction of the price.

Have you found any great steals second-hand that you transformed with some elbow grease and paint? Are you a hoarder like me with a garage full of projects for the Spring/Summer?

[Side note: I’m always careful when buying from a stranger online; I bring a friend or meet the seller at a public place, like a Tim’s parking lot. Safety first! Another thing I’m wary of is the possibility of bringing bedbugs home with used furniture, so I treat stuff before it enters my house.]

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