Winter AKA “Before Baby” To-Do List

Yep, a few things on our list have changed in priority due to the impending arrival of Baby H. I love doing these lists because they really help me stay accountable to Future Cathy, who is notoriously hard to please. We managed to get most of our Spring/Summer list done, with the exception of the sunroom, which I didn’t think we’d get to til next year anyway. Honestly, I’m just so glad we got the foundation done!

Here’s what I’m hoping to get done before the end of February (fingers crossed Baby H doesn’t decide to come any sooner):

  1. Finish the nursery. Obviously, we need somewhere to put that baby. We are most of the way there, or at least we have all the furniture. I still need to do all the requisite organizing of baby clothes and hang pictures on the wall, but we’re making progress! Check out my post on our plans for the nursery for more details. I’m particularly loving this corner and have been trying out that rocker already! As you can see, we’re still deciding on a paint colour for the accent wall.IMG_5112
  2. Work on the back entrance. Now that our kitchen floors are done, it has put into sharper focus how truly terrible the back entrance is. We’ve been using it as our main entrance while we wait on redoing our landscaping- we don’t have a path leading to our front steps any more (come to think of it, we don’t have front steps period at the moment) and due to Richmond’s lovely clay based soil, this leads to an obscene amount of mud being tracked in the house- so we’re using the back door until we figure that situation out. Luckily (ha) all the snow we just got has covered up the entire mess of our lawn so we can pretend it doesn’t exist until April-ish. I’ve already ripped up the old carpet, which has reduced the old person smell drastically! The paint colour will be the same as our hallway and the trim will just get a fresh coat of white paint. We’ll probably continue the vinyl tile from the kitchen here, maybe with painting the steps and risers.CPZY1511
  3. Shoe moulding. Seriously, for real this time. After ripping up the carpet in our living room/dining room and laying the new tile in the kitchen, this is the last step we have to finish the floors off in that half of the house, and somehow it keeps getting pushed back by other stuff. It’s the kind of thing you can ignore for a long time and as soon as you notice it again you’re like “Hmm. This looks really crappy and we should change that. But wait, let me do this other thing first…” and repeat 10x.
  4. Floors in the hallway. After we discovered the hardwood didn’t continue down the hall like we had hoped, my husband ripped up the vinyl flooring that was underneath the old carpet and the first layer of subfloor as well. Since then we’ve been living with it and it’s annoyingly shabby looking, and is really affecting my selfie game. Plus those different levels and rough wood won’t be so kind on sweet little baby hands and knees. We want to try to match the hardwood in the living room and hopefully the transition won’t be too obvious.
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  5. Touch up paint. Ugh, but I don’t want to. Our carpet installation messed up some of the pain paint (haha, I just Freudian slipped that) in the hallways and bedroom trim, so that needs to be touched up. Also, one wall of the kitchen never got a 2nd coat of paint and it’s kind of obvious in certain light. Plus there are just spots that I didn’t do the world’s best paint job on initially.
  6. Basement plans. Now that the foundation waterproofing is ♫ALL DONE♫ (sing it with me!) we can start to think about how we want to plan out the space- all 1100 square feet of it. It’s entirely unfinished so it’s a beautiful blank slate for us. Our plans will most likely include at least one bedroom, enclosing the laundry room and adding a toilet/shower there for a second bathroom, walling in a family room/rec room, and figuring out some sort of extra pantry storage area. Part of the basement will also remain unfinished for tools and general storage.

And that is probably enough to keep us busy! Realistically this will probably take us into the Spring as well, I’m sure I’ll find the time with a newborn baby… I hear all they do is sleep and poop, right?

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard anything lately about our bathroom reno, it’s because we decided to put it on the back burner for now. Although it’s hideously ugly in all its green, bronze, floral-wallpapered glory, it is functional. And it’s our only bathroom. Our strategy going forward is to rough in a second bathroom downstairs before we start any work on our bathroom, now that we have firsthand experience about how not-fun not having water is from our foundation well water line shenanigans.

Stay tuned for my progress!
-C

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Christmas Cookie Decorating Tips

I haven’t written a baking post in forever! Baking is pretty much my life right now and I’m ok with it. Since I lost my job I have been trying to keep busy any way I can without actually spending money, and I got the idea to try and sell some baking during the Christmas season- I love to bake so it’s something I would be doing anyway, I can just scale it up as necessary! It’s not a lucrative career but I do have a lot of time on my hands at the moment, and it sure beats the last season of Gilmore Girls on Netflix (ugh Lorelai, Chris or Luke? Make up your damn mind). I’ve been really lucky to have a lot of support from a great network of family and friends.

cookies in boxes

One order I received was for sugar cookie cutouts and I was a bit nervous about it, because in the past when I’ve made them they have not exactly been photo-worthy. They taste great, but the icing is always a bit too runny or a bit too thick, and I can never get the rich red and green colours that you want to see on a Christmas cookie. But I spoke to a friend who also bakes, and did a bit of research, and with some practice I managed to make them look quite presentable!

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I thought I’d share some of the tips I learned, because I’m not kidding, these are LEAGUES nicer than anything I’ve made before. The proportions I used for the icing was as follows: 1 cup icing sugar, 1 tablespoon milk, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (or almond extract for pure white); adjust consistency as necessary.

Use gel food colouring for richer colours.

This really makes a difference! I could never get the liquid food colouring to the right red/green colour. You still have to use a somewhat obscene amount of dye and it will thin out the icing a bit, so you might have to adjust the consistency again. But I’ve never been able to get this colour intensity with liquid dyes.

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Use a piping bag and a piping tip (#4 worked well).

Maybe a bit obvious, but in the past I’ve tried to get away with a ziploc bag and a hole cut in the corner. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t measure up! I bought a reusable piping bag (Wilton) and rinsed it out between colours; it’s very durable and I can minimize my consumer guilt by avoiding disposable bags. I just pop the tip in the bottom of the bag, push it towards the end, and fill the bag with icing; I found it works to use a glass to hold the bag and fold the edges over the rim so that you can get the icing right in the bottom; then I tie off the top of the bag with a rubber band.

piping bag and glass

Follow the 10 second rule for icing consistency.

This was really important! My icing usually falls off the cookie in a big messy puddle or is too thick to pipe. Here is a helpful video that shows you how to do this; basically the icing should settle into a smooth surface at about 10 seconds after disturbing the surface.

 

Allow icing to harden and set before packing.

It’s really hard to be patient and wait when it FEELS like the icing is set, but giving the cookies more time won’t hurt, and no one wants to spend hours and hours decorating cookies only for them to crush each other in the container. I laid them out in a single layer on baking pans, and covered the pans with a layer of plastic wrap (more as a cat prevention technique than anything- the icing forms a protective layer that will prevent the cookies from getting stale if they are left out for under 24 hours). When packing in containers, place in a single layer with parchment paper in between multiple layers.

cookies drying

And that’s it! They take some time for sure but the end result is both tasty and pretty. I really liked substituting the almond extract in the white icing instead of vanilla- vanilla darkens the colour too much, plus I love the almond flavour. The stars and snowflakes were my favourite!

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Happy baking and Merry Christmas if I don’t post again before then!
-C

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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

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Third Bedroom Plans: Neutral Nursery

I’m super pumped to share our plans for the third bedroom, and to announce our most exciting project yet: parenthood! Baby H will be joining us in February 2016, and I’m eager to continue the transformation of what was formerly known as the “forest” room.

forest wallpaper in the guest room- before
Ahh khaki green wallpaper and carpet, how I don’t miss you in my life…

carpet after…here is the blank slate from which we start

I’ve been inspired by spaces with a neutral palette and different textural elements, with some African animal motifs thrown in. I love this look for a nursery because it’s gender neutral and classic. If I’m being completely honest I’m not crazy about the plethora of brightly coloured kiddie stuff out there, and I’ll be spending a lot of time in here too. I also read somewhere that high contrast is good for a baby’s development… perhaps I should have lead with that.

design sponge nursery
Design Sponge

huffpo neutral nursery
Huffington Post

project nursery black and white nursery
Project Nursery

Finn Room

Using the photos above for inspiration, and a few shopping trips to Ikea, I made a style board on Polyvore using their Create tool (side note: I’ve prepared style boards before and this was by far the quickest and easiest method I’ve tried!). We chose the paint for this room when we first moved in with the intention of one day putting the nursery here, so we’re not changing the walls from the off-white they are now; although we might do some kind of feature wall with a painted pattern or stencil. Ditto the flooring, which is now a lovely oatmeal-y berber carpet that I would fully take a nap on. These are not necessarily the pieces I’ll be using, I just wanted to give the general idea of where I’m heading with this. But if you want to know sources for anything pictured, leave a comment and I will hook you up!

Modern neutral nursery

This room will also feature some fun projects… we are looking to save money wherever we can right now so you know that I will be browsing Kijiji and DIY-ing my little heart out. If you follow me on Instagram @dear_diy or read this post, you’ll have seen the zebra head that I copied from Anthropologie, which saved us $100.

collage

I’m so happy with how he turned out! I’m still looking for a name for him. Right now my top contender is Giraffe, because I kept getting confused and saying I was making a giraffe instead of a zebra (baby brain anyone?). I’ve also scored this awesome little dresser on Kijiji that will be doing double duty as a change table.

change table dresser

Yeah, that’s my garage, it’s currently under quarantine since I don’t want to take chances with bed bugs. You know what they say, fool me once…

Looking forward to making this a cozy space for both baby and us! Are you loving the neutral nursery trend like I am?

-C

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Installing Peel and Stick Vinyl Tile (for Realists)

That’s right, I’m still milking our kitchen makeover for every last blog post I can squeeze out of it! Today I’m ruminating on vinyl tile installation, and its pros and cons. To get up to speed on what we’ve done since we moved in, check out this post. Here’s a quick and dirty comparison of the old and the new floors:

floors before and after

Installing peel and stick tile sounds really easy to do, and looks really easy on home reno shows. I mean, it only has two steps: 1) Rip up old floors and 2) stick on tiles! Well friends, I’m here to burst your bubble and will not sugar coat this for you.

We went with peel and stick tile because we thought that it would be a quicker and cheaper option than ceramic tiles. One of our future plans is to do a complete kitchen reno, and we didn’t want to spend a lot of time and money on ceramic tile only to rip it up once we change the layout of the kitchen. I naively thought that using vinyl tile meant this could be done in a day, or a weekend tops; this turned out to be a huge underestimation. Between all of the steps involved (yes, I was lying when I said this only had two steps), we spent a week on this. We weren’t super efficient about it, but still, it took a lot more time than I was expecting. As my husband put it, using peel and stick makes the easiest part of installing tiles- the placement of the tiles- even easier; you still have to do almost the same amount of prep work before you can apply the tile. But getting to a level, smooth, clean surface takes a lot of time. So buckle up and let me take you through what this project actually involves!

Step 1A): Remove Old Flooring

If the original floors had come up easily then this would have taken a lot less time and I would be less bitter about it, but the linoleum was an absolute nightmare to remove. At first we could only get it off in 1 inch or so chunks that chipped off when we tried to peel it, leaving a paper and adhesive layer behind. I had a friend helping me with this step (Thanks MT!!) and after about an hour of making almost no progress, she suggested we look online for help. We found a few YouTube videos that recommended using a heat source to soften the glue first, which ended up being a lifesaver. We found the best method was using a heat gun to first soften the glue and a flat edge trowel to lift up the flooring- this left the least amount of paper/adhesive behind. Other variations we tried were an iron and a metal cake lifter, and a hair dryer and a putty knife. During this step, we wore half face masks with P100 cartridges for vapours and particulates- we had no idea what was under the floors and heating the linoleum gave off a pretty nasty plastic smell. We also kept all the windows open for ventilation, so this is not a Canadian winter friendly project.

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Using a heat gun and putty knife to lift the old linoleum

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I gave this step got a major thumbs down

Step 1B): Patch Uneven Areas & Repair Damaged Subfloor

Once the old flooring was up and the remaining adhesive and paper had been scraped off, we patched the surface with a product that Home Depot recommended, SimplePrep Pre-Mixed Floor Patch. My husband did this step and he didn’t like this product at all. Next time (haha, next time) we would use the stuff you mix yourself, because he found the consistency too thick. The product says it takes 4 hours to dry which was not the case for us; we found it took at least a day and some areas needed more than one coat. But we did have some pretty substantial areas to patch. Once the patch dried, we went over the floors with a scraper to even out any remaining bits of adhesive or raised edges from the patch and made sure to clean it really well. Some of the areas were still raised after this step so we drilled floor screws in to try and flatten these spots.

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Close-up of our super damaged subfloor before scraping off excess adhesive and paper

IMG_4720Subfloor after scraping off adhesive and applying patch compound

Step 1C): Prime Surface

When the surface was as smooth as we could get it, we cleaned it really well and then primed the subfloor with special vinyl tile primer. They didn’t sell this at Home Depot and we were actually advised by someone there to just use paint primer (like what you would use for walls) on the floor to prime it before laying the tile. This didn’t sound right to my husband because the paint primer wouldn’t have had good adhesion to the patched spots, which is similar surface to cement; so we kept looking online until we found a multipurpose surface primer by TEC, which Lowe’s sold. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if the patched spots were minimal, but we had large sections that were patched.

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Action shot of my husband painting on primer

Step 2A): Apply Tiles

After the primer dried we were finally ready for the easy part- sticking on the tiles. This was pretty straightforward and there are lots of resources online to help with this. Basically you measure the room to find the midway point in either direction, then snap two chalk lines at these points that intersect at the centre of the floor. You put down the first tile at the centre point (without removing the backing) and do a dry run first so you can move the center tile towards either wall if necessary- like if it will make the last tile on either side of the room an awkward length. We ended up snapping an additional chalk line 12 inches off the centre line so that we could line up the offset tile for the next row as well (our tiles were 24×12 inches). Most people recommend laying the tile in sections, not in rows- this helps to keep everything lined up and squared nicely. Since the tiles were vinyl, we were able to use a heat gun and a utility knife to cut them when required. We pretty much worked outward from the centre in sections in a sort of stepwise fashion, and periodically ran over the surface with a floor roller to make sure they were really stuck on.

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Lining up the first tiles with the chalk lines

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Making sure the tiles are good and stuck with a floor roller

Step 2B): Grout Tiles (Optional)

Although you can place the tiles right next to each other without grout, we decided to use the grout because I thought that the slightly beveled edge would collect dirt if we didn’t, and also I wanted this to look as much like ceramic tile as possible. The grout was applied differently to grout you would use for ceramic tile; we used a piping bag and a grout float to get it in the cracks and wiped the excess off the tile immediately with a wet sponge so it didn’t dry.

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In Conclusion…

The end result does look pretty fabulous, but honestly it was so much more work than I had planned on, I am feeling a bit jaded about it. I should have been more realistic about how long it would take to get the old floors up and the surface prepared. This will vary from floor to floor, and it’s the kind of thing you can’t know until you start. Also, the kitchen is kind of an important room. Not having a kitchen for a few days is really inconvenient, especially if your kitchen is in the middle of the house and prevents you from going in the basement. We ended up eating a lot of take out and microwave meals while this was in progress, so if you don’t love Beefaroni like my husband does, you may want to reconsider the impact that not having an oven or stove will have on your diet.

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On the whole I would say in the future, flooring is something I would consider hiring out, and I’m not buying the perception that vinyl tile is so much easier to install than ceramic (coming from someone who has never installed ceramic…). This was also our very first flooring project, so on the flip side, maybe it was a good way to learn? It was definitely cheaper to go with vinyl tile over ceramic; we spent about $400 on the tile and the rest of the supplies, including renting a floor roller.

Do you have any stories to share of projects that seem so easy and then snowball into a horrible nightmare that won’t end? Can you assure me that the floors look awesome and this was totally worth doing? I’d love to answer any questions you have about this project!

-C

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