Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A little paint goes a long way (stairway makeover)

Last summer we took out the hideous grey carpet throughout the top two floors of our house (inherited from the previous owner) and installed a beautiful walnut laminate flooring. The stairs were an element that stumped us, though. They don't make the risers and treads and end caps in laminate. The hardwood components not only didn't quite match the flooring we'd chosen, but were astronomically out of our price range - we live in a three story townhome with a lot of stairs. We really didn't know what to do.

Our house is only about fifteen years old, so there are no fantastic rustic wood floors hiding underneath our carpet. It's plywood and particleboard. The stairs are that really rough chipboard. We spent weeks trying to figure out what to do before we finally decided to just paint them white to match the trim.

You'd think a simple paint job would be pretty straightforward, but painting particleboard stairs to look perfect in a high-traffic, high-visibility area of the home is in fact an incredibly lengthy, painfully time-consuming and nit-picky project.

After removing the carpet and underpad, we had to individually remove the staples and nails from each step. Roughly eighty staples per step. For each of the twenty-four steps. By the time the seven hundred million staples had been pried out the already rough particleboard was in pretty bad shape, so I did a skim coat of wood filler (applied with a drywall trowel the same way you'd apply drywall mud) across the tread of each step and particularly across the front of each step to make it smooth. It took three coats of filler and sanding before the stairs were smooth enough to begin painting. Two coats of primer, three coats of white trim paint, a whole lot of silicone, a thin strip of quarter-round for the inside edge of each stair and a coat of polyurethane over everything and we were done - the stairs, that is.

Stairway makeoverStairways have railings. Ours were stained in a honey-coloured oak, which in and of itself I could probably have lived with. Unfortunately, the light yellow-orange oak clashed with the new walnut floors and were a little too country for our taste so we decided to paint them white to match the stairs. Because they're turned pickets sanding would have been next to impossible so I used a chemical stripper to remove the old sealer and stain. Then each picket got two coats of primer and three coats of the same white trim paint as the stairs. All eighty-five pickets. Plus the railings.

I cannot even express how painfully lengthy and protracted this project was. But we're super happy with the results: from drab grey carpet and clashing yellow oak railings to warm walnut floors and a crisp white stairway, it really feels like a whole new house.

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Powder room makeover
Living room before & after
Dining room before & after

Not-so-sexy fashion makes super sexy decor!

I have a lot of old bridesmaids dresses in my closet. Like, a lot. So many, in fact, that they've moved out of my closet and been packed away in dry cleaning bags in the basement crawlspace.

A few years ago a friend was over planning for our mutual best friend's wedding and he was asking why I still had all these dresses I was obviously never going to wear again. Good question. There's no doubt that none of these dresses will ever be worn again - with the possible exception of one short, simple, strapless LBD that I would totally wear for a New Year's party or something (assuming that one day down the road I eventually develop a social life again beyond faking a countdown at 10pm for the kids and curling up on the couch with the husband and a bottle of champagne to watch the ball drop on TV. Also assuming I'm ever a size four again.) Why was I holding on to all these largely unflattering, one-time-use garments?

Not for the memories of the day I wore them, and not for the sentimentality of holding onto a part of my girlfriends' wedding days. I have photos for that. I held onto them for so many years because that rainbow of impossibly unsuitable satin and chiffon brightening up the back corner of my closet represented thousands and thousands of my hard-earned dollars and I wasn't willing to just throw that away. 

I said as much, and my genius friend suggested I make them into throw pillows. Genius.

Wishy-washy pastels and brightly coloured shiny satins, while perfectly appropriate to wear while holding a little bouquet of flowers and posing for photos with a fluffy white bride, look silly as clothing in real life, even those ones that are moderately attractive or flattering to begin with - which, I think it's important to emphasize, cannot be said of all (or even most) of my bridesmaid dress collection.

But, one-off bright colours and beading and inappropriately luxe textiles are just gorgeous when used in the home. Think of a bright red sari used as a throw on an armchair in an otherwise neutral living room. A hand-painted piece of yellow and turquoise Mexican pottery on a shelf with your simple white dishware. A vintage silk handkerchief stretched over canvas in a frame and mounted on a plain white wall. My God, these embarrassingly garish dresses could be gorgeous if made over into decor.

That was about four years ago, and the dresses are still sitting there - or they were, until this week. I finally pulled them out of storage and decided to do something with them. And realized that while the idea of making over these dresses into something for our home is a was a fabulous idea in theory - for years now I've had somewhere in the back of my mind's eye a luxurious pile of multi-coloured pillows clustered in the corner of a couch - in practicality, the majority of these dresses are one shade or another of pink, and I live in a house with four guys. There's only so much pink I can probably get away with.

Decor, pillow, upcycling, bridesmaid dress, satin
I came up with a grouping I thought might be nice - silver, charcoal, dusty rose and wine - but after hours of late-night cutting and sewing, I was spectacularly underwhelmed and disappointed. Big fail.

The only keeper in the bunch is this wine-coloured satin. I'm going to have to come up with another idea for the rest of them.

Decor, blanket, throw, upcycling, bridesmaid dressHowever, another soft rose-coloured gown became a lovely little throw for our otherwise very neutral living room - we'll see how long it takes for the boys to protest against the pink. And a patterned purple dress became a cute throw for the chair in the corner of our bedroom. I probably could have lined it with something warm and soft to make a comfy, cozy throw to curl up under when we're watching movies at night - but I'm kind of lazy and not the greatest seamstress ever. Maybe one day.  

There are a couple of dresses still looking for a second life and the pillow project didn't work out as planned, but for now I'm happy with my little upcycling decor project. And I still think the idea of a group of pillows made out of bridesmaid dresses in all different colours and fabrications is an absolutely fabulous idea - but not my bridesmaid dresses, and not these colours.

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Living room before & after
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Little corners

Monday, 25 February 2013

Cheap & cheerful paper puffs

Tissue paper pom-poms, kids room decorWe all made those little tissue paper puffs back in the day at summer camp and such. But I'd totally forgotten about them until I saw them all over Pinterest as party decorations.

These amazing oversized ones got me very excited - but I thought, why just use them as party decorations? Why not put them up in the kids' rooms? They're fun. They're colourful. They're inexpensive.

And super easy to make.

Dollar store tissue paper - it comes in packs of twenty sheets and I used ten sheets per puff. Grand total cost: fifty cents per puff.

Fold the tissue accordion-style, then tie in the centre with embroidery floss or fishing line or whatever you have on hand. Cut the ends of the tissue in points or rounds. Then pull each piece away - very carefully, or it will all tear and look awful and you'll have to throw it out and start over, possibly several times if you're the impatient type and tend to rush through things (trust me...) Once each piece of tissue is separated, floof and pouf (technical terms) until it looks the way you like.

Tissue paper pom-poms, kids room decor

And voila! Colourful, cheerful tissue paper puffs for the corner of a kids room!

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A little bit of beach at home

My parents sold the family cottage this fall. The cottage has been a part of our family's summer memories since I was a kid, and has been an important part of my older kids' memories too. We've had  a lot of great times there - long weekends hanging out with my parents and brothers, great big family dinners with my grandparents and all the aunts and uncles and cousins, entire days spent on the beach building sandcastles and swimming and lazing in the lounge chairs, catching butterflies in the dunes, swimming out to the big rock and back, breakfasts in the courtyard and afternoon drinks on the deck, barbecues and walks on the beach and trips to the ice cream shop. There are so many years of memories of lazy summer days. The cottage was such a happy place for us, and even more so for our boys.

So we brought a little bit of the cottage home with us.

A little piece of locally-made pottery the exact colour of the water on a sunny summer's day. A handful of the soft sand and some grasses from the dunes. A couple of seashells the boys picked up on our beach walks. And we have our own little piece of the beach where we spent so many happy summer hours right here at home, proudly displayed on the shelf in the boys' bathroom.

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Cheap and cheerful paper puffs

Friday, 22 February 2013

Cheery spring art for a drab winter day

markers, window markers, kids' art, artThis is a fun little art project for kids to bring a little bit of spring to a cold winter day!

Crayola Window Markers are fabulous fun for the kids and just wipe right away when they're ready to begin a new masterpiece.

We coloured a sunny garden scene to stave off the winter blues  - so pretty when the sun shines through their third-story bedroom window.

These cheerful spring flowers brighten up the boys' room and bring a little bit of sunshine to a grey winter day.

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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Pretty flowers brighten more than your day

mango flowers, flower bouquet

My husband came home from work the other day with a bouquet of flowers for me. Bright, cheerful, orange-yellow-mango flowers - my favourite colours - fresh and springy on a cold, grey February day.

Why? Just because.

Everyone seems to be against the whole "buying flowers to say I love you" thing lately (particularly with Valentines Day this month, the ultimate manufactured Hallmark holiday that so many people seem to hate) and I get that - I understand why men shouldn't feel obligated to buy flowers for their wife or girlfriend in order to prove their love - but I don't care who you are, a bouquet of pretty flowers every now and again makes a girl feel special. Yes, they're perishable. Yes, they can be expensive - especially for something so perishable. But a little gesture to remind someone that you're thinking about them even when they're not around can really go a long way.

And it's those little gestures that keep a relationship going; even more so when your relationship has to endure the daily trials of house and home and children - mortgage, money, school, sports, playdates, parties, groceries, errands, laundry, dishes, housekeeping. It's hard to have a date night when you have young children. It's hard to feel sexy when you barely have time to shower and are operating on three hours' sleep and it's hard to feel romantic when the extent of your interaction most days is a coded conversation about report cards or temper tantrums over the children's heads at the dinner table.

But it's important to keep the love alive and the sense that you're a couple and that you're in this together and there's something special you share just the two of you - and if something as simple as a small bouquet of flowers every now and again can say all that, then that's a little gesture well worth making.

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Monday, 18 February 2013

Family Day Fun in Toronto

Rogers Centre, Family Day, carnival, rides, games, vendors, food, prizes
Family Fun Fair
Looking for something fun to do with the kids this Family Day?

There are endless fun activities in and around Toronto to keep the kids entertained and make family memories.

The Family Fun Fair is taking place at the Rogers Centre all weekend - carnival rides and games, junk food, vendors, and lots of indoor family fun.

Nathan Phillip's Square, Family Day, ice skating
Skating at Toronto City Hall

City Hall and Harbourfront Centre and most outdoor municipal rinks in the GTA are open for ice skating thanks to last week's deep freeze - strap on the skates, bundle up and head out for some free fun on the ice with the kids!

HarbourKIDS at Harbourfront offers skating performances, street dance competitions, concerts, and winter arts and culture from a kid's perspective as well as free public skating.

Also at Harbourfront, the PawsWay Pet Discovery Centre is open with doggie sports demos, magic shows, face painting and balloon artists, arts and crafts, games and prizes for the kids - all free!

Toronto's classic attractions including Fort York, Casa Loma, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Art Gallery of Ontario are all open and offering special family programming this Family Day.  The CN Tower is offering special admission prices for Family Day, and Riverdale Farm is a wonderful family outing and is always free.

The Toronto Zoo is always a fun family day out, and one of our family's all-time favourite field trip destinations. It may seem more like a summertime outing, but there's lots going on all year round at the Zoo - right now it's Winterfest, an annual event to celebrate and learn about polar bears (every kid's favourite zoo animal!)
polar bears, Family Day
Winterfest at the Toronto Zoo

Or try your local skating rink, tobogganing hill or hiking trail - bundle up in mittens, hats and scarves, pour a Thermos of hot chocolate and head out to enjoy this crisp, sunny Family Day long weekend.

Which of these fun things will we be doing this Family Day? None of them. We're on our way out the door as we speak to Eldest Son's all-day out-of-town soccer tournament.

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Outdoor winter fun!
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Friday, 15 February 2013

Valentines Day

We make a big deal out of all holidays around here, even the ones that don't mean anything. Valentines Day is a fun one because a celebration of love can be both a family-centred celebration during the day and a date night for couples after sundown.
Valentines Day, kids, hearts

Our Valentines Day started on the first of February - every morning my boys woke up to an "I love you because..." heart on their bedroom door. Such a little thing, but it made them feel so special.

Valentines Day, school lunch, hearts, kids

When we came downstairs for breakfast this morning there was a note from my husband (already on his way to work) and a special Valentine stuffy at each boy's seat. I packed a special Valentine lunch for school - heart-shaped sandwiches, veggies, and cookies - with a Valentine note from Mommy for a lunchtime surprise.

Valentines Day, cookies, hearts, chocolates

Baby and I spent the day baking, assembling and decorating these edible heart-shaped cookie boxes filled with Valentine chocolates and had them waiting for the older boys when they got home from school.

Valentines decor, crafts, kids crafts, hearts

The kids made the decorations - "stained glass" crayon-and-wax-paper hearts hanging in the windows and pipe cleaner hearts on the table and chairs.

Valentine's Day decor
Our family Valentines dinner was lasagna (because, you know, it's red...) with heart-shaped crescent rolls and salad with heart-shaped veggies. (Mommy did a lot of cutting last night.) Dessert was strawberry ice cream with heart-shaped strawberries. Nothing fancy, nothing too elabourate, nothing absurdly expensive. But it made the boys feel special and loved and helped to make a family memory.

And now the kids have gone to bed and my husband and I can have our own Valentine's Day celebration.

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Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Valentines Day decor ideas

Some lovely inspiration for Valentines Day decor... Happy Valentines Day!
Valentines Day decorations, pink, mantel
Valentines Day decorations, centrepiece, red
Valentines Day decorations, flowers, centrepieces

Valentines Day decorations, pink, mantel
Valentines Day decorations

Valentines Day decorations, centrepieces, heart

Valentines Day decorations, pink, paper flowers

Valentines Day decorations, crafts

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Monday, 11 February 2013

Valentines Day craft ideas

Valentines Day craft, kids' craft, Valentines decor
Valentines Day is another fun holiday for crafting with the kids. Here are some of my online finds for fabulous craft ideas this year - we'll definitely be trying these over the next few weeks!

This heart garland (right) made from construction paper or scrapbook paper is a quick and easy craft the kids can do themselves. I think we'll make these and string them around the dining room for our family Valentines Day celebration.

Valentines Day crafts, kids' crafts, Valentines decor

These pretty hanging paper hearts (left) are a great way to use up those odds and ends of craft and scrapbook paper and ribbon and beads that are clogging the kids' craft drawers. I think they'll look cute hanging at different heights from the dining room chandelier.

I love these crayon & wax paper hearts courtesy of Martha Stewart (below right). I'm thinking we'll make dozens and dozens of them and hang them in the huge front windows in the kitchen - they'll look gorgeous with all that late afternoon sun streaming through them. And we'll try a few of these "stained glass" glue hearts too (below left), although they seem like a more Mommy-centred craft.

Valentine craft, kids' craft, Valentines decor

Valentine's Kids Crafts

And I'm thinking these glitter-covered "hugs and kisses" letters could be fun on a plain white table runner in the middle of the dining table.

Valentines Day craft, kids' craft, homemade gifts

I like the idea of making a little Valentine gift for the kids' classmates instead of just sending chocolates and candies to school - these salt dough heart necklaces (left) are adorable, and I know the kids will have a blast making them.

Valentines Day, craft, kids' craft, Valentines gift
Handmade Valentines are the only way to go for Mommy and Daddy, of course, and I love love love this puzzle picture frame (left) - we will definitely be making one of these for my husband as a Valentines Day gift from the kids. Super cute.

Valentines Day cards, crafts, kids' crafts
Handprint crafts seem to be a must for every holiday (and what a great way to record the kids' growth when we see the change every year!) This double-handprint making a heart is a sweet one (right). And I can see my boys going crazy stamping everything in sight with this heart-shaped potato stamp! (Below.)
Photobucket, Valentines Day craft, kids' craft

Valentines Day craft, kids craft

Finally, the kids will need somewhere to keep all those Valentines from their friends, so this little lovebug mailbox (right) is the perfect place.

Happy crafting and Happy Valentines Day!

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Friday, 8 February 2013

Sweets for the sweet : a baker's dozen Valentine's Day desserts

This Valentine's Day I've pulled together the best of the best Valentiney desserts that I can find, and I absolutely cannot wait to get baking (and tasting!) some of these - sooo sinfully rich and deliciously decadent looking. I'm practically salivating just looking at these!

Happy Valentine's Day, and happy baking!
Valentines Day baking, desserts, pink, cookies
Berries & cream cookie sandwiches
Valentines Day baking, desserts, berries, pink, red
Chocolate raspberry heart Napoleons
Valentines Day baking, desserts, chocolate, cookies
Valentines heart cookie boxes
Valentines Day baking, desserts, cookies, pink
Chocolate sandwich sprinkle cookies
Valentines Day baking, desserts, pink, red
Valentines petits fours
Valentines Day baking, desserts, pink, red, strawberry, squares
Strawberry jelly squares
Valentines Day baking, desserts, pink, chocolate
Valentines nanaimo bars
Valentines Day baking, desserts, cookies, heart
Vanilla & chocolate heart cookies

Valentines Day baking, desserts, chocolate, heart
Orange chocolate pudding
Valentines Day baking, desserts, berries
Red velvet & strawberry trifle

Mexican wedding cookies, Valentines Day baking, desserts, red
Valentines "wedding cookies"

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