Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Home Renos - on a seriously tight budget.

Hubby and I are nearing the end of our most recent stage of home renos. This weekend, he installed new carpet in our master bedroom, our upstairs hallway and our stairs. From the beginning of February until now we have been sleeping on a mattress in the basement with bedroom furniture crammed all around us while our bedroom got new paint, light fixtures, baseboards and flooring. After hanging our curtains at 11:30 last night, we sat on the empty floor of our room and looked around at what we had accomplished in our house in the past 4 years.

Some people don't really need to worry about money. I am not one such person, nor are most of you likely. For the majority of us, home renovations are something we need to save up for, and plan out to make sure that we're saving the most money possible. Many of us will get our own hands dirty to avoid the cost of contracting out trades, and often renos can take a lot longer than you anticipated quite simply because you need more money, or since you're doing all the work yourself you can only get so much done after you get home from putting in 9 hours at your normal job.

I am very pleased to say that now that we are FINALLY come out to the other side of updating our house, we were able to look back last night at all we accomplished, at marvel at the fact that we spent so little money! Now, we were lucky for sure - given that my husband is a flooring installer, he was able to get a lot of stuff for a reduced cost and had almost every tool we needed, so we didn't need to pay full price for any flooring we got, and there were minimal tool rentals. Timing played a bit of a factor on our luck since the year that we bought this house and decided to gut our main bathroom, Canada announced a one-year Home Renovation Tax Credit as an incentive for people to spend money. We ended up getting awesome deals because everyone was hopping on board with this home reno incentive and we ended up being able to claim all of our costs for a tax credit. But, somethings that we did were very simply looking at what we had, and deciding we could rework it, or making the decision to get something nice and new without needing it to be the most expensive model in the store.

One of our best accomplishments is our bathroom. When we bought this house, there were two main issues: a squirrel in the attic and moisture behind the wall in the main bath. The squirrel was an easy enough fix (incidentally, we found out why Walmart sells Rat Traps in Alberta), but the moisture in the bathroom took some thinking: were we just going to fix the problem and renovate gradually, or were we going to gut that bad boy and get everything in order from the get-go? Turns out, we decided gutting was the way to go. What that meant was new toilet, tub, vanity, faucets, flooring and tub surround The room was 1980's original - and awful. The vanity was nice back in the day, but now it was quite simply ugly and impractical. It took up way more space than it needed to and didn't offer practical storage. The tub was very low and yellow, as was the toilet, and the flooring was just straight up awful. So we took everything out. And then we put everything new back in. And at the end of the day, how much did this little venture cost us? Less than $2000.

Cost breakdown:
Soaker Tub - $300
Glass-bowl Vanity - $300
Toilet - $150 minus $50 rebate for low-flow
Flooring - $200
Tile - $150 (Matt used to work in a flooring store warehouse and had saved up a few boxes of leftover tile since high school. In the end we only needed to buy one box plus a listello)
Medicine cabinet - $80
Faucet - $190 (this was our only real 'splurge' item)
Shower curtain rod - $30
Baseboards and mouldings - $50
Paint - $40
Misc. costs - $300 (drywall, mud, electrical wiring, plumbing, etc)

Through shopping for sales I found the vanity and tub for cheaper than I expected. And while I said that the paint cost $40, I think we actually got the gallon for free thanks to an in-store promotion. Not to mention, almost all of the $300 misc. costs were covered by giftcards that Home Depot was handing out at the time if you purchased bathroom reno products above a certain value. We reused the vanity lighting, the overjohn, showerhead and light fixture that were already in the bathroom, and they don't look the least out of place. Because Matt did all of the work himself (except for the full-shower custom tile job which a friend gave us as a wedding present) we saved literally thousands of dollars. We figure it would have cost roughly $10,000 to do the same bathroom without shopping sales, getting discounts and doing the work ourselves. Not bad if you ask me! Oh, and I forgot to mention that our realtor negotiated $2000 back from our house purchase price to cover the cost of fixing the moisture behind the shower wall, so technically this was all done on that dime.

Since then we've done at least something to almost every single room of our house, but besides putting in new flooring, this latest update has been our biggest one since the bathroom. And how much is it costing us? About $1000 total. The flooring was again super cheap for us thanks to Hubby's staff discount, but by savvy shopping we actually got a gallon of our primary paint color for free (a promotion with the carpet purchase), we opted to reuse blinds and curtain rods rather than splurging on fancy expensive ones, we asked around for a new dresser and found a relative quite willing to give us their old one, and our headboard was a dime-a-dozen kijiji find which we sanded and varnished to give it a custom rustic look. Even with the one splurge item that we typically allow ourselves (our new ceiling fan in this case), our costs are super low, and while it did take a bit of compromising to get there, we don't regret anything in our finished product.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Master Bedroom

I finally have some pictures to put up of our home reno! Yay!

My hubby has been chipping away at the reno every day after work, and every weekend. After getting the main color on all the walls last week and installing a new ceiling fan (which he needed to run new wires and cut a hole in the ceiling for), we finally got to move on to more finishing projects. Last night his dad popped by to lend a hand on our accent wall. We had planned to sponge the wall to give it a sort of 'dust cloud' feel but I was quite apprehensive... sponging can look really good, and it can look really bad. I knew how I definitely did not want it to look: like someone skinned a cheeta and hung its fur on our wall. Or maybe like the wall contracted measles. Google "sponge painting" and you'll see what I mean. I needed it to be smoother. So, when they started I made sure that my hopes were clear, but I needed to leave the room so I could let them do their job without all of my hyper-active anxieties hanging over them.

The result?

Not half bad!

The picture makes it look grainier than it is, and while it doesn't look quite like clouds, the look is more like textured leather, and absolutely gorgeous! To get this effect it took two men, two sea sponges, a pint of accent color and some glaze. They needed to mix the accent color into the glaze, and then soak the sponges in water so that they only held a bit of paint and didn't become saturated with it. Hubby did a bit more of a 'swirling' motion in his application while his dad did a more spotty-jab so it combined to have a very nice marbley look.

Next up comes finishing the baseboards, followed by flooring, then things like curtain rods, headboard installation, etc. We're getting there!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentines Day 2013 - Planning

What makes your Valentines Day special?

Do you need the flowers? Are chocolates mandatory? Do you hope for a personalized card? Perhaps you need your man to go all-out with the fancy dinner, fine wine and maybe a drive out in the country to dance under the stars?

My idea of a 'special' Valentines Day is having something unexpected. I love the idea of making an otherwise-normal day into something fun; Valentines Day doesn't merit time off work like Christmas or Easter does, but I still want that day to feel like a holiday. Some people don't care for Valentines Day, or intentionally make a point of not celebrating it as though it detracts from over-all romance to be told which specific day you need to celebrate your relationship. I am not one such person. It's nice to have a day designated to celebrating your romance, especially when all the world understands where you're coming from. You know how at Christmas you can wear a santa hat and no one thinks you're crazy? On Valentines Day, you can be in la-la land all day, eat copious amounts of chocolate and get gifts at work, and no one questions why.

Anyway, every year since Matt and I started dating, I've made an effort to do something a bit quirky for our celebration. One year I set up a bistro table in the living room with a rose on the table and special dessert. I've made him a 'menu' for the evening, where I listed activities and he got to choose an 'appetizer', 'entree' and 'dessert' (things like board games, going for coffee, watching a movie of his choosing, catching a local show, etc). One year I made him lamb chops for dinner and then ended up taking him to the hospital because he cut his hand... that one was unplanned... And last year I made our house into a bit of a Valentines Explosion - I hung a banner on our front window that said "The world's greatest husband lives here!", I made hearts in the snow with colored water, I hung heart garlands through the house and I hid 2 dozen handmade valentines through his clothes, his van, his work binder, his bedside table, his side of the bed and more, all of which he found throughout the day. (I even set some alarms on his phone so mid-day he'd get "I love you" reminders!)

This year, the ball is in his court. I gave him fair warning, and expressed that it was his turn to come up with something unexpected. Of course, I didn't think about the fact that we'd be right in the middle of renovations when the day came, so I'm not sure what he has planned, but we might have to work around rolls of carpet in our hallways and a headboard in our dining room. We've got a LifeGroup meeting that night too, so we don't get an actual 'date' time, so whatever the unexpected thing is, our kids will be in tow. Hopefully I didn't make it too hard for his first year of the quirky planning!

Of course, I can't just do nothing for Valentines Day, so I told him I had dinner plans covered: we're going to have a picnic in our living room! We'll set pillows on the floor around our pallet coffee table, which will likely have a nice table cloth on it, and we'll have borscht, asparagus spears with roasted cherry tomatoes, crab legs and possibly pasta of some sort (probably tortellini in a rose sauce). I'll have a few special things ready for the kids' sake, like pomegranate seeds frozen in ice cubes, and a jello and whipped cream dessert - and everything will of course be red. Our kids are old enough that the mess should be contained, and they'll love the novelty of eating dinner on the floor. I made these crepe paper kissing balls last year, which I'll bring out for a centerpiece this year, and of course there will be valentines from the kids to daddy waiting on the table.

It's going to be fun this year!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Buy Local!

As much as I'm a cheap person (which is quite a lot actually), I am getting better at understanding that sometimes you need to spend money. And the more I understand that, the more I think about where my money is actually going.
Since I started selling Pampered Chef nearly 2 years ago, I've made an effort to buy through similar home party-based businesses; I knew how tough it was some months to get orders, and I wanted to help my friends in similar situations. Instead of simply going to Walmart or HomeSense for the cheapest thing I can find, I place orders through friends who sell Avon, Arbonne, Stella and Dot and Epicure.
Likewise, while I may be a cheap person particularly when it comes to clothing, I also know that sometimes I end up with ill-fitting clothes simply because they were on sale for dirt cheap, or I buy shoes that aren't supremely comfy because I didn't have to pay more than $20 on them. So, when a friend opened a local clothing store that focused on board-wear, Matt and I both made an effort to save up a bit more money and go buy a piece or two from them that we really, really enjoyed and would happily wear again and again (case and point - my Sitka hoodie that Matt bought me for our anniversary last year, which I wear nearly everywhere and am hardly out of reach of it). We love the clothes, don't regret spending the money on an investment piece afterwards, and we certainly love supporting our friends.

Sometimes, it does take a bit more money to support people and businesses that you want to support, but sometimes it just takes a bit of planning. For example, at the beginning of each year, I look at money that I know will need to be spent on certain things: I'll need makeup and bath supplies, we'll need birthday presents for a few people including our kids, and this year we'll be looking at making investment purchases for our home. For the makeup and bath supplies, I typically order through Avon, which my sister sells. I enjoy a number of their products, so I'll continue using those regularly. I try to buy when things are on sale in their catalogue, so I don't really spend more money doing this than I would if I bought at somewhere like Shoppers Drug Mart or Walmart. And my sister appreciates the support. There are a few higher end products that I buy through Arbonne, which a friend sells - particularly their lash enhancing serum. It retails through Arbonne for about the same price that I've seen it at any other company, so if I'm going to use it, I might as well buy it through a friend. Occassionally I still do break down and look for things at HomeSense when Avon or Arbonne don't have quite what I'm looking for, but it's still okay to buy for the sake of savings - just it's best to make an effort to support local businesses and friends and family first.
Next, the birthday presents - and not just birthdays really: Father's Day, Mother's Day, baby showers, wedding showers... Lots of presents. This year I'm getting a number of people similar presents: survival bracelets made with paracord. A friend makes these and sells them, and right now the proceeds are going towards an upcoming missions trip her daughter will be going on. She sells through the Etsy store SimpleDiversity and considering how moderately priced these bracelets are, and how practical they can be, they're a great gift idea for everyone from kids to outdoorsy husbands to friends who like a unique piece to wear! (For those of you who don't know, a paracord survival bracelet is hugely practical because it can be unwound in an emergency situation and used for a variety of reasons. Single color styles are made from one continuous length of paracord, which has a test strength of 550 lbs, and the paracord can even be taken apart into the individual strands that make up the cord, giving you around 64 feet of rope in an emergency situation - oh, and they're cute!)
So far my niece, my eldest son, my husband, my father-in-law, my brother and I will be getting ones made, and a $10 birthday gift is not bad!
Besides the survival bracelets, a few of our giftees will be receiving items from companies like Stella and Dot and likely shower gifts from some friends I know that run their own home businesses selling baby gear.
Lastly, Matt and I had anticipated setting money aside for special pieces for our house. Almost all of our furniture is secondhand (very generously bestowed upon us by relatives) and while it serves the purpose well, Matt and I have been considering getting a piece refinished so that we have at least one thing that's uniquely ours. A woman from our church just recently started a business refinishing furniture, and she has quite the flair for it!
Instead of Matt and I going to a furniture store and shelling out a few hundred dollars on a dresser that looks identical to what many other people would have in their homes, we're contemplating taking a hand-me-down dresser to this lady and getting her to work her magic on it. And for about the same price, we'll have a piece that is incredibly beautiful, wholely unique and something that we'll love to look at over and over again.
She works under the business name JT's Total Transformation, and the picture of the dresser above is a sample of one of the pieces she's done, but if you go to her page make sure you check out the china cabinet she refinished and used as a shoe display! Gorgeous!
Besides furniture, Matt and I are also looking at investing in another piece of artwork. We started collecting art as a couple while we were still engaged, and at the time we simply picked a picture that we liked off of Ebay that had low shipping rates and bought it for the house we were going to live in together after we got married. The quality of the picture in reality was nothing compared to how it looked in the ad, and we've since learned that we might as well spend another $50 and get a piece we really love from a local artist. For our first anniversary we bought a piece by Fred Buchwitz, a painter from western Canada who paints alot of mountainscapes. We've since added another numbered print and a smaller print of his to our collection of artwork and we've now decided that we need to branch out to more artists before we get another Buchwitz. After reorganizing our dining room, we actually decided to move the piece that had been hanging above our bed to the accent wall over the new sideboard, and now, we have no focal art in our bedroom! We need a new piece, and we had a pretty good idea where to look. There are 3 artists that frequent our church, 2 painters and one photographer, and we had long planned on getting a piece done by one of them at least. For what we were hoping for, I'm thinking we'll order a print from the photographer - a great local guy named Collin Orthner. We'll be looking for a piece that has the accent colors for our room (deep blues and soft yellows) and upon browsing through his blog I came across a load of pictures that fit the bill visually, plus they held elements of nature that Matt and I tend to be drawn to in artwork, like clouds, trees and water.
We're seeing him this Thursday at LifeGroup and I'm excited to chat him up about his work and see if he has any recommendations for us!

I'm so excited for the unique pieces we'll be adding to our home, the handmade gifts we'll be giving and the support we'll be able to show to people around us! Buy local! Totally the way to go!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Parties, Parties, Parties!

I LOVE parties! Honestly, I want to be a party planner. Except that I want every party to be perfect like how it looks in my mind, and other peoples' stupid ideas sometimes frustrate my idea of 'perfection' so I have reconsidered my ability to be a party planner.
But still, I LOVE parties!

That's one thing that I'm very excited for this year; while I won't be planning nearly the number of surprise shindigs as occurred last year, I'll have ample excuses to throw mini-parties that will be made by small details and flowing themes. A new baby? "Meet the Baby!" party! A little boy turning 4? Knight-themed birthday party! Sister-in-law getting married? Wedding shower! Selling tea? As many tea parties as I can fit into my schedule!!!

I received my login information for selling Steeped Tea products yesterday and started reading through some ideas they gave for holding theme parties. It really got me thinking about what sort of parties I would love to hold:

A Spa party with a second consultant selling Avon or Arbonne products doing pedicures while the ladies sip Coconut Calypso tea and eat frozen yogurt with fresh berries served in waffle cones

A Rainy Day party focused on a group that shares a common hobby, like books or knitting, where they'll eat a freshly baked zucchini loaf and sip Dark Chocolate Chai tea.

A Summer Nights party where we sit around the fire, roast marshmallows and drink Apple Crumble Tea

A Backyard Block Party with the grill running all afternoon and iced Mint Julep Herbal tea waiting to refresh the crowd

A Play Date Picnic at a park where the kids will play while the moms taste Summer Sun Mate and then everyone cools off with BubbleGum Fruit Tea Popsicles

A Mar-TEA-ni Party with the girls featuring a Caribbean Daiquiri tea signature cocktail and anti pasti platters with gourmet cheese selections and dark chocolate aplenty

A classic Afternoon High Tea featuring tea sandwiches, fresh fruit, scones and showcasing the Earl Grey de la Creme and the Pink Lady White Tea. Pretty hats optional (or mandatory - I'd be cool either way)

Every single one of these ideas is layered with opportunities for me to go over and above! Would I really dream of having a Spa Party without the right music, lighting and aromatherapy? Or do you honestly think I could stop myself from making tea cup candles as centerpieces for my High Tea party?? I'm so excited!

And that Knight Birthday Party I mentioned in passing? That's totally a real thing. Gabe had every option in the world for party themes and he chose knights and princesses (I blame Backyardigans). I was worried he'd feel a little ripped off because he was dressed up as a knight for Halloween, but hey, one less costume I have to buy. I started scheming for this last night a bit: I picture games of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Dragon, jousting practice and maybe even a life-sized medieval-themed Angry Birds built around a cardboard castle. Although perhaps it will be Angry Dragons and the dragon egg hunt will have to come at the end... I'm going to make a tunic for my two youngest boys (weird... I'll have three boys by then!), I'll be dressed as a queen, Matt gets to be the king, and Gabe will be the top knight. We'll dress up Gabe's rocking horse to be a royal steed, we'll make banners, shields and princess hats, and play in a big cardboard castle that the kids can decorate. I think the hardest part is going to be the food. Short of writing "Ye Olde" in front of everything, medieval food for kids is actually kind of hard. Medieval foods was typically very hardy, with not a lot of flavor, but lots of salt brining and smoking. I'm not sure about feed a bunch of 4 and 3 year olds drumsticks, especially not when half the group will be dressed in their finest princess clothes. So I'll need to think on that.

But before all of this happens, first I get to plan something for Valentines Day!!! I've informed Matt that this is his year to plan something whimsical and creative as a surprise for me, so while I won't be hiding 2 dozen hand-made valentines around the house again this year, I think I will serve dinner on the floor around our coffee table and we can have a demi-romantic living room picnic dinner (I say demi-romantic because the kids will still be with us for dinenr that night). I'm hoping to make borscht, maybe cook up those crab legs in my freezer and perhaps I'll find some asparagus on sale which I can wrap in proscuitto (although I much prefer my proscuitto around apple slices...) Oh, and I'd better have cheese of some sort.
And who knows what crazy thing Matt will do for us? At least he acknowledged he was joking when he suggested he write "Happy Valentines Day" in the snow with his urine.

That's why I'm the one who gets to plan the parties in our house.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, February 4, 2013

How to Turn Your House Upside-Down part 4

The Master Bedroom

Well, there was a very brief time in the course of this series where my house was clean. We're talking every room of the house was at least 90% clean, every single day. Sometime after reorganizing the dining room to include the new sideboard, and setting up the wardrobe in the nursery, we needed a break from the general upside-down-ness of organizational projects. I'd say it probably lasted a week and a half.

And now it's all undone again.

After my tea party, we decided that we didn't need the house to stay pristine for any upcoming events, so it was the perfect timing to start the big overhaul of our master bedroom. And when I say 'big overhaul' I mean everything is coming out except the subfloor; new baseboards, new carpet, new light fixtures, new paint on everything including the ceiling... This is a big project. This is also the project we've been trying to get to for the longest. Our hallway upstairs has sat without baseboards for 4 years now. We took them off to paint, and left them off in anticipation of getting new flooring, but something else always came up before we were able to buy the new carpet (hot water tank dying, dishwasher blowing, more kids...) So now we finally are getting the new carpet that will cover the stairs, that hallway, and our bedroom. So excited!!

But in the meantime, I have a dining room full of excess furniture again. And a temporary bedroom set up in the basement. Matt and I are sleeping on our mattress laid on the floor in the basement, with out dressers and night tables down there, while our headboard, bed frame, hampers, shelves and box spring are all shoved in a corner of the dining room. We also don't have carpet on the stairs or in the hallway or bedroom since we needed to tear it all out so we could have a place to do all of the painting of our doors and baseboards. That means the kids can't play in the basement because there is simply no room, they can't roam free through the upstairs because of the potential for slivers, and they have be supervised in the dining room so that they don't pull anything over on themselves. My poor kiddos are going to go crazy by the end of the week... Hopefully it stays warm outside!

Since we started our overhaul on Friday, we've stripped the floors, pulled out any remaining baseboards in the bedroom, puttied all the walls, primed and painted all of the door jams, primed the bedroom and closet doors, and done one coat of paint on the ceiling. I'm a little bit useless when it comes to alot of this stuff (I don't have the balance or strength when I'm pregnant to hold the doors upright while I roll them, I'm allergic to the rubber pad that was under our old carpet so I nearly had to evacuate the house during the tearout, and given my pregnancy I'm limiting my exposure to paint, so I can't just paint all day long). So I've taken some of my extra time to do a couple other touch ups through the house, like filling holes in other rooms and touching up the paint on those walls, plus on areas like our banister downstairs and anywhere I see a chip in the paint through our house. I've done all I can do up to this point and until Matt gets the ceiling painted and the doors rolled, I can't get started painting the walls in the bedroom. But that's about the last thing I can actually do! Matt will need to rewire the lights to install a new ceiling fan we got, he'll need to cut and install the baseboards, he'll need to put in the carpet and even rehang the doors! Plus, after I do one coat on the walls we're going to wait for the second until the baseboards and carpet are in (the walls are bound to get scuffed during the installations), so I'll be sitting around being useless for a little while in between. Depending on how crazy my household feels at that time, perhaps I'll break out the sewing machine and make some accent pillows for the bed. Funnily enough, when it comes to 'finishing' the room, it's all up to me. I'll be responsible for the menial tasks like steaming our window panels, rehanging curtain rods and pictures to ensure they sit in the ideal location, dictating where furniture needs to sit and figuring out the accent pieces for the room. We're moving the bed to sit under our window and since we moved our big art piece from over our bed to the dining room, we actually have a surprising amount of open wallspace on what is supposed to be our accent wall... looks like we need to find some more artwork too! I'm thinking something bold and a bit dark with deep, smokey blues and strong reds. Perhaps we'll have to commission a piece from one of our artist friends (which we have quite the number of actually!)

I've noticed that the general cleanliness and tidyness of my house is shot when so much is out of place. I find it harder to convince myself to do the dishes in the sink when I look around and see how trashed everything else is too. Instead of trying to preserve the areas that can still be maintained, I just feel drowned by the messiness and feel like I've already lost. But it's just for another week, right? After next weekend when all the painting and flooring is done and our furniture moves back in, everything will be back to normal. Right?

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)