Tidying up

tidying up space clearing

We get good mileage out of tidying up our homes in early December until early January. It’s a natural time to clean up to make room for invited guests and for decorations such as the Christmas tree.

Things get moved here to there and temporarily stored away to make room for new items, and it gets us thinking about our homes and the things we own. In this 1500 square foot house we’re (practically ) five grown ups, so this is a regular necessity.

tidying up space clearing

It happens in January when we remove the decorations, and look for space and a place to put new things. It’s a natural time for renewal and revaluation.

If I had New year’s intention it might be this: to strive for fullness with an impulse toward simplicity. I like how Leonard Koren puts it: “To pare down to the essence without removing the poetry.” Luckily, life provides opportunities to practice this.

tidying up space clearing

I’ve had plenty practice sorting essential items from useless ones; before we settled into this home we moved apartments four times in seven years. Not to even mention the several apartments I moved in and out of before we married.

Several summers ago, the five of us lived comfortably in a small apartment without our belongings for an entire month. After we returned home I looked around at what we owned and thought, “If we moved tomorrow would we take it with us?” I then packed several bags for the Goodwill.

tidyng up space clearing

Clearing my father’s home of his belongings was eye-opening and helped me reconsider my attachments to things, even the sentimental. With it came the comforting realization that you can have vivid memories without relics to conjure them.

When I was four our home burned to the ground and we lost everything. Even catastrophe offers an indelible moment; it was stuff and stuff is replaceable.

 

Inspiration found; an ornament exchange party

food, ornament exchange party

Next week we’re hosting an office party of 30 people in our home. I know what has to be done but I need inspiration.

One snowy evening last week I bundled up and headed a few blocks away for an ornament exchange party at Cindy’s. Inspiration found.

Every year in early December for the last ten years Cindy’s been welcoming about 20 neighbourhood moms into her home. I wrote about it here and here.

Having a camera makes you pay close attention to elements that make any gathering, not only a holiday gathering, a pleasure to attend – good lighting, good company, delicious food and drinks, a host enjoying herself. Comfort and joy.

outdoor christmas decorations, porch

Holiday cheer spills out of Cindy’s home and onto the porch.

simple decorating for the holidays

ornament exchange party

Welcomed, warm and cozy inside. Fire, lots of greenery, ornaments, candles and lights.

hosting a holiday party

holiday drink, cranberry juice and champagne

cranberry juice and champagne

hosting a holiday party, special drink

Offerings of wine, fizzy water, and a special drink – cranberry juice and champagne plus naughty drink markers.

food at ornament exchange party

food, ornament exchange party

 

cheese tray, ornament exchange party

vegetable tray, ornament exchange party

Savory eats are served from the beautiful walnut topped island in the kitchen – pickled this and that, canapes, delicious cheeses, fresh figs, grapes, nuts, crackers and an inspired vegetable tray.

dining room, ornament exchange party

dining room, ornament exchange party

dessert table, ornament exchange party

Desserts are served in the dining room. Some are sneaked away in napkins for children’s lunches the next day. Cindy doesn’t mind.

ornament exchange party

ornament exchange party

We end the evening with the ornament exchange. It’s an opportunity to give and receive with added elements of randomness and surprise – the drawing of the numbers from Cindy’s hat and then deciding which wrapped ornament to choose from under the tree, not knowing what’s inside.

ornament exchange party

ornament exchange party

ornament exchange party

ornament exchange party

This and that

wreath in window

Advice on how to be a good blogger often suggests your posts be timely; write about something in the social consciousness. For example, the Holidays are fast approaching. Now’s the time to inspire readers with gift giving ideas, a seasonal recipe or instructions on how to make your own gift wrap.

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for the Holidays is in the very early stages. I’m still seeking inspiration and slowly finding it here and there. While I conjure up more enthusiasm I’ll share with you five things that caught my attention lately:

1.this juice

carrot, oange and ginger juice

because it’s an elixir when I’m feeling less than vital – 3 carrots, 1 orange, 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger.

2.these candles

bees wax candles

because I love the smell of bees wax and how it burns.

3.these wee poinsettias

tiny poinsettia

because they’re precious and I’ve no space for bigger versions.

4.this food waste bag

saving eggshells for the garden

because it’s perfect for storing egg shells for the garden.

5.these shingles

turquoise peeling paint

because they inspire me to embrace imperfection.

 

Noticed elsewhere:

favourite colour palette lately
this is sure to kick start my Holiday spirit

A peek inside a beautiful Ottawa home

glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

I read if you blog and you’re a woman you blog less in the summer because of attention pulled elsewhere: to gardens, to kids (if you have them) because they’re no longer in school, and to holidays. So true in my experience.

When I think to sit down and share with you a great recipe, an interesting link or opinion, I get side tracked by life. Potted flowers need watering, lawn needs mowing, I need to be outside and take in the beauty of the season, and so on. And kids, even though they may be big (like mine are) need attention, too. (I write this while in the midst of getting ready to join Simon in Cape Cod for five days. Sans enfants!!)

Something else that occupies a good chunk of my time lately is helping to organize the Glebe House Tour. This fall’s group of five homes is wonderful. Before I leave for Cape Cod, how’s about I give you peek inside one them.

glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy
It was built in the early 1900’s and recently renovated, guided by the vision of its homeowners, Jenny and Alain.

I love this home. It’s welcoming, comfy and elegant. I love its spaciousness even though it’s not an open concept home. In fact, no walls were torn down during the renovation. However, hallways were widened and openings were created in some walls allowing for very pleasing sight lines into adjacent rooms.

And light! Maybe it’s because I feel I have to wait for or seek out good light in our home that I was so taken with the abundance of beautiful light in this one. Not only light, but beautiful views to the outside as well. In fact, there are window views of Ottawa’s Rideau canal from practically every room.

Add to those qualities a wonderful blend of custom-built and antique furniture plus great finds from Home Sense and Ikea, and carefully chosen fixtures and original art, and you have yourself a very beautiful home.

We’re so happy to have it on this fall’s Tour.

Thank you Alain, Jenny, Tom and Molly the dog!

glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

stained glass window glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

family pet glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

AGA cooker glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

glebe house tour| suzanne mccarthy

Glebe House Tour | suzanne mccarthy

 

Bathroom revamp reveal

bathroom revamp revealOur new bathroom is just like the old bathroom, only better.

The old fixtures were removed and replaced. We now have a beautiful and deep soaker tub to better accommodate the tall folks in our home, a new sink (not at all unlike its predecessor in its pedestal design), and a new high tech toilet with hands-free functions to keep the toilet cleaner for longer – the less often hands touch things the cleaner things remain. The toilet was Simon’s choice and, although it took getting used to, I think I’m beginning to like it. Especially that it seems to stay cleaner longer.

Faucets and towel holders were upgraded.

bathroom revamp reveal - soaker tub

bathroom revamp reveal - pedestal sink

bathroom revamp reveal - pedestal sink

bathroom revamp reveal - free standing faucet

bathroom revamp reveal - sink and faucet

 

bathroom revamp reveal - towel holder

 

bathroom revamp reveal - toto washlet

You can program the toilet so the seat opens when you enter the room, flushes itself once you’re finished and closes a few minutes later.

Everything is in the same place as before (except for a light switch) and the footprint hasn’t moved a smidgen. Yet the bathroom feels bigger because we installed a pocket door.

bathroom revamp reveal - pocket door

bathroom revamp reveal - pocket door

The floor is also new. I love the look of hexagon tiles and how good they feel on bare feet.

bathroom revamp reveal - hexagon tiles

We kept the wainscoting and only removed it from around the chimney to expose more of the brick.

bathroom revamp reveal - exposed brick

Ceiling, walls, trim and wainscoting are painted the same colour, “parchment” by C2.

bathroom revamp reveal - soaps

bathroom revamp reveal

 

 

Roasted carrots with pine nuts, spinach and raisins

roasted carrots with spinach, pine nuts and raisins

 

roasted carrots with pine nuts, spinach and raisins

 

roasted carrots with pine nuts, spinach and raisins

Wondering where we’re at with our bathroom renovation? Well, the tub is finally out of the living room and installed in the bathroom.

It’s a five-foot long deep soaker tub. Since water weighs a lot (one kilogram per litre) our contractor wanted to be certain we wouldn’t come crashing down through the floor and into the kitchen on our first dip into the bathtub.

Rather than fill the tub with water (and risk having THAT mess to deal with should the floor not be able to withstand the weight) he chose a static weight; he placed in the tub several sand bags, totaling hundreds of pounds, and then jumped in to add to the load.

roasted carrots with pine nuts, spinach and raisins

Turns out this old house’s structure is sound enough and we can bathe without anxiety. Phew!

Speaking of certainty, I was roasting carrots to feed my family the other night, certain I had prepared enough for my hungry crowd. But when I pulled them from the oven they had considerably shrunk and the amount seemed scant.

roasted carrots with pine nuts, spinach and raisins

roasted carrots with pine nuts, spinach and raisins

roasted carrots with pine nuts, spinach and raisins

roasted carrots with pine nuts, spinach and raisins

My wise daughter suggested I add spinach to bulk things up. So I added several handfuls of tender spinach to the hot cookie sheet, tossed it among the carrots (which helped it slightly wilt), added salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, and voila!

Coincidently, I recently came upon this recipe, which inspired me to take this dish to the next level by adding spices, pine nuts and raisins. The result is a flavourful and hearty dish, packed with nutrients. It’s colourful and pretty, too. And I love to eat pretty things. Don’t you?

roasted carrots with pine nuts, spinach and raisins

roasted carrots with pine nuts, spinach and raisins

These are the amounts I used to feed five hungry people as a side dish.

Roasted carrots with pine nuts, spinach and raisins

14 medium carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons spice of your choice (I used freshly grated nutmeg)

3/4 cup raisins (or dried cranberries or cherries)

1/2 cup pine nuts (or pumpkin seeds)

juice of 1/2 a lemon

Several handfuls of tender spinach (or mesclun greens)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, toss carrots with olive oil and spice of your choice. Spread out on prepared baking sheet and roast 20 minutes or until carrots are tender with golden brown edges.

Remove from oven. Scatter raisins and pine nuts on hot baking sheet and gently toss.

Add spinach to carrots and toss gently.

Finish with a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of sea salt and pepper to taste.

Serve directly from baking sheet.

 

Bathroom revamp

bathroom revamp

My next blog post was going to be about a beautifully designed chair I’ve been admiring. But Simon suggested I write about how we’re fixing up the upstairs bathroom. “People love before and afters,” he said.

So here’s a sneak peak as we revamp one of the smallest albeit most important rooms in our more than 125 year-old home.

Perhaps you think the bathroom looks fine as is. True. But a closer inspection would reveal tired, chipped and peeling fixtures. Even though we invested money and endured toxic fumes to have them resurfaced and painted, they became chipped again. The sink is an eye sore, the bathtub is dangerous to our bottoms (ouch!), and the toilet wobbles.

Since it’s one of the most highly used rooms in our home it deserves to be a priority, don’t you think?

So a few weeks ago, after carefully measuring the space, Simon set off to a local hardware store and picked out a new bathtub and faucet, sink and toilet. When he saw something he liked, he sent photos with a text message for approval. And that was that.

Now to find the right attitude while we deal with the disruptions. For example, when we have to pee in the middle of the night we have to travel down two sets of stairs and back up again. By the time I get back into bed I’m wide awake! No more herbal tea before bedtime, I guess.

But it’s a first world problem and I’ll avoid complaining. Given all the homeless and refugees of this world, I’m grateful for our cozy home and that we have the means with which to renovate it.

I can’t wait until it all comes together. Stay tuned!

xo

bathroom revampAbove: We love the brick chimney. The plan is to remove and use the wainscoting that’s covering it up to repair any damage that needs to occur to the wainscoting in the rest of the bathroom. We talked about removing all of it and tiling instead, but it’s in such good condition and suits the character of our home.

bathroom revampAbove: We need to replace the old pine floor as it needs to be torn up to deal with the plumbing. We’re going with this tile. The colour was inspired by a colour pulled from the bricks in the chimney.

bathroom revamp

bathroom revampAbove: See what I mean? Eye sore.

bathroom revampAbove: This cabinet, which must be as old as the house, needs a little love and care but it stays. Out with the old and in with the new, but not all the time.

bathroom revampAbove: Renovation is underway. I have some painting to do!

bathroom revamp

Above: Three hundred pounds of cast iron sitting in a snowbank waiting to be picked up. We offered it for free on kijiji and had loads of interest.

 

 

 

The most compelling reason to keep your clutter to a minimum

keeping clutter to a minimum, downsizing for a parent

I’m the kind of person who likes to shed stuff regularly. I’ve never been a collector. I see value and magic in having less stuff and I feel best living amongst meaningful and useful things. I’m clutter averse and I try to encourage my family to be the same way.

I’m also part of a large and ever-growing group of people who has had to downsize for a parent who, over the years, didn’t pare down or separate the meaningful and useful things from the clutter.

Almost a year ago, my sisters and I processed and cleared everything from my Dad’s home (my mom died several years earlier). I wrote a bit about it here.

If you’ve ever gone through this experience you become acutely aware of what’s in store for your children in the future, and you feel a strong resolve to not heap upon them the same burden.

The time and energy spent sorting through a parent’s lifetime worth of stuff, coupled with the responsibility to honor the past, is exhausting and overwhelming. It takes a toll emotionally, physically and financially. It can require long plane flights, taking time off work without pay, and leaving family behind to cope in your absence. And if you and your siblings are not on the same page, it can cause tension and arguments.

I’ve read about cases where people pull up a dumpster and get rid of stuff that way. But that approach wasn’t for us. We worked hard to deal with Dad’s belongings thoughtfully and respectfully. We separated the meaningful stuff from the clutter. We doled out heirlooms diplomatically and found good homes for treasured items. We advertised and held a moving sale. What didn’t sell we donated to worthy causes. What was left went in the garbage. It took 5 weeks in total, working day and night. We did it gracefully without tension or arguments, which I’ve also read is rare.

So don’t wait. Clear your clutter and lighten your load now. If we spend the first 40 years of our lives accumulating and collecting, it seems to me we should spend the next 40 years letting go.

It’s nothing short of a gift of love.

downsizing for a parentAbove: My Mom’s beautiful collection of tea cups found a good home. They went to Beaverbrook House, an historic home in Miramichi that holds tea services open to the public.

downsizing for a parentAbove: Crystal for sale.

downsizing for a parent, decluttering, space clearingAbove: We sorted through all of Mom’s artwork and sketches.

downsizing for a parent, decluttering, space clearing

Above: What we didn’t keep for ourselves, my sister framed with old frames found around the house and we added them to the items for sale. It feels right knowing Mom’s art will be hanging in so many homes.

downsizing for a parent, decluttering, space clearingAbove: We polished up the furniture and staged the house to get ready for the big sale, which took place over two days.

downsizing for a parent, decluttering, space clearingAbove: My sister was full of clever ideas. One of them was to bundle the towels and facecloths rather than sell them individually. They were snatched up quickly.

downsizing for a parent

 

downsizing for a parent

Fresh greenery in the home during winter

bringing fresh greenery inside during the winter months

Bringing fresh greenery inside to adorn our homes is a winter tradition since ancient times.

Our ancestors believed bringing boughs indoors gives the ability to sustain winter’s darkest days; if evergreens can endure and thrive during the long winter so we can.

Fragrant, texturally appealing and visually delighting, fresh greenery is a gift for all the senses. It looks beautiful, freshens, humidifies and scents indoor air, which is essential during winter months when inside air is dry. And if kept moist and cool greenery can last a long time without wilting.

While we wait for springs return, be inspired to fill your home with the beauty and scent of fresh greenery all season.

bringing fresh greenery inside during the winter months, boxwood and cedar
Above: Cedar and boxwood from our yard. Urban dwellers, without ready access to fields and meadows to forage, rely on local florists for a fresh and more varied supply of greenery.
DSC_6365
+–AKA-Above: My neighbourhood florist shop, Bloomfields Flowers, is full of aromatic greenery, festive flowers and wintry decor that can remain in your home long after the holidays are over and decorations are stored away. Bloomfields staff create all kinds of custom arrangements using winter’s greenery all season long.
paperwhites, flowers, Bloomfields Flowers
Above: Bloomfields’ shop is filled with birch, boxwood, cedar, fir, magnolia and pine, seasonal flowers such as paperwhites and amaryllis, and other wintry items.
fresh greenery from Bloomfields Flowers
Above: The decor spills from the shop to the walkway outdoors. Boughs for sale! Boughs for sale!
pinecones, birch, cedar, Bloomfields flowers
fresh wreaths, Bloomfields Flowers
Above: Magnolia leaves make stunning wreaths like this one designed by Bloomfields staff. I love the large glossy dark green leaves with their velvety, brown undersides. The leaves hold up very well even without water, too.
DSC_6317
Above: Boughs and wreaths need moisture in order to exhale humidity and that deliciously wintry scent. If you bring greenery indoors treat it as you would cut flowers; the cooler and more humid it is, the longer it will last. Leave a mister bottle near the arrangement you have indoors and give the needles a healthy spritz now and again.

Holiday Party and Ornament Exchange

christmas decor at an ornament exchange party

Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table. Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965)

Every early December, for the past 10 years, my friend Cindy thoughtfully decorates her home, stocks up on red and white wine, prepares sweet and savory edibles, displays them on lovely plates, platters and wooden boards, and invites about 20 neighbourhood moms over to mix and mingle. Before the evening ends, we gather around the tree and exchange Christmas ornaments.

Such hospitality is wonderful for folks like me who are slow to catch the Christmas spirit.

Here’s a peak around her cozy and elegant home on that particular night. Maybe it will ignite your Christmas spirit, too.

DSC_5481simple holiday decorAbove: A single branch trimmed with small felt ornaments in a pot topped with moss. Simple and lovely.warm black bean and chipolte dipAbove: I wished I had taken a photo of this yummy Warm Black Bean and Chipolte Dip before I dug into it. It’s served pretty much right out of the oven, hence the kitchen towel around the handle. It protects hands and fingers, and it’s pretty.

pomegranates, three wisemen, poinsettas, christmas decor

Above: Less is more; three wise men made from recycled tin from Bloomfields, a row of poinsettias and a platter of pomegranates.
simple, natural holiday decor, papperwhitesAbove: Paperwhites and dogwood branches.
an advent calendar, stacking santas, glass christmas trees and christmas lights
Above: Decorations to be treasured for years to come. I love the wooden tree advent calendar and the Santa nesting doll. The beautiful glass Christmas trees are from Bloomfields.

christmas decor

dessert table at ornament exchange party
christmas decor, under the tree
Above: Everyone brings a wrapped ornament and places it under the tree. We draw numbers from a hat, gather near the Christmas tree for dessert, and then take turns choosing a wrapped ornament. You never know what you’ll get.
porcelain christmas ornament, ornament exchange gatheringporcelain christmas ornament, ornament exchange gatheringfelt ornaments, ornament exchange party
simple and natural holiday decor, red berry wreath