Sunday, December 23, 2012

a christmas crafternoon

I love days like this right before Christmas.  
Days laughing and crafting with friends.  My daughter joked it was like a Mother-Daughter Craft Club. I call it fun.  I wish we could have had more of our friends join us but kept it simple for a last minute gathering.

No, I'm not ready for Christmas. In fact, I haven't wrapped one single gift. I still have to shop for Christmas dinner trimmings, etc, etc... But it was a joy to spend the day relaxing and creating with friends. 

We made fabric wrapped wire letters that my friend Colleen spotted on the blog Whatever and vintage paper trees that I saw most recently on Sweet Paul

They were simple and fun. Our girls loved it. While we crafted and sipped Prosecco we planned for more of these with more of our friends. Crafting weekend coming soon!

I've really pared back the Christmas decor this year. Keeping it simple. Partly because I don't know where some of it is (reno...) and I'm just enjoying the simplicity of our new space this year. I also have to admit, I still feel a little sad this time of year. I miss my Mom. So instead of stressing over making everything perfect I'm trying to just enjoy the moment. That's all it's really all about isn't it? Family and friends creating special moments.

A busy week of entertaining lies ahead including a last-minute cocktail party we decided to throw.  I LOVE being able to have our friends and family over in our new space. It makes all the hard work of a renovation worth it.

Happy Merry Making!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gift Guide for Cooks...

I love to buy gifts for friends and family who love to cook.

So, I decided to put this little gift guide together to share some ideas for gifts for the gourmand in your life.

How about pairing an inspiring cookbook with spices? 
I absolutely love Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbooks. His latest, Jerusalem looks amazing. 

Pair it with a set of spices to compliment the recipes.
The Spice Trader is a favorite shop of mine, located in Toronto, they ship too! I also spotted gift sets at Chapters.

Another cookbook I would love to add to my collection, 
La Tartine Gourmande from Beatrice Peitre. Have you visited her blog? It inspires...

These handmade dishes from Elephant Ceramics would be a lovely accompaniment.

This is a beautiful cookbook from another favorite blog of mine, Cannelle et Vanille. Small Plates & Sweet Treats, Aran Goyoaga.  Perfect for those who have gluten allergies. Her recipes are delicious and beautiful. 

Hand printed tea towels from Rincon Road on Etsy

Lillet, say no more. I love this aperitif on the rocks in a classic french Duralex Picardie tumbler.

I've also had my eye on this print from MengelDesign on Etsy. 
It would look great in our new coffee station.  

Perhaps some lovely new coffee cups too, Heath Ceramics.

So, I just realized that this Gift Guide is also a personal wishlist. Hmm..


Monday, December 17, 2012

The Cookie Exchange...

Last week I hosted a Cookie Exchange at my house.

What a great night. It was the first party I've hosted in our newly renovated house. It turned into a kitchen party! Something we could never have done before.

The cookies were all amazing! Everyone brought enough for a half-dozen of their cookies to be distributed to each participant. 

I also set up a little packaging station. 

Assorted boxes, cellophane bags, coffee bags, 
take-out food containers, baker's twine, bells, twist ties and tags.

Looking forward to making this an annual event...


P.S. You may remember the post I did a few weeks ago on hosting a cookie exchange. 
For the "how-to" go here

And  yes, the house reveal photos are coming soon,  
just finishing up some bits and pieces :)

Friday, December 7, 2012

DIY Toy Tree

A cute Christmas diy to do with the kids using a classic Tinkertoy set...

Now I have to admit I did not come up with this idea. I saw it today on the Better Homes and Gardens website while looking for Christmas craft ideas for the kids to do on their day off.

Julian loved the idea and immediately ran down to the basement to dig out his Tinkertoy set.

It was super easy.

The original idea on BHG showed the tree with just the plain circular piece of wood as the base. This looked a lot cuter. However, we found it was just not stable enough and needed a heavier and wider base to keep it from toppling over. So Julian came up with the idea to add more wood dowels to the base. It worked.

Start at the bottom with the longest rods and then add each layer using a smaller size of rod until you get to the top.

Isabella added some of her vintage German wood ornaments she purchased last week at an antique market. They are the perfect addition to this fun tree.


Monday, November 26, 2012

A welcome change...

Every so often you come upon a shop that has soul.

A Changing Nest is that place.  Proprietor, Diana Ross has created a space that beckons you to browse. It is an eclectic mix of carefully chosen consignment pieces and newer home d├ęcor. Items mixed with such finesse I dare you to tell them apart at first glance.  It is a perfect blend of old and new.

Diana grew up surrounded by antiques and vintage finds. Her mother was a collector and they regularly visited markets, consignment shops and yard sales. Sometimes life has a funny way of coming full circle.  Diana, I think your mother lives on in the spirit of your shop.

I have to tell you, my favorite spot is the charming shed out back. I don't think there is another garage in the city that looks like this.

What was once run-down and utilitarian has become magical.

It smells of fresh greenery and cinnamon. It's filled with treasures, mostly old, some new, definitely fabulous.

From the back shed wander into the main shop and it's a different world again. Mercury glass, vintage ornaments, wool blankets, fine porcelain and silver treasures.

Wander downstairs to the basement for more finds.

The magic of a shop like this is you will never know what you will find. The stock changes frequently.

I love that Diana also features the work of local entrepreneurs. You will find unique jewelry, preserves and other handmade items in her shop.

The shop also offers full design services including custom upholstery via Lisa Aiken of TerraFirmaDesign

Seasonal workshops are also available. The next one takes place December 1 & 2 "Make your own wreath" - Fresh greenery is brought in from northern Ontario and includes lunch 
catered by Creme Fraiche.

Diana's shop is located at 572 Annette Street. 
Or visit online here.

Thanks Diana for the tour of your lovely shop.

I'll be back.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I'm declaring it officially time to start decorating for the holidays in my house. What about yours? When do you feel it's time to start?

What better way to kick it off than to share some holiday inspiration....

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how I was so thrilled to find the new issue of Holiday with Matthew Mead at Chapters. I collaborated with Matthew to create a story for this issue called "Apres Ski" a Scandinavian inspired holiday party. You can read about my wonderful experience working with Matthew here.

It's also on Canadian House and Home today! I worked with House and Home to create a very special Gallery. Here are some images from that story. I hope you like them. It was so much fun to work on. You can see it here.

Other things I'm up to....

Today I visited a local shop which I love. I was there to photograph the store and interview the lovely Proprietor whom I'll introduce you to in the next couple of days. I can't wait to share it with you!

I sent off a story I produced and photographed for Gathering's Magazine Winter issue. It is about love and paper. It was fun to work on. It inspired me to pull out and unpack some boxes of vintage goodies I still had stored away. I'll let you know when it is published.

Although my Etsy shop is still closed I am working on some wholesale orders for the holidays and spring 2013.

Here are some images from the story I worked on with Matthew for Holiday Magazine. I hope you enjoy. I recommend you go and buy yourself a copy. It is full of holiday inspiration that you will enjoy for many years to come.

All images courtesy of Holiday with Matthew Mead.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Organize a Cookie Exchange & A Giveaway!

Have you ever hosted a cookie exchange?

I haven't but I'm considering trying it this year. I have a bunch of recipes I want to try. It will be hard to narrow it down to one! I've been inspired by this amazing holiday cookie story in the latest Christmas book from Holiday with Matthew Mead. The images are beautiful and tempting! 

Take a peek...


 Photos above courtesy of Holiday with Matthew Mead

I know you need the recipes. They look delicious.

So here is the great part...

You can WIN a COPY of Holiday with Matthew Mead right here! That's right. Just head down to the comments section and leave me a comment telling me about your favorite holiday cookie or cookie exchange. To increase your chances of winning shout it out/share it on Facebook or Twitter but be sure to let me know in your comment.

**This Giveaway is now closed. The winner is Ann Martin! Selected using Random Generator.

You can also purchase a copy of the book here on Amazon. If you live in Canada go here. They are also available on new stands everywhere. In Toronto I've seen them at Chapters/Indigo, Superstore's and Shopper's Drug Mart. Psst.. If you didn't already know, you will find my Apres Ski story inside this book!

So you may be wondering...

How do you organize a cookie exchange? 

Step 1: Get your invitations out. I'm partial to the paper variety ;)

Step 2: Once you know who's participating you can decide how many cookies each person should bake. If you have 8 people in your exchange than have everyone bake 5 dozen cookies. That way each person takes home a 1/2 dozen cookies from each participant. The extra dozen is for sampling at the party.

Step 3: Decide on a recipe and get baking!

Step 4: As host you will want to decide whether you want everyone to arrive with their cookies pre-packaged and ready to distribute (let them know on the invitation) or to have a little packaging station ready at the party. I love the packaging station option.

Step 5: Prepare for the party! Typically there are "refreshments" at these events. So have your coffee/tea or ahem Prosecco ready. Fingers foods can also be served along with the cookie sampling. Have platters, cake stands, etc ready for your cookie tasting. 

Prepare your packaging station. You may want to include boxes, cotton bags, baker's twine, tags, box seals or Japanese tape, glassine or kraft paper bags and other interesting packaging materials.

So I'm wondering...will this become like our "knitting group" where eventually we just show up with the wine and eat appetizers and have a good time? Well if it does, I'm happy to be there and eat cookies with good friends.

Happy baking and Good Luck! Contest closes midnight Friday November 16th.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Dream Come True!

Some of you know that last spring I had the opportunity to go to New Hampshire to collaborate on a story with Matthew Mead for his Christmas book.  It was a dream come true. A true "bucket list" kind of dream. 

I've been a fan of his work for years. I remember having tea with my Mom and flipping through the beautifully styled and photographed pages of his books and wishing out loud that I could contribute...

Last night I took my daughter Isabella to Chapter's to buy the Christmas issue of Holiday with Matthew Mead.  I don't even know if I can articulate how that felt. Although I had seen the shots before via email it was a completely different experience to see them in print! I just kind of stood there for a minute staring and watching as a few people wandered up, picked up a copy and started flipping through. I felt like saying to them "hey ... I contributed to this beautiful book!"  Isabella was so proud (priceless). She said Grandma is doing the happy dance in Heaven. I hope so. is a photo of me today in the sunshine (feels good) holding a copy of it! It's open to the story that I worked on :) 

Let me tell you about my experience at Matthew Mead Productions last spring.... 

I flew to Boston and hopped on an airport link to Concord, New Hampshire. Matthew and his lovely wife Jenny greeted me at the station. We had met before, the previous summer in Portsmouth, NH and we had become friends since that time. So it felt very natural. They are so friendly and welcoming. It was like visiting old friends.

Matthew & Jenny (Oscar in background)

They have a beautiful home. Not at all surprising is it? It's nestled on a tree-lined street and felt like a sanctuary. Enhanced by their beautiful collections of antiques. It was elegant and comfortable.

Their studio is equally as enchanting. An old store I believe with incredible light! It was so much fun to work there. His assistant Lisa is amazing and made me feel so welcome. Matthew is truly a man in his element. You can see how much he loves what he does. It's a happy workplace. Magic happens there.

One of the highlights for me was a trip (or two) to his Prop House. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Incredible! It was like walking through the most enchanting shop. It was wondrous! What is incredible is that Matthew remembers where he discovered most of his finds and the story behind it. There needs to be a book about this place and Matthew the Collector.

We spent the next couple of days prop shopping, crafting, styling and photographing the story "Apres ski" - a Scandinavian inspired holiday gathering. I loved every minute.

Thank you Matthew, Jenny (and Oscar too) for inviting me into your home and helping to create magic for your readers.

You can find Holiday with Matthew Mead on news stands everywhere and via Amazon

Watch for a peak into the pages of it this week including a chance to win a copy!


Cozy Nights

November... you settle in quickly on us with your rainy days and cold nights. 

I guess I was feeling a chill today and found myself drawn to things to keep me warm. So I thought I would do a little round-up of coziness.

Last week West Elm launched their "Market" line of products and among the many items I had my eye on was this Enamel Tea Pot. So simple and modern but with a nod to the past.

I've been looking for some cups and mugs to add to my new kitchen and loved this Simple white cup from Vitrified Studio on Etsy.

The lovely bowl from Art et Manufacture on Etsy would look great on the floating shelves we have yet to install in the kitchen and would be perfect filled with some popcorn...

I love Tealish Tea's. They are a local Toronto company that has the most delicious blends of tea. But if you don't live in Toronto you can still buy some online. They ship to the USA too! 

The twig spoon from Indigo is sweet don't you think?

This throw from Pottery Barn reminds of the "feel good blanket". My children love to wrap the "feel good blanket" around themselves when they visit my Dad. It reminds them of Grandma. They say it's like a hug from her. I agree. 


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hiring a Contractor

So you've got your architectural drawings and you're ready to "shop" for a Contractor...

This can be nerve-racking! Who hasn't watched HGTV reno shows and been scared silly by reno horror stories?

In reality, well my reality, most people I know have had relatively smooth renovation experiences. A few hick-ups here and there but that's pretty normal don't you think?

I thought I would share my experience of hiring a Contractor as well as some tips. Note: this is a long post. A chapter really :)

Folding Measure Ruler, Vintage Link

I had been collecting the names of potential contractors for awhile before we began this process. I spoke to many friends and had an idea of the type of contractor I wanted to hire.

Most of the problems I had heard people complain about regarding their contractor had to do with communication issues. For example, not showing up/calling when they say they will or disappearing for days on end with no explanation. In a weird way, it's kind of like dating isn't it? You are investing a lot of time and money into your project and you expect respect and clear communication.

So for us, communication was a key factor.

We interviewed three potential Contractors. People say you should always get at least three quotes for a job. Even if you know who you want to hire it's worth the time to go through this process. You will be able to compare quotes, timelines and feedback about your job.

Make sure you have not only your drawings ready but a clear idea of finishes (ie: hardwood vs. engineered wood flooring). This can make a big difference in getting an accurate quote.

Make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Ask for a detailed breakdown of what is included or a "scope of work" in the quote. In order for a Contractor to quote accurately they need a copy of the plans and information of finishes, fixtures etc.

When we were starting this process I had a lot of questions about what this part of the process entailed. Friends generously shared tips. Thank you friends! 

So for those of you who want to know here's what to expect.

1. Call to introduce yourself and your project. They will want to know what you are doing, your timeline and may ask about your budget. This is when you may set up an initial meeting or walk-through.

*Budgets: I recommend be very honest about your budget up front. That way you both know exactly what to expect. If you have a $150,000 budget and the job is really a $200,000 job you need to know that before you start!

2. Your initial meeting may just entail getting a feel for the Contractor and talking about how he/she works. You may also want to share your drawings/plans at this time. Sometimes you know right away that you want to invite the Contractor to submit a quote for the job. If you do, make sure you have a copy of the plans for them to take away so they can quote accurately. In our experience, a printed copy seemed preferred by the Contractors so they could go over it in detail rather than on a computer screen. It's a good idea to have a "deadline" for the Contractors to submit their quotes. That way you are able to go over all the quotes at about the same time.

Some questions to ask the Contractor... 

  • Do they work with a team of trades consistently or do the trades they use vary? In my opinion, hiring a Contractor that works with the same trades all the times is key. They know each other and what to expect. Communication and scheduling will be a lot smoother.
  • Who is responsible for getting permits?
  • What kind of down payment do they require and what is the payment plan?
  • What kind of work schedule should you expect?
  • If you are living in your house during the renovation you will want to make sure they do an adequate job of cleaning up the site on a daily basis.
  • Business Trade License Number
  • Public Liability, Property Damage & WSIB Insurance and coverage.
  • Whether they have worked in the area.

3. You may want to ask for References before you get to the point of inviting quotes. After all, past behaviour is an excellent indicator of the future.

Some questions to ask a Reference:

  • Did the project finish on time? If not, what were the delays?
  • Did the project finish on budget? This is important! You don't want to be hit with a big bill at the end of the job for "extras". There are the extras that you add and then there are the extras that are surprises. OK, you have to be prepared and have a contingency for unforeseen problems. But if the Contractor is experienced and honest he/she should have a very clear understanding of their costs. Some people will argue this is impossible but I know many people who have come in on budget. Just be clear about what you both expect.
  • How was the quality of the work? This is important for obvious reasons... but ask things like "Is there anything that you would recommend keeping an eye on during the process" What were stand out issues (if any)?
  • Did the Contractor communicate well with you? Did they show up on time? Work consistently. You want your renovation done on time or within a reasonable agreed upon time frame.

4. You will probably want to meet the Contractor again to discuss the quotation. This is the time to ask more detailed questions. You may want to negotiate the price and/or find out if there are ways to save money.

I'm happy to report that our experience of hiring and working with our Contractor has been smooth and enjoyable! 

Although all of the Contractors we considered were very experienced and had great references it came down to personality and a little bit of going with our gut instinct. We both felt comfortable with our Contractor right from the beginning. He was consistent in his communication with us from the initial meetings to these last weeks. We are happy to say we made the right choice.

What tips do you have for hiring and working with a Contractor? 
I'd love to hear about your experiences, tips and/or feedback in the Comments section below.


Some helpful links:

City of Toronto: Building Department
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation CMHC
Canadian House & Home Magazine: How to Hire a Contractor

*The opinions expressed in this post are based on the authors personal experience. Anyone contemplating a renovation or hiring a professional should consult the appropriate Professional Association or Licensing Department for up-to-date information.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Holiday Inspiration and Organizing

Dare I post about Christmas when it's barely Halloween?

What if it's a post to help you get in the "spirit" of organizing yourself for Christmas? I'll go with that theme...

When I received some beautiful images from Ikea promoting their Holiday products I couldn't help myself. I love paper, ribbon, twine, and fabric. It's my weak spot and it's all laid out so pretty in these images.

I always have brown kraft paper on hand to wrap gifts. But I like the idea of using smaller pieces of wrapping paper as ribbon.

I love the idea of using fabric remnants to wrap gifts. 
Look how these gifts are wrapped and the merry messages stitched on the fabric - love that.

I have to say, Ikea has done a great job of showing how to use their products in fun new ways.

Personally I love a creatively wrapped gift. I always try do something thoughtful and unique. Ahem... except for the Christmas Eve wrap-a-thon of stocking stuffers. That ends up being a lot of tape, paper(recycled)and wine.

Which leads me to this...

What I would love to fit into our basement space is a place to wrap - a wrapping station.

I like this one from Pottery Barn. It fits neatly on a wall to organize your wrapping supplies.

I could also make my own. The cheap and cheerful version.


Peg board, Rona


Peg board hook, Rona

wood dowels, Stockade


storage containers, Ikea

Add some paint and you have a DIY wrapping station.

You could even add one of these wall-mounted drop-leaf tables from Ikea so you have a spot to wrap. It folds down when you don't need it.

I think I see a little project coming my way...I'll let you know how that goes.

Happy organizing!