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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Keeping it clean – laneway style!

Saturday we were able to get out to a local Farmer’s Market.  There’s something so nice about walking around and paying twice what you would in a grocery store for food that tastes four times as good.  The market is nearly within walking distance but I was recuperating from a weird inner-ear-vertigo thing so we took transit.  Keepin’ it green, people!


The reason we could get out and spend a couple of hours doing something that normally we spend 15 minutes on is because our place is so easy to keep tidy.  I’ve said before that we can get the whole place looking visitor-tidy in 15 minutes.  For our regular Saturday morning clean-up, we take an hour to get the place vacuumed, washed, tidied, plus sheets changed and washed and bathroom deep-cleaned.  So we were able to take the time to get to a market that closes at 2 pm and wander around for a while and really enjoy the experience.

I used to be quite untidy (more on that later) but when DH and I first began co-habitating, I knew I would have to change.  It’s difficult for a naturally untidy person to become more organized and tidy — but it’s impossible for someone who is obsessively tidy to loosen up.  I’ve tried it — DH just cannot be untidy.  Of course he’s never lived with small children while holding down a full-time job — I find that can have quite the effect on the formerly obsessive.

We also keep things tidy by avoiding the 7 ways of making house cleaning harder than it has to be.   Thanks to Apartment Therapy for alerting me to things the naturally neat already know — it’s a good refresher for we less-organized folk.

We clean as we go.  When I come home from work, I hang my coat in the closet, put away my keys et al in the handy stair-case drawer, and take off my shoes (another tip) and put them away.  That way the entry level doesn’t have to be tidied — it stays that way. Dishes are rinsed and put into the dishwasher as soon as we’re finished eating — pots and pans as soon as we’re finished with them. The stove is wiped as soon as it is cool from cooking, the shower is wiped down while it is damp.

We use our spaces for the activities they were designed for.  Yes, my office is my laptop, but once work is done it’s put away in a handy cupboard.  You won’t find a dirty plate in our bedroom or in the office area.  We eat at our counter upstairs.

We keep dirt out.  We take off our shoes when we come into the house.  We make sure we don’t drag dirty stuff through the house — and we have indoor cats (not dogs).  We didn’t get them because they are tidier, but they are.

We use the proper tools we need for the job. Can you imagine?  I used to own a scrub brush.  I have no idea what I used it for, but it was stored with the other cleaning supplies.  No room for that anymore!  We have a broom we use most of the time, and a built-in vacuum for once-a-week cleaning.  A damp mop takes care of the floor and a swish with a swiffer dusts all the shelves.

We’re efficient — we clean from the top down, one room at a time.  Plus we have a regularly scheduled time to clean. And we keep it fun by listening to our music podcasts while we clean.

We never thought about how we keep up with the cleaning — DH just designed the system organically and I follow the leader.  But I have come up with a number 8 for the list.

Don’t bring stuff into the house.  I get our bills by email, and they are filed as pdfs on our computer.  I do the same with bank statements.  We get one magazine a month.  One newspaper a day (then it’s right into the recycling bin).  We both have hobbies we enjoy but guess what — we work on one project at a time, and never have to store any half-finished knit sweaters while I just whip up that scarf.  I pick up the mail and bring it back to the house on a trajectory that takes me right by the recycling bin, so that junk mail gets tossed before it enters the door.

But what’s that you say?  I am living in a house that was custom-designed to my needs?  I don’t have small children? I live with a neatnik?  What can I know of keeping a “real life” house clean?

I feel your stabby pointing fingers.  And the answer is “lots”.  I was once one of you.  A single mother of two with a full-time job.  And although I eventually relaxed my standards (to slightly above “slovenly”) I did for a time keep everything nice and tidy.  And I will tell you how.

Small summer homes

We’ve found we are getting out and about much more this summer — and I know why.  It’s because we’re living in such a small house.  We used to spend most of our Saturdays cleaning up our two-bedroom, two-bathroom carpeted home.  Then would come a weekly shop. But now our cleaning routine is over in less than an hour, and since our fridge can’t hold a week’s worth of groceries we’ve replaced the big shopping trips with smaller, more frequent ones. So now we have a lot more time on our weekends and we’re spending it outside; at the summer festivals around town, free concerts, events in local parks, farmers’ markets. That’s a lot different than my childhood weekends, when the whole family headed up to beautiful Christina Lake and the cabin our Dad built on the water. Christina I often think of those days and wish I could have another cottage on a lake or tucked into the woods, just a small one of course! Thanks to Tiny House Talk for giving me some ideas. If we wanted to try it on a temporary basis, we could rent one of these Tiny Houses available for vacations. Like this adorable gingerbread house in a grove. small-cottage-in-washington-600x400   It’s right in our neighbourhood.  If we wanted to go a little farther we could stay in this fairy-tale cottage in Austria. small-Austrian-cottage   But if we wanted to build our own vacation home, why not put up a pre-fab dome house? lexa-dome-tiny-home-600x416   It’s got lots of charm, and a doable floor plan. lexa_26_ft_dia_540_sq_ft_1_floor_2 I can just see it sitting beside a pond, or nestled into a copse of trees.  The dome roof would be great for the heavy snows we get in the local mountains. As sweet as this pre-fab is, and as convenient, we might want to go completely Hobbit! In New Zealand, someone has built a home out of earth. Earth-dome They have big plans for making it larger.  For more information, see this:

Got cool? Five ways we’re keeping cool this summer

For a while we toyed with the idea of getting Air Conditioning for our laneway home.  But we decided no for two reasons (well, three if you include the cost).

  1. It’s not in keeping with our goal of using less energy.
  2. It only gets super hot in Vancouver for a couple of days a year, and we could work around it.

The living roof actually helps quite a bit.  The plants keep the hot sun from hitting and heating our roof, which makes it a bit cooler inside.  Plus the moisture in the planting medium evaporates during the hot part of the day, which cools it off a bit, too.

Now summer is here and we are finding ways to keep our home as comfortable as possible.


Number 1 is to keep the sun from heating up the interior.  We love it when the morning sun pours into our upper storey where our kitchen and sitting room are.  And the cats love the warm sunny spots on the floor and the furniture.  But that heat sticks around all day.  So we keep our blinds closed on the windows facing East until the sun moves around to the South, then we open the eastern blinds and close the southern blinds*.  That way the furnishings and interior finishes don’t heat up in the first place.

Number 2 is to create some cross-breezes.  The home is designed with windows on all four sides that can open up and catch any breeze available.  Right now we only have screens on the tilt-and-turn windows, so can’t take full advantage of the windows that open out — but we’re getting screens for those windows soon.  We crack them open an inch or so but the bugs want to get in and the cats want to get out so we’ll have to wait for the screens to really open them wide.

Number 3 is fans.  We have two fans going all the time just moving the air around in the bedroom and the studio/den downstairs.  When the sun goes down and the air is cooler outside we turn on the bathroom and the stove fans and keep the windows open to pull that air inside.  If it gets really hot we can soak fabrics (T-shirts are the perfect size) in water and put them over the standing fans to spread cool air throughout the rooms.

Number 4 is not bringing more heat into the place with our cooking.  Luckily we both love salads and cold soups and DH loves to grill on his new natural-gas fuelled barbecue so we are keeping the cooking to a minimum.

Number 5 is drinking cool drinks.  That may seem a little obvious, but it’s so easy to become dehydrated in the heat.  The other day I was sitting in a nice breeze at the kitchen counter, quite comfortable, and I looked over at the thermostat to see what temperature it was.  88F!  31C!  I didn’t notice the heat because I was so comfortable.  But I was sweating like crazy, the water evaporating as soon as it got to my skin.  I needed cool water and lots of it.

And here’s a bonus:  Take cool showers.  Take two or three if you want, but I always take one just before bed to cool me off and make it much easier to drift off to sleep.

*(I know about Copernicus and the whole heliocentrism thing  but it’s easier to say the sun moves rather than the earth moves.)

Any hints on how to keep cool without AC?  Spill!

Learning the lessons of house ownership

You know how when you come home from vacation and you just can’t get into the groove again?  How you don’t want to sit in an office on a lovely summer afternoon but would rather be on a beach or in a garden with a cool glass at your side and a good book in your hand?

Since my return from jolly old Britain it is taking a bit to kick start the old work ethic.

But I haven’t just been sitting around!

First, a little background.

Before DH and I moved into our laneway we owned a condo.  And before that we were renters.  And it doesn’t take long to forget how much work it takes to keep a place in good shape when those problems are taken care of by strata boards and landlords. But now we are happy to embrace the work that will keep our house looking great — and we are also happy to lend our time and our sturdy arms to the folks in the main house when they want to spruce up their place (especially since we’re looking at it a lot of the time).

DD and DSIL are proud homeowners, and they like to keep their place looking good.  The first thing they did when they moved in about six years ago was to replace the rickety back stairs with a nice deck.  They hired a contractor and took out the permits and did the deed properly.  But they were badly advised when it came to the finish on the wood.  It was a kind of varnish that cracked and peeled almost immediately.

So they tried to remove it with a nasty chemical.  And by sanding.  And by sanding again.  But it still didn’t look that great.


On Canada Day we all got out with various sanding methods and went at it one more time.  We took off as much of the surface as we could.  Then we ate barbecued chicken and drank beer because — hey!  Canada Day, eh?

Then last afternoon/evening we all gathered again to stain said deck.  Bad weather had kept us from doing it last weekend, we needed time to put on two coats with a drying time between, but both coats had to be applied within a 24 hour period.  So we started in the late afternoon, and stained and stained and stained and stained.  Then we broke for dinner.  Then we repeated the process.  And I’ve got to say it looks a lot better:


The stain will also be used on those posts beneath the deck, on the table and benches you see, and on the fence and the roof of the shed.  So I see a lot of staining in my future.  But it makes a huge difference in the appearance of the deck.

The railing before:


The railing after:


Makes me want to get out the paint brushes and start on the fence, but I will hold back until my muscles recover.

Staining is hard work!  But the nice surprise for me was to find that it’s all water-based now and clean up was a breeze.

Heritage homes — lovely and livable

We were very, very lucky on our trip to the United Kingdom, not just in the fabulous weather, but because we could stay with our lovely relatives — and they live in lovely homes.

It’s rare to be able to step foot inside one actual home when visiting a foreign country, and we were able to see lots of them.  We also toured some “stately homes” with the rest of the tourists, but it was the privilege of sitting and taking tea in a real Georgian sitting room, or sleeping in a true Edwardian bedroom, or enjoying the garden of an old English cottage that made the trip even more special.

The first home we stayed in was that of our first-cousin-once-removed in Edinburgh.  Naomi’s was the oldest home we stayed in, built before 1800.  The building had once been a brewery with the bottom two floors for commerce and the third floor, where Naomi’s flat is located, made into a comfortable home for the proprietors.  At one point the one apartment was made into 3, sometime in the 19th century, but it’s been re-converted to one unit.  So some of the features were changed plus a modern kitchen and bathroom were added.  But a lot of the original Georgian decor remains.


Here’s me standing outside the front door to the building.  The stairs are located just behind this wall, stone stairs to the third floor, then concrete ones up to the more-recently modernized fourth floor.  Naomi’s is on the third floor.

NOTE:  We were staying in a private home.  The place wasn’t staged for photographs, it was set up for living (and Naomi lives a very active life).  So I won’t be showing whole rooms, just snippets of the features that made the rooms truly Georgian.

Here’s a Googled photo that illustrates what you can expect to see in a Georgian Room.


The Georgian builders and decorators revered symmetry, so the fireplace is centred on one wall.  The windows are very wide and high, coming within inches of the ceiling and set deep into the thick walls.  The panels at each side of the windows are actually shutters which can be closed over the windows at night (although most homes don’t use the shutters any more and have draperies instead).

All the rooms are beautifully proportioned, with high ceilings and a feeling of spaciousness.

Naomi’s apartment is split very nicely by a wide corridor, with transoms above the doors allowing some light in from the rooms on either side. Since the flat takes up the whole of the third floor, she has windows on three sides and a lot of light flooding in.


Here’s one of the transoms — a work of art by itself.  And the beautiful plaster crown moulding along the top of the walls.  The Georgians also tried to bring sculpture into their homes, and that is reflected in the ornate plasterwork you see here on this arch in the apartment.



Imagine living in all this beauty all the time!  We were so lucky to spend just a few days in this wonderful Georgian home.

I have been a-wand’ring!

I’ve just been unpacking from a trip to the UK I took with my sister.  I was going to write a few posts from the other side of the pond — at least that was the plan — but I was too busy seeing the sights and hanging out in museum gift shops and eating.

The British have made the daily ritual of eating into a real art.  I know, right?  English food is supposed to be bland and unimaginative.  But it’s not.  It’s really good.

And they manage to fit it all into five meals a day.

We begin at breakfast.  I only had one “full English breakfast”*.  The rest of the time we had muesli or toast.  Or muesli and toast. Plus tea.  I really got hooked on tea in Britain, it’s always good no matter where you get it.  And sometimes it comes with a little pot of hot water for refills.

Mid-morning we took a break from shopping and sight-seeing with “elevenses”.  Tea and a scone or a tea cake (muffin).  that gave you the shot of energy you needed to last until lunch.


Luncheon was a lovely meal that could be a selection of cheeses and sausages, or a prawn sandwich (with RoseMarie sauce), or soup, or any combination thereof.  Sometimes we would have a nice lager-and-lime to quench our thirst. Sandwiches would come on white or brown bread or sometimes a bap (soft bun). But you could also get a black-pudding panini for a change. “Tomato sauce” is just ketchup. “Brown sauce” is like ketchup, but brown. Watch out for the mustard, though, their brown mustard is tasty but mild.  It’s the bright yellow mustard (that looks just like the innocent French’s mustard we slather on hot dogs) that’s the real killer.  It will bring tears to your eyes and a lump to your throat.  It’s very, very hot.

Then, laden with parcels and with our feet worn to nubs we would wend our way back to the home our relatives were graciously sharing with us.  Just in time for tea. That could be small sandwiches, or just scones or biscuits (cookies) or Battenburg cake or just a nice slice of seedy cake.  That way you wouldn’t be starving because dinner would often not be served before 8:30 or 9.

And what a supper that would be!  Wonderful salads, entrees, veggies and sides. More ways to cook potatoes than you can imagine!  Wine!  Cheeses to finish!  And of course, pudding.  “Pudding” refers to dessert, whatever it is, even pudding.

Then we would toddle off to bed.  I needn’t tell you that while I was packing on the pounds (which are measured in 14-pound units called stones) my svelte relatives were managing to maintain their youthful figures. I had to come back before I was charged overweight on my flight home.

I found new foods to enjoy, and not just haggis and black pudding!  Rocket, a green leafy vegetable.  Courgettes turned out to be young zucchini.  Frozen food was very good.  And my cousin, who is quite house bound, could order her groceries online and have them delivered to her door.

I know this isn’t a food blog, and I’ll be writing more about the houses we visited.  Napolean said that an army marches on its stomach.  Our small force certainly lived up to that.

*Fried egg, fried mushrooms, fried tomAHto, fried bread, sausage, bacon, black pudding.

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