Life, the Universe and Everything

It’s time to throw back the curtain on a fun new project the family has been working on through the summer! We’ve been selected as participants in IKEA’s Sustainable Living project. Through the project, IKEA invited ordinary Canadian families to use their products to live life in a more sustainable way. What does that mean? It means making simple changes to save energy, conserve water, reduce waste and recycle more, and make healthier lifestyle choices. Saving the planet and her people, one RYET lightbulb at time!

This project could not have come at a better time. As a family, we’ve been talking a lot lately about healthy choices, both for our bodies and for the environment. We’re also becoming more and more conscious about “stuff”: from product packaging to ethical sources to sustainability. In other words, we’re trying to be mindful of ourselves and our environment, in all the dozens of little choices we make every day.

And also, we love IKEA. Seriously. I’m sure more products in our house have come from IKEA than any other single retail outlet. There’s not a room in our house that isn’t tricked out with more than one IKEA piece, from a dresser I was given way back in 1989 (still going strong!) to our dining room chairs (bought from AS IS the month we got married in 1999, reupholstered twice over the years with fresh IKEA textiles and still used every single day) to a zillion lamps and shelves and storage baskets and decorative items to our freshly renovated SEKTION kitchen.

So working with IKEA on a sustainable living project was just about as perfect a fit for us as I could imagine. Plus, I love any adventure that starts with a shopping trip.


That’s me with my new BFFs from the IKEA Ottawa store. :)


Our project has been focusing on three key areas: save energy (and $$$!), conserve water, and make healthier lifestyle choices. To that end, we’ve used IKEA products to make a handful of small but meaningful changes. We’ve switched our lightbulbs to energy-saving LED bulbs (did you know LED bulbs use 85% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and last up to 20 years?) and picked up a new cozy rug for the living room, a throw blanket and a warmer duvet so we can turn the temperature down an extra degree in winter. We’ve started using water decanters to keep in the fridge so we don’t waste water running the tap to get cold water – to say nothing of avoiding plastic disposable water bottles. And we’ve been using re-usable food containers to store leftovers and bring healthier lunches. These are just a few of the ideas and inspiration we’ve gotten through this project.

Want to know more, including one small change that will save us more than $100 each year on our hydro bill? Check out our project feed on the IKEA Canada Sustainable Living site. Some of the other participants have also been posting excellent tips for making better choices for people and the planet. My 10-minute update of our threadbare sofa cushions was inspired by, but not officially a part of, the sustainability project as well.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post, and writing about the project on this blog was not a condition of our participation in the project. In fact, I’m not sure IKEA knew I had a blog when we were selected to be participants.


We’ve been meaning to do something about the sofa for quite some time now. Funny, not too long ago I came across the blog post I wrote in 2008 when we bought it. It’s been a great couch – oversized and slouchy, with plenty of room and plenty of tolerance for being at the hub of a busy life full of boys, dogs, cats, visitors, and a lot of spilled coffee.

blog Ikea old pillows and sofa

While it’s a comfy couch, it’s starting to look more than a little bedraggled. How did I let the pillows get to this state of threadbaseness? Life is busy, yanno?

blog Ikea old pillows

Also, I have to admit that the green and red colour scheme has worn almost as thin as the pillows. Since the first year we came back from PEI, I’ve had in my head that I’d like a “sand and sea” colour scheme in the living room. There’s no room for geometric green and red in my sand and sea vision.

A new sofa is simply not in the budget for now, though. As long as the existing one (and its durable chair-and-a-half companion piece, not shown) continue to do their jobs of keeping our collective toushies off the floor and are not visibly leaking stuffing or aggressively poking us with springs, we’ll tolerate the barely noticeable central sag in the frame.

We’ve been spending a LOT of time in IKEA this summer for a fun new project which will be announced anon. Part of that project was the rolling out of a beautiful new MARSLEV rug which DID match my vision of a sand and sea colour scheme, but which definitely did NOT match with the red and green cushions. You can see it peeking out under the “before” picture above. A new couch was not part of the project, nor were cushion covers. However, when I was perusing the Ikea website and saw not only that they had cushion covers that would fit both the large back cushions and the smaller cushions, and that they had them in colours that were within the realm of sand and sea AND harmonized with the new MARSLEV rug, I could not resist.

Originally, we were going to replace the red and keep the green to harmonize with the new blue cushions, but it was altogether a bit too cool. Instead, we kept the red for a bit of a PEI sandstone flavour, and covered the large green back cushions with a pair of deep turquoise SANELA cushion covers. We also covered the embarrassingly raggedy smaller throws with a pair of light blue SANELA covers, and kept a hint of green and beige with a contrasting OTTIL cover on the third one.

Whenever dealing with IKEA projects, I build potential exasperation with non-standard measurements into the plan. However, to my delight, each pillow fit snugly and exactly into the cushion covers. They were snug enough that I had to work to get them in, but that tautness makes the pillows look fresh and full.

Voilà, a brand new sand and sea colour scheme (and an end to those awful, threadbare cushions!)

blog Ikea new pillows

Total project cost: $62 in cushion covers, 10 minutes of effort. I’m so thrilled with the results! We’re now well on our way to that sand and sea colour scheme, AND we’ve averted the need to even consider browsing for new living room furniture for at least a year or so. That’s a huge double win in my books!

To my delight (and, let’s be honest, surprise) the colours pick up beautifully on the re-upholstered IKEA dining room chairs that I fixed up the last time I was feeling crafty. (Hey, I’m half Scottish and half Dutch; if I can extend the life of an existing piece rather than dump it in the landfill and buy more stuff, I’ll do that every single time!)

Stay tuned and I’ll tell you all about my new IKEA project soon!

(By the way, this was not in any way a sponsored post. I have been working with IKEA, but it was simply proximity to their products – and a lifelong love of IKEA – that inspired this instant-renovation.)


We’ve arrived at the end of the first week of the great kitchen renovation project with sanity (barely) intact. In case you were wondering, it takes about a full week to adapt to the idea of not having a kitchen, and apparently longer to the idea of not having a sink, because I still catch myself moving toward where the sink used to be with the dregs of a can of soda or snack bowl to be rinsed or an apple to be washed.

We seem to be making good progress. We have passed through the destruction and discovery part of the remodel, which was definitely the most fraught with peril. We discovered several code violations in the wiring and a few outright fire hazards that added another chunk of change to the final bill for some electrical work, including no less than five (FIVE!) issues with the oven outlet alone. The previous owner’s habit of playing fast and loose with structural and electrical issues continues to haunt us six years after the fact, but at least the microwave hood fan will no longer vent to the gap between the walls (sigh) and we know that the household wiring is safer than it was before.

Here’s how we progressed each day of the renovation.

Day one was destruction and discovery day. Greasy stained drywall was removed, subfloor pulled up, mystery pipes were revealed, and electrical hazards became apparent.

Kitchen Day 1

Day two comprised more prep work, and the delivery of the bulk of the new cabinets and cupboards. Our dining room became a storage / staging area. Nerves frazzles and frayed.

Kitchen day 2

Day three was dedicated to electrical work. 15 amp wires that ran into 30 amp breakers were updated, dangling outlet boxes were secured, blatant code violations were remediated, and blessed routine was reclaimed from the chaos.

kitchen day 3

Day four brought fresh drywall and approved permits for the electrical, and a sea change from destruction to construction. Yay progress!

kitchen day 4

The one thing that the last week has illustrated is that we were insane to even consider taking on the kitchen renovation as a DIY project. There is no way we could have even identified, let alone dealt with, the issues that have come up so far. They weren’t devastating, and they were easily addressed by the contractors, but from tearing up the subfloor to the safety issues with the electrical, I have been grateful to have someone who knows what they are doing. Even if we did manage to install the cupboards and cabinets ourselves, it would have been putting lipstick on a pig because there were so many small but important structural issues that needed to be addressed so we could build upon a strong foundation.

I’m full of optimism for next week, which should bring subfloors and tile floors and fresh paint. I’m also relieved that the last of the major decisions has probably been nailed down, and I will no longer be frantically Googling various faucet models, ceiling fans and over-the-range microwave reviews. Trying to decide whether the drawer pulls need to harmonize with the sink fixtures may have been the nadir in decision-making “who really cares about this sort of thing?” hell, but we’ve made it through to the other side.

We’re managing meals with a mixture of takeout and sandwiches, and I bought more pre-packaged and processed foods in the grocery store today than I’ve probably bought in the last year. I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought packaged cookies, but hey, there were PC Points for Oreos today so I stocked up. An hour later, they’re already mostly gone, of course.

TL;DR? Week one was long and stressful, but could have been far worse. Having a team we trust doing the work has made all the difference in the world. And doing the dishes in the bathroom sink is far from ideal, but at least manageable. With the backdrop of the situation in Fort MacMurray playing out this weekend, I’m grateful to have my house intact and in one piece.

Stay tuned, the adventure continues on Monday!

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We’d just paid the deposit and signed the contract on our kitchen renovation, with work scheduled to begin in late May, when the contractor sent me an email. “We’ve had an opening and our next client wants to delay construction until June. How do you feel about starting on Monday?”

Um, Monday? Five days hence Monday, you mean? I looked up at the broken cupboards full of stuff that would need to be packed away, the clutter in the living room that would need to be removed to make way for a temporary kitchen, the dining room teeming with art projects and various paperwork that would need to be filed or recycled, and tried to wrap my head around the idea of having no kitchen to make meals or clean dishes for three to four weeks starting in five days. We’d have one weekend to finalize the last of the design plan (we need to pick flooring, a faucet, paint colour, counters and handles for the drawers and cupboards), pack the kitchen cupboards and drawers, empty most of the dining room, clear space in the garage for the delivery of the new cupboards, make a temporary kitchen, and plan a minimum of a week’s worth of no-stove meals.

“Sure,” I replied, because I have no sense of self preservation whatsoever. Carpe that diem, right?

We met with the contractor on Saturday to do a crash session on the remaining details: floors, counters, paint, faucet, and drawer and cupboard pulls. In other words, all the things that I thought were inconsequential. “I am more concerned with the fact of having a floor than what it looks like,” I told the contractor the last day we met to sign the contract. The contractor, who has gotten to know us fairly well by now, pointed at Beloved and said, “So, you’re coming with me to the tile store?” Meh, floors. Whatever.

To my surprise, though, picking out these finishing touches made me almost as excited as the idea of my coveted pot drawers. Since we are building on exactly the same footprint, with no new appliances, and on a very tight budget, I was really beginning to feel like the new kitchen might not be tens of thousands of dollars better than the old kitchen. Then I found out you can get ceramic tile floor that looks like knotty pine, and vintagey-cool drawer pulls that look like they might have come out of an old library. I am really happy now that I don’t have to wait for months to see it all come together, because for the first time I’m feeling really excited about the renovation, instead of just enduring it and grumbling about the cost.

Having said that, I am not looking forward to the next few weeks without a kitchen. We have our BBQ, which has a side burner for pots that I’ve never actually used but I checked and still works. We’ll have the microwave, although it will be displaced from its usual perch above the oven. And we’ll just roll the fridge into the dining room for the duration, so it will be accessible and functioning. I’ve picked up some big plastic bins to store food like cereal and snacks that might smell appealing to the dog, and I invested in a whackload of compostable paper plates. I think it is the dishwasher that we will miss most of all, and I am trying to decide whether washing dishes will work better in the (tiny) bathroom sink or the (awkwardly positioned and not incredibly clean) basement laundry sink or the bathtub is the least painful option.

Saturday and Sunday were a marathon of sorting and packing and discarding and wondering why the heck we have so many packages of yeast in the cupboard, and cursing the multitude of snack bags with less than six pretzels in each. I mostly stayed true to my inner environmentalist, filling the compost and cardboard recycling bins to capacity, but by late in the day Sunday I had abandoned any pretense of careful sorting and packing and was simply cramming stuff into any nearby container with capacity. And I swore to myself that we will never, ever move, because just packing the kitchen was enough to last me another decade.

Here’s the empty kitchen on Sunday evening, waiting for the destruction crew to arrive at 7 am on Monday morning. Before:

Photo 2016-05-01, 6 49 30 PM

After a full day of packing, trying to cook dinner on Sunday night in an empty kitchen was a bit of a disaster. You don’t realize how much muscle memory is involved in a familiar meal until you try to cook it when none of the tools or ingredients are where they are supposed to be! I can’t tell you how many times I opened a drawer or cupboard to find it empty – not unlike when the power goes out and you walk from room to room automatically hitting light switches and thinking “okay, I’ll watch TV – no wait, I’ll vacuum, no wait, I’ll….” Not to even mention the fun of meal planning for dinners that do not require a stove or much clean-up to execute. I’m seeing a lot of takeout and a lot of living room picnics in our future!

So tell me, bloggy peeps, what’s your favourite no-cook meal?


As it goes, 1966 was a pretty interesting year. The first episodes of Star Trek and Batman aired on TV, and the Oscar for Best Picture went to The Sound of Music. Truman Capote published In Cold Blood, the US Food and Drug Administration declared “the Pill” safe for contraceptive use, NASA launched Lunar Orbiter 1, Pampers released the first disposable diaper, and Dr Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas appeared for the first time on television.

All of that pales in comparison, of course, to the most wondrous event of the year, which took place on February 19, 1966 at St Michael’s Church in London, ON: the wedding of my parents.

Wedding photo

According to the 50 year old newspaper clipping, “the bride chose a sheath gown of peau de soie with a scoop neckline and lilypoint sleeves. Lace trimmed the cathedral train. A flowered pillbox held her shoulder-length scalloped veil and she carried a bouquet of pink roses and white carnations.” I’m pretty sure my Dad was dressed, too, though the announcement makes no substantive mention of him or his attire.

On their foundation of love, a small but mighty empire was built. Both my brother and I were smart enough to follow our parents’ example, and to create happy families to carry on the traditions of unconditional love, quirky humour and family loyalty with which we were raised.

I wanted to illustrate the tsunami of love and happiness that resulted from the ripple of their union, and what better medium than stringing boxes upon boxes (and an external hard drive or two) of old family photos together into one slideshow? I knew I was on the right track when I made myself cry not once but twice while I was putting it together. It does run a little long, at just shy of seven and a half minutes, but it’s hard culling 50 years of love down to just a few highlights!

Sorting through 50 years of photos was a powerful reminder of the way photos mold and shape our memories, and I think in the end this is as much a gift to myself as it is to my parents. It was, however, pretty clear my Dad enjoyed watching the video as much as I did when he asked me to replay it not once, not twice, but three times in a row.

Papa Lou watching the anniversary photo slideshow

My parents have walked a long road together. They have lived the definition of love in good times and in bad, and my memories of childhood are framed by their constant and unshakable love for each other. From my parents I learned that the cornerstones of a good marriage are respect, patience, kindness, open affection, and humour, and that it’s quite possible to love someone even when you want to throttle them.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. Thanks for getting hitched all those years ago, and making all of this possible. We love you!

50th anniversary


Last we saw our heroine, she had braved the wilds of Google and Amazon, wandered the badlands of “available to US residents only”, faced down the demons of bleeding-edge technology and come out victorious brandishing a View-Master VR viewer for Google Cardboard. (Read part one of this post here.)

I’d been reading about Coardboard and smartphone VR and was intrigued by it. The boys knew about VR technology like Oculus Rift mostly by watching PewDiePie and other YouTubers. And yet, none of us were prepared for how very cool the virtual reality experience would be. You’re talking about a girl who doesn’t even like 3-D movies!

Using the View-Master VR viewer couldn’t be more easy. Download the Google Cardboard app to your smartphone. Open the View-Master box. Use the app to take a photo of the QR code on the View-Master to tell the app which kind of viewer you are using. Slip the phone into the viewer and hold the viewer up to your face — and be prepared to be blown away. Seriously, it’s the coolest thing I’ve never imagined.

With the viewer, you can look up, down, behind you, to the side – it’s as if you’re standing inside a photo. And then you realize you can interact with the photo by moving around. On the “Urban Hike” part of the Google Cardboard app, you find yourself on a street in Paris near the Eiffel Tower, and as you turn your head, the scene shifts in real time based on your motion and you can click to follow a Google-Maps pointer to walk down the street.

We took turns passing it from person to person, marveling and gasping and laughing at each new reaction. The only thing more fun than your first experience with Google Cardboard is watching somebody else’s reaction to their first Google Cardboard experience. It dazzled my seven year old, my teens and my 71 year old father in equal measure.

ViewMaster with Google Cardboard

With just your Cardboard device and the basic app, you’re set up for hours of entertainment. As soon as you wrap your head around the technology, though, you start to wonder what else it can do. You want more more MOAR content.

And that’s when I fell down the rabbit hole. The two-and-a-half hours after I asked myself “hey, I wonder what else this thing can do?” were a mixed bag of delight and exasperation. Didn’t I hear something about all YouTube videos being enabled for Cardboard? After all, YouTube and Cardboard are both owned by Google. I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out where exactly I was supposed to see the (clearly invisible) Google Cardboard icon on a video’s watch page before I figured out that I needed to be in the YouTube app, which I promptly downloaded. It took another exasperating interval before I realized that I’d only find it in the YouTube app for an Android (also parented by Google) device, not my iPhone. And when not even Tristan’s HTC Android phone would offer up the icon (not to mention the miserable learning curve of figuring out his user interface, such a child of Apple am I) we learned that his phone does not have a gyroscope and therefore does not work with Cardboard, and Google simplifies this by simply not making the app visible to him in the Google Play store. Many, many virtual heads were banged on virtual desks in this fruitless pursuit. We finally did get it working with Beloved’s Samsung S4 mini, but after the hours of frustration, I found the results rather lackluster. I’m sure with a newer Android phone with a bigger screen, the results will be breathtaking. I’ll wait for them to roll out an iOS version. There are a growing list of other apps that work on iOS, though – this list on Reddit seems robust.

So what exactly do you do with Google Cardboard on an iPhone, beyond playing with the Cardboard app contents? Given that this technology is only about a year old, there are already all sorts of cool things you can do. There are VR experiences, like attending a Paul McCartney concert or jumping out of a plane. You can play games, watch movies, ride virtual roller-coasters, or visit photospheres (360 degree panoramas) of exotic places — like the surface of Mars! With an Android phone, you can even take your own photospheres – I’m looking forward to that being available on iOS, too.

I must admit, I did get a little cranky about having to download a new app for each thing I wanted to try. I did download the Star Wars app (of course I did) and it has several Cardboard mini-adventures in it, but they are huge and space is already at a premium on my photo-stuffed iPhone. The app does have a nice section where you can manage the data being clogged up by the app, so I will keep this one. (Bonus Star Wars content: countdown to Episode VIII!)

My favourite discovery by far has been the Google Street View app. Enter any place on earth that Google has mapped with their street view camera and go for a virtual walk. With literally the whole world at their fingertips, my boys were most entertained by “walking” down our street from our house to our mailbox – go figure. Imagine, though – check out the street view of a hotel before you visit it, revisit your favourite vacation spots, see if the house where you grew up still looks the same.

I remember the very first time I used the Internet, probably back in 1992 or so, and I was paralyzed by the question of “where do you want to go?” When the answer is both anywhere and everywhere, it’s tough to narrow the answer down to just one place to go first! The funny thing is that I have the same feeling with Google Cardboard’s VR that I had the first time I surfed the Internet – that sense of wonder mixed with the feeling that you’re standing at the beginning of something so full of potential that you just can’t wrap your brain around it. Accessible VR for everyone? Mind = blown.

So, what do you think? Are you intrigued? Or am I preaching to the choir? Have you already taken a Cardboard viewer for a spin? Feel free to share any great experiences or apps you’ve found. (And if you’re interested in getting the View-Master VR viewer, they’re starting to roll them out in Canada. I found them online at Best Buy and Toys R Us for less than $30.)

If you do pick one up, or have a different Cardboard viewer, I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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In 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting and photographing a charming extended family on a farm just south of town. It was truly one of the warmest, most fun days of portraits and play in the five years I’ve been in business, and since that warm summer day on the farm, I’m happy to […]

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I wish I’d noticed much earlier that a pair of robins were busy building a nest in our porch light fixture. The top of the fixture had blown off in an autumn wind storm, but since it is in an area protected from the elements, I really didn’t stress about replacing it. Then one day […]

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