What We Did On The Least Relaxing Vacation Ever {Backyard Progress}

As you may have been able to tell from my How To Lay a Pea Gravel Patio post, Liam and I have been making some significant progress on our backyard.

I don’t have great ‘before’ shots of our corner garden, but basically all that jungle behind the chain-link fence was encroaching a good 5 feet into our lawn. We cut it back, dug out the roots and created a fabric-coated, mulch-covered, minimal-maintenance perennial garden. The best kind of garden there is! I also gave the old bird bath a few coats of bright blue spray paint to freshen it up.Backyard Before 006Our shed was more nest than storage solution so taking it down became a thrilling two hour battle with bees. We got it done without getting stung but the massive pile of junk that was left managed to sting us with a $300 bill to have it removed. That shed was nothing but trouble! shed progressThe side garden was an overgrown mess that I would have loved to rip out entirely, but it is too shady a spot for grass to grow. It was either garden or dirt so I picked garden as that was less work anyway. I just cut it back and cleaned it up so that now it’s neat.

side garden

The second big project of the week was refinishing the deck. We rented a belt sander from a home store and took turns sanding each board one by one. Not only did this remove the old stain and dirt on the wood, but smoothed everything down tremendously. I hadn’t realized how rough and splintery our deck was before we sanded it.

Next came staining. I spent eight (EIGHT!) solid hours putting the first coat of stain on this deck. Don’t be mad at Liam, while I was staining he was doing the much harder job of filling the gravel patio. The next morning it still took the two of us two and a half hours to apply the second coat. The old dried out and freshly sanded boards just soaked up the stain and getting in between them was a tedious nightmare. The result though, is fantastic. Below is just a sneak-peek of the first coat; I’ll reveal the finished deck when its all dressed up and pretty.

deck progress

flourish.svgStaycation is over; we’re slightly more tanned but back at our desks and busy as ever. Our intention is to take another week off in August to complete the backyard and tackle some issues at the front of the house as well. I’m looking forward to it. Even though we work tremendously hard on our holiday we gain a great sense of accomplishment … and manage to sneak off to my wonderful uncle’s pool every now and then for a dip and a cold one. Cheers!


How to Lay a Pea Gravel Patio

The area to the right of our deck was a mess. Small, uneven, overgrown with weeds, rotting and generally unappealing. It housed the BBQ and the garden hose but provided no other purpose except looking ugly. As part of our Staycation Plans, the Mr. and I decide to replace this area with a much larger pea gravel patio.

gravel inspiration
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I took to the internet to familiarize myself with the Pros & Cons of a gravel patio. The look can be classic or modern; as elegant as an English garden or as laid-back as an ashram. The colours of the stones will vary according to your geographical location, meaning you will be using a local product that reflects your home. It is easy to install and maintain, but the biggest Pro has to be the low low cost. No other hardscaping material can compare to the price per square foot of pea gravel. Some Cons to keep in mind are that snow removal is next to impossible, it will need intermittent but consistent raking and cleaning, and there is a chance of stones spilling out onto to grass or other parts of the landscape. Although easy to walk on, the gravel has a lot of ‘give’, making it inappropriate for paths or areas you’d want to move a wheelbarrow or other equipment across. For our needs, it was the perfect option.


We started by tearing up the brick patio stones and tearing down the rotten garden bed frames. We had to wrestle the stones from a swarm of fire ants, but we actually found a buyer for them on Kijiji! A little bit of cash in our pockets, but we’re mostly happy to be diverting waste from the landfill. Once the area was clear, we marked out the dimensions of the new patio and painstakingly removed all the grass using a flat edged shovel. This was a very labour intensive part of the project, requiring a lot of care that we only skimmed about 3 inches off the surface of the lawn. We are attempting to salvage the sod from this area to fill in where the shed used to be. Six weeks of consistent watering should do it, fingers crossed.

Patio progress

Even doing our very best to rip up the grass evenly, the dirt was far from level with low soft spots and rock-hard bumps all over the place. We rented a power sweeper from a home store which enabled Liam to power through the peeks and get us a nice flat surface for our base.

dirt progress

I laid landscape fabric over the whole area, being careful to overlap each strip. Follow your material directions, but I hammered in landscaping pegs every 3 feet or so. This should give us 3-5 maintenance-free years. Re-purposing wood beams from our now truncated side garden, we framed the patio so that the gravel stays neatly separated from the grass. To secure the beams we nailed in steel pegs right into the ground, first pre-drilling holes to prevent the wood from splitting.

gravel progressNow it was gravel time! I ordered 3 cubic yards of 3/8″ to 5/8″ Coloured Riverwash Stone (a.k.a. pea stone) from Greely Sand and Gravel, using their on-line calculator to estimate how much stone we would need. The result ended up being pretty much bang-on, we have a tiny bit extra.

this pile is just getting started!
would you look at this dump!

Liam lost count of how many trips he made with the wheelbarrow, it had to be at least 50. But after a back-bending day of shoveling 3 cubic yards of stone from one end of the house to the other, it was done. With a little bit of raking and smoothing, our pea gravel patio was complete.

fill progressThe last step of this project was to soak the stones with a sprinkler. They got all dusty during transfer and look chalky here, but the beautiful river-wash colours really came out with a bit of hosing off … except I’m saving those pictures for later.


Even as an empty surface we like it and know it’s the right choice. The patio is now much more proportionate to the deck, and we no longer have dead space under the bay window. I cannot wait to finish our other backyard projects to show you how it all pulls together!

before and after patio

Staycation Plans

The Mr. and I are currently on a “staycation”; meaning we are off work but at home. As much as we’d love to spend this time lazing around or playing tourist in our own town, we have far less convivial plans. This week and a half has been set aside to overhaul our neglected and overgrown backyard.

Remember that beautiful, lush, mature yard we inherited when we moved in? Well sometime over the last 3 years everything either rotted, died, or shape-shifted into threateningly large and spiky plants. Lately we have been too busy to cut our grass, let alone hang out on our rotten deck, but as wedding-season summer winds down, we’d like to look forward to having a more welcoming space to spend our precious spare time in. We’re going to reclaim our backyard and create an oasis we will actually enjoy. Here’s the plan;       backyard plan 1

The shed is absolutely infested with rodents and bees, and everything being stored in there is junk anyway. It’s an eyesore and a hazard; I cannot wait to tear it down! Also, the garden is wildly overgrown and needs taming.  Backyard plan 2

Aside from a few rotten boards, I think the deck can actually be salvaged. We will strip it, sand it, stain it, and get some professional help on fixing the steps. I’m keeping an eye out for some sort of structure (gazebo, pergola, etc.) to create shade so sitting on the deck is bearable during the day. We’ll also need a cozy chat set for some comfortable seating.

The garden beds around the BBQ will get torn down and the tiny interlock pad will be ripped up to make room for a larger pea gravel patio. Gravel isn’t our first choice, but is an affordable DIY option that should be easy on the eyes and on barefooted toes! The space under the bay window will no longer be wasted, becoming a designated dinning area.

backyard shopping list
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The back of the house gets a lot of sun during the day so I’d like to visually cool down the space with blues and purples. We’re shooting for a boho hippy vibe, casual and relaxing … which we are going to need after all the work this is going to be!

Happy Canada Day Bunk Room Reveal

In honour of Canada Day, I am revealing our Canadian themed spare room mini-makeover. Everything in this room had been given to us and didn’t really jive together. Ahead of hosting some American friends, we spruced the space up a bit with some coordinating bed linen and patriotic accessories.  before and after view 1 before after view 2before after view 3

The biggest project in the room was making the DIY canvas art to fill the wall above the single bed. I had the canvas wasting away in the storage room, painted with a past -failed- expression of my artistic ability. Inspired by Katie at bowerpowerblog.com, I slapped on some spackle and paint and turned out a pretty decent abstract textured piece that cost next to nothing.

Bunk Room After 011 edit

Also adorning the walls are pictures from the Mr. and my engagement photo shoot. The large frame used to hold a mass-produced print of a lily, I ordered a poster-sized photo from VistaPrint for $30 to replace it.  A smaller print is displayed in a $7 Ikea HAVERDAL frame. We did our e-session at my family’s cottage on White Lake Ontario and nothing is more Canadian than cottage and canoes.wall art

The bedside table got dressed up with a maple-scented candle, a $6 DEKAD alarm clock, and a $10 ceramic carafe with a cute moose imprint which was an unexpected Wal-Mart find. When planning the makeover, I knew I needed to have some rendition of the Canadian flag in the room. This flag tray was only $3 from my local Ikea. It also adds a nice hit of colour.    beside table

On the solid pine dresser I centered a cottagey rope-handle tray displaying a few Canadian tchotchkes. I love trays for grouping small items together while also being functional as catchalls for stuff like guest keys, phones, etc. The branches and Umbra vase I’ve had for years in another room, but they work in here  with the outdoorsy feel.

table scape


Not the most dramatic makeover … my little brother says the Before&Afters look like Spot-the-Difference puzzles … but still an improvement. It’s nice to have a touch of patriotism in the house, today and everyday. Happy Canada Day et Joyeuse Fête du Canada!

Wine Themed Wedding Reception

Liam and my first wedding anniversary is drawing near and I cannot believe how fast this first year of marriage has gone, or that I have posted so little about the wedding! Our destination nuptials in Portugal were fantastic, but we wanted to celebrate with our more extended friends and family in Ottawa too. So, early last September, we held a cocktail reception to do just that. Here are the details:

The Venue

We wanted a venue that reflected our personality as a couple. Liam and I enjoy the finer things in life but tend to gravitate towards a more casual and relaxed atmosphere. Especially after having such an elegant wedding, we really wanted a fun, comfortable place to continue the celebration. Sidedoor, with its ideal Byward Market location, historic stone walls, and funky wine glass chandeliers fit us perfectly. A big bonus were the flat screen TVs all around the space that had our wedding video playing on a loop.


The Decor

Having a beautiful venue meant we did not need to do much … but in the age of Pinterest, no wedding is complete without a few DIY details. At least if you love DIY details like I do. This hand-made rustic wood sign was the first thing to greet guests at the entrance to the courtyard.


Playing up the wine theme, I made a dozen chalkboard-look wine bottles with funny little sayings about wine. These were grouped on tables and served as lighthearted centerpieces as well as fantastic conversation starters.


In addition to petals scattered everywhere, a few small flower arrangements adorned the cocktail tables and bar. These were in soft pinks and vibrant blushes that contrasted nicely with the stone and dark decor of the restaurant. Even a few flowers were enough to make the party really feel like a wedding.  flowers The Food

Passed canapés kept guests nibbling all night on the Asian-fusion fare the venue is known for. There was also a [very Canadian] poutine bar that came out later, as well as a cupcake tower for some traditional sugary wedding fun.



The Drinks

We would have loved to have treated our guests to an open bar, but that was just not in the budget. We did the best we could by offering everyone a glass of white or red wine as they arrived. On the stem of each glass was ticket for a second drink at the bar. drinks  The Guest Book

It took months of wine drinking (yay!) and help from our boozy friends to collect hundreds of red wine corks for our shadowbox guestbook. Etched on the glass of the frame is our last initial, first names, and wedding date. Guests signed and wrote little notes on the corks and dropped them in the box which is now displayed in our home.


The Favours

Friends and family got to take home a waiter’s knife corkscrew printed with our names and wedding date. Each were tied with purple ribbon around gold heart “thank you” charms and displayed on actual wooden grape crates.


The Entertainment

Local Ottawa cover band One Vision rocked all night long with pumped-up renditions of pop/rock classics. Their energy was infections and kept guests moving on the dance floor. Purple glow-sticks added a playful element and were a throwback to Liam and my “rave days”.


We also (apparently) made a speech, which neither of us can much remember. We probably only intended to thank everyone for coming, but the pictures make it look like we are a comedy duo … who are really in love. At least we thought we were funny.


We obviously enjoyed ourselves. I lost my voice and both my big toe nails (sorry, over-share) that night but it was totally worth it. Planning a big event can be a lot of fun when the pressure is off. Everything had been set up before hand, the wedding was said and done, we were three weeks married and just ready to party with pretty much everyone we knew. And party we did. flourish.svg

Venue: Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar
Photographer: Christine Aubrey Photography
Dress: Etsy
Suit: Indochino
Bride & Groom hair: Fernando Cellini
Floral: Weekly Flowers
Shadow Box: Etsy
Favours: Wine Openers.ca
Band: One Vision

Boston Boys {Freshening Up the Bunk Room}

We are preparing for visitors! Three men from Boston whom we have never met, staying with us for three days at the end of June.

No, we have not listed our home on Airbnb (although that is an intriguing idea …), the Boston Boys are groomsmen in my friend’s wedding, and I am a bridesmaid. These guys are traveling all the way from Boston to attend the wedding and spend a few days exploring Canada’s Capital. Rather than stay in some overpriced fancy hotel, they are bunking with us in my convenient three bed spare room.


All the furniture and linens were given to us (lucky us) so we have never paid any attention to decorating this room … the cat seems to like it nonetheless. In honour of our American guests, I’m freshening up the bunk room with a Canadian theme.

With only a busy few weeks between now and the wedding, changes have to be kept minimal. Sadly, there is no time for painting, or changing of electrical outlets or door hardware. Still, there is a lot I could do to make this room more welcoming and put-together. Here’s the plan:

bunk bed plan

The plaid comforters on the bunk beds fit in really well with the pine wood furniture, but the purple on the single bed clashes horribly.  I’ll cover it with the KUSTRUTA duvet cover set from Ikea. So that we aren’t overwhelmed by plaid, I’ll also pick up two grey GURLU cushion covers. I’m in love with the Canadian flag pillow above (from Urban Barn) but $42 seems a little steep. I may cave and get it if I can’t find something similar. I must have some form of Canada flag in the room.

The small lamp on the dresser doesn’t do much to light the space, so I’m adding a HEKTAR wall/clip lamp over the single bed to brighten up the corner. I’d like to tablescape the dresser with random little pieces of Candiana like maple scented candles and a mini Inukshuk. No guest room is complete without an alarm clock (is it my job to make sure the Boston Boys get to the wedding on time?) and the DEKAD fits right in with the heritage feel.

The room is in desperate need of stuff on the walls. Framed pictures from our Engagement Session, shot on an Ontario lake, should work nicely.  I’m also toying with the idea of framing some iconic Canadian wildlife images, but am worried they will come off too kitsch. To fill the giant wall space over the single bed, I’d love to accomplish a project I’ve been planning for a while now; textured art inspired by bowerpowerblog.com.

I better get started!

Why I Got Married in Portugal {and why you should consider it too}

It’s literally sunny all the time.

I always knew I wanted an outdoor ceremony, but in Ottawa there is just no safe time of year that guarantees a perfect day. Sure, we have beautiful stretches of Canadian summer, but rain is always a possibility and stifling humidity isn’t much better … not to mention the mosquitoes!

Rather than take chances, I planned my wedding in one of the sunniest places on Earth: Estoril. Known as the Portuguese Riviera, the coastal area of Casscias and Estoril gets an average of only 10 days with rainfall in June, July, and August, as compared to 34 days in Ottawa. Even if it does rain in sunny Estoril, it will probably be a light refreshing sprinkle followed by a beautiful burst of sunshine. The average amount of rain that falls during that period is 27 mm as compared to a staggering 247 mm in Ottawa!

Portugal enjoys one of the most stable climates in the world with a moderate kind weather influenced by the sea. My wedding was at the end of August, but in Portugal, your chances for a warm bright day are high no matter what the time of year.
f4a3f-dsc_5393* Statistics according to WeatherWorldOnline.

Face it. Down-south all-inclusives have been done.

Sure they’re fun, easy, and have great weather, but do you really want to invite your guests to another resort wedding?  Chances are they have attended, or at least been invited to, a few already and may not be all that interested in taking the same type of vacation again. No matter where you go in the Caribbean, your wedding runs the risk of looking like every other resort wedding out there. … which is fine for some, but not for me.

While Portugal has all the ease and beauty of the Caribbean, it is an exotic unique choice that will intrigue and entice your guests.


There are some seriously beautiful venues.

Our wedding was held in at the Villa São Paulo, a palace built in 1911 by a Mrs. Benedita Alves de Mello – A Portuguese millionairess who made her fortunes in the coffee plantations of Brazil. This little piece of history has been completely updated for a comfortable modern stay. TV, A/C, Wifi, what other acronyms could you need?

The Villa is positioned on a cliff directly facing the Atlantic Ocean, fifty private steps down to world-famous beaches. With 14 air-conditioned bedrooms, two fully equipped kitchens, a pool, and direct access to the beach, the Villa SP is a fantastic base for a Lisbon Coast vacation and an incredibly stunning location for a wedding.

from http://www.villa-sao-paulo.com

And I chose one of many many options. There are historic palaces, monasteries, luxury hotels, countryside mansions -many of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Absolutely breathtakingly beautiful venues that are the stuff of fairy-tale princess bride dreams.

other venues
from http://www.lisbonweddingplanner.com

Everyone speaks your language.

Okay, maybe not every single person, but the vast majority of Lisboetas speak more than enough English to point out a metro station or direct you to a landmark. Portuguese people are notoriously warm and friendly and -I may have a slight bias here- are the nicest and most interesting people on the planet.

So not only do you have fascinating conversations with locals to look forward to, but also detailed discussions with wedding vendors regarding your decor ambitions, hair, makeup, floral preferences, et cetera.


The food.

We’ve all had wedding food:. chicken/fish/beef, fingerling potatoes, with steamed seasonal vegetables. Yummy

Cocktail Hour
Beef Croquetes
Pastelinhas de Bacalhau (codfish fritters)
Rissoes de Camarao (shrimp dumplings)
Linguiça grelhada em tacinhas (grilled sausage)
Mozzarella skewers
Prosciuto wrapped pineapple

Shrimp stuffed papaya with cream sauce
Seabass and clams in a bed of vegetables
Lemon sorbet
Roast lamb, vegetables, and potatoes
Chocolate and passion fruit mousse
Red Velvet wedding cake with raspberry filling

Not to mention all the champagne, wine, beer, and cocktails 35 people could possibly consume in one evening.  No one saw the bottom of a glass, ever.

And yes, I know that there are actually fantastic caterers in this wonderful Northern country that I live in who could absolutely compete with my menu, but they are certainly not the standard! You’d have to find them out, go for tastings, work with them on the menu, and pay them your first born child. In Portugal the standard for good food and fine entertaining is much higher. Everyone eats well all the time, so at weddings the fare is expected to be fabulous.

My menu was part of a package offered by The Villa São Paulo. It was Menu C and I didn’t taste a bite of it until we took our seats at our reception. But more importantly, I didn’t worry about it. Not once. Ever. I knew with absolute certainty that in Portugal, I would be feeding my guests far better than I could ever have hoped to back home.


Easy to get there and around. 

We had a few first-time travelers on our guest-list who were nervous about making their first jump across the Atlantic to this mysterious little sliver of Europe. But the direct Air Canada fights out of Toronto and Montreal made it a breeze for everyone, and the Lisbon airport is a seriously well-laid out facility. English signage is everywhere at airport and tourist areas, so being lost is always temporary.

Our guests arrived to us at the Villa São Paulo in several ways. Seasoned travel veterans rented cars at the airport and hopped on the highway out to Estoril. The adventurous crowd used the metro and train station, finding it all extremely cheap and easy. And for the group of 12 that were flying out together, consisting of my 80 year old grandma and some virgin-travelers, I arranged a private van transfer that was perfectly prompt and professional.

We were also constantly taking cabs to and from the centers of  Casscias and Estoril. Both a beautiful sea-side walk away, but it was sometimes more pleasant to take a 7€ cab ride  after a day of shopping or evening of eating.


Euro goes a little bit further.

You can spend as much or as little on a wedding as you want. Weather you hire a white elephant to whisk you away, or if you walk to a bar after a ceremony at City Hall, it will still be your  wedding and will be romantic and memorable. Me, I wanted everything short of a white elephant, and in Portugal I got what I wanted.

I’m not saying that it was cheap!

We still spent a tone of money on our wedding, like a tone. But we certainly got a lot more bang for our canuck bucks. As already mentioned, the quality and style of catering far surpasses the North American standard for about the same cost, and alcohol was far cheaper. Videography was also a great deal. The video that would have cost us thousands here at home was an add-on to our photography package for mere hundreds (I’ll post the video soon I promise!). Hair & makeup and flowers & decor were right on par with Canadian prices. And other vendors like the officiant, security, DJ and musicians came up to a bit under what I would expect to pay here.

A lot of this assembling of fantastic services had to do with my wedding planner Claudia. She has a circle of top-notch wedding professionals around her that she brings with her own expertise and attention to every wedding held at the Villa a São Paulo. I would not have had my dream wedding without her.


It’s a built-in Honeymoon.

Trust me, you wont want to leave. After your dream wedding, you can head to the Algarve for much needed time doing nothing but relaxing on the beach. Need a little more adventure? Well the waves around Sintra are some of the best in the world for surfing. Scuba diving, sea kayaking, fishing, and dolphin watching are also all on offer all along the coast. Not into water sports? Head into the cities to explore centuries of history and culture. Take in a Fado show for some chillingly beautiful Portuguese language ballads, or bob your head as you watch folkloric dancers perform in traditional village garb.

If you do want to branch out and see more of the world, Portugal is an excellent jumping off point to a host of other destinations. We had an opportunity to travel with family through Morocco and our flight to Casablanca out of Lisbon only cost us about $200. Many of our guests also took advantage of being in Europe and tagged on France, Italy, Spain, and the rest of the Meditarian onto attending our destination wedding.