Misadventures in Real Estate

My husband and I have an ongoing debate, when it comes to our house. We both acknowledge that there are things about this space that no longer really work for us. My office space is in the playroom, and my husband’s is taking up a good amount of square footage in the living / dining room. Our kitchen, while big and bright, has a less-than-optimal layout, with a pantry door that falls off once a year or so, drawers that don’t open properly anymore, and a lack of seating. Our ensuite bathroom is in dire need of a serious overhaul. These are all little things, and probably none of them are deal-breakers taken individually, but after 10 years in the same space, the little annoyances start to wear.

Our disagreement doesn’t stem from what’s wrong about our house – it stems from what to do about it. I am planted pretty firmly in Camp Renovate. I believe that, in the long run, renovating is cheaper and easier. After all, if we were to move there would be transfer taxes and realtor commissions and closing costs. It’s also pretty much a foregone conclusion that we’d be buying a more expensive house than the one we’re selling, so our mortgage would go up. Plus, we’d have to do some renovating to get our house ready to sell, and we may need to do some work on any house that we bought to make it really work for us. On top of that, I think that any house would have downsides that would grate on us. I’m opting for the devil I know, over the devil I don’t.

My husband, on the other hand, has pitched his tent in Camp Relocate. He argues (and truthfully so) that we can’t make this house into something it’s not. We need more space, and rather than pouring a bunch more money into this home, we should look for one that meets our needs as-is. When we bought this house we didn’t have any kids yet. We didn’t really understand how our needs would change once we were living with a four-year-old and an eight-year-old. He’s tired of the same old problems, and he’s ready for new horizons.

real estate homebuying renovationBecause we can’t agree, we go back and forth on this. However, this weekend we dipped our toes into the real estate waters. One of our neighbours has listed their home, and we decided to drop by the open house on Saturday. First I went, taking Jacob with me to kill the time while Jon was at Hannah’s musical theatre class. I immediately fell in love. It has a gorgeous garden, complete with fruit trees and blueberry bushes. It has an extra bedroom in the basement, which would be perfect for a home office. Overall, the house just a better layout in general for our needs. I suggested to Jon that he stop by after Hannah’s class, and he did.

Jon liked the house, too. We decided to be brash, and called our realtor, and our mortgage company. We hemmed and hawed, and slept on it, and on Sunday morning toured the house one more time. We still liked it, quite a lot. So we made the leap. We wrote up an offer, and our realtor submitted it. Then we waited, and waited, and waited. Then we started getting calls from our realtor. There was another offer. Both offers would be presented. Were we happy with our offer? We should hopefully know soon. Really soon. And we waited some more. And some more. And some more. Eventually, it started to become apparent that they weren’t coming back to us with a counter-offer. Finally, at 9:00pm, our realtor confirmed that they went with the other party.

I felt nauseous. The whole thing was way, way, way too much excitement for me. It felt a little unfair, actually. All we gave them was a real estate contract. They didn’t know anything about us. How we love the neighbourhood. How our kids were born here. What a better space would mean to our family. It was just some numbers and conditions, all laid out in legalese. And our numbers and conditions weren’t the right numbers and conditions, full stop.

In the end, it was a case of easy come, easy go. I was caught up in real estate hysteria, and this time I didn’t end up with a house to show for it. If anything, this has entrenched me more firmly in Camp Renovate. It was a very stressful weekend, which I spent worrying about something that I had no control over, rather than actually accomplishing something useful. Perhaps the fact that it didn’t work out is a sign. Maybe we’re meant to stay where we are. Honestly, I don’t want to go through that anytime again. I think I’d rather just stay where I am.

I’m in an immensely privileged position, really. The fact that my husband and I are quibbling over the little things about our home that don’t work for us is a sign that on the whole, things are good. We have a warm, safe, secure home for our family. We have the financial ability to take small steps towards improving our living situation. We don’t have to choose between paying for housing and paying for extras like musical theatre classes for our daughter. I’m trying to focus on that, rather than the disappointment of having our offer passed over, or the anxiety of the whole headlong rush into moving.

For now, I’m staying right where I am, in Camp Renovate. You’ll find me over by the low-VOC paint samples and the IKEA catalogues. It’s going to take something pretty compelling to get me to move again anytime soon.

When your living space doesn’t work for your family anymore, is your first impulse to renovate or move? And do you have any stories of near-misses in the real estate market? I’d love to hear!

A Space of My Own

Virginia Woolf famously said, “A woman must have … a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” While I don’t write fiction, I do write. Sadly, however, I don’t have a room of my own. I live in a split-level three bedroom house, which is roomier than some of my friends’ homes, but does not afford me a room for writing. When I was pregnant with my son Jacob my husband and I lost our office to the cause of our kids each having their own room. The computer moved downstairs to a corner of the family room, which is otherwise filled mostly with toys.

It was a full year or more after the computer moved that I got the call that I had been laid off from my job. I didn’t realize it yet at the time, but that day marked my transition from part-time work outside the home mom to full-time work at home mom. I soon discovered that trying to be productive from the corner of my family room was much more challenging than trying to be productive from my cubicle in an office. Any sort of separation between family and career was erased. I’m not complaining – there are many upsides to this. I have much more flexibility when it comes to being with my kids, for instance, which is a big plus for me. I’m glad I made the switch.

At the same time, I often long for a room of my own. A room that I can close the door on when the work day is done. A room I can retreat to when the noise in the rest of the house is too much. A space that isn’t filled with toys and discarded apple cores and so on. My husband and I frequently talk about this conundrum, of lacking any type of home office. We haven’t found any great solutions. However, recently it occurred to me that I could at least make a few changes to my workspace, to make it a little more functional.

For the past couple of months I’ve been on a quest. The first step was moving the printer off of my desk. We accomplished that in October, when we got a working wifi printer, which now lives on the top shelf of a closet. That cleared off my desk. Step two was getting rid of my clunky old desktop computer, and moving on to my laptop. (You’ll be glad to know I kept disco mouse, though.) We did that in November, which cleared more space in my desk area. Step three was clearing out my old bookshelf, which hasn’t actually contained books for ages, and making space for my sewing supplies and sewing machine. We did that in December.

The job was finished this weekend. We made the pilgrimage to IKEA for a new floor mat, chair and doors for my bookcase. The result is a corner of a room that is totally mine, filled with my work and crafting supplies. My sewing machine is no longer hidden in a cupboard when it’s not in use, and sharing space on my dining room table when it is. My fabric is no longer stuffed into an overflowing shelf in my buffet. My desk is no longer covered with things I don’t need, want or use. And I finally have a chair I actually like, rather than one that my husband bought himself 15 years ago for his bachelor apartment.

A work and craft space of my own
My completed space

I’m hoping that Virginia Woolf was only half-right, and that a space of my own will suffice. For now, I have to say, I’m very happy with it. It may not be perfect, but it’s mine. My own little corner of the world. It is sweet, indeed.

Podcast: Anna Hackman of Green Talk

One of the things that I’ve learned since I started the Strocel.com Podcast is just how many great stories are out there. You don’t have to be famous or have a Nobel Prize in order to be interesting, passionate and engaging. In fact, there are probably some amazing stories in the people you come into contact with every day, and in the normal small talk of life you never get to hear them. It has been an amazing privilege to hear them through my podcast, and also to share them with you.

Strocel.com Podcast Anna Hackman Green Talk Green Building

Today I’m sharing an interview I did with Anna Hackman, who blogs at Green Talk. She’s a fellow member of the Green Moms Carnival, a mom of four, a lawyer, a sustainability consultant, an organic gardener and a green building expert. You can catch up with her on her website, Green Talk. Before I spoke with Anna, I honestly wasn’t sure that I found green building all that exciting. Anna got me, though. She shared her story, and her passion, and I was hooked. This is what I’m talking about when I say that I love podcasting.

Sustainable Hotel Ad

If you’ve ever considered building your own home, you’re undergoing home renovations, or even just re-decorating your living room, Anna’s your girl. She can tell you how to save money by making your home energy-efficient, how to pick non-toxic furniture and paint, and just what is amazing about a geothermal system. And in the process, she will get you all fired up, too. Plus, she’s got the chops. Anna is a LEED Accredited Professional, which means that she knows a whole lot more about green building than me, and probably most other people, too.

If you want some ideas about how to make your own home more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly, or you’d just like to listen to some great stories from a person living her passion, you should listen to our interview. It’s a long one, but it’s worth taking the time for:

As I mentioned, Anna and I are both members of the Green Moms Carnival. One of the things that we do is run a monthly blog carnival on a set topic. This month’s topic is “Resolutions for Reducing Your Carbon Footprint” and I’m hosting it here at Strocel.com on Monday, January 23. If this sounds like something you’d like to take part in, you’re welcome to submit a post by the end of the day on January 21. Just publish it on your blog, and drop me a line with the link. We’d love to add your voice to those writing on behalf of the planet!

Next week on the podcast I’ll be talking about having kids, and how you know when you’re “done”. I’m departing from my usual format, and talking to three different moms – Stephanie from Adventures in Babywearing, Allison from Bibliomama, and Amanda from pomomama. They all have a unique perspective to share, plus I’ll be weighing in with some thoughts of my own. I’m going all out on this one. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute!

Bye Bye Blue Walls

We bought our house eight years ago. It was our first foray into home ownership, and prior to moving in here I spent some nine years in student housing and rental apartments. You know what those places have in common? Extremely neutral colour choices. Think beige carpets and off-white walls. By the time that we laid hands on the keys for this house I was so over off-white walls.

On the day that we moved in our new living room had the dreaded off-white walls, plus some floral wallpaper straight out of the early 80s.

Our living room on the day we got our keys

I decided that what our new home needed was colour, and I reserved the most dramatic colour for our new living room. I had this idea that I would have dark blue walls (to match our dark blue furniture, of course) with white wainscoting. This was before I’d been through renovations, though. Of course, the wainscoting never happened. Instead, we ended up with a living room that very closely resembled the exterior of an IKEA store. At first, I loved it. But after a few years I was kind of tired of the colour. It was dark, and honestly a bit much. But I kept it, because who wants to go through the hassle of painting?

The new family, on day 8
Our first photo as a family of three, in front of the blue wall

The new and improved Strocels
Our first photo as a family of four, also in front of the blue wall

Hannah's birthday banner
Hannah’s sixth birthday banner, hanging from the blue wall

Back in January I decided that I needed a theme word for 2011, and I chose space. I wanted to make space in my life for myself. Part of giving myself space involved clearing out the clutter, but an equally big part involved intentionally creating a living space that I enjoy being in. If I hate being in my living room, and I spend most of my time in my living room, I’m not exactly making space in my life for myself. And so as a combined birthday / Mother’s Day gift, I decided we needed to paint the living room.

Getting ready to paint
Getting ready to paint

Last Sunday, we did just that. My father-in-law came over, and he and Jon painted while I wrangled the kids. We chose a light gray, which also matches the dark blue furniture, but reflects light much better than the previous colour did. I will say that painting your living room really puts a dent in your weekend, no two ways about it. You’re not going to get a whole lot done besides painting. But I would gladly trade a weekend for a space that makes me smile.

Ted worked the edges
My father-in-law puts primer along the ceiling

Hannah gets in on the action
Hannah briefly tries her hand at painting

Jon does the edges for the first coat of gray
Jon starts on the first coat of gray

It’s taken a few days to put our living room back together, and truthfully, it’s not totally there. But if I’m being honest it wasn’t all there before we took it down, either. My home is not a showroom. But I’m pretty happy with the finished results all the same.

Finished living room
Yes, my kids are watching TV, but check out those walls!

Finished room from another angle
The finished room from another angle

Already the space feels much lighter and more airy. It feels, dare I say, more spacious. Mission accomplished.

Have you ever lived with a paint colour you didn’t like just because the prospect of re-painting was too daunting? And do you favour dramatic colour choices, or do you go for something more subdued? Please tell me! Or just compliment my new living room – that works too.

My Raised Garden Bed

Way, way back in April my husband Jon and his father built me a raised garden bed. After last year, I knew that I wanted more space to grow food. And the best way that I saw to do that was to lose a little bit of lawn. Grass is nice, but it just doesn’t hold a candle to home-grown veggies.

But I was at a loss. I mean, the concept of a raised bed seemed simple in theory. But I have never built anything on my own. Plus, we lack the necessary tools. So I was thrilled when my in-laws stepped in and offered their tools and experience. Then I stood back and watched them make it happen. At the end of the day, I had a 9 foot x 4 1/2 foot plot of dirt and potential.

New raised garden bed
The new raised bed on April 10

That was over two months ago, and that potential has been transformed into pea, carrot, dill, squash, corn and sunflower plants. And I am thrilled at the additional bounty that I will be harvesting this year.

Raised garden bed 2 months later
The raised bed two months later

Jon was kind enough to take my extremely amateur video footage and turn it into a lovely, polished video. Check it out – the making of my raised bed!

Have you ever built your own garden bed? Or are you as non-handy as I am? Tell me all about it!

Rehabilitating my Shower Curtain

I’ve always bought vinyl shower curtains. I like the fact that there are many translucent styles that let the light through. I don’t enjoy a dark shower. Sadly, there are some downsides to the vinyl curtain, though. For one thing, vinyl is sort of toxic. And for another, the little holes at the top are really prone to tearing.

In my less-environmentally-friendly days I didn’t really sweat the short-lived nature of the vinyl shower curtains, because they are so cheap. Spending $15 for a new shower curtain every year was hardly breaking the bank. But now, I feel bad about using what is essentially a disposable shower curtain. If I need a new shower curtain in the future, I will opt for something sturdier and non-vinyl. For now, though, I am committed to making my vinyl curtain last as long as possible.

So, I undertook a little shower curtain rehabilitation project. At the outset, my shower curtain was dirty and mildewy, and 5 of the 12 holder holes were ripped through. The first step was to clean it, and for that I used the washing machine. I put in a small amount of soap, I added vinegar to the rinse, and I washed it using cold water on the gentle cycle. Then I repeated the process, and finally I let the curtain air-dry in the sun.

Shower curtain drying on the grass

Now my shower curtain was clean, but it still wasn’t hanging right. I considered my options for dealing with the holes. My first idea was to cover over the top of the shower curtain with clear packing tape, and then poke through where the holes should be. I opted against that, though, in case I need to run the curtain through the washing machine again at some point. Instead, I decided to use my trusty hole punch.


I folded the shower curtain over about 2″ from the top edge, so that I would have a double-layer of vinyl to support the curtain. Then I punched holes about 1″ above where the old holes were. Once I had punched all of the holes, I folded the shower curtain again so that the old holes and the new holes lined up:

New holes punched above the old one, and then all 3 holes lined up together

The idea is that the holes that weren’t torn through now have many, many layers of vinyl supporting them. My theory is that the more ‘stuff’ that is keeping that shower curtain up, the less likely it is to tear, since each hole experiences less direct stress. I think it’s a sound theory, based on the many, many physics classes I’ve taken in my time. Either way, though, my shower curtain is holding up so far, and no new tears have occurred to date.


I am pretty happy with my rehabilitated shower curtain, I have to say. I hope that I will get much more use out of it by taking care of it and repairing it as-needed.

Have you ever repaired a shower curtain? Or do you have shower doors, allowing you to avoid the problem altogether? Inquiring minds want to know.

Cleaning up the Entryway

The entryway has never really been my favourite part of the house. And since we had kids, it’s become a total mess. Because kids mean more shoes, coats, hats, and mittens. They also mean traveling gear – strollers, infant seats, baby carriers, diaper bags. It was all vying for room in our entryway. We had places for all the stuff, in theory, but it just wasn’t working. To prove my point I took some snapshots of our entryway a few days ago, in its typical state. If you are really interested, you can click on any of the photos for a larger view.

The view from the doorway

The view from the doorway

Hat / mitt / scarf basket

Our overflowing woolen basket

More woolens stuck in the railing

More woolens stuck in the railing

Shoes and baby carriers in the way

Shoes and baby carriers in the way

Coats end up in the baby carrier basket

Coats end up in the baby carrier basket

The catch-all spot speaks for itself

The catch-all spot speaks for itself

Basically, we just had too much stuff in a small space, so everything ended up in piles, and strewn across the floor. So we did what I always do in these situations, we headed to IKEA (By the way, is it IKEA or Ikea? I went with IKEA since that’s what they use in their catalogue, but I’m not really sure what would be the correct grammar).

I went to the Swedish superstore first and scouted out our options. I also tried lingonberries for the first time, yum! Because I drive a compact and travel with an infant strapped to me I brought Jon along on a separate trip to haul our new organization system home. We were fast, man, in and out in under 20 minutes. Back at home I set it up, because in our house I’m the one who builds the furniture. I am woman, hear me roar (… and also use a lot of bad words as I wrestle with dowels).

Look at me, building Swedish furniture

Look at me, building Swedish furniture

A few blisters and a couple of thrown allen keys later, and we had a lovely cubby system in our entryway. I think it’s a big improvement, and I’m very happy with it. I’ve even adorned the side with kid art to greet people as they enter our home.

The finished product, loaded with our stuff.

The finished product, loaded with our stuff.

There are some more shots of our brand new entryway here. Again, click on any photo for a larger view.

The new view from our doorway

The new view from our doorway

Cleaned up baby carriers and coats

Cleaned up baby carriers and coats

The cleaned up catch-all corner

The cleaned up catch-all corner

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