Friday, September 17, 2010

Giving Back

A bad thing happened to our family on October 31st, 2008.

A bad thing that was made so very much better by the countless friends, family members, colleagues and community members who reached out, opened their hearts, rolled up their sleeves .... provided hugs and kind words. Between you and I, it was rather overwhelming.

Behind closed doors, the Husband and I regularly had tears of gratitude. As rather independent people, it's very, very hard to accept this kind of help. But we knew that we needed help of all kinds .... and that we would likely do the same in others' shoes.

Along the way, we racked our brains and stressed about how we would ever, ever thank all these people. I have a list that literally has hundreds of names on it - folks who donated furniture, bought us laundry baskets, left smoke detectors on our doorstep, baked brownies, organized a party (!), made lasagnas, helped us move, took our kids, gave us snowsuits .... toys, blankets, teapots .... kind emails, cards, drew us pictures, gave bottles of wine, made jokes and generally did whatever they could to lighten the mood, and get us through it.

We felt enveloped.

You can't possibly put into words the thanks you feel. It all seems so inadequate.

So, we decided to try to give back in some way - pay it forward, live our lives from this day forward in a different way .... We got truly settled in the Spring, and a few opportunities arose which allowed us to use the home we built for a good and interesting purpose.

In May, we opened our home to the Royal Ottawa Hospital for a special Home Tour to kick start the "The 40 Back" Campaign. It was a lovely event. We had 70 people in our house with fantastic catering from Tulips & Maple. and speakers from
The flowers were amazing -

It was part of the Royal's "You Know Who I Am" campaign to raise awareness for mental illness. It's partnership with Boomerang Kids and Rikochet Resale. 40 % of proceeds from donated clothing go to the ROH Foundation.

Check it out here:

(Incidentally, the partners who own Boomerang dropped off boxes of clothes and toys to us the very next day after the fire .. we'll never forget, gals!)

Another opportunity arose when we were asked to participate in the Glebe House Tour, to again, open our home to raise money for our local community centre, where so much good stuff happens for the community. The entire tour is run by dedicated volunteers. There are some amazing homes on the tour ...

Find out more here:

Tickets are $25 and all proceeds go to the Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group. Check out the wonderful sketch of our home, below. It's used on the cover of the House Tour ticket ... I love it.

(Incidentally, the Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group also did a ton for several other victims of fires in our area over the past year ... holding fundraiser concerts, opening bank account for donations etc.)

It's on Sunday, September 19th, 1-4 pm. Hope you all come out and support GNAG and the great things they do.

We have other plans, as well. The husband's alma mater wants to use our home for some alumni fundraising events in the coming year. We're always happy to give folks a tour, hold an event here - it feels like a house that we share with everyone who helped us. We hope this vibe becomes a part of the home's personality - it is a home built for sharing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Presenting .... Mark, the Builder or ... Project Manager

Anyone with a little boy knows Bob the Builder.

Well, when we re-built, we used Mark Patterson, of Patterson Homes. "Mark, the Builder" as we called him with our little guy.

Mark is a builder of a different sort ... I'll get to those details in a minute.
When the fire happened and we realized we were going to build a brand new home - the husband immdiately knew who he wanted to work with and how he wanted to do it.
We met Mark early days - before we even had plans - and he got us going on things to think about. Disconnecting hydro, removing water metres, securing the site for demolition. Mark has helped tear down a lot of houses - and he guided us through the whole process.

He has renovated several good friends' homes to rave reviews, including some of the Husband's favourite real estate clients who bought a home in our neighbourhood - and completely gutted and renovated it.

Check out Mark's website here. He's got some great shots of the house on there. (Taken by a great photographer, Paul Ting)

The difference for us with Mark was his approach. He calls it "personal building" and it's also called a "project management approach". In a nutshell, the homeowner serves as the technical builder of the home; while Mark serves as the project manager/overseer. He works closely with you on scheduling, hiring and supervising trades and suppliers, on-site supervision, and problem solving. What we liked was that we "held the pen" on the budget, and worked hand in hand with Mark on the execution of the project.

This is different from a "fixed price" contractor - to whom you give over your wad of cash, and then they manage and execute your project - including paying everyone who needs to be paid and buying what needs to be bought.

We are experienced renovators who have always done projects ourselves - in some cases, literally. In other cases, we've managed and executed some of the work. (Again, this is often the proverbial "we"...) I do most of the design, selection, finishes, vision ... with lots of painting, scraping and clean up experience. I also serve as a handy assistant and am excellent at "holding things". The Husband is one of those Handy Guys (I am very lucky this way...) who takes it all on - over the years, he has learned A LOT about renovating and building.

When it came time to build our home - we knew we would be heavily involved. That's just the way we roll.

So by using a project manager/personal builder - we would co-build the house. And that's what we did.

As a result, when time allowed, the Husband served as the regular on site supervisor, doing a lot of the problem solving and making decisions as required. He also worked in partnership with Mark on selecting and scheduling the trades, suppliers. We were heavily involved in the process, every step of the way, handling some areas completely ourselves.

It worked well.

We finished this project (relatively) on budget and on time. We accomplished a 3000 sq ft. new home build in seven months, in a downtown neighbourhood, fraught with logistic issues.
Mark was there for guidance, to stick handle any issues, as a voice of reason at times and as a negotiator. We learned a lot from him. He is very calm, and has contacts that are the best in the business.
In fact, Mark was very inspriational to us ... but more on that in the next post.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

June 28th - From the Outside In

Oh, the horror.

This is the yard BEFORE. We moved in early Winter - so the construction debris etc. was quickly covered up by nice fluffy snow. Then the dog did what dogs do all winter ... add the odd bit of garbage blown in by the wind etc. and it was a sorry situation this spring.

And as anyone who has built a home will know ... spring was about the time the budget ran out. We were done. So, the husband decided to take matters into his own hands.

With some helpful input and encouragement from me (ok, perhaps a lot of "suggestions", the looking out the window with gardening magazines in my lap, the sighing, the shuddering and cringing ..) he hatched his plan. But let's let's appreciate the full horror of what spring revealed:

This is all so very depressing that I think we must jump immediately to the "afters". It's really for the best, to keep our spirits up. The vision, fully realized, and completed below. I'll get to the "hows" in a minute.

Here is the view from the upper balcony.

And then the view back up to the hot tub balcony.

Note: Olive the dog who inserts herself in many photos. She is a very vain dog.

The last shot is the walkway from the side of the house that brings us to the back patio.

A note on the patio furniture. When we saw this square modern table last Fall, we loved it and wanted to incorporate it into our landscaping plan. It seats eight and we felt it suited the vibe of the rest of the house. What you can't possibly know, from this picture, is how very comfortable these seats are. I say this for all the furniture. It's all very, very comfy. I will say, as I write this near the end of the summer, that I have even managed to have a nap or two on the love seat.

It's from The Fireplace Centre and the manufacturer is Actwin

They have a great selection of contemporary - and more traditional - pieces. It's all Sumbrella fabric and great quality.

But this is not where this story begins, friends. Sadly it begins here with a lowly two by six, a huge bag of stones and a wheel barrow.

Our yard is narrow. Now that the house is built, the only way back there is via these side stairs. We have absolutely no access from the rear or from the other side. So, this is it.

Navigating this flimsy ramp is how the husband spent the better part of several weeks. Going up one side and down the other. He estimates he went up and down this board several hundred times.

First it was this gravel, used for the base for the patio stones (they dropped two HUGE bags of stones in the front driveway):

These patio stones (which were carried one at at time) and which probably weighed 45 lbs each.

Which eventually became this walk way ....

And this patio:

Then, there was the sod. We are not above using child labour, when the circumstances demand it .... Here is Miss Daughter, and some friends, helping out with the hauling.

There were trees that were planted to screen a few areas. Here is the entrance to the in-law suite (down the stairs, below):

There was this pile of cedar, which became the skirting for the deck.

So, the happy ending is a fantastic backyard that we have grown to love. The kids play areas blended with the entertaining areas, which blended with the relaxing zones. We sit in our "outdoor" room extensively, even when it's a big chillier. We can throw on a blanket or two and sit out. When we do, we can gaze over a nicely green, yard, framed with those huge Glebe trees we love.
We likely saved thousands in landscaping fees, which was great, too. Big thanks to the husband for his vision, his hard work and his amazing execution. He really got it done and we are so glad.