How To Create Your Perfect Backyard Oasis by Cindy McKay

I am so happy to introduce Cindy McKay of Cindy McKay Interiors as our guest for today. Cindy is not only a self-professed fabric addict with a sharp eye for affordable design, mom of two super cute kiddos and stylish dresser . . . she’s my friend! Cindy is also an inspiration. A year ago Cindy left a high-pressure, glamorous job to pursue her passion: interior decorating. It took an incredible amount of chutzpah to leave the security her job provided to embark on something new and uncertain.   Judging by the projects she’s shared on Instagram things are working out just fine! She’s also the happiest that I have seen her. Proof that when you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.  Check out Cindy’s projects and her talent for design by visiting her website.

Today Cindy shares with us how to create the perfect backyard oasis to get the most out of the summer days.

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How to create your perfect backyard oasis!

When I’m designing outdoor spaces, I like to suggest that clients have various zones (regardless of how small) on their property for different types of meals and to take advantage of the best light at specific times of day. I’m a follow the sun kinda gal (in my SPF 30, hat wearing way). Start with a foundation that mixes both hard and soft landscaping. By adding some comfortable patio furniture and layering in various accessories, you can really make your outdoor space feel as well appointed as your indoor space.

Morning coffee

This backyard faces East, it gets a lovely soft morning sun. I’ve set up a small area on the upper patio that is ideal to enjoy a fist morning coffee and perhaps sit and enjoy the newspaper. It’s not a large space, but just enough to comfortably allow the family to sit and chat. I’ve layered in some pillows, all in indoor/outdoor fabric and some blankets to cuddle up with on cooler days. The area rug helps to identify the space and separate it from the more functional areas of this patio where the BBQ sits.

Coffee

Sources:

Patio furniture and pads, D.O.T. Furniture; toss cushion fabric, Fabricland; side table, Lowe’s; lanterns, Target; blue blanket, WestElm; white blanket, IKEA; rug, Write Impressions; turtle, planter, Homesense.

Outdoor lounge areas

There are so many great options of outdoor lounge furniture these days at a variety of price points, they are really available to everyone! And what could be better than to enjoy an afternoon nap on an outdoor couch while hearing the birds chirp and smelling the sweet smells of the garden. These are also great entertaining spaces for any time of day as they are so versatile. Here I used the rug to delineate the space from the rest of the stone patio and added some fun mirrors behind the couch to help distract the eye away from the long run of fence line. I layered in toss pillows in indoor/outdoor fabric along with some great Turkish towels that are ideal as a light blanket on cooler days or can be used as this family does, to dry off after coming out from their hot tub.

Lounge Area

Sources:

Outdoor couch and coffee table, D.O.T. Furniture; mirrors, garden stool, Homesense; rug, Walmart, tray; Lilly Pulitzer for Target; fabric and custom pillow sewing, Tonic Living; pamuk & co. Turkish Towels, Tonic Living. 

Cocktail Hour

Wherever possible, try to find a spot that takes advantage of that last light of the day, when the sun is low and warm and you can enjoy a hard days work with a cool and refreshing beverage. It doesn’t have to be large or elaborate, two chairs and a small cocktail table and you’re set! In this particular property, the front yard faces West and I created a tiny little spot within the front garden, to carve out their much desired ‘cocktail patio’. You hardly even notice it from the road since it’s well integrated into the garden but still allows them to watch their young children play on the driveway.

Cocktails

Sources:

Chairs and chair pads, Homesense; table, West Elm; glasses, thrifted; bowl, Target; all plants, Sheridan Nurseries.

Dining Areas

Don’t be afraid to bring the indoors out when it comes to dining al fresco! Pull out a fun tablecloth and try it on your outdoor table. It’s a fun way to switch up your outdoor décor and adds something different and perhaps unexpected. Don’t forget the lighting! Just as lighting is an important indoor element, it’s equally important when dining outdoors. Nobody wants it to be so dark that they can’t see the beautiful meal you’ve just worked hard to prepare! Add lots of candles in various different vessels, lanterns and for some extra fun add a string or two of patio lights! There is an amazing selection out there and they are a fun way to add light to the underside of your table umbrella or to your fence line!

If a tablecloth feels too formal for the way you like to entertain, there’s a great selection of carefree, wipe able, placemats out there also! Mix them in with some linen napkins and you’ll create an easy and functional but elegant table setting.

Tablecloth

Sources:

Sources:

Patio table, chairs and pads, D.O.T. Furniture; plates, Pottery Barn; utensils, William Ashley; napkins, clients own; glasses, thrifted; chargers, Canadian Tire; tablecloth, lanterns, votives, Target.

Dining Area

Sources:

Patio table, chairs and pads, D.O.T. Furniture, placemats, napkins, small plates, Homesense; large plates, Pottery Barn; glasses, Crate & Barrel; lanterns, votives, patio string lights, Target; utensils, William Ashley.

Cindy’s 5 easy steps to create your perfect backyard oasis:

  1. Create zones based on how you want to use your property. Don’t forget to factor in the sun and the light at various times of day.
  1. Create your foundation using hard landscaping and a good dose of plant material in planters or garden beds, whichever suits.
  1. Source comfortable outdoor furniture that is versatile and suits your needs and budget, keep in mind clear-out sales often start as early as the beginning of July.
  1. Layer in accessories to make it interesting and unique!
  1. Don’t forget the lighting! Adding various lanterns, candles, patio lights all help to create a relaxing and inviting atmosphere.

Copy and photography courtesy of: Cindy McKay Interiors

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Ceramic Bowl, Used for Making Yorkshire Pudding

 

Iphone photos Sept 2015 1416I can hear the sound of fireworks as I type–my neighbours out celebrating Queen Victoria and our fossilized connection to the English crown–but to me, nothing says England like a dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Although I grew up with a Canadian passport, England was the country that most felt like home because it was where we went between countries, on most holidays, and to live for some stretches of time.  My grandmother was in Yorkshire, my aunt in Bristol, and my parents had a house in Surrey for a few spells.  In all three homes, come Sundays, you would smell the roast in the oven and feel the excitement of a special day.  And in all three homes, a Sunday roast meant Yorkshire pudding.  My grandmother scorned the use of an electrical beater and would beat the batter by hand, and the sound of her rapidly mixing the batter is on the soundtrack of my childhood.

We made it two different ways, either as one large rectangular pudding in a baking tray or as individual puddings in muffin tins, but whichever way it was made it was always the most popular part of the meal.  Yorkshire pudding does not keep, but we never had to worry about leftovers because it was always devoured.  My brother, a notoriously fussy eater, could have lived on it.

When my grandmother died and we went back for the funeral, one of the few things my mother chose from the contents of the house was the ceramic bowl my grandmother used for making Yorkshire pudding.  It was an object that held so many memoires of family gatherings and good times.  It had magic in its years of use.

The fact of my mother’s having singled out such an ordinary thing to cherish from my grandmother’s house speaks volumes about the combined power of food and memory, the power of these things to connect us through generations and over oceans.

I now include Yorkshire pudding on the menu for my special dinners.  They are not the weekly Sunday staple of my childhood, but a highlight of holiday meals, and my boys are proudly carrying on the tradition of leaving no leftovers.  I’m now vegetarian, so I like mine served with the mushroom gravy and lentil walnut loaf from Oh, She Glows, roasted potatoes and a mountain of green beans, but anyway you make it, it’s a crowd-pleaser.  This is a good recipe from The Guardian, and I would add that it’s very important not to open the oven door during the cooking time, otherwise the puddings will sink.

Sound of the batter being beaten and the sizzle when it hit the pan, the smell of the roast out resting while the puddings cooked, and the last-minute frenzy to gather all of us and get the meal on the table–all of those sense memories are captured in this simple bowl.

DIY Gallery Wall and Jewelry Display

While I am not much of a DIYer, I am all about creating a living space that reflects my family and the people and things that we love. Have you heard of man-caves? Well, in this house of 5, I am the sole female. The lone wolf. A man-cave we don’t need but a mom-cave? Yes. That I do need!

My office is a small room in our basement that houses my favourite treasures, mostly books among a few knick-knacks and a beloved chandelier. I have slowly added to the room over the years, taking advice from Nate Berkus to only add things that I love and “tell my story”.

This one wall remained a blank space for years, but I finally decided to take wedding photos of my parents, in-laws, grandparents and grandparent in-laws (is that a term?) and create a gallery wall. The first step was deciding on frames that would fit nicely on the wall in a cluster of six. I am what some may call a traditionalist, and others may call boring, so black frames won out.

I then visited Blacks with the original photos, a few more than 60 years old, and spent some time with one of their photo technicians. They helped me to digitally restore and resize the photos. Their expertise proved invaluable and regardless of how tech savvy you may be, ask them for input. No need to DIY it all.

I would like to preface this by saying that a gallery wall is a lot harder to hang than it looks. First off, it involves math. A lot of it. And measuring. A lot of it. I can hold my own when it comes to math, but I wanted to limit the number of holes made in the wall. Needless to say the adage “measure twice, cut once” was running through my mind while I wielded my hammer.

My thorough research suggested that I tape off the gallery before actually hammering in the nails, and this worked out well for me. I was able to rearrange the photos and modify the spacing to my liking without puncturing the wall. Overall, I am happy with my handiwork (one is slightly off, but I can obsessed about that another day) but more so, this DIY project fills my space with people I love, and tells quite the story.

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Next up on my DIY project list was to arranging my collection of costume jewelry.

My pretty necklaces and chunky bracelets were stored away in boxes and drawers, not allowing for admiration or ready-to-wear. My favourite style blogger and interior designer, Erin Gates, provided inspiration with this picture from her recent best seller.

imgres-1Here’s my take. Thank you, Erin for showing us that it’s okay to have fun with our girly accessories!

I sourced a collection of inexpensive display vessels from Home Sense. The trays were less than $30, the cake stand was $6.99, the butter dish $6.99 and the small vase $3.99. The mug was from my kitchen.

I sourced a collection of inexpensive display vessels from Home Sense. The trays were less than $30, the cake stand was $6.99, the butter dish $6.99 and the small vase $3.99. The mug was from my kitchen.

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I have two of these guys flanking the display. My youngest calls them "the treasure men".  I like that.

I have two of these guys flanking the display. My youngest calls them “the treasure men”. I like that.

Guest Post: Christine from Just Bella on Stylish Toy Storage

4Mothers is delighted to welcome Christine from just bella to share her tips on maximizing toy storage, while keeping it stylish. Christine, a soon-to-be mother of two, blogs about all things beautiful and is sure to put her own stylish twist on just about everything. Just check out these gold polka dot walls and you’ll be hooked on just bella too!

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I admit it, before kids I was one of those people that said, “I’ll never let toys take over my house”. Ha! I’m surprised that every mom I talked to didn’t laugh directly in my face because, you know what, it happens. The toys slowly creep in and before you know it they are everywhere!

To keep the sanity I do my best to limit the amount we have and to use smart and stylish storage solutions. Just because you have all these bright, shiny, plastic things everywhere doesn’t mean you always have to look at them. You can find adorable and functional bins, baskets and buckets that make cleaning up easy and reduce the visual clutter. Here is a roundup of some stylish toy storage that will blend in with your existing (and grown up) decor, though I can’t promise the kiddos won’t dump them! You’re on your own in that department 😉

just bella pic 1

Click to find: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven.

Christine Shankowsky, just bella

Family Rules

I’ve been on a bit of an organizing and (re) decoration kick lately, in anticipation of the upcoming holidays and the possibility that someone I’m not related to might visit my house. We live in a typical east-end semi detached house: not huge, but with long hallways just begging to be covered in photos or art.  I’ve been perusing my local Home Sense on a regular basis, looking for cheap and cheerful prints. One trend that I’ve spotted, which I’m sure is just about played out, is those “Family Rules” prints that seem to be everywhere. You’ve probably seen them too: usually printed subway roll style, they list those rules that every family has whether they declare them on canvas or not. Here’s one from the Etsy store Chestnut and Lime:

Cute, right? The best part of these, of course, is that when someone’s not being patient, grateful or forgiving (for example), your kids can just point to the sign and say “Mom, you have to forgive us! It’s the rules!” and there won’t be a darn thing you can do about it.

I keep thinking, though, that I really would need one that outlines OUR rules. I mean, my kids know all about sharing (that’s why they went to daycare) and doing their best (about which I reminded Second Child about eight times between 4:33 pm and 4: 57 pm yesterday). I need a sign that repeats the most frequently repeated rules in our house:

Dirty dishes go in the dishwasher

You don’t need it, you want it. There’s a difference.

The sour gummies belong to Mom

Flush the toilet. PLEASE!

Soap and water are good things. Especially when you use them on your hands (see rule #4)

Socks do NOT live in the Living Room.

Yes, you can always have more broccoli

Snuggling is not optional

And the most important rule?

Love each other. That’s all that matters.

Another Half an Hour

I just need another half an hour.

If I’d had another half an hour last night, I’d have been more present in the moment while helping one child with homework, motivating the other child to practice his piano piece just one more time and cooking two separate dinners (one for eldest child who’d had orthodontic work done earlier in the day and who was having trouble figuring out how to swallow with a new dental appliance in his mouth, and one for the rest of us).

If I’d had another half an hour last night, I might have had time to fit in a run. I’ve committed to a 10km road race in May. I have plenty of time to train for it, if I start training now. I just need to figure out when to slot in some running time.

If I’d had another half an hour, I would have gone to bed half an hour earlier. But the clothes in the dryer were still damp at 11 pm, and I didn’t want to leave them in the dryer overnight, getting wrinkled and requiring more of my time in ironing.

If I’d had another half an hour, I’d have finished this blog post last night, in the time between when I discovered that our old computer had finally given up the ghost and when my husband, working to deadline (in paid employment, need I point out our priorities) needed to use our working laptop again.

Do Laura Vanderkam and her ilk account for those small, incremental events that steal away portions of the day? By my count, I require an extra two hours every night to accomplish everything that I want to do: not well, not perfectly, just adequately. Even if I scheduled every waking moment, I can’t anticipate every contingency, and what kind of life would we all be leading if we kept to such a schedule?

Here’s our evening planned out:

  • 5:00 – 5:45: Commute Home (ETA 6:10 every second day because of transit delays; ETA 6:30 if youngest child needs to use the facilities for “pooping time!”).
  • 5:45 – 6:30: Change out of work clothing into workout wear in vain attempt to fake it until you make it. Commence cooking dinner. Children to commence homework and music practice.
  • 6:30 – 7:00  Dinner. (ETA 7:30 if any of the following events occur: (a) dinner burns because person cooking must also mediate a light sabre battle gone wrong; locate a glue stick needed for homework; engage in interesting conversation with a child who needs your attention; or (b) phone is answered immediately before dinner by child under age 18 who does not recognize that a 1-877 number (or worse, 1-234-567-8900) means someone we don’t want to talk to; or (c) “Pooping time!” delays arrival home to 6:30.  Dinner may be ready in 45 minutes or less on nights when both parents realize too late that they both forgot to defrost the pork chops; use emergency telephone code 967-1111 for rescue option.
  • 7:30 -8:30: Completion of homework. Showers. Reading. Family time.
  • 8:30 – 9:00: Tooth brushing. Pajama wearing.  Lights out at 9:00.
  • 9:00 – 9:20: One more chapter. Parent may or may not fall asleep on child’s bed whilst finishing said chapter; this is optional.
  • 9:20 – 9:30: Change out of workout wear, and into lounge wear (Really, this just means taking off my sports bra, but it’s important to acknowledge the day’s little victories).   Curse the winter for making it too dark outside for running.
  • 9:30 – 10:00: Clean kitchen, prep meals for next day, plan clothes, review work. Optional: talk to spouse about their day. End time may be delayed to 12:00 am in the event of work deadlines, overloaded dryers (12:20 a.m. if you do the “smart” thing and split the load into two) or anything spilled on the kitchen floor that requires more than a paper towel to clean up. Consider going to sleep. Maybe.

Another half-hour? Multiply that by four, and we’d be golden. And lest you scoff, thinking that there’s no way anyone’s schedule can go so continually pear shaped as to necessitate two hours of contingency time, I have two words for you: Stomach Virus. Spilled milk.  Book Report. Hockey game. Stale bread. Dead line (ok, that’s one word, but work with me). Only the book report and hockey game can be planned for with any certainty, but they’re all equally likely to occur in any given week.

I wonder sometimes, whether it’s possible to have a “time deficit” the same way we speak of people having a “sleep deficit” — which, I suppose, is just a time deficit in a disciplined form. Don’t we all have this? A collection of things we should be doing, or want to be doing, in addition to the things that we have to do every day? Writing more. Exercising more. Spending more time with family. If the eventual outcome of a sleep deficit is that you crash, what’s the outcome of a time deficit? I suspect, it’s the same: a sudden, overwhelming urge to just lie down and NOT plan, not schedule. Not do. Just be. Or maybe to take a nap.

A half an hour should be enough.

A Little Boredom is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Our family was miserable for the first two weeks of summer this year, all because one of my children was generally disagreeable.  He completely forgot his manners, barked commands at everyone (including his parents) and practiced sarcasm on everyone he met (“Ice cream? Why wouldn’t I want ice cream?).  Finally, after putting up with attitude for far too long,  I regained my senses, looked at him and asked, “What is WRONG? WHAT is going on?”

He promptly burst into tears.

“None of my friends are at day care this summer. I have no one to play with. And I’m bored!”

Oh.

Is that it?

Here’s where I wanted to say something like, “Oh, suck it up, buttercup! Why, when I was your age I was bored all the time in the summer. And look how I turned out! No one ever died of boredom. ”

But no. What I said was “I understand it must be hard for you to not have your friends around you, but surely you can find some new people to play with for the next couple of weeks until everyone comes back…

…and no one ever died of boredom.”

It’s true. Boredom is one of the defining elements of childhood summers, like scraped knees and ice cream.   What child hasn’t sighed deeply and yawned at least once, when faced with the unbridgeable chasm between June and September? It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a kid at camp, at home, or on a never-ending roadtrip with your parents: summer is always, in part, kind of boring.

And well it should be. As Katrina Onstad states in her Saturday piece in the Globe and Mail, “boredom matters because it makes room for its contrast: the burning joy of being alive.”

I actually want my kids to experience boredom once in a while.  They need the room to root around in their imaginations, unfettered. They need time to daydream.  And they need the motivation to do so, and escaping boredom is the perfect excuse. We live our lives so quickly, with the rushing around from school to activities to dinner. What I wouldn’t give for them to have nothing to do but live in their heads, ride their bikes, explore everything from the woods to cracks in the ceiling, and slow down. If they end up complaining to me that they’re bored, I might be tempted to look at them, wink, and pronounce, “I hope so”.

The Mom Cave – Like a Man Cave, With Scented Candles

 

That'll do. Thanks.

Last Monday the Globe and Mail’s Hot Button Blog ran a post on “Mom Caves” which they call the answer to the “Man Cave” phenomenon – instead of sports memorabilia and leather recliners, think cushy chairs, aromatic candles, and Sex and the City on repeat on the flat-screen TV. The best part? It’s all for you, mom, and there are no, I repeat, no sticky, unidentifiable crumbs anywhere (unless, of course, you’ve left them there yourself).

It turns out, the concept of the “mom cave” is one of the hottest trends in decorating. The brainchild of New York-based designer Elaine Griffin (with a little help from U.S. home decorating store Home Goods, otherwise known as Home Sense in Canada). According to this article, the mom cave is the place where, says Griffin “the woman who nurtures everyone goes to nurture herself”. A mom cave, she submits, has “a place to sit, a place to store things, a place to work and a place to visit” although, the first rule of mom cave appears to be that entry by non-moms is by invitation only.  Your mom cave doesn’t have to be a separate room; it can be a corner, a nook — even the landing at the top of the stairs. But, it should allow for storage and a place to work because, says Griffin, “unlike men, women relax by doing things”.

Good idea? Shannon over at The Bad Moms Club responds by saying that a part of her thinks this is the best idea ever. Peace and quiet. Sunlight. Coldplay. And then, she says, “The other part of me snorts. Loudly.”

Loud snorts because, like so many of us, she’s barely got enough time to go to the bathroom by herself, let alone dedicate time (and, let’s face it, money, else Home Goods wouldn’t be involved) to decorating a room (or nook, or cranny, or niche) for use by only one person. For me, as much as I love the idea of having a room of my own (thank you, Virginia) there are already parts of my admittedly not-very-big house (no spare rooms, here) that I feel as if I rarely enter, if only because I’m too busy generally to enjoy them for their stated purpose (to wit: the room with the TV).

So, I’m torn.  I’d love my own office space, and I’d decorate it (or not, knowing me) as I see fit.  But I already spend enough time out of the house, so hiving off a separate space that is just “mine” seems unnecessarily indulgent. But what really rankles, is the idea that a woman’s personal space must be miniaturized, set apart from the business of the rest of the house.   Setting up a cute and fashionable (and, if you check out the Home Goods ad, awfully pink) nook in a corner isn’t quite, I fear, what Virginia Woolf had in mind. If this space is supposed to be where I go to recharge, why does the idea of it leave me feeling diminished?

Plus that, there’s a lock on the bathroom door. And I have candles, wine and books, all of which are much cheaper than redecorating.