Posts categorized "Home and Hearth"

Fireplace hearth reveal and another project started....

Fireplace hearth is gone and replaced with some fun tiles. Our toes have never been happier and I’m really happy with the result.

Picking the tiles was a bit of a challenge as we had a defined space and wanted to avoid too much cutting. Our first thought was penny tiles as they give some flexibility and are retro-nifty.  I also wanted something that would make an impact but for a small price. Enter the $1.28 porcelain tiles from Home Depot. Avoided the likelihood of cutting a million little pennies, but still ended up with only 6 tiles not cut....lessons we carried to the next phase.


We filled the hole left from our earlier excavation with dry pack and got it mostly level (nothing in this house is level so close enough is good enough). We laid out our tiles and used our cardboard jig to assess. Lots of cuts... A few hours later we rented a wet saw and got to work cutting. We had hoped to get two tiles from fireplace out, but it didn’t work without grout lines that were far too wide. Once we (well mostly I) acknowledged that the best course was to have full tiles in the middle and cut tiles all around, it went pretty quickly.


We started with a metal transition edge, then laid the tiles right on the dry pack. The tiles closest to the bricks were tricky because that line was not straight - each tile is a different width, but the busy pattern helps obscure that and again, old houses are not about straight lines.


The next day we did the grout. It was a bit more challenging than previous projects because the of the tiny spaces between the tiles - 1/16th”. There’s also something disconcerting about spreading charcoal grout over white tiles.  


The end result is lovely. There's still work to do around the fireplace and we're considering a mantel; work to keep us occupied during the current Ontario state of emergency and beyond. Some of this work is definitely not January-friendly. I also need to put something in the fireplace - I'm thinking a large basket would be nice or maybe a pretty screen. Better than an old towel plugging the old pipe.


Emboldened by our success, the tiling didn't end there. I decided that the ridiculous tiled entry way had to go. It felt even better than busting up the hearth. 

There's so much wrong here: The "mat" is too small, the pattern around the edge runs out before it goes around the larger tiles and it's just ugly. It's the same pattern as the kitchen we renovated a while ago. 


Once I busted out the old tiles, things got silly.


We removed the wood that framed the tiles to enlarge the footprint. Then we thought - how do we do this so we don't have to cut so many tiles? Or any tiles? 

Then we got out the saws.


That little one would take forever, so Craig used the circular saw and we made a hole to fit the 20cm by 20cm tiles with the grout lines. The only two tiles we had to cut framed the heating vent.


Easy Peasy...not so fast there...

This might be our most challenging DIY home improvement project yet and it shouldn’t have been. Amazing how 1/4 inch can really mess things up. More on that and the finished project soon...

Fireplace progress - call the Mason

The fireplace took some extra time to progress as we decided to hire a Mason to fix the broken bricks. This was something we researched (we over-research most of our DIY reno projects) and quickly determined that messing with a 100+ year old fireplace was best left to professionals. Because everything is slower due to the pandemic and because we chose to use a company that specialized in restoring old bricks, they didn't come until November. It was worth the wait. 

They chiseled out some bricks (with a demolition hammer and all the ensuring dust) and replaced them with the correct size Ontario bricks. They also added a steel plate along the top of the opening to support the bricks. 

No bricks

Close no bricks

(The towel is blocking the air from coming down the chimney pipe - another thing we need to deal with)

Wide shot done Close up done

The whole thing took half a day and they were good enough to bring their own water for the mortar clean up because the water main up the street broke and we were at hour 48 (of 60) of having no water (a problem at any time but again more difficult with COVID as you can't just go to people's houses and borrow 10 litres of water a couple of times a day). 

The bricks will eventually go lighter and look more similar to the original ones. We could add a thin layer of watered-down mortar to them but we've decided we like them as they are. It looks great. I'm not sure what I'll put in the space - I'm just happy it's not that old gas fireplace.

The next step is to deal with the hole where the hearth used to be. The plan is to figure out how to fill it most of the way and then add tiles to match the level of the wood floor. We tried to find a similar hardwood but couldn't and it would always look like a patch job. Better to make this part of the floor an interesting feature. 

We actually finished the work this weekend but I want to clean up a bit more and take some nicer photos. There are still a bunch of stages left - building a mantel and figuring out some sort of built-in shelving around the bricks - but filling the hole was top priority (Ralph our Roomba can't seem to avoid getting trapped in there. His cliff sensor doesn't always keep him away). 


DIY Fireplace refresh - Pandemic Edition

There's nothing like being home 99.9% of the time to encourage thoughts about the stuff in your house you don't like. 

First it was the back yard. It was about 80% of the way we wanted it and since we knew we'd be spending a lot of time there over the summer, we got the remaining 20% done and had stone installed, finally covered some eye sores and made a nice spot to be outside but away from others.


Now that Fall is here, I've turned my attention to the fireplace. You may remember back when we moved in that it could have been featured in Architectural Abomination Monthly - we pretty much removed the ghastly mantle and curved things immediately, but never really got past the removal to make it what we wanted. 


always hated the black granite on the brick and hated the black granite hearth - it juts out into the room, hurting unsuspecting toes and doing nothing but collecting dust. So a few weekends back, I took it off. It took like 10 minutes. 

IMG_2143 2

But left behind a lot of mess - black caulk (I swear the previous owner of this house had a hard-on for caulk), glue, mortar and gave me a weekend of stuff to remove that ended up being an excellent diversion from work, the world and everything.

IMG_2143 2

IMG_2143 2

Then things got silly.

The original plan was to build a new mantel, retile the hearth and think about some bookcases or something to finish the space.

I found the specs for the fireplace and did some reading on hearth requirements and b-valve fireplaces and NO GOOD COMES FROM RESEARCH. This fireplace wasn't the most efficient thing - burns natural gas to heat air in our living room and then blows the bad air out the chimney - including the air from in the house that it just heated. They rate at about 50% efficiency. The fan is noisy and well we never use it much because our house isn't cold and we all have lots of woolies (reason 123 to live with a knitter). Craig never had any use for the fireplace and after looking at pretty designs on Pinterest and sleeping on it, we decided to get rid of the fireplace. 


Which also meant we could get rid of the hearth and level the floor. Except getting rid of the hearth was a lot less easy than removing the granite or the caulk. Craig tried to remove the bricks in the hearth by hand but they were CONCRETED INTO THE FLOOR (who does that?). 

So not ideal...

But we got to rent a demolition hammer! 

It's as awesome as you imagine. We tented off that part of the room (which only sorta helped) and Craig got down to destroying stuff. 

It chewed through the brick and then we got down to the concrete. 



Of course, I got to have a turn. Pulverizing concrete with a power tool is just what a stressed-out woman needs. (This is my new profile photo at work).


It was messy, we spent a lot of money to dispose of the waste (no concrete allowed in the landfill) and the brick needs some restoration work (we're looking for a professional) but now we have no ugly hearth, no energy-wasting fireplace and well no more of the cabinetry that came with the house.


I mean if you're going to pay to remove the reno waste, might as well do it all...


It's time to rebuild...


Jumping in to 2020

Lots happening in And She Knits Too land since the new year:

My niece, Josephine was born January 3rd! She’s beautiful and healthy and big brother Mitchell seems quite enamoured with her. I got to meet her last week and she’s so tiny and wee. Luckily I finished her blanket (but didn’t have it washed) in time for her birth. It dried quickly and I hope she likes it the same way Mitchell does. He uses it so much it needs Auntie Steph to make repairs.


Emma and I took a quick visit to Peterborough to visit my mom and mémère. We took a quick four-generations selfie to update the one on Mémère’s fridge. Emma will be 21 this week, mémère 94 February 2nd. Time flies. 


I finished my advent calendar shawl. Despite a bobble at day 10, totally my mess up with math, it was really fun to knit. Yarn by Indigodragonfly, pattern Match and Move. I could knit this one again in two colours. I love me some garter stitch knitting. Hopefully it’ll be sunny out at a time when I’m not looking a mess (or in pjs like right now so I can do proper photos).


I’m having fun with my Electric Eel Nano spinner. It was a silly impulse purchase this year at Rhinebeck, and while it is taking some time to get used to, it’s a fun little addition to the spinning farm. I will do a full review soon. 


Last one: Me today would like to thank December me for booking a one hour massage appointment yesterday. The perfect way to finish my first week back at work. I booked again next month. Monthly massages seem like an excellent habit to cultivate.



Happy Birthday Emma! 

Twenty is a cool number: 2 times 1 teen (how your Papi would have put it). 

I've been thinking about what to write about you for a few days now and it all came together when I found this video (that I posted earlier today on Twitter)

A short movie of the kids

This is a "very Emma" moment and looking back, it shows how one's disposition doesn't really change over time.


You're always singing and dancing, whether it's The Who, Wham or other hits from the 80's, the soundtrack of your current favourite musical, your latest musical infatuation, or dressed as a pineapple. 


You've grown up into a fierce young woman and your twenties are going to be amazing. Just make sure to keep singing and dancing!


Happy Birthday Alexander (Adult edition)

My baby, this guy...

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Is 18 today.


A lover of my knitting (even if he didn't want a university blanket).


A kind, generous, considerate and joyful guy.


A musician, gamer, budding geographer, camp counsellor, cyclist, skateboarder (still cringe at this one, so much danger), swimmer, and all around fun person.


Now an adult. Woah. 


Can't wait to see what you'll do out in the world. It's going to be fantastic.

Happy Birthday my Xanderman. 

The Blanket

The simple facts: Emma asked for a hand-knit blanket. I like to knit blankets (they're simple comfort knitting and always fit the recipient) so I started knitting in January. It would be her take-to-university-blanket. Nothing to see here.

The longer story: We decided on a pattern. Chose the yarn. Bought more yarn when I miscalculated how much Eco-Wool I would need (6 skeins in case you're wondering--this blanket weighs more than 2 kg).

I knit on this almost exclusively for six months; panicking a bit when the weather got warmer and wondered if I could get it done on time (there was some target setting--can you tell I'm a project manager?).


Emma did her things: school, homework, friends, cello, piano, a lead in The Drowsy Chaperone, movie watching, prom, teen stuff. She also chose a university and decided her "what's next". Science (probably majoring in Physics) at Western University.


She finished high school with honours. I finished the blanket shortly after. The pieces were stitched together. 

Metaphor? Maybe.

Or just how a knitter does things. Stitching beautiful objects that bring warmth and comfort.


I'm getting teary--which is probably why I haven't pronounced the blanket complete on social media... 

Emma leaves on Sunday. She has her blanket, her determination, her smarts and her sense of adventure. She's ready (mostly). I'm ready (mostly). Time for the next big project.



I've developed a bad habit. It's not like biting my nails or eating chips while I make dinner (I only do that once in a while, I swear). Instead it's a retreat into a cycle of doing a whole lot of nothing which fills time when I could be doing something else.

Here's how it plays out: I have a few moments to relax or I need second to unwind and I flip open the iPad and start looking at Twitter. Then I get engrossed in whatever is on my feed and it eats a ton of time (it could be anything like some great science story, a knitting discussion, a string of funny things (love Swear Trek) or well, that orange spectre who is consuming almost everyone's attention right now). Then I might check my email, play Two Dots or just tap around on the screen and I realize I've wasted time I could have used to knit, read a novel, tidy up, run,  watch TV and I get angry at myself about it.

Worse still, I notice it's become a family habit. We all have screen distractions and we have to consciously choose to put them down and interact, or do homework or play piano or just DO something. 

Yes, the screens are compelling and I like to know what's going on in my community (both actual and virtual) and around the world, but it's become so easy to retreat into that space and disconnect while connecting. I think the crappiness of the last year work-wise and the resultant fatigue helped entrench some of my behaviour. Now I'm trying harder to be mindful about spending my time before I grab my phone. Saying it here is one of those ways I keep myself accountable (and try, yet again, to blog more often!)

We started last night but watching a movie together (we rewatched Brave) and tonight I'm going to knit my never-ending Occam scarf and perhaps go for a run. 

It's not all distracted doom and gloom around here. I finished a blanket for my fabulous new nephew (I'm finally an Auntie!) Mitchell who is not yet ready for a debut on social media and am working on his woolly wardrobe. The kids are really great and parenting teens is just the right amount of challenging. AND I have a new job that is really awesome and even energizing. All are much better distractions.



September Paddle

We started September with a relaxing cottage weekend and then jumped in to the craziness of back to school (Emma grade 12 and Xander grade 11). This year we decided to ease the transition from summer by taking the first Friday off and going on a canoe trip to Algonquin Park. While the kids do plenty of outdoor stuff we haven't been out in the woods as a family for years. Mostly it's hard to motivate the kids to want to camp when they've just returned from 10 days of backwoods canoeing or six weeks of being a camp counsellor. I think having Uncle Mike and Aunty Hannah join us was the deciding factor.

It was fantastic. We paddled from Canoe lake to Tom Thomson lake and set up camp. We saw a moose hanging out near the boggy shore. We ate food cooked over a fire. We had hilarious escapades trying to string up our bear barrel (how can there not be suitable trees in the bush?). Sleeping in a tent was even mostly okay.

Saturday we planned a day trip and there were 10 portages. There were supposed to be less but Vanishing Pond vanished so we had to take another route. Emma was amazing--she carried the canoe for 8 of those portages. Xander was sherpa carrying all the paddles and food bag. Hannah lead the pack--she was 7 months pregnant at the time so didn't have to carry anything. I snuck in a few minutes of knitting on our lunch break.

There was a lot of walking for a bit and then there was a lot of paddling. Big lakes, high winds and it was a bit less fun. Let's just say we slept REALLY well Saturday night. And it was pretty cold Sunday morning.

 Sunday was a comparatively easy paddle back the way we came in. 


I will admit that I was tired for a few days afterwards--that's more outside and exercise than I normally get--but it was also beautiful and quiet and a great way to hang out with my family and disconnect from the outside world. We're already talking about the next trip--perhaps with my soon-to-be-born niece or nephew! 


A last-minute decision to take a longer-long weekend was just the thing I needed. This summer has been a different one for me. Due to some obligations at home (teens need a lot of chauffeuring to their commitments) and work (where I'm filling in for someone on sick leave) I just didn't get to do the things I normally do: Like swimming in a lake, relaxing on the weekends and beating the heat by doing more than hiding in my air conditioned house.

When my brother and sister-in-law told me that no-one was going to be at their cottage Labour Day weekend, I leapt at the chance to be by the lake doing those things I love. I took the Thursday and Friday off and up we went to just do a whole lot of nothing. 

I drank beers with my legs in the lake. I sat watching the water with my coffee and reading in the morning. I read a whole book. Xander and I hunted Pokemon until we ran out of cell signal.


I finished the pieces on my summer sweater (which I wasn't rushing to finish because even a summer sweater was too much to wear this year) AND wove in all the ends on the baby blanket on the outside table with the lake in view to make the job easier.


We played board games at night and I discovered Xander is a kick-ass Scrabble player. I ate PopTarts and too many Oreo Thins (which are delicious). And I went paddle boarding and didn't fall in the lake.


Yesterday while I was in bobbing in the lake, it hit me. I feel good. I feel like my old self. It's been a while and I took a few seconds to lament how challenging the last few years have been and how much being in a bad work situation really messed with me. Now that I've been out of it for two months, I see how feeling down-trodden and angry all the time really colours everything including my time not at work. And while I'm fortunate to have a good-paying job in a great place, that's not enough to sustain me. 

Having this little rest (and another one coming very soon--we're taking a 3 day canoe trip in Algonquin Park next Friday) really have restored me. Now I need to work on my strategy to keep things this way.