Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The cottage escape

As hard as it is to be away so much when there is packing to be done so we can finally move home, it is wonderful to get away to the cottage where everything is neat and tidy and staying that way, and the wi-fi signal is so poor as to make it impossible to work.

Even when it's not warm enough to swim.

(I kid. I just swim anyway.)

The water levels at the lake were high at the start of the season this year, and after a heavy rain last weekend they are even higher - check our our neigbours' dock! 

That's it there, the little slice of something to the left of the boat. It isn't a floating dock. When motorboats go by, their waves wash over the surface - a new experience for them.

We have a sort of 'island' at the side of our dock that is very popular with nearby kids because there is enough sand to make a few castles.  Usually by early August it's all ready for play but you can't even see the top of the rock right now. 

The pace is slow at the cottage, even though we really, really need to deal with the eavestroughs this year.   Once we get around to buying a ladder tall enough to reach them.

Inside, we've been so effective at mouse proofing that even on the first day it only takes a little over an hour to get the power and water running again, and the place cleaned and dusted and ready to enjoy.  Now, we just turn up and put our groceries into the refrigerator and think about lunch.  Then dessert, then a little snack, and supper, and another dessert and snack to nibble on while playing Euchre. 

Pete is reading and getting up early to go paddling in the kayak before the motorboats are out, and I am painting and reading Sense and Sensibility between bouts of swimming.  One morning, after setting out his kayak the afternoon before, Pete discovered it had been washed away by the high water levels.  He had to head out in my kayak with a tow rope to look for it, but thankfully a guest of our neighbour had noticed it floating in the middle of the lake and towed it in already, using a canoe, then set it on their dock behind their boat, with a plan to call around for its owner the next day.  After that of course we resolved to tie our kayaks more securely but it turns out there is no such thing at the current water level, because they both floated off again while we were reading on the dock. 

I have probably had all the value there is to be had from this cottage - if I never went again, I would still remember vividly the pleasures of the view and the feel of the water and the scent of the air and the way wool socks just feel different when worn on a cool forest morning.  But it is very nice to be able to go and keep shoring up those moments.

And of course, now I have watercolour painting to learn.  I find I am mostly only interested in painting trees and there are lots to choose from up there, even if all I'm after is bark:

Another neighbour told me it takes about five years to get into a good rhythm with a cottage and I thought we were there last year, but now I know better.  This is the summer we are finally at home at the lake - not worrying about what we 'should' be doing, but just doing what we want.

What better escape is there than that, in any setting?

Saturday, July 29, 2017

What not to do this weekend

Hello again!  Welcome to another episode of Tasks Best Left To Somebody Competent.

Actually I should not sell myself short - I am okay at making a brick path.  I've done it three times before, not counting all the garden edgings, and even after thirteen years the one that gets driven over is still almost completely level.  The trouble is that 'thirteen years' thing.  You don't forget how to lay brick down over tamped-down limestone screenings in thirteen years but you do get stiffer.  Even my beloved red Gramma Step, which serves as the perfect work stool for this sort of project, isn't making it easier for me to get close to the ground this time around.

That's the first problem.  The second is that when the waterproofers cut a trench into our driveway they made a jagged line that had to be corrected.  The third is that we need the trench filled and covered over asap if we want to move anything into the house through the side door while the front porch is being finished, because otherwise we are carrying heavy stuff through the magical land of Trip Hazards Galore, not to mention how much dirt we've been tracking in.  But... we really didn't want to have new asphalt poured into the hole as a patch that never looks like the rest of what's there, and it is pretty hard to find a landscaper to do work like this on short notice.

Thanks to the gift that is YouTube, we learned that you can cut asphalt with a circular saw and a diamond blade, so Pete did that part.  He also got all the bags of limestone and carried them up the driveway for me.  Ditto the bricks, after we picked them together, which was the part where things went really wrong.


This blue-grey colour matches the porch floor perfectly, and it has beveled edges that are super forgiving when it comes to the varying slopes I have to accommodate between asphalt and the existing cobblestone.  Each brick is pretty cheap and, being small with very defined edges, is very easy to set in place.  It's just that it's - so very blue.  And so very different in style from the cobbles and our unpainted driveway, and the brick and stone on our house. Every time I get through another row I think, 'I am making a terrible mistake continuing with this project', even though I know I have no choice because our driveway is now clogged with blue bricks that have to be put somewhere.  Why why why WHY didn't I hold out for terracotta bricks???

On the upside, my back hurt less after the first day, and my legs - cramped into brick-setting position and then stretched out painfully when it's time to bring more bricks to the work area - hurt less after the second.  Also, I lost weight.  So as the house is getting less beautiful, I am getting stronger, which will be useful when we get to the packing and initial moving stage sometime next week. 

Yep, that's what I said! next week!  Not the official move where the movers come in and shift boxes and furniture, but the informal one where Pete and I carry box after box into the house, empty their contents into the cabinets where they will go, and bring them back empty to the condo for refilling so there's enough space to pack the real stuff and freshen up the walls there with a coat of paint.

As I get more fit I am also getting less interested in time-intensive DIY decor projects.  My newly-delivered unfinished wood desk, which I was planning to paint to match the walls of my office, turns out to be a pretty good match for the floor, and I'm thinking that's good enough. 

What do you think? Bearing in mind that painting the desk would take as long as about five blog posts?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Painting carrots

Why it's been quiet here: every day this week I've been at our house, finishing up the painting and tidying away the bits of plastic film that gets delivered with window screens and major appliances.  Also, plotting a DIY approach to a new brick path to make the trench dug for waterproofing look intentional... but more on that in a moment.  Today we are going to talk about rewards for work well done (which are sometimes purchased before the work gets done, since delivery times can be long.)

tiny presents in tiny wrapping

I don't hate painting - I find it quite rewarding in many ways - but I would much rather paint in watercolour while seated, than in semi-gloss off-white while reaching up and crouching down and crawling under the stairs (which is today's job.)  So as consolation for painting all the doors in the house and, worse, the aforementioned space under the stairs in the basement (I am grateful for the primer there, but not so much the spiders)... I bought the Sennelier watercolour paints I've been longing for since January.

This is a very conservative, practical, pocket-sized professional grade set with its own brush

I'm just going to come right out with it: it's totally irresponsible to buy expensive paints before sampling even a small amount to be sure you will be able to work with them.  It's also totally irresponsible to buy a lot of professional-grade paints when you will never, ever be a professional artist or even paint well enough to justify preserving paintings from fading away for more than five years, if that.  But when you are in a huge time crunch and need a carrot to get through the pile of work that needs to be done between Point A and Point B, irresponsibility is key.

This is a student-grade set... in an extremely compact box with space for more paint, or a brush

Also, watercolour paint is less expensive than a trip to Aruba and is more compact than a lifetime's supply of sock yarn, which I already have in any case.

This is a large, professional grade metal-box set with six bonus paints and room for more paints and brushes

I've been painting with student-grade paints up to this point - from Winsor and Newton, and Daler Rowney - since that's what I could find locally in the compact boxes of half-pan paints I crave.  That format is good for me because I like to paint very small things - apparently, tube paints are best for painting large images.  But I don't love the colours I have with either of these sets.  Every time I sit down to paint I have to mix new ones, and I rarely get the brightness I want even with the brightest unmixed colours. 

The Sennelier paints are made with honey which keeps them from drying out, and people seem to love the vibrancy of the colours, though they do need layering.  I layer a lot anyway, because I don't know what I'm doing and keep going over areas I've already covered.  So this was the line I wanted most to try, and the fact that you can only get student grade half-pans at Toronto art stores drove me to US-based online shops where there is a ridiculous variety of sets to choose from. 

I am terrible with decisions, so I picked a small student grade set for its very portable box, an even smaller professional grade set for its brush, and a much larger professional grade set for its vast colour range and capacity to hold more half-pans (which I also bought loose.)  Next big purchase: a ceramic mixing tray, from a shop closer to home.

Or maybe I'll just buy a rectangular ceramic dish from a restaurant supply store, the better to stow it in a drawer?

It's all total overkill but... there is that DIY brick path which is saving us a lot in labour costs, some of which I think really ought to come back to me in the form of future relaxation, don't you?

I've installed stone pavers before, and have been very successful with them, so I am not daunted by this project.  There were several in the back yard - a patio, a few brick borders set flush with the ground to make it easier to run the lawn mower, a pretty path bordering a tree in the corner - and one at the side of our driveway, to help keep our neighbours' weeds down and get rid of excess brick that was lying around our property when we bought the house.  Also, the front path, which I had to set three times because the first time I was learning and didn't do it well enough, and the second time it got messed up by the installation of our driveway.

The last time though, was about 12 years ago, and I am less agile now than I was then.  Also, to do it this time, the asphalt needs to be cut because the waterproofers were not thinking of aesthetics or measurements when they cleared space for their work.  Thankfully Pete is excited to take on that task, now that I have used sidewalk chalk to mark out the cut lines.

The key to success here is not to overthink the process, because the path has to get installed in the next two weeks if we we are to be able to move home easily and get the condo up for rent before fall.  That includes the choice of paver, which we made in about five minutes a few days ago while at our nearest Home Depot.  The tumbled rustic cobblestone from our front walk is no longer sold, and we want to keep most of the reclaimed brick paths I set in the back, so to keep things from looking too choppy we are going with a grey brick that matches our asphalt, set in the style I used for the paths at the back.  Bonus: that brick is also the cheapest!  This never happens to us, liking the least expensive option.

I think to really love a home, I need to be involved in creating it, and more and more I can see it's been pretty hard for me not to contribute to the manual labour unfolding throughout this renovation.  The last few days at the house, actually participating and spending hours there at a time, I have come to accept the painful fact that I don't love having high ceilings!  Everybody seems to want those and our architects were totally focused on giving us the highest ceilings possible, even at the expense of our roof pitch.  I didn't question it, never having lived in a home with anything higher than eight feet.  But the kitchen cabinets that go right up to the ceiling - practical, because then there is no wasted storage space - accentuate the feeling of being small in a tall place.

Hopefully when our things are all in, it will feel like home again.  It did help yesterday that Pete had moved in our new kitchen table, and I brought over a mug for tea and bought a second kettle to keep there.

Meanwhile, I also treated myself to this pretty blue Picquic screwdriver.  Isn't it great?

As screwdrivers go, I mean.  It's super cool - there's a magnet in the top for holding the bit you're using in place, and the other bits are all kept in the the handle.  When you want to switch, you push the old bit into another channel and the new bit pops up.  Okay.  Maybe this isn't advanced or innovative multi-tool technology today, but it is strangely pleasing.

I love this thing so much. It's got all the screwdriver heads I need, and the handle fits in my palm and is very ergonomic.  And it's such a beautiful colour!

I hope I can keep the paint off it, don't you?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Procrastination Diary

It took me a few days to notice that I was making myself super busy doing stuff that isn't packing to move home, because I don't want to say goodbye to our condo and also, I don't really believe we are moving home this summer.  (Even though we probably are.)  So while I wait for the chicken stock I'm making to be ready to become soup, let's look at some of my procrastination techniques.  Starting with


of course.  Just one sock, because I am trying out new square needles and I only have one set and just in case they are different from my other ones, I don't want to mix. It turns out I do like these needles though, and will order more... probably soon, and probably many pairs, because it has been awful rationing my existing needles when I thought I could never find a replacement.

Quick sock-related aside: Ray is buying the flooring for the porch tomorrow... but he has to drive 90 minutes just to get it because everybody around here is sold out of the size we need.  I cannot WAIT to have the porch back so I can take outdoor sock pictures again!!


Omigosh so much walking.  Among other outings, Pete spotted an interesting outdoor display last week about efforts to promote worldwide peace, installed on posts that spanned a long run of downtown parks that were developed as part of the Pan Am Games two years ago.

It took over an hour to follow the trail they made, just reading everything, which was... appropriately enough, peaceful.  Even though some of the posts covered some very sad situations.

I was iffy about the sculptures in these parks when I first saw them from a car - and one is pretty gruesome even up close - but on foot they are great.  (except for the gruesome one that reminds me of a terrible recurring nightmare I used to have and would like very much to forget entirely.)

There is a good bit in this park that I didn't photograph for you because kids were playing there and I wasn't going to invade their privacy.  It's on the other side of this giant blue metal family, and it's a long run of cement tiling with coloured lights set flush to the paving in two tidy rows.  If you walk over them they trigger jets of water.  Kids have SO much fun leaping in and out of this splash pad, and dogs have just as much fun trying to bite the water, and people like me have fun as well, watching all the playtime lit up with different colours.

(even though biting dogs and excited kids don't sound like a good combination for a public space, it works here because of the length of the installation.)

Also I love this lamp post sculpture.


After three years of putting it off it became positively urgent this past Friday for me to book a much-wanted trip to England next summer.  Pete wants to get to France to see some battlefield sites (I do too) and I want to see my cousin in Surrey (he does too) and we both want to get up to North Yorkshire because there are lots of train history things there.  Also I read Attic 24 and it is a constant reminder to me how absolutely gorgeous it is in that part of the world.

Planning such a wide-ranging itinerary in a pretty tight timeframe was a perfect exercise for this In Denial about-to-move-house person.

So far, I have picked a London hotel (it's in Mayfair, because when I lived in London I always wished I could live that close to work and my favourite parks) and a York hotel (it's inside the city walls because why not indulge our love of history?) and reached out to a bespoke tour guide about a whirlwind day that includes Vimy Ridge and some other sites.  I've also decided we will do a 9am flight over rather than an evening one, because the plane configuration for the daytime flight offers roomier seats, the better to keep me calm in midair, and I am pretty sure we will be less horrifically jet lagged on arrival if we aren't also sleep deprived.  Also, the hotel in Mayfair can send a car to the airport to collect us so it doesn't matter that we're landing pretty late at night.

All this probably means spaghetti suppers every day for the next year, but I think it's worth it.


Manicures do not have a place in my life because even though my nails grow surprisingly well, they also break because I am always doing things with my hands.  Also I am not so good with nail polish when it's on me - WAY too distracting.  I am always either admiring the colours or being annoyed by the chips and marks.  It's just easier to go natural.  But... for some reason, my nails are just growing right now and not snapping off at the tips.  So I'm in a competition with myself to see which comes first: me getting so fed up I clip them myself, or them finally breaking.  And with all the typing I am doing to write this post I feel pretty sure the winner will be "me getting fed up."  But not totally sure.


This is even more lame than watching my nails grow, but the second-floor bridge over Queen Street between the Eaton Centre and The Bay/Saks Fifth Avenue is a key component of my usual erranding route and it was really bugging me that they took the old one down and left us all with nothing for a few weeks.  Thankfully, the new one went in this past weekend!

And I got this picture, right smack in the middle of the road while it was closed for the crane to do its work.  I haven't tested out the bridge yet but I am glad to see it's back.


This is a really tough one.  We have been very fortunate to live in two amazing parts of Toronto - one residential neighbourhood that has great small-town qualities, and one very urban neighbourhood that attracts travelers from all over the world.  Before we bought our house we lived in other areas too and I was never really sorry to say goodbye to them... and I'm not really sorry to say goodbye to some qualities of downtown either, like the car exhaust and cigarette smoke.

But other parts of living here will be hard to give up.  On a hot, hot day like today was, it was no problem when I decided to make chicken stock even though I was missing key ingredients - I just popped downstairs to buy the needful things.  I wasn't outside long enough to get hot, and I walked in the shade of the overhang from the second floor of our building. But at home... I will have to walk five blocks in baking sun to buy anything, because the shady trees on most streets are harder to come by as you get close to the nearest grocer's.  And in winter, those blocks and all the others will not be cleared of snow or ice with any sort of frequency, whereas downtown, you never have to worry about slips or falls.

I think too I just really love this condo!  And the building, and our neighbours and the other people in the building generally.  I love the way the concierges see me coming through the security camera and swing the door open for me as I approach, so I don't even have to get out my key. I love how friendly everybody is, joking and chatting in the elevators.  I love the space and the layout of our unit.  I love the leafy shared terraces, and the skyline view, even in winter when things are pretty stark and grey.

I am pretty sure I will love the 'new' version of the house as much - more, when we finally get our landscaping done outside and our things back in inside.  But it's hard to imagine our old life there right now, and it's hard to work up the energy to pack so we can make a new one a reality.

Good thing we're about to open up the cottage for the summer, huh?  Because I was running out of things to keep me from thinking about moving.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Today is July 4 so - I hope all of you in the U.S. are having a wonderful day!  (and the rest of us too, of course.)  Here in Canada we celebrated on Saturday both being a county and also, being one for 150 years.  Over the last few days there have been lots of events and fireworks to mark the date.  And in Toronto, a really big yellow duckling.

Everybody seemed to want to come down to visit this controversial (its short stay cost taxpayers $200K) and tall duck, and to take pictures both of and with it, and apparently after we went on Friday there was an un-Canadian degree of garbage all over Harbourfront as well because there were so many more people than normally head down there - which is saying something.  Harbourfront is always very busy but I guess this year was something special.  Plus, the flooding we had in May is still posing problems and as a result, the rides and restaurants on the Toronto Islands are not open for visitors.  People gotta go somewhere!

This picture is nice enough, but doesn't properly illustrate just how crazy high the water level is, even now.

Off on the left, there is a long boardwalk that is completely under water and shouldn't be.

This area is less well known to tourists - it's east even of the ferry docks.  I hadn't enjoyed the full extent of it before but this weekend we explored and I admired this sculpture, which apparently you can climb into from the other side.

I love how many weeping willows are planted down along the shoreline in Toronto.  We had one in my back yard growing up and to the not-yet-homeowning me it was the ultimate tree.  If you know anything about weeping willows though, you will not be surprised to hear that ours had to be cut down because its roots were growing into the foundation of our neighbours' house, SIGH

At the lake, you don't need to worry about that sort of thing so much.

On another walk, we got a sneak peek at the new bridge that will connect the Eaton Centre shopping mall to the Queen Street location of The Bay and Saks 5th Avenue:

The two buildings have been connected for many years by a second floor bridge that was taken down a couple of months ago and OH how I have missed it.  This old one was a smooth-sided tube; this new one seems like it will be a more interesting shape but with fewer windows to let in natural light.  And that's sort of disappointing, don't you think?  But I'll reserve judgement till it's actually in place and walk-through-able.

I have a small update on the park with the dog fountain: most people love it.

It's been packed there the last few days, with adults sitting on the grassy hills, and children climbing onto the dog statues and/or splashing at the water said dogs spew, and owners of real dogs posing them on the bottom level of the fountain so as to take pictures of them with the dog statues.  Last time I was there almost everybody was managing to walk successfully around the 'little present' one of the real dogs left on the concrete and loads of people were taking selfies.  So: a success?

We considered going to Ottawa so we could hear the concert on Parliament Hill but it seemed like a lot of work so we stayed home and watched it on TV instead.  At one point a singer came out dressed very innocuously, alongside a girl in a bright red outfit carrying a red ball, who proceed to do amazing gymnastics with the ball and later with a bright red hula hoop.  We were completely enthralled with every move she made and were only barely aware of the song or the singer... until much later, when we realized it was on a continuous loop in our heads.  Finally Pete was forced to look it up so we could buy it to replay at will.  Clearly it will kick off our road trip music, all summer long.  Here it is on YouTube, in case you're intrigued - very different concept from a gymnast with a shiny red ball but still good:

Some of the fireworks were visible from the roof terrace in our building, which made it a fun place to get together.  The ones set off at the base of the CN Tower on Saturday rose very high and, from our vantage point, appeared to be bursting out of the sides of the Toronto-Dominion tower.  Lots of moon, too!  It looked very cool.

Over the weekend Pete and I reminisced about some of our early Canada Days together... especially when we first owned our house.  I was always struggling to use those precious three warm-weather days off work for some huge house project or other, and his friends were always dropping by and wanting to barbecue something or just sit on the porch catching up.  They had the right idea and I knew it but I kept on staining deck chairs or cutting wood for bookshelves anyway - my loss, doubly so because the chairs have since rotted out and the bookshelves went when we took out the walls, and we lost touch with those particular friends for many years, too.  I should have enjoyed the downtime when I had it.

This year I did nothing much more than live in the moment.  I kept looking at some sock yarn skeins I want to wind into cakes for imminent knitting, but I didn't actually pick them up.  I didn't pack anything to go back to the house and I didn't, ultimately, decide on a desk or a source for new porch columns though I did stare at my computer screen for some time.  Technically, I did choose and pay for a pair of new mattresses for the smaller-than-twin beds at the cottage, but I was supposed to sort them out last summer, so I can't really count that as an achievement.

The only productive thing I did was to make a new-to-me recipe for linguine with a simple sauce made from cooking cream (35%, it looked terrifyingly thick as I poured it out from the carton) and lemon juice.  It was AMAZING.  And it came from the New York Times' cooking section.

A few months ago I bought subscriptions to The Washington Post and The New York Times and I have to say, the cooking section of the NYT is as transformative for me as my longtime subscription to The New Yorker has been.  Check out this column on berries, as an example.  The photographs are so beautiful!  and the recipes all sound so delicious!  It's the ultimate in vicarious cooking, and not bad on inspiration for cooking space style either.

(and oh yes, how I still wish I had some marble in the new kitchen at the house.  I am angling for a marble top to rest over our kitchen table, and it may happen some day because the longing is strong.)

Today is a busier day and I am grateful to have the lemon pasta recipe nailed down because the whole thing whips up in the time it takes to boil the noodles.  Thank you, New York Times!

* * * * *

okay I did do one other productive thing.  I bought the huggable ice cream sandwich I have been wanting for a few weeks. I didn't need it, and it was a little expensive, and it doesn't go with anything in the house so it's not going to look effortlessly stylish sitting out on a chair, but...

.... I have no regrets.

Would you?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It's nearly July

Yesterday as I was walking along the street, I smelled handspun.  Or rather, hand-dyed fiber ready to be handspun. 

Fiber from 2012, some of which is still unspun and available... hmmmm...

Do you know the aroma I mean?  It combines vinegar and wet wool and whatever dye smells like, with a soft nesty feeling, and hope, and a sense of purpose. 

(I was passing several restaurants at the time and I'm trying not to think about what foods produce the same smell.  Would you want to eat something that tasted like hand-dyed fiber, I wonder?  I'm not sure I would.  Though I do like things with vinegar in them, so... maybe?)

Spinning does not feel like it's in my immediate future because even though my wheel has been sitting for over two years beside the very chair I am sitting in to type this Hug and is therefore extremely accessible, I am supposed to be doing a lot of other things that are not Making More Yarn.  Mostly in fact, I am supposed to be converting yarn I already have into items that pack neatly or can be given away, because I am storing too much stuff to take back to the house.  You can put in SO many hours of work with unspun fiber, to end up with something that is the same volume as the unspun fiber.

On the other hand, it's also nearly July, and isn't July the month I spend spinning?  You know, the month that bicycle athletes spend riding the Tour de France and a lot of crafty folk set up their wheels in front of the television to spin more or less alongside them?  I've been a long time out of my routine but I am pretty sure that's true.

And I might have time to spare, because in spite of a growing inclination I'm not quite there with the packing.  A lot of our stuff is already packed, and a lot more isn't coming home at all - IKEA furniture can only survive so many moves - and what is left loose is stuff we still need to be able to get at every day.  Also, a lot of messy finishing work is being done on the house right now so we can't take anything over there yet.  Well, we could, but we would have to clean it all off again after a week.  I think that time could much more profitably be spent making things.  Probably I should treat myself to something special for what looks like it will be a super rainy Canada Day Weekend (we are celebrating 150 years!) and pull out the roving box.

Yesterday Pete and I went out to get pizza and I took some pictures with my phone to document the magnitude of this unique event (sarcasm alert).  I was entranced by this chimney:

more clouds!!!

and then tried to guess how old the building is that's under it, by its brick.  Some of the brick looks like this:

and some like this:

and some has graffiti on it which I think is a real shame because the brick is so obviously geriatric.

Across the lane from the back of this very old building is a much newer building with ivy growing on it:

Do you recognize this plant?  It's so different from the exuberant green ivy you see on buildings, with their generously large, bright green leaves.  These leaves are glossy and sharp, and the suckers are tenacious, and the rusty red of the young leaves and the reaching armlike branches always strike me as a bit bloody.  Any ivy can damage pointing and gradually tear down a brick wall, but I don't suppose they are as hard on concrete.  And even a slightly vicious looking plant like this is still texture and colour and life.

And it keeps aiming high.  In fact I think one of those shoots is aiming right up into the window, don't you?

Well, either way - I liked the shadows the plant was making.  Looked at from this angle it looks like a Tom Thompson painting of rugged evergreen trees along the shores of a weather beaten lake.

Which is another thing July is good for - the lake! 

What will you do to fill your July when it finally gets here?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Today was a good cloud day

I hope you've recovered from that one summer when I was obsessed with clouds and posted a ton of pictures of them here at Hugs...

because today was a REALLY good cloud day and I am so in love with these images, I had to share them.

I don't often get to see a sky that looks this big!  Especially not downtown, where there are so many tall buildings. 

If this next one was a piece of art it would get poor marks for balance, with so much happening on the top half and the road and fence and building at the bottom all being so plain and colourless.  Repetitive, even. 

On the other hand I would be pretty impressed with myself if I could reproduce these clouds and the vivid blue sky peeping out from behind them, with paint.  I am thrilled enough to have captured them with a smartphone.

Overall: fantastic day for looking at clouds and also, getting rained on, but apparently for choosing porch materials too.  It sounds like Ray will be able to start rebuilding our porch next week some time!!  We need to pick flooring, and the ceiling, and columns (I am back to thinking we should just buy wood for those.)  Sadly, I can't have the same materials I had before without doing a lot of maintenance, and being tired of renovations I really want to keep things simple, so this is what we are looking at:

Plain poplar floor, painted grey, but without the little dips and grooves we had last time.  The old grooves had a ton of character and I loved walking over them and taking pictures of things laid down in between them, but they were also excellent for trapping leaf bits and pooling water, which ate away at the wood over time.  Ray is proposing a flat plank that connects together the same way the old one did, but as a plain seam, for a longer lasting floor.  And he's also recommending narrower planks than we had before because the wider the plank, the greater the risk the wood will curl. 

(admittedly, our old floor NEVER curled - even as it was rotting away - but if we're not going with the same texture of floor it won't kill us to branch out from the old plank width, too.)

Instead of a white painted tongue and groove ceiling, we are putting in unfinished cedar tongue and groove.  This is a gamble, because the darker material will reflect less light into the front of the house, but we have SO many windows now we think it should be okay.  Also, as Ray pointed out, it will be pretty nice to look out from the front room at a gorgeous cedar ceiling.  We will never have to paint it, which is pretty appealing to me, and apparently bugs don't love cedar so hopefully we will stop getting those bees that burrow into wood to make their hives.

The only question was, what width to choose for the ceiling?

Ugh, which is better?  In the end I went with the narrower one in the middle.  It's closest to the floor plank width, and that will give the porch a more consistent feeling. 

What do you think of Soapstone As Background?  We still haven't polished it up, but I'll get to it as soon as the place is sufficiently dust-free for us to move back in. We're on track to start doing that around the middle of July, which is lucky because lately I've been looking around the condo and actively wanting to pack.  And that is a huge step up from the dread I was feeling about that job, back in May.

Are you excited for the new porch too, and the many knitting photo ops it will showcase?

Monday, June 26, 2017

And then there was knitting

For a while there I wasn't all that interested in knitting.  Having broken fingers and not being able to do it, you find other outlets, you know?  But lately I've been appreciating the compact size and portability of a sock to bring along to meetings and concerts. 

I get so fidgety if I have to sit too long.  This is something I consider a personal failing because it suggests a lack of discipline in our Sit Down And Pay Attention culture, and at the same time, it's something I feel like I should celebrate since I keep reading new reports that sitting is not good for you. 

Okay actually, I thought this was because of the ol' 'use it or lose it' mantra as applied to leg muscles, but now I am getting the impression that sitting compresses some veins in a less than healthy way.  Don't quote me, I may not fully comprehend this particular objection to sitting, but I do plan to dig deeper because it seems to me that lying down would therefore be a perfectly acceptable alternative and I am very happy to lie down and knit while reading or watching some show or other.  Or, if not lie down, 'recline'.  Anything health related that justifies splashing out on another recliner is interesting to me.

This is the yarn I didn't take with me to Germany because I thought it might get on my nerves, being so bright.  But no: I am quite enjoying it.  The colour shifts are pleasant, and the way the stitches stack up is very calming, and I like the way the knit fabric feels when I pause to check for more dropped stitches.

Speaking of which: I finally figured out what I am doing wrong with this dropped-stitch business.  I never notice these problems till I'm ten or twelve rounds past them, and they fall into two categories:

1/ an elongated stitch on the front with a bar of yarn marking the same spot in the back

2/ a tight looking stitch on the front with a lump of yarn marking the same spot in the back

In both cases, I think what I am doing is knitting into the stitch below, rather than into the loop that's on the needle, so that the loop on the needle falls down and becomes a bar at the back of the fabric.  And in the case of the second example, I am compounding the problem by somehow - magically, I am pretty sure - working the new round's yarn into the stitch below while working the old yarn into the stitch I am currently working.

I realize that doesn't make sense.  But this should illustrate the gist of the problem nicely:

Yes.  I have to rip back about that far, EVERY TIME. 

But hopefully not too many more times, if I really have figured this out.  So far, my focused effort to knit only into the stitch on the needle seems to be working.

Ahhhh, smooth knitting.

Last week when I was sick - WOW, did that cold want to hang on - I watched a lot of Netflix.  I binge-watched the first season of Stranger Things in a day, and really enjoyed it and knit a lot of sock, and then I watched a ton of Brooklyn 99 for comic relief, and finally started into Season 2 of Hinterland.  This is winter-level knitting, the density of work I would normally indulge in during January, but of course I missed my chance at all that thanks to the broken fingers, so I don't feel guilty about wasting lovely summer evenings indoors.

The other day, Pete told me an acquaintance of ours broke her THUMB - her right thumb, and she's right handed, and I thought ohhhhhhhhh poor her.  Breaking your fingers in winter means you're never burdened in the night by the fact that a cast or splint is super hot and uncomfortable.  And breaking fingers that aren't your thumb or index finger means you can still grip things as needed.  This poor woman is going to be super incapacitated and uncomfortable and not even able to teach herself how to use watercolour paint, which is what got me through.  She won't be able to go swimming either, which is the whole point of summer, isn't it?  And I bet she will even find it hard to hold an ice-cream cone.  Though if she's like me, she will find a way.

(and yes, I am still staying away from sugar, so of course I am not even thinking about eating an ice cream cone, let alone a Fudgsicle, even though I know for a fact there are some in the freezer even as I type because they have stopped calling my name and set up a chanting system instead.)

What would you turn to for entertainment, I wonder, if you broke a hand?  Or would you just take advantage of the opportunity to sleep a lot, banking on the possibility that lying down is better for you than sitting?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Drinking hot things

Last night after supper I sat down to write a Hug and noticed I was achy, and an hour later I was in full blown head cold mode complete with sore throat.  How could I get hit so fast, especially when I have been eating virtuously such things as bowlfuls of arugula every day??

I wanted to share the recipe for this lazy approach to salad and today will do, now that my sinuses have agreed that any more mouth breathing is not helping, and I can work slightly more comfortably.

Lazy Rocket Salad

Put the rocket (arugula) in a bowl
Drizzle it with olive oil
Drizzle balsamic reduction over top (Our grocer sell Nonna Pia's; there are other kinds)
Salt as desired
Optional: cut tomatoes

Seriously, it's taken me decades of salad consumption to realize you don't actually have to mix the dressing separately (or even refrigerate the ingredients of same.)  But now that I know, I am never going back!

The 'drinking hot things' menu is slightly more labour intensive - you have to cut and squeeze the lemon into a mug, decide how much honey to spoon in to make it bearable, boil the water to dilute them both, and wait for it all to cool.  Such an ordeal... and at the moment this process requires several breaks for Kleenex as well.

Ditto the chicken broth with Worcestershire sauce.  You have to go to all the trouble of finding the box of low sodium OXO broth packets in the pantry, tear open the bag and dump it into a mug, then tap to be sure you got everything out, add water, and drip in the sauce enough to warm your throat but stopping short of So Spicy It Burns.

Tea is much easier, thanks to a small change I made a month or two ago and which has proved to be more freeing than I could have imagined.  It's 'pour boiling water over a tea bag, steep, cool, and drink.'

Yep, after many years of wanting to, I am finally figuring out how to give up sugar.  And that is a huge thing for me to say because I am a HUGE fan of sugar.

Because I have relied on it my whole life long, I didn't need all the articles that have come out about it lately to tell me that sugar is not good for our bodies - we're designed to like it, but not to process it in the huge quantities we face today.  You can feel that's true without being told it, if you depend on it the way I have.  And I feel the clock ticking - right now, my blood pressure/blood sugar is smack in the middle of Healthy, but I know I have several relatives, going several generations back, whose lives were cut short by diabetes.  Odds are good that the same thing would have happened to me by now if I didn't walk as much as I do most days. 

My life experience based on these relatives' stories is that even if doctors are able to intervene with the other circulatory implications, diabetes = huge risk of late-life memory loss.  And I do not want to go through that.  I would take broken bones, extreme arthritis, and even a slowly-filling clear plastic bag attached to my walker over losing my memory.  So I am highly motivated by the desire for a forever-healthy brain, or as close to it as I can manage through choices within my control.

The trouble is that sugar is so addictive, and the only way to really beat it is to go cold turkey, and cold turkey is really really hard.

If I can manage to stay committed, after three tough days of cold turkey I find I don't crave sugar.  I can accept a slice of cake at a party, enjoy some of it and then stop as soon as I feel the sugar starting to make me feel ill, and go on not craving it.  But if I feel like I should eat the whole slice, or like I should order ice cream too when everybody else I'm with wants to go to Dairy Queen, or that I'd really like to have a tiny bit of root beer because it's so nostalgic, and ESPECIALLY if all those things happen on consecutive days? 

Well, I have to go cold turkey all over again. 

So this winter I thought, Maybe I could at least stop putting honey in my tea. 

I mean, milk is sweet, and I put milk in, so maybe that would be enough? And it's such a small step.  It took a few cups but as it turned out, milk is enough, especially if I have very basic crackers with the tea instead of sweet cookies, which just play up how not sweet the tea is.  After a week or so my poor honey jar just sat and sat and didn't need to be replaced, which was actually kind of a bonus because honey is not cheap and I was always running out at the one moment I didn't have time to get to the store, even now that the store is right downstairs. 

(also I always feel a little guilty about taking it from the bees.)

Then in late May I read that all the good and healthy stuff in tea is negated if you add milk - something about the chemical combination.  So I thought, Maybe I could try not putting milk in, either.

This wasn't as hard for me as it would have been if we hadn't just been away in Germany.  I had to be creative about my tea consumption on that trip because I need caffeine before about 1pm if I'm to avoid a huge headache, but I also need bathroom breaks pretty urgently in the first 90 minutes after tea consumption and the tour schedule couldn't accommodate that.  At first I tried getting up over two hours earlier than we had to leave for the day but that wasn't sustainable for obvious "7:30am departure time" reasons. 

It wasn't long before I asked myself, What would a sensible person do? I put on my 'Trish' cap and realized that I could brew the tea, then pour it into my stainless steel water bottle to take with me, and sip it very very slowly over the morning when I knew we would be getting off the bus or better still, getting 'free time' soon.  It wasn't an insulated bottle, so I topped up with cold water to keep from burning my hands, and I slipped in lemon slices to keep it from tasting too strong.

(Bonus: on days when I could fill the bottle with plain water, it tasted deliciously lemony.)

So - when I was back home and feeling like I should give up milk in my tea, I thought - I've already pulled this off out of necessity, so why not just go on?

And here's the freeing bit.

If you are not putting milk or sugar in your tea, all you need is the tea and the kettle and water and a cup.  You don't need a refrigerator beside your tea making area (which is lucky since Andy and I designed the kitchen at our house with the tea station far from the refrigerator.)  You don't even need to drink all the tea in the pot before it goes cold.  I mean it's nice to drink hot tea, and I still like to have my tea cosy on the pot, but if I come home after a few hours and have forgotten to pour out the leftover tea before dashing out, I am happy to drink it as I find it.

Suddenly, I can drink green tea without wincing, and enjoy all its health benefits.

And because I am trying not to have a glass off milk too close to the time I drink a cup of tea, I don't run out of milk as quickly, which is nice.  I love milk and drink way more than I need to even to keep my bones strong, and was going through a TON of milk every week. 

Thanks to this small change, I am not looking for cookies every time I have tea.  And when I read about heart-healthy diets that advocate drinking black tea and lots of plain water in place of other more delicious beverages, I don't shudder or cringe or write them off as impossible for me.

I guess what I'm writing about it today's Hug is that even if you're a bit slow on the uptake like I am, small steps can actually result in big changes in how you get through your day.  As I've made these adjustments in my tea consumption I've also been trying to eat more vegetables and adapting how I cook them to make them less labour-intensive - drizzling olive oil over cubed sweet potatoes, for example, right on the baking sheet where I've tossed them before pushing the pan into the oven, thereby saving myself from washing an extra bowl.  Or cubing a lot of sweet potatoes at once while listening to an audiobook, so that I can bag up enough for a meal or two later in the week when I know I will have less time. 

And the salad thing - well, even though there is sugar in balsamic reduction, it's only enough to make me crave arugula, and I'm pretty sure that isn't a bad thing.  The nitrites are another story but let's ignore them for now.

As I type - even though I did just go through three days in a row with ice cream, then root beer, then more ice cream I didn't even enjoy and now have to start all over again with cold turkey on the whole Dessert Thing as soon as I don't need hot honey and lemon for my throat - I am eating better for less money, every day.  It years and years since I've felt as healthy as I have lately, and on top of that, I've lost a little weight without making more time to exercise, or creating strategies for eating less.  I'm happy to eat whatever I want that isn't sugar, but I'm just plain less hungry.

Mind you, I got this darned cold anyway, and at breakneck speed to boot, but I'm going to give that a pass because I lost sleep and had to work super hard for almost all of last week battling the phone scammer who victimized my aunt.  There's bound to be fallout from that, right? 

Do me a favour and just nod and agree while I sign off and go make myself another cup of green tea for my sore throat, sigh.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The little things that beat the big things

I guess we can all agree there is a special place in hell for people make a career out of defrauding elderly people, and I personally would advocate for fire ants to be added to the torments therein.  But let's move past the emotional and logistical nightmare that their actions produce for their victims and all the people who love them, and say THANK YOU to the small things that brighten a very difficult day.  Or series of days.  I mean I am so tired I can't really keep track at this point.

For example, the scenery on the way to my elderly relative's home is just as pretty as it ever was, be it sunny...

... or otherwise:

New yarn in the mail - that's a nice thing too isn't it?  (this is two new yarns, and one I just forgot to photograph for you earlier.)

Beautiful new yarn is a lot like a hug.  Which I got one of in real life this morning, while dashing past a pair of canvassers for the local addiction and mental health hospital.  I support CAMH, of course, but I needed to complete an important component of the solution for my elderly relative, so when a young man tried to engage me in conversation I immediately said I'm so sorry, I am having a very very bad day and I can't stop, and he looked at me for a long moment and I guess saw just how bad, because his face became very serious and he said, Can I offer you a hug?  And I said Yes.  Yes, I will take the hug.

It helped.

Then there's this dress:

I was rushing home last night after seeing off my friend Bob to his airport shuttle (how timely, that he was in town this week - he always seems to be here for as cup of coffee in the worst moments of crisis) when I saw this dress from the corner of my eye and thought for a moment, Lannie!  In that instant I felt so much weight lift right off my shoulders, until I realized it was just an empty dress.  But I went on feeling lighter because when Lannie dresses up, she does glitz and glam like nobody else I know, and it was nice to think of that.

(And now I kind of want that necklace.)

You know what else is nice?  Having a bunch of people available for advice or moral support.  And not just your own friends, either.  At one point yesterday I had to call a chiropractor's office for information.  I had never been there or met any of the staff - I just knew that they care about my relative.  I got all of and more than the help I needed, and I was offered the chiropractor's personal cell phone number, too - just in case I ever need somebody to go to my relative's home and can't get there myself.  Hard to feel stranded and unsure how to proceed when people are reaching out like that.

This was kind of a bad week for me to choose to break up with sugar.  Thankfully, I was on day four of Cold Turkey when I was notified of the problem, and I didn't succumb to temptation because I was already feeling better physically from not eating any, and was too busy making calls to go into the kitchen.  I guess that's more than a little thing, isn't it?  Having the moral fortitude to resist sugar while under stress?

Either way: that is me for this week, my friends.  Not bad, posting four days out of the five, huh?  And with luck I can make this a habit again!  Luck and not having anything else bad happen.  Going to keep my fingers crossed on that one while I wish you a great weekend.  See you soon!