Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Conference knitting fail

For weeks now, there has been no knitting happening at my house.  Or my condo or even on the bus, because the minute I get a chance to empty my brain and/or hands I am just SO tired and lazy.  This situation made it extra exciting for me to go to the writers' conference with Wrona, where I knew I would not have to take notes and could just knit quietly in the back row.


There's always a but!!

You know that thing where you are going out for the day or longer and you know you will need knitting with you, and you try to guesstimate exactly how much knitting you will need to bring?  I mean we always, ALWAYS overestimate that amount, right? 

I am pretty sure nobody ever says "Oh, I am sure I will only do one round on this mitten so there is no need even to pack markers for the thumb opening."  It's always, "I know I'll finish off this hat so I should bring the extra yarn and cast on the matching cowl.  Let's see, that's two patterns, double point needles for the hat's crown, the second cake and it would be nice to do a contrast border as an option against my face so I should put a third cake into the bag but do I want it to be the pink one or the green... best to take both."

Seriously.  It's like I'm inside your head, isn't it.

Well, I have been burned so many times with this inner dialogue, cramming an additional bag or two of sock up against all my other stuff just because it looks like I'm nearing the end of the one that's been in my purse for weeks, I was not inclined to pay attention to it.

And let's not forget that I have a crummy left hand these days, with the once-broken fingers still a little swollen and stiff and the strength gone from the whole thing.  I really, really need to get back to physio as soon as that condo is cleared out but in the meantime, I am a slow knitter even once I get to the needles. 

All of which is why I carted along ONE bag of sock, even though I was turning the heel the day before the conference.  And somehow, even though Wrona and I didn't even go to many panel discussions because we were having more fun meeting people in the hospitality lounge, and I was only knitting if I wasn't chatting, I managed to get through the gusset decreases and all the way through the foot by the time I took a single picture for you.


That is a sock with a foot up there at the top of this post.

I was also going to take a picture of the toe decreases, but I was so shocked at what was happening in my hands I just kept going... thinking that somehow, magically, I would have to knit an extra few inches for some reason I hadn't come up with yet.

But no: I finished the sock with more panels to go! 

The agony. And there was a perfectly good sock still on its leg on the coffee table at home, too. 

In good news, this means I have a  set of needles free to start the next ones.  And that is a relief because it's October and I promised Wayson more socks before winter, and I am pretty sure Jan will want a pair of purple striped ones for Christmas, too.  No pressure.  (well, it won't be either, if I can just EMPTY THE CONDO.)

Because it was a writer's conference I did not assume I would see other knitters there, and I didn't on the first day.  Actually I was self-conscious, worrying my moving fingers and bright woolly stripes were distracting to Wrona and especially to Bob, an old friend from her former writing group who had driven up to the conference as well.  

I asked him before our second panel started and he said No, and told me that his wife is also a serious knitter and pulled her needles out of her bag when he took her to a Bob Dylan concert!!!  I mean, I think I would have drawn the line there... but I can't guarantee it so I just tried to mimic the expected level of shock. 

By the second day though, I spotted two other knitters and somebody with crochet, so I wasn't entirely alone.  And a lady dashed over to me at the end of one session to ask what I was making.  Honestly, the authors given tables to meet prospective new readers should have brought knitting with them for their half-hour spots - they'd pull in so many people!

Because I don't have a second knitting picture to show you I'm going to close off today's post with a pic of the two sculptural paintings Wrona brought with her and which are now sitting on my desk. 

I had to turn on all the lights to get this, so it doesn't show the way they positively glow in the soft light from my single desk lamp, but trust me: this is a beautiful and inspiring pairing to gaze at during a pause from writing on the daybed.

Sorry I missed checking in yesterday - I was working on a new idea I had during the conference and I figured you would wouldn't mind terribly if I made book progress instead of a blog report.  You didn't, did you?

Monday, October 16, 2017

My life is a pickle jar full of thread

This is the very cool thing that Trish gave me as a housewarming present when we moved back into the house:

It is a giant pickle jar full of leftover super colourful, tatting-weight thread scraps that once belonged to a seamstress building a business and a new life in Canada after getting through WWII in Slovenia.  When it came into Trish's hands she said Aha!  This is so obviously for Mary.  I think she meant, this is the sort of crafty colourful vintage thing that is right up Mary's alley.  But I think what the universe was really saying was:

Mary's life is a giant pickle jar full of colourful, distracting, raw materials. 

 And boxes!

Yeah... because the condo is still full of boxes and shelves and random beautiful casserole dishes (and I do not even cook casseroles, because Pete is not up for those At. All.  he is so missing out, isn't he?)

That's pretty much where I've been since I said I was going to be posting every weekday again, come hell or high water.  Of course now that I think of it, that is no longer one of those casual expressions that suggest 'unlikely extremity', given the floods and fires in the southerly states of the U.S. lately.  But I hope you know what I mean.

The condo project has been under a crunch because we need to get it listed for lease before the beautiful ferns outside the bedroom windows wither and die in a late fall frost, leaving the low-ceilinged space looking like a long dark sterile cave.  And even if they were going to stay green and leafy for months yet - I am losing my mind having to stretch across two places.  Plus there was pressure because after more than ten years since the last time, my writing friend Wrona was coming to Toronto and she was going to stay with us.  Yay! and yipes.  Amazing how much joy can mingle with terror...  even the day before she got here there wasn't room to open the pullout sofa because of all the unpacking I still had to do, with all the other box storage areas full and unable to take another mouthful.  AND I was going to the same writer's conference she was, so I was going to have to put all that condo work on hold for four precious days.

So... while I was away from Hugs, I was packing and unpacking and sorting and clearing and generally trying to chase down enough thread ends so I could wrap them up and contain them in a giant jar. 

And I did it!  The basement guest room is GORgeous now.  I had to order shelves for placing decorative baskets of yarn, and they are in and assembled and up.  I had to make curtains for the basement windows, and I successfully subbed in tension rods with vintage tablecloths folded over them as an emergency solution.  (I have picture of this surprisingly effective decor move, but I can't find them right now.  Another day.)  And I got the dining room table entirely clear of the junk I was sorting, so that there was space for us to sit down together for a nice meal if there was time for one.  (there wasn't.)

Now that the house is in its ultimate, habitable form with just a few manageable boxes tucked out of the way for dealing with over time, I can go back to the condo and focus on that much more exclusively.  It's going to be as terrible there as it was before, but at least I get to leave it and end my day someplace orderly and welcoming.  It's definitely progress and gets me that much closer to my dream of having writing as my default mode, instead of managing a renovation.  I am SO desperate to get writing again, especially after the writer's conference.  It is always so energizing to do those.

Well - let's look at the front of this jar shall we?

In case you thought this was a random association I'm making between me and this thing.  The pickles were produced just a few miles from where I grew up!

It is a huge jar, about a foot tall, and super wide.  Really striking, and there are just an incredible number of colours inside so it matches everything.  Right now it's on a kitchen windowsill but once Ray builds them, it will go to live on one of my fireplace mantels, along with the two sculptural paintings Wrona brought me in a totally uneven trade for the pittance of manuscript formatting work I do for her (she is a professional artist as well as a writer and SO TALENTED.)

Okay this is a very long post after a very long silence... when I'm back tomorrow I hope to be more moderate but now you know I didn't disappear into a sickly green mist of pickle fumes.  Hope you've been well in the meantime and I'll see you again soon!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

How to tell if you have too much yarn

We joke that there is no such thing as too much yarn. I mean, how can you have too much of something as pretty as this?

Well... when the rest of the picture is a giant lump of yarns, the mostly finished knit three sizes too big with no hope of ever being salvaged...

... and there are many more errors in knit-based judgement filling bins and boxes, it's hard to think you need even more yarn, ya know?

Unpacking all the knitting bins on Friday, I found unfinished projects like this sock yarn hat (on the left) and another, smaller attempt at the soft stripey garter stitch hat (on the right):

The sock yarn hat looks promising but the needles I was using... ugh.  They are lace tips.  SO painful in this application, so I had just set aside the hat.  I will have to find different needles and get back on that horse.

Fearful of moths, I've packed most of my yarn into plastic bags.  Those bags made the sorting pile on the kitchen table even more daunting.

And I guess it's good that I somehow missed renewing my Vesper Sock Club membership for this season? 

I still have a lot of sock yarn I haven't even caked yet, plus 10 pairs ready to cast on.

The 10 sets of socks-to-be tucked themselves neatly into the drawer of our new coffee table, ready to put onto needles as soon as I have some free and need a new emergency knit.  They look so cute in there!  Every drawer should open to reveal bright colours begging to be worked with.  But sadly, on the shelf below them, I have a bag with four pairs already knit, waiting for toes to be grafted and ends to run in.  Ugh.

The soft alpacas unsuitable for socks and the wrong colour for hats have gathered together with some handspun yarns to pair with hardier yarns that can handle the abrasion from a heddle moving over them.  Luxurious scarves are not only a practical use for these soft, vulnerable yarns, but weaving is superfast, so there's hope I might actually make it through the pile some day.

The yarns that I know I will kick myself for handing off - things that will one day be a joy to rediscover when I want to make a special knit for a friend - are gathered together too, in a box of noncommittal options I can put away as my 'yarn store' next time I want to go shopping.

I found the green cowl I've been working on since we visited Newfoundland, but not very hard because I don't enjoy the knitting needles I was using and couldn't find my knitting needle stash to sub in a better option.

I also found the knitting needle stash, which bodes well for both the cowl and the matching yarn I bought so I could make a hat.

And I noticed that a two-colour stripe is maybe even more appealing to me than three or more.  It's so clean!

(I ripped out the giant  hat anyway.  That yarn - a blue-faced Leicester blend from Debbie Bliss - is stupendously soft and I don't want to waste it.)

In good news, it turns out that this edition of our house - in spite of all that top-grade spray foam insulation we put in - does get cold when the temperatures drop outside, as they finally did a couple of days ago.  We are not quite ready to turn on the in-floor heating, and when we do I may well find I'm more comfortable in bare feet, but right now I am making good use of both my heavy mohair socks and my mid-season, lightweight Vespers.  Whew!  I love knitting the mohair socks especially, but it would be awful not to be able to enjoy wearing them any more.

The unwavering bad news though is that even after I filtered out all the yarns even I can admit I am never, ever going to get around to working with, and assigned all the yarns I am certain I have a use for to their various bins...

I have too much yarn.

Maybe not too much for a person who loves textiles as much as I do, but certainly too much for the space I have.  And there is only one thing a knitter can do when s/he has that much too much yarn.  Right?


(mine are arriving on Friday.  cannot wait.)

Hope you've had a good weekend, see you tomorrow!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

My new dog is a robot vacuum

While we were gone, all our neighbours got new puppies.  So maybe I have dogs on the brain now but when I unpacked the robotic vacuum cleaner I bought after lugging our usual one up and down the stairs four too many times, I couldn't help but see the similarities.

I mean look at that.  Flat top, round body - you can totally see it, right?

Yeah, okay.  It's not so much a physical resemblance.

The first thing I did with the robot was to panic.  I couldn't figure out how to get the charging dock into a good location for both me and it, and to make an adjustment I had to pick up the robot for a minute, and it FREAKED OUT.  Its wheels were turning like mad and it was making all kinds of whirring, whimpery noises like a new puppy that is just desperate to hit the ground and start running.

I'm not used to appliances that have a mind of their own, so all this was a little alarming and I found myself talking to it to calm it down again.  I got it onto the dock and backed away slowly wondering whether
a/ I had made a terrible mistake and
b/ it was too late to take it back to the store for a refund.

After it was fully charged and ready to go, I had to carry it to the room I wanted it to deal with.  I set it down carefully to do its business, and pressed the button to indicate it could get going already, and off it obediently went, snuffling along the floor, its whiskers spinning around and around, drawing stuff into its path for a closer inspection.

How can you not immediately start calling a thing that does all that, Rex?

Since that first day, Rex has become part of the family.  And to prove it, he eats everything we put down in front of him.  I mean other dogs may be willing to lick a plate clean but they have nothing on Rex and our floors.  Some of his litter mates balk at a black floor, apparently, but Rex has no problem with our charcoal grey tiled hallways.  Sometimes I stay to watch him explore, and sometimes I go off for a while to do some other job and come back later to make sure he's still okay, only to be reassured by his single-minded hunt along a track that only he can see.

On the landings, Rex is amazing.  He gets very close to the tops of the stairs and then stops himself, correcting his path and carrying on like the ground always just drops away into nothingness and is nothing to worry about.

Upstairs though, Rex gets a little silly and sometimes hides under the bed when he finishes what he was doing.  The game is, I have to find him, then go under and lift him out because I still can't figure out how to get his remote control working.  He loves this but doesn't do it every time - I guess he doesn't want it to get Old before he does.

He can't do the actual stairs but those are still plain wood, and a Swiffer duster makes short work of them, so it's not really a hardship.  And he is so tiny!  Carrying him from floor to floor is nothing, and I can just let him roam free or close him into a room while I go off to do other things.

Probably Rex was not the best investment I ever made.  He was VERY expensive and he is not perfect.  For example:

He takes a long time to get through a room and his priorities are to cover all of it, not just the various parts that I can see have the most problems.  If I carry him over to a particularly bad mess and press a particular button on his back he is all over it, but generally he is more about process than product.  Rex is not the dog you want cleaning your floors when you find out guests are dropping by in ten minutes.  Basically, you have to be a proactive cleaner to be Rex's human, so I am having a big learning curve on that point.

He is bagless, which means that periodically I have to pull out part of his undercarriage and dump what's in it.  Probably I am doing this wrong but his leavings don't just fall into the garbage - I have to pull stuff out and that is both gross and messy.  (this is actually a good place to pretend I'm not using a dog analogy for this entire post... sorry about that.  ahem.)

He will only get into nooks and crannies that are larger than his body.  We've had to buy a little more new furniture for the house, and my choices are dictated by what will make Rex happy first, and what will look nice in the house second.

He doesn't do upholstery or the car.

On the other hand... we can always fill in the gaps with our  original vacuum. We would have wanted open-bottom furniture anyway, because of the infloor heat.

And you know what, the other options for lightweight vacuums - you know, the ones you can take up the stairs without having a heart attack from the strain? - they weren't so great for me either.  They may be as perfect for stairs as they are for upholstery but from the research I was doing before I bought him, it looks like the most working time you can get out of a cordless stick vacuum is 20 minutes - and even then, not on high power.  Sometimes it's as little as five minutes.  What can you clean in five minutes?  Then you have to find a place to charge it, which takes hours.  I don't know about you but even in this small house, it takes a lot longer than 20 minutes to vacuum everything, and if you only vacuum one room you will be tracking stuff into it from the others all day long.

So: we sort of live with a dog now.  He may never wake me up and save my life in a fire, but he'll keep me from drowning in dust, and that's pretty good in my book.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Everybody needs a kitchen chicken

Our new kitchen came with open shelves, which their designer, Andy, insisted were for decorative display and not for my baking gear (what a spoilsport.)  Here is how I 'decorated' one of them. 

Ah, Henny.  I spotted her at the Royal Winter Fair almost a year ago now, and I knew right away that
a/ she was coming home with me and
b/ she was going to live on a shelf in the kitchen to ensure I would be happy there.

How can you not be happy looking at a soft fuzzy chicken?  Plus: she coordinates perfectly with the rest of the decor.  She's like staging, but for people who are oblivious to decorative vases and hunt instead for cuddly stuffed animals, as opposed to the slightly scary taxidermy kind I mean.

Okay so, fast forward from date of Henny purchase.  Last month I was in HomeSense (discount department store for housewares, for those of you who don't have one) and I spotted a CERAMIC KITCHEN CHICKEN.

That's when I knew I was ahead of the curve and downright clever to pick up Henny when I did for this very important kitchen job.

The ceramic kitchen chicken was red with white polka dots.  Now, I love a good polka dot - they're up there with stripes, for me - and I would have bought that chicken without a second thought if I didn't already have Henny.  But as it was, I did take time for the second thought.  And that thought was,

What else does it do?

I picked it up and looked at it.   It was heavy, for a start.  There was no opening in the bottom except a little gap to let the clay cure properly.  There was no lid on the top to let you put cookies inside it.  It was mostly just heavy and decorative. 

And honestly, that's probably enough for a kitchen chicken.  If that kitchen is getting used at all, the chicken on the shelf is going to get at least a little greasy and the dust will stick to her and it will be all manner of ick, so it practically has to be a simple glazed clay piece that can be easily rinsed off.

But... my kitchen chicken does more.  She looks slightly downward at me with her head tilted inquisitively to one side, from her perch directly above the counter where I am dumping my stuff after coming in or putting it together to go out, as if to ask with concern how I'm doing.  She is just the right colours for the room, calming me down by not being too attention-getting.  And she is soft, so it's great that she's right there where I need her, if it's a bad day and I need a quick hug or something nice to touch.

(seriously, this is a not-uncommon knitter's thing, right? where you get so accustomed to textiles in your hand that it's a comfort to reach out and touch something soft?)

Try getting all that from a painted ceramic chicken.

Okay, I will admit this: a ceramic chicken can be right inside the kitchen with no fear of grease spatters.  Henny pretty much has to be stationed on Andy's shelf, which faces into the living room, far from the stove.

Since the red chicken with white polka dots, I've seen more ceramic chickens in shops here and there, and I expect I'll start seeing them inside people's houses soon too.

But Henny was a kitchen chicken first.  Ha!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The super exciting laundry room reveal

I know for a fact that all of you guys wanting to see a picture of something finished in our new house are hoping the laundry room comes first.  So this is for you!

Of COURSE I am kidding... who wants to see a laundry room?  Or even be in one?  Unless you've been using a rock and a stream to do your laundry and are totally enthralled with the joy of a modern machine.

Or, unless you knit and have a gorgeous new piece to wash and block.


Meh, probably none of us want to see this, but I'm pretty proud of how my ideas (and more significantly Ray's hard work) came out.  Plus it really is nearly done, unlike the rest of the house.

Let's start with the side that has plumbing:

As you can see, I was able to repurpose the old custom shelf from our previous, undersized kitchen which is now an oversized entry.  This was not easy - it was flush to the wall on the left side in the old kitchen and I had to figure out a place where it could have the same placement in the 'new' house, while still being flush to the ceiling, which ruled out my office. The ceilings are just too high, I'd be able to reach exactly nothing on it.  Finally I decided to risk getting the measurements right in the laundry room to install a single upper cabinet for the shelf to butt up next to, and still have space for a folding treadmill on the other side of said cabinet.

(We still don't have the treadmill.  For one thing, we are still exhausted enough just walking up and down stairs after two+ years in a condo.  For another, custom drapery is super expensive especially if you are choosing reproduction English prints on heavy linen fabrics.)

You are probably also noticing all the bright yellow detergent bottles.  They are not there for staging and this is just a few of the bottles in my possession.  Hey, don't judge me!  I can get this stuff only from Walmart now that my local shops have given it up for hipper Arm and Hammer offerings, and I live in fear of the day it is discontinued entirely because it's the only detergent other than Soak that I'm not allergic to.

And since you are 90% likely to be a knitter if you're reading this at all, I suspect you are also noticing I found a place to hang freshly washed handknit socks!!!

That's the exciting bit.  I sourced the rails from IKEA - they're meant to be installed in a kitchen with their backs to the wall and their rods laden with hooks for hanging ladles and spatulas, but I wanted them installed face-down for my socks, and the odd linen hand towel.  Dryers are not kind to linen.  Once I explained what I was after Ray figured out how to install two together with the seam barely showing, for maximum drying space, and the result is pretty fabulous, I think.  Not least since we didn't have the relevant conversation until AFTER he installed the shelf.  It would have been a much, much easier job if I'd realized how close he was to installation while he was still giving it a fresh coat of paint.

Want to step a little further back?

From here you can see that I managed to squeeze in a clear horizontal surface for dropping off a laundry basket, a nice sink (if you don't count the paint stuff I can't scrape off the stainless steel bowl now - all tips welcome), a trendy faucet, some lower behind-door storage, and two shiny new top loader machines.  More on those another day but for now: SO MUCH LOVE. 

What do you think of the paint colour on the walls?  Now that I'm using the sink a lot I can see I need some sort of backsplash, but in the meantime I have to tell you - the walls are my second favourite part of this room.  It's Farrow and Ball's 'Elephant's Breath', which looks grey most of the time but warm lavender for the rest of it.  It brings out a warm grey in the otherwise stoney beige tile floor, and feels downright calming under the LED spotlights Ray installed.

These walls were always Elephant's Breath but this room shares a double door entry with another room that was originally painted Clunch - the green-based beige we painted most of the rest of the house.  And when I saw the two side by side - you can't help it, they are so linked - I just felt angry.  I don't mean about the paint job or whatever, but just as a visceral reaction to the colour, which was odd because I absolutely love it everywhere else!  The light is just different in this part of the house I guess.  Trish came over and confirmed that the Clunch had to go so we asked nicely and now the whole area is painted purpley grey.  Ahhhhhhhh.

And finally: a closeup of the vintage 1940s kitchen knobs I found at the St. Lawrence antique market a while back, in use again after being reclaimed from somebody else's house.

I installed these myself - it was super easy to to thanks to their original doors having been the same depth as the new IKEA ones.

Okay, let's look at the other side of the room, which now that I think of it, also has plumbing.

This is the magical  HVAC system that keeps our house comfortable, plus the water supply.  I thought I would never want to look at this, and planned to hang a drape in front of it originally, but now - I kind of feel like it's art.  There are so many cables and copper pipes and shutoff valves, all fit so tightly and neatly together to ensure I got my wish for the other side of the room to stay clear for the dryer to vent directly outside with no bends in the exhaust pipe.  I know it was a lot of work and took tons of planning by our awesome HVAC team.  That's a water tank on the left with ventilation/heat recovery unit on top, and an on-demand water heater on the wall, and all the other bits and bobs are for the in-floor heat throughout the house.  There's also a drain for the in-floor heat system's drip drip drip of condensation; a fetching blue bucket; and sump pump underneath the table.

The table is not only perfect to keep me from tripping over those floor bits, while improving the functionality of the room - it's just plain important to us.  It was built by injured WWI veterans and owned by Pete's grandparents, who used it as an extra work surface in the summer kitchen on their farm.  Gramma knew Pete liked it and marked one drawer 'FOR PETER' in blue ink, which I think is extra special because he is one of I think 1,532 grandchildren?  Okay, maybe only about a dozen.  Or somewhere in between but it is definitely a lot of kids.

The biggest reason Pete liked it is because the family used to write notes for each other in pencil on the enamel top, then wash them off later with a wet cloth, like it was a blackboard.  I only recently got him to accept that there isn't enough enamel left on top now to make the cleanup part possible, let alone 'easy'.  It was a sad day but the table is still gorgeous and useful and we both love having it.  

I especially love having it in the laundry room because I get to go on using it every day.  When we first got it we were in a big apartment and it was our hall table, where all the mail and library books accumulated.  When we moved to the house it was our kitchen table until we put in a new kitchen.  After that there wasn't space for it there, so it became a desk in a bedroom.  At the condo, it was a kitchen table again.  But it's just a little too low to sit under comfortably so I am really happy we were able to make sure there was space for it in here.  I've already used it a lot for painting small wall shelves and later on it will be fantastic for setting out blocking mats and drying handknit scarves and shawls.

There's just the one small problem...

It really needs a different kind of drawer pull.  The antique market ones work well but they look a lot like eyes, and they keep creeping us out.

(You're welcome, and good luck keeping them out of your nightmares tonight!!)

Monday, September 25, 2017

The awful truth about the new house

I won't open with the awful part because Bleh.  This is the good part: our new house is basically the old house, but improved - instead of sleeping in them like we used to, we now cook, eat, and watch TV in the old bedrooms, and we sleep in a tree fort that's been built on top.  Guess which thing is my favourite?

Well, why choose.  But it is pretty amazing to lie on the daybed in my office and look out at the upper canopy of these trees.

Seriously, that is the view.  In winter, that tree will be green with some snow on top of each bough.  I love this SO MUCH.  And the view isn't so bad from the sofa in our bedroom either.

When I finally got the bumpout into our master bedroom design I was imagining a very generous addition to the footprint of our house even though I only got it for this one small space instead of all the way across the front of the building.  It turns out it's just a little less than three feet out, which is not quite enough depth for a sofa to tuck right inside, and I have ended up with 19 precious inches to share between drapery clearance and walking space between the sofa and the bed.

And this, my friends, is why we have opted for new drapes that barely clear the top of the sofa, so the sofa can push right up to the wall. Also shorter drapes are just so much less expensive.  Bonus!

On the upside, the bed makes a fantastic elevated ottoman for sore feet at the end of a long day hauling boxes up and down stairs.  Sooooo many boxes.

It's three years now since we started seriously planning this project and finding our temporary home downtown.  The house is still not completely finished - at the moment, the work has moved to the back yard (fences and a deck) while we wait for our special-order porch columns and newel posts to arrive (minimum four weeks from order date, AIIIEEEEE.) 

Three years is more than enough time to dream up a lot of mental pictures of how it would be when we finally moved home.  And amazingly, not one of them involved unpacking!

I mean how could I leave that out?  OBviously things weren't just going to magically fly north on their own and settle onto shelves like Disney princesses or enchanted teapots.  But now that I'm watching all that stuff lie around listlessly waiting for me to put them on shelves myself, I am beginning to wonder - seriously, I have been asking other people this question because the answer I get from me is not at all satisfactory - whether my life will ever again be anything but packing unpacking vacuuming.

As I recall, there was some notion of packing so perfectly at the condo end that I would just pick up a box, unload its contents into its precisely planned final home, and send the box off for recycling.  And also, of taking as long as I might need to do said perfect packing.

Unfortunately the condo end costs rather a lot more every month than the typical storage locker, and will continue costing us until we have it emptied/cleaned/listed/rented... so the packing has been rather rushed and still isn't done.  As a result, a lot of what is coming to the house is odd and alone and has no obvious place to go, even if it has a clear(ish) claim to remaining in our possession.

Which brings us to the awful truth.

The other day, I was surveying the kitchen and I turned to a friend.

Honestly, I said.  Look at this kitchen.  It's massive and has tons of cabinets and yet it's nowhere near big enough for me to put everything away.

FRIEND: Maybe you have too much stuff.

ME:  What?  Of course I don't have too much stuff.

FRIEND:  Oh come on.  You have seven sets of dishes.

ME: Erm

FRIEND: [crickets]

ME: Well yes, but the good dishes aren't even in the kitchen, and the two everyday sets are very neatly organized, and the Christmas set is obviously very important and the Easter set is only four place settings.  And the last two are old and going into the attic for nostalgic purposes so they don't even count.

What I didn't mention was that the two everyday sets each have twelve place settings.  But you know what, I have gone through all twelve bowls from the off-white set SO many times, plus at least four from the black plaid set, all in the same dishwasher load?  And then have to dip into the four FiestaWare plates Jan gave me which I don't count as a set because it's four bowls and four sandwich plates.  And never mind that dishes break and I needed to buy enough so that in five years when I am just beginning to be able to face going dish shopping again, I will still have at least eight place settings and can put it off a good while longer.

Still, my unhelpful friend has a point.  Probably I don't need seven sets of dishes, especially if I'm going to store my sweaters and scarves in the kitchen and also, keep a kitchen chicken.

(not the live kind of kitchen chicken, or even the once-alive kind.  but more on that later.)

I probably don't need as many suitcases as I've accumulated, considering how much I hate flying, or all the books I've been keeping, or all the fabric that I now don't need for windows or slipcovers because I factored new furniture and custom made drapes into the renovation budget, even though all that fabric is so incredibly pretty. 

I don't need them, but I also don't want to have to choose what goes.  And now that the house is mostly done and this is the most space I will ever have to live in for the rest of my life, I will have to anyway.


Well at least I should be able to manage to hang onto all the yarn!


Still: we are home, and there are a lot of good looking trees outside.  So that's something, right?

And I'm not waiting around any more to get back to writing a new Hug every weekday either.  This is it, me coming back!  just don't hold your breath for knitting pictures just yet, because I haven't picked up needles in about five weeks except to move them into or out of yet another box. 

Hope you've done better on that front than I have - and have you?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

We are home!

Tonight I was making supper in our beautiful new kitchen and suddenly registered what the counter looked like.  Then I took a picture.

In the old version of this house, stuff on the counter never, ever looked nice enough to make me want to do that - especially while I was making supper.  And after I took it and sat down to read more of a magazine article, Pete wandered over to the counter to slice bread and said, I know you don't use Instagram but this counter looks pretty Instagrammy right now.  Ha!

I even love the way soapstone looks with crumbs on it.

I can't believe how black it came out after waxing... it does fade to green-grey again after the first week or two, but this is my second wax coat and it's holding the colour much longer.  Apparently you only have to do this three or four times at the beginning, and then it just looks black forever. And it does show water marks and rings from a soggy glass left on it, but those buff out quickly with a paper towel if you're annoyed by them. I find I am not annoyed by them.  Obviously, since I even enjoy the look of crumbs.

It's been three weeks since I had enough sitting down time to write a blog post, but I've been accumulating pictures the whole time and I hope they won't bore you.  They are the small delights that have punctuated the long arduous ordeal that is moving.  I mean, our movers were great, though we didn't even try to have everything ready for them to bring back for us because I knew we wouldn't have space in the house for that many boxes at once.  It's all the other stuff... the packing, the carrying, the figuring our where stuff should go.  You know what I'm talking about I'm sure!  even if you don't drag a move out over several weeks like us.

One of the first things I did when we started to move stuff home was to ready the two sets of dishes we bought last winter.  Or was it the winter before that?  I don't even remember now, other than the bit where I couldn't choose between Villeroy & Boch 'Manoir', a porcelain set affordable because it was being discontinued, and a black and white plaid stoneware that's sure to chip and break easily but is SO CUTE.

I have never stored dishes in a drawer before, but the Manoir plates have kind of a cup shape that doesn't lend itself to being shoved onto an existing stack of plates on a high shelf, and our upper cabinets are set pretty high on the wall because I wanted lots of space over the counter.

Something I learned: you can't just chuck dishes in a drawer and expect them to stay put every time you open and close it.  You can spend a lot of money on a pegboard system from a fancy drawer insert company to corral your plates, or you can spend a lot of time making your own pegboard system from dowels, or you can split the difference and send your husband, who apparently loves you even more than he hates IKEA, to pick up plate corral thingies from IKEA.  Which is what I did.  (actually, I prefer the look of the IKEA solution. It's cleaner.)

The rest of the dishes are, logically, in the cupboard above:

Even though there is a crazy amount of cabinetry in this house, I can guarantee you that this particular section will not remain as spare as this.  But I wish it would, because I find this so restful to look at!  Even the crates at the top don't stress me out, because they are full of Christmas decorations.  Can you see Santa peeping out up there?

Washing the dishes has also been restful, even before our furniture arrived and the big sink wasn't connected because there was a problem with the first faucet, and I had to use the tiny bar sink for the job:

It's just the right size for four bowls, or one dinner plate. So simple, even without a proper drying rack.

Okay, you're probably tired of looking at dishes now.  So - let's talk about how much I love the new stove!!

I can't even remember what kind this one is now.  It's a ceramic top and it's from GE but I kind of think they stopped making this particular model after I had it delivered.  I might be wrong about that.  I chose it because the top extends over the counter, avoiding spills that run down the side of the cabinet - I am so clumsy when I'm cooking, and this happens to me ALL the time - but I also loved that it has a baking drawer instead of the usual squeaky pot drawer that I rarely store things in because I hate opening it so much.  As of yet, I have not used the baking over or the regular oven, but I have fallen hard for the stove top.  The dials feel great in your hand, the elements heat up pretty fast, and you can vary the size of each element to adapt to large or small or oblong pans.  HEAVEN.

I feel so grown up.  And yet, not, because the upper cabinets are so high I still have to reach for them like I'm 12.

Let's see, what else can I show you tonight?  There's still a lot around here that isn't finished, including the unpacking and the back yard cleanup, so I've been pretty picky about taking pictures.  But Pete and Ray have been installing the doorknobs, which I think look fantastic on the white doors and feel perfect in your hand, so I did get a lopsided picture of one of those:

And I took a picture of two candidates for our bedroom curtains, before I made up the bed, which is by the way ridiculously high up off the ground and even more so now that it has sheets and blankets. But so comfortable.  No more back pain!

There is a large blue velvet sofa in this room so I was thinking about a pale floral with some blue in it, but neither of these looks right to me.  What about you?  I am just kind of living with the samples to see if anything sticks, and in the meantime, enjoying how our bedroom looks like a floaty cloud.  Feels like one too, per my earlier remarks.

On top of the fact that our condo still has a ton of stuff in it that has to move to the house, not to mention what's in the storage locker... I am pretty sure I've only made a small dent in the unpacking. Sometimes this sort of job feels unending and then suddenly a bunch of things fall into place, so I'm hopeful that I've done better than that.  I am writing this while lying on my office daybed for example, which was a big part of the dream of coming home, so maybe it doesn't matter that the rest of the office is not even remotely set up?

It will matter for Hugs, of course... probably I won't be back here again for a week or two so I can break the back of this awful job. But I will take good pictures in the meantime and when I'm back, I'm back.  Regular posts, fun knitting, lots of good stuff you'll enjoy, I hope.  See you then!

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?