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?