Monday, April 2, 2018

Easter Socks

Though I'd take a break from cake consumption (I am testing out vanilla versions, with white icing) to show you my new Easter Socks!

Okay, clearly they aren't done yet.  But I did get to spend Easter Weekend knitting away on them and getting purple alpaca fluff on my shirt whenever TCM was running something arresting enough to lure me away from the oven to my beloved armchair.

I can't remember now, even though I just finished them a couple of weeks ago, which socks I was knitting before these - I think they might have been a sort of dusty rose wool/mohair blend striped with another wool/mohair blend to eke them out to a generous length?  but I was SO annoyed with myself for choosing that sock set to knit instead of this one.  I had really wanted to be feeling alpaca in my hands.  I was well onto this second sock (disclaimer: the first one is only just at the heel also - I try to get all the stripey leg bits out of the way so I can enjoy the sprint to the end with the single yarn I use for the rest of the foot) before I realized:


So, really it's good that I saved these ones to knit later, even if Easter has passed and I am still working on them.

I can tell looking outside now, and walking around outside too even if I am still wearing my big parka, that it is well and truly spring.  Clues:

there is some sun most days
there is no snow on the grass
the grass still looks dead and flat, unlike in fall when it is green and shivery
there are tiny buds on some trees
birds are going crazypants with the singing

Actually here is an odd bird thing.  Mostly what we hear at the house is barking, so I was surprised the other day to take the garbage out from the non-dog side and hear a cheery spring birdsong.  I was like, WOW!  I forgot that sound even exists!  At the condo it's mostly birds and churchbells but six months of bark bark bark can override a lot of your memory.

Renovation tip: when your heating and ventilation installers ask where you'd like the ugly air vents on the outside of your house, and reinforce the fact that they are ugly and should probably pop out of your house somewhere that nobody will be looking at them because MAN are they ugly, think past aesthetics all the way down the list to function.  At the condo, birds wake us at 6am and at the house, it's barks, because the sound-magnifying air vents scattered all through the inside of our house lead to one spot on the outside where nobody will be looking at them except some hugely excitable and chatty dogs. 

Anyhoo, that's how I found out spring was here - by taking out the garbage. 

Of course in spring you are not thinking about wearing alpaca socks unless there is yet another freak snowstorm where you live.  And if you are me you are thinking Uh Oh, even at the thought of that snow melting away because hello view of the back yard:

Especially if your contractor is coming back as soon as the weather is warm and dry enough to run a chop saw effectively, the better to build your deck and other back yard landscaping bits.  And hopefully remove the raccoon gate from the broken garage door and fix same and find a home for a stack of old bricks too.

Yep: I am running out of time to figure out how to resolve the mess that is our back yard and add in some good screening structures to block out the less fortunate aspects of our view.  Thank goodness
this week is looking too chilly still for that job to start, so I can sit down with Denial and some more sock!

You know what, and I'm not just saying this because of purple alpaca - I think the answer is lavender plants.  Loads and loads of lavender planted in elevated boxes along the back of a pergola, blocking both the view above the fence line, and also, the mosquitoes. 

What do you think?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Adjusting the recipe

This morning I read an oatmeal tip: add unsweetened cocoa.

Just a little shift in colour and/or texture has a lot of impact,
even on a fingerless mitt

I made a paste with some cocoa and boiling water in the bowl, then added a little honey and stirred it all up before I added the instant oatmeal and more water.  It was okay, but to really shine it would have needed more honey and since I'm trying to cut back on sugar, it's back to plain old oatmeal for this girl.

Eh, I tried.  Sometimes just trying something new is the important thing.

After breakfast I put out a stick of butter to warm to room temperature because lately, instead of writing Hugs, I've been trying to work out the perfect recipe for chocolate cake.

And then it hit me - I'm adjusting the recipe for EVERYthing right now.

Even my endlessly beloved socks are getting a few extra rounds at the toe because you know what?  It turns out I like the wiggle room, even if it's more than is strictly necessary.

My friend Wrona has been nudging me toward more writing, and at the moment we are revising short stories together.  It's been so long since I had a writing buddy, though I was always lucky to partner with very strong writers whose insights were hugely helpful.  Now, with Wrona, it's different.  She can read the same piece endlessly and still have a fresh enough eye to pick out the subtle changes to determine whether they help or hinder the overall story.  And I can look at her feedback and register it not only as a suggestion for change, but as a red flag that says This Part Doesn't Flow.  It's a small difference in perspective, but a critical one, and I find my writing is improving enormously just by acknowledging it.

When I walk anywhere these days I am constantly taking pictures of bare branches against the sky.  I always admired the contrast as I strolled along but now I have no concerns stopping to get the perfect framing; I want the images in my phone to look at when I'm stressed, or thinking about watercolour painting.

I've been reassessing my wardrobe and paring it down too.  Our closet is small and honestly, though I am always swayed toward a sense of public pressure to wear something different every day, the truth is I'm a uniform fan.  Lately I decided to accept that and now my half of our very small closet is centred on simple black T shirts and things sewn from linen.  I love linen so much... you can wear it in every season and it breathes so effortlessly!  And you can just wash it in the machine and hang it to dry.  I don't worry about ironing it, because it reacts to your shape and movement as you wear it anyway.  You can dress it up or dress it down, it lasts for years, and it's compact to boot.  What's not to love?

And time - how I use my time is getting a big overhaul right now.  I had WAY too much on my plate, working and health-caring and managing the house renovation and condo rental.  It bothered me so much that I wasn't writing a Hug every weekday because I did it for - what, five years? - before the reno started and I had to scale back.

Now that I am getting some breathing room, I find I don't want to sit and knit for every break from work.  I'm more comfortable allowing myself to write fiction before a Hug, and accepting that there might not be any Hug time left afterward.  There is a jigsaw puzzle on my dining room table and I put a few pieces in place as I pass it.  I am learning to play with crosswords now that I have access to the New York Times puzzles on my screen (I know, more screen time, but still).

I like that onscreen crossword puzzling is so tidy, with no paper strewn over the table... living in a condo/storage locker for over two years seems to have taught me to hate mindless clutter.  Go figure!  Now, I find I want everything I have - apart from a random jigsaw puzzle - to be necessary, effective, compact, and multi-purpose, so our living space can be as barren as possible while still being homey.

You know what is a good cleaning cloth?  Linen. With water and a linen teacloth or napkin you can clean mirrors, shine chrome, and get rid of water spots.  After you've gotten the gunk off a glass-topped stove, a linen cloth takes away all the streaks.  And nothing dries glassware and plates better either.  I have a tidy little stack of them now, vintage from eBay and not expensive, scattered into the bathrooms and the kitchen drawer.  They get washed together and they don't bleed colour onto each other either. My beloved cotton teatowel collection, many years in the making, is headed for a new career in cushion-covering.  My bulky polyester dust grabber cloths are getting donated.

And cooking!  There was a time when I wanted to try cooking everything and I had particular pots for different jobs.  Now, there is one square drawer to the left of our oven that contains:
a pasta pot with strainer and lid
a big pot with steamer and lid
a covered casserole stovetop pot
and three saucepans, which I could pare down to two or even one.

Those things, plus some frying pans in another drawer and a cluster of cookie sheets, are all I use for cooking meals now.  If you can't make it in one of those things, I am having it in a restaurant.

A different look to replace our formerly casual porch seating
(temporary safety rails just out of the picture):
Emphasis on the seat rather than the frame, so include more people in the space

For desserts, I am making good use of the cookie sheets (cookies), a square cake pan (brownies) and two round 9" pans (CAKE.) And now that I've said that magical word, it's time to talk cake I think, don't you?

I make a fabulous vanilla icing (okay, it's the recipe on the back of the bag of Redpath Icing Sugar - 4 cups of sugar, 1 cup of butter, 2 tbsp of milk, 2 tsp vanilla - or is it 1?). 

It's kinda embarrassing to spoon butter and sugar out of a bowl for dessert, so I have been wanting to make a cake that lives up to it.

Everybody seems to have that same goal.  You can look online and find a zillion chocolate cake recipes with an intro that says "I have spent years looking for the perfect chocolate cake recipe and this is it."  Then when I make one of them I'm kinda Meh.

But now I think I too have the perfect chocolate cake recipe, and here is why:

If you are using cocoa in a cake, you will get a richer flavour from pouring boiling water over it to let the it bloom before you add it to the batter. 

If the recipe calls for white sugar only, you can sneak in brown sugar to take some of the white sugar's place.  You can even reduce (slightly) the overall sugar count if you do this because brown sugar is heavier and has a deeper flavour.

You can get an airier cake if you add an extra egg yolk (assuming the recipe writer didn't already think of that.)  It'll help the rise without adding any more baking-soda flavour.

DON'T OVERBAKE THE CAKE.  Yeesh.  How many dry cakes did I complain over before I realized it was the oven time, not the recipe?

And finally: fold in the dry ingredients rather than beat them to death, because you don't want a lot of gluten in a cake.

And with that, I must leave you.  There is a laundry room I must overhaul and some boxes I'm hoping to shed things from.  Have a wonderful day and I'll see you again soon!

ps: I am writing and publishing this post on a Saturday!  I almost never do that.  Might try it more often, while I'm making adjustments.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Beating your smartphone addiction with socks

A shocking thing happened here recently, and it wasn't the fact that I finally finished the socks I was knitting myself for Christmas:

Nope.  Here's what is stranger than that: I was reading a magazine article and, glancing at an accompanying photograph that was a bit too small to make out properly, I reached out with my thumb and forefinger and attempted to enlarge it.  ON PAPER.

All joking aside, that scares me, and in spite of trying to be mindful of the format I am using when reading, it's happened twice more.  I can't pretend now that my brain hasn't been rewired to think that I can alter print reality with a touch.  Because it has.

Digression for boring science stuff:

The scary things you read about smartphones are much more scary than that, but they come down to the same thing - our brains are being rewired by the screens we use.  Teenagers whose brains are still developing, and who use social media, are getting a rush from Likes, and it's affecting their moods and the choices they make about what to post online.  Well, I can relate to that, because even at Ravelry or on my humble blog here, a friendly comment or a heart gives you a nice feeling, not unlike getting a piece of physical mail from an actual person in the mailbox attached to your street address.  It's not compelling enough to make me push myself beyond my abilities to post constantly (obviously!  I am so dropping the ball on my plan to post every weekday again.)  But I can absolutely attest to the power of it.

Becoming hooked on the rush you get from likes, and dreading the negative feelings you get from the reverse, means you are staring at a screen for a long time every day, and apart from anything else, that can't be good for a person's eyes.  It's also different from the neurological benefits of human touch and face to face socializing.

And obviously: if you're reading this, you already know all that because you're crafty!  Even if you use Facebook and Instagram, you probably knit in a group once in a while, and you're touching fiber and fabrics.  Like me you probably feel pretty safe from the changes smartphones are creating in our fellow humans, assuming you have a smartphone (and I have lots of friends who don't, so I make no assumptions here.)

But think about it.  I swore off Facebook years ago and never got around to making an Instagram account, and can't even be bothered with Twitter because what do I have to say that's so interesting, and also brief? and yet: I am still trying to make a photograph bigger while reading print media.

And now, back to the practical:

Pete gave me a Smartphone just before we started our home renovation project, and I learned to use it constantly because there was so much happening that needed to be dealt with immediately.  It was such a help to be able to search online, take photographs, send photographs, text, and whip off an email.

Then I discovered the fun things:

Reading books on a Kindle, even on my tiny phone, meant I could knit at the same time!

Subscriptions to the digital editions of The Washington Post and The New York Times mean I get to read well-written nonfiction all day long.  And access fabulous recipes too (thank you New York Times, especially for the lemon linguine.)

On the subway, I get to choose between knitting, reading on my Kindle app, or playing spider solitaire.

I can effortlessly check the weather forecast for outside my door, at my cottage, and where all my far-flung friends live.

I can play music and audiobooks, saving shelf space for our stereo system which we haven't even unpacked yet.  In fact I think it might still be in storage and will probably stay there, at this rate.

Watching a movie, I can look up online the name of the actor who I totally recognize but can't quite place.

Now that I can store my patterns as .pdfs on it, I don't need to print or carry paper.

When traveling, I don't need to pack a map.  Or a guidebook.

and so on.  It all adds up, and so does my pile of New Yorkers, which I used to devour along with every meal at my table.  (we are probably the only family I know who always eats together but saves all the chats for every minute we are away from it.  Mealtime is reading time!)

Can you imagine how many more things I'd use it for, if I did social media??

Since we've been back in our house and the last of the renovations have paused till the weather warms up again, I have been struggling to get back into my routines - posting here regularly, photographing finished knits and posting them to Ravelry, sewing the drapes I still need to hang - and over the weekend it hit me:

it's my smartphone. 

I am on that thing so much, my hands and eyes and mind are never free for anything else. 

So now, I'm trying to separate myself from my darling device.  It's not just a question of plugging it in to charge in a different room from where I am, though that does seem to help.  I am trying to allocate more time for watercolour painting.  More time out walking (but not texting at every stop light.)  More time cooking from a recipe I wrote out by hand on a card - I have enough pens I love to write with, after all. More time with my first love, sitting on the sofa and knitting while watching some fabulous old movie.

And more time for writing fiction, which this post is keeping me from doing, so I'll end here.  Except to ask:

Do you think you're on a smart device too much?  And if so, what do you do to stay off it?

(also: the socks are mostly hand-dyed, fingering weight alpaca.  CRAZY supersoft.  the blue stripes are a DK weight superwash wool I thought looked nice with it.  isn't it great to figure out ways to combine totally different weights of yarn without throwing off the fit?)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Hand sewing as relaxation technique

Let's pretend for a few minutes that the project I'm showing you today was always only meant as a relaxation aid and never, ever intended to be a cute raccoon, shall we? 

UGH.  Okay, it is true that three years ago I started making a pair of cute felted-wool animals, before I got overwhelmed with packing us to get moved out of the house so we could renovate it.  Funnily enough, the kids for whom they were intended are now teenagers with no use for such things, but I still wanted to finish the job.  I am compulsive like that.

Apparently I was also compulsive about not wanting to move all the stuff that's piled up in front of my sewing machine.  You'd never know I designed the leisure parts of our house specifically to make room for a dedicated sewing table!  Sadly, that plan relied entirely on my finding a desk surface that would exactly fill the space I had, with sewing gear storage underneath.  The desk I ended up with is a little short, and it seemed less stressful to hand sew the parts than to move everything around to get at the machine and then back again to make space for the machine on my desk. 

This was foolish because it took two days to make Frederick by hand, and also smart, because I was super stressed when I started him and hand sewing is SO PEACEFUL.

It's like spinning at a treadle wheel, without the risk of ankle strain.  Even if you are a crummy hand sewer (Mary's arm shoots into the air) it is still a great way to relax.

Notice I refer only to the sewing, not the success of the project.  Because when you sit down to make a stuffed animal and start with a pair of scissors and some felted wool scraps and no pattern except a vague idea in your head, then wait three years to execute it at which point you've forgotten most of what plan there was, 'success' (in the form of an attractive, recognizable animal) is far from guaranteed.

For a start, you might consider the lack of coherent fabric selection.

I had forgotten even to cut out a tail for the raccoon, and all I had left in the felted wool department was the purple and blue sweater sleeve parts I'd used to keep my arms warm under my poncho after I broke my fingers last winter. This does not look remotely like raccoon parts to me.

Also: as the stitching went on, I realized that long, long body with a pot belly I hoped would make for an extra squishy hug was WAY too big for the head I'd cut out and pieced together and carefully embroidered a face onto. 

Another fun fact is that it takes a lot of stuffing to fill an animal.  This, I had.  But I kept jamming in more and more (a crochet hook is an excellent tool for this purpose, especially if you overdid it and need to pull some of the stuffing back through a narrow channel to spread it out a bit) and it still wasn't enough.

And the trouble with that is: stability.  Or lack thereof. 

I got poor Fred all the way done when I realized his head didn't stand up.  At all.  I tried a few positions and had high hopes for 'one hand on cheek, other hand on opposite elbow', but the only solution was 'two hands on cheeks in a perpetual state of surprise and amazement.'

Well, at least he's soft - and surprisingly cuddly!  Still relaxing, even after all the sewing is done.

I'm hoping not to need to recover from another busy two weeks like I did when I was making Fred, but I still need to sew the wombat, so I guess I'll be well equipped if it comes to that.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend with all your crafty projects done for pleasure only, and I'll see you again on Monday!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Socks and a porch

I was looking at a pair of mohair socks the other day - that's my go-to fiber for cold winter days like we're having right now in Toronto - and thinking, MAN these stitches are beautiful.

Somehow, after the socks are knit I just wear them and don't think so much about the work I put into them.  The making is a journey and then I go on another journey with something else, and it's a shame because some of the yarns I use are really exceptional.  And hardwearing! which is lucky because in the case of this particular yarn, there ain't no more to be had but what's stashed.

I love the browns and golds in this colourway and the hits of denim blue that brighten the whole, don't you?

In fact I decorated our house in these colours, now that I think of it, with the addition of red and off-white.  I might possibly have been thinking of these socks, which are my favourites, when I came up with the idea to go heavy on the brown and blue.

Of course when socks are new around here, tradition dictates that they have get photographed on the porch.  Without said porch I kinda gave up on photographing them at all because the light at the condo was just not that appealing. 

I've been eyeing the porch, which is currently piled with the railings we didn't get installed when the weather was good and which we've all now agreed is too fake-looking and unsteady to get installed at all (ouch, since those materials are not returnable.)  It's not entirely the same as it was; instead of a glossy paint on wider planks, it's now a flat stain on narrow planks.  No more fitting the whole width of my foot on one plank with no breaks, I guess.  But the new floor still looks okay and the wood won't peel or curl any more which is a plus.

That's one of the chairs from the vintage seating set I bought in the fall.  The plan was to use them in the back yard on our soon-to-be deck, which will be best described as 'petite' (and will, with luck, get wide planks.)  But now that they're sitting on the porch for the winter I'm feeling like maybe they belong there permanently.  Certainly the colour looks pretty natural with the floor.  Of course: cushions.  The ones the set came with are brown and don't go with anything, and they are also not at all cushiony, so I get to choose between adding some squish and recovering, or just giving up and starting over.  But what colour should I choose?

(that's kind of a rhetorical question but if you have an idea of what would look great on a black and white house with a grey porch and rust coloured brick I would be very glad to hear about it. otherwise I will feel it's necessary to put them in the back where the brown cushions will blend with the plentiful supply of brown tree bark.)

I love this set... and I especially love that it doesn't weigh as much as the wooden chairs we used to haul up onto the porch every winter. 

But I will love it even more when the porch is completely finished and the cushions are on and I can just sit down at will and photograph socks.  I miss that so much.  I even miss embarrassing myself taking pictures of my feet on the porch steps on a Sunday, as the neighbours stroll by!

(maybe it's a good thing I haven't finished many socks lately, so I am not losing opportunities to do that when the porch is finally done?)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

I have been unavoidably detained

Well I was pretty proud of myself for finishing up enough house renovation to go back to writing weekday Hugs and then BOOM!  Had to skip a week and a half.

Every time I take the train to see my aunt, I take pictures out the window of the bit of the route that overlooks Lake Ontario.  Then I e-mail them to my cousin (another niece) who lives in England now.  She loved that train ride and I love feeling like she's traveling with me for the visit.  She has been particularly impressed with the current batch of images, taken over the last several days of back and forth. I must confess I am too, so I thought I might force them on you guys.  It's not like I have any knitting to show you!

As you can see, the trips have been undertaken in crummy cold winter weather more comfortably spent at home under a blanket staring at the television. But: needs must, and now that the immediate needs have been addressed I can sit at my cosy desk admiring the shots I took.

It's kinda laughable to me, how much my cousin and I like these photographs.  My sole contribution is literally holding the phone up as straight as I can as I snap away, hoping to get a few images where the lights inside the train aren't superimposed on the images outside and stuff isn't too blurry.  A lot of them end up with small random light spots in the fringes... I see one in the picture above these lines, and another in the bottom left of the foresty bit below.

But somehow, quite a lot of them come out SO beautifully!  I kept about 63 of them... and I would show them all to you if I had more time to upload them so you can be grateful I don't.  I'm not sure why I'm so smitten, though I do think the colours are kind of amazing.  And the starkness of the trees against the clouded blue-grey skies... well, I love trees and clouds, so no surprise I love those shots. 

I was particularly excited to get this picture.  We were a few minutes out of Union Station and I glanced out the window, thought WHOA! The miracle is that I managed to dig out my phone, get the camera on, and catch the smokestack smoke almost at the centre of the image. 

I'm hanging onto these images in a special folder and when things are totally settled down again - there is more to do though thankfully, the immediate situation is resolved - I am totally gonna be trying to watercolour paint some of them.  Maybe not this busy industrial one though because that would be a ton of work.  But a nice tree scene... that'd be a very relaxing winter activity, don't you think?

Hope you've had a good week and a half and hopefully I'll be back to our regular meetups on Monday!

Friday, January 26, 2018

This is where to read a Churchmouse newsletter

One day in December as I was rushing around at home with my phone in my hand, and simultaneously checking e-mails and texts to make sure there was nothing urgent to deal with, I noticed two very important things.  I had a new email from Churchmouse Yarns and Teas, and I was standing in front of this:

Obviously the right thing to do was to fling myself down on the sofa in our bedroom and immediately read that e-mail, and then go to the Churchmouse site for more eye candy.  Which is what I did, giving myself a five minute break that felt as refreshing as a long nap on a chilly, snowy day.

Churchmouse Yarns and Teas is for me the ultimate fantasy yarn shop.  If I could go to Bainbridge Island and shop there... well, I can't even imagine how amazing a vacation that would be.  It's like an otherworld in which everything is perfectly curated and beautiful and accompanied by a steaming cup of tea, and there are no biting insects or cold viruses, ever.

It can't be easy to run a yarn shop, can it.  I mean, as compulsive as we may all be about our knitting, there is only so much yarn we can use!  And yet a shop has to stock so very much yarn, in reliable dye lots.  The only answer is to build a community loyal enough to keep buying what yarn is needed, at full price and in that particular place... then keep them engaged in using said yarn so they keep working through their stash.  An online shop that's an extension of the feeling you'd get in person is a bonus but must be just as challenging, requiring expert photography and web design.

As it happens I haven't bought a lot of yarn from Churchmouse, because I really do have too much (and in fact, got rid of quite a lot last month because I finally accepted I did not have space to store it all!)  But I have bought several of almost all the tools Churchmouse offers, and a good number of the knitting patterns as well.  When I do get a parcel from them it's so perfectly packed in gentle tissue I let out a little sigh of gratitude for that glimpse into the ideal world they've created, where we are all cared for and nurtured as by the most loving of moms.  

Yarn stores: they are so much more than their yarn!

I found Churchmouse through its patterns but I found PurlSoho when Emily of Viola yarns tipped me off about what a rabbit hole of project ideas it is.  It's got a cooler, temperature-wise, aesthetic than Churchmouse but it covers sewing as well as knitting and crochet so... equally satisfying on a day when you are looking for a sense of No Clutter Creativity.  And if you subscribe, their newsletter includes free patterns.

That particular day I described above was the first time I got to use our bedroom sofa for something other than putting on socks.  Those two big pillows are too bright a white for decorating success, but they are a dream for neck support, and from that spot you can look out at our tree and any clouds that are drifting by.  It's pretty great, but having all that as a backdrop while losing yourself in the Churchmouse site is even better.

Do you have a favourite escapist craft site to share?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Welcome to the baking counter

The idea of a dedicated baking counter has been calling out to me for about fifteen years now, and finally: it is a thing that exists in my very own home!

Hello beautiful.

In the old kitchen I had to careen my stand mixer over from one side of the sink that served as a paper dumping ground to the other side of the sink, where all the dirty dishes piled up unless it was a baking day.  I had about 30" of worktop into which the mixer had to fit, and if I was baking I had to do all the dishes and not be cooking supper at the same time because any veg chopping etc. would have to happen in the same place.

Okay... if you read Smitten Kitchen you will realize I had a gymnasium's worth of work top compared to a tiny NYC apartment kitchen... but still.  It felt cramped.

Admittedly it is not 100% easy to bake on a counter that is just about 18" deep, but because our kitchen table is immediately behind me while I'm working I can comfortably set baking pans on that.  Or I can cross an open area of four feet or so and set them on the counter beside the range.  The only real trouble is when you are knocking flour into the bottom seam from the tiles at the back of the counter, and then having to clean it out after.  That's a little bit Ugh!

I do have more gear than I can pack into the designated baking drawers; my egg separator for example lives in a drawer across that four-foot distance with the glass containers we use for small mixing and for leftovers.  But that's not exactly a long way off and what I've got here is enough to get on with for most recipes:

Measuring equipment and mixer attachments on the left, canisters (and bags) of sugar and flour on the right.

One of the top drawers has small-size essentials like muffin papers and baking powder and as-yet unopened yeast.

The other has recipes and my apron and some cookie cutters.

It is so nice to have a shallow drawer so all those things are easy to find!  I might change up the layout a bit actually, so that I can have measuring spoons in the shallow drawer alongside this one.  There is a lot of fine-tuning yet to do and I'm just so pleased that I finally have a little time in which to do it.

This is me setting up to mix up some bread dough over the Christmas holiday...

Note the recipe cards held in place by favourite model cars - priorities!

I love keeping my flour in that giant stainless steel compost bucket on the right.  It holds a 1kg bag of flour and has a loose-fitting lid, which is a terrible idea if you rarely bake such that the turnover is slow, but fantastic if you bake a lot and just want to scoop right in for the next recipe.

And I get a view!  (it's mostly of a giant blue trampoline, but if I look up high enough I do get an evergreen tree.)

Sadly, having a dedicated baking counter does not guarantee delicious results, but...

it is still fun to try new recipes.

It is ridiculous even to think about this since I live a ten minute walk from five excellent bakeries, but... I am still looking for my dream bread to make at home.  I lost count how many recipes I tried out over the break, aiming for 'overnight or fast rising' and 'not too many complicated ingredients'.  The final consensus was that based on current data you can have Good and Complicated or you can have Easy and Bland.  The tastiest was a brioche from Smitten Kitchen with all the interesting bits left out, and luckily, its four egg yolks match up neatly with the four egg whites I need to make chocolate chip meringues. 

In theory, I could plan a long baking afternoon that starts with bread to rise overnight and ends with meringues drying out in the oven till morning (with supper happening exclusively on the stove top.)

And in practise, it is a whole lot easier to imagine doing that now that I don't have to clear everything away just to try.  Thank you baking counter!!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A room with a view

After the infamous Work Triangle, one of the basics of kitchen design is to have a window over the sink.  Who doesn't want something to look at while washing dishes.  It's logical as far as it goes, but the view isn't always going to be of lush expansive gardens, or even a forest and a bright blue shed as at our little summer cottage.

This is the view I picked when we were deciding where to put and how to lay out our new kitchen, not including the vintage linen drape that masks the frosted glass of our neighbours' bathroom a few feet away.  It was that or the unobstructed view of another neighbours' trampoline... and I quite like the texture of a shingled roof, don't you?

Also, there was the tree to consider.  Lovely stark branches in winter, vibrant yellow-green blossoms in spring, softly waving leaves in summer and a riot of colour in the fall.  But about four weeks after we moved home I heard a funny sort of engine outside.  Oh dear.

It was the city's tree-trimming truck and I soon discovered they were removing THE WHOLE THING.

Bye-bye tree...

Hello sky...

And there we are.

Now, what I get to look at is telephone wires and snow on an asphalt roof.
Unless I can figure out how to wash dishes on an angle?  In which case I still get a big chunk of tree.

(either way: still prettier than a trampoline.)

Honestly though, who am I to complain?  When we move back to our condo some day, I will be looking at the wall dividing our kitchen from the that of the people on the other side.  Then it'll be either a mirror or a painting that imitates depth or some very nice wall tile.  I vote for a painting, but I guess it'll have to have glass over it for the splashes.  That's a nice new project isn't it, learning how to paint such a thing myself or finding somebody who can.

If you could paint your own view from the kitchen sink, what would you choose?

Monday, January 22, 2018

When you need a new bag

Two words: Tom Bihn.  Do NOT go to the Tom Bihn website (linked, because I am a terrible person) if you would like to avoid buying, or at least wanting, a new bag.

Today's post will be illustrated by unrelated arty pictures, for your safety.

It may not seem risky at first - I have been many times over the last couple of years without any apparent lasting effects - but those bags will linger in the back of your mind so that some day, when you need a new suitcase and can't find just the right thing anywhere else, you click over there to remind  yourself why you didn't want one really, and - Blammo!

You are pining for a Tom Bihn bag.

There are forum pages at the Tom Bihn site, very helpful for people who are dithering over one bag versus another before opting simply to buy both plus one more because they will all be amazing.  But hello: forum pages?  Miles and miles of them on every conceivable subject related to luggage?  That's a big warning sign that these bags are addictive.

I have been reading this fascinating book called Women's Work, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, a very lucky person who grew up knowing about spinning and weaving and actually managed to make an academic career out of the history of same.

Many items in this book are jumping out at me.  Like, there was this magic island lifestyle in a few different places where people didn't have to worry about being attacked since they were - on an island!  In that environment people were able to build a whole society around feeding and clothing themselves with help from the plentiful plants and animals they had at hand, and life was fantastically good, until they were wiped out in an instant because it turned out they were living ON A VOLCANO.

moral of the story: everything in life is a tradeoff.

But my favourite is the idea that the discovery of the wheel, which was earth shattering enough (perhaps even literally), takes a back seat to woven cloth.  Because woven cloth can hold stuff, which allows you to move around with tools, which in turn allows you to think about creating more tools.  I am probably misinterpreting what was actually said in the book because animal skins also allow you to transport things, but those predate the wheel too.  And I like thinking over whether the modern world did not begin with wheels but with BAGS.

I am pretty sure that people who travel for months in Asia with just one wheel-free carry-on would agree that it did.

(In my opinion, even if you are not vegan, woven cloth is best because it is much, much lighter to cart around than animal skins.  Recently I had to buy a new purse and there is no comparison - leather bags may look gorgeous, but a four hour urban hike is a lot easier if you're carrying a bag made of ripstop nylon.)

Back to Mr. Bihn, another lucky person who has been able to build a career out of something he's passionate about.  GAH.  Why can't we all do that.

After many, many hours on the site I think I have cracked the secret of why Tom Bihn bags are so very dangerous to otherwise rational bag-using people.  It's nothing to do with the fact that they are exceptionally well made, or thoughtfully designed, or perfectly sized and organized, or offered in many attractive colour combinations, or even that people say their bags still look new after many a long year of use.


It's because of the pictures and videos!  Wait, don't go over there to look, it's too risky.  I will just tell you, with 'The Maker's Bag' as an example.  Again with the link... oh dear, I really am not a nice person.

Okay: we are talking about a cross-body satchel with a top that folds over the front and clips down at the base of the bag so what's inside stays there, and stays dry.  There is even a waist clip, which is useful is you are wearing the bag while cycling to some scenic spot to make art.

I am particularly impervious to the lure of such a bag because as much as I love being hands-free, cross body bags have ruined SO many of my coats and jackets - plus, they look weird on me - and my shoulders slope too much for a bag to stay on me with just a shoulder strap.  In addition, I am WAY too lazy to unclip and/or lift a long flap up out of the way to get at what's inside my bag.  I prefer a big open bag that works as an extra pocket as I am racing along a sidewalk on foot, multitasking to a dangerous degree for a person who has already once fallen on a sidewalk and broken fingers.  With a zip closure and the option to hold it close in front of me, in case of rain or pickpockets.

And yet.  Every picture of The Maker's Bag shows it filled with things that are just a little More than what you might think of normally.  I mean you are not seeing gum in this bag, or Kleenex pocket packs, or elastic bands for whatever practical reason they exist, or even candy bars.  Healthy granola bars, yes.  Keys, demonstrating multiple doors to unlock and locations to be, yes - though those are always shown on a long tether so they never fall on the floor of your porch while you're fumbling over a new lock.  Also a phone and usually earbuds.  But mostly what you will notice are tools.  For knitting or painting or whatever. 

If tools are in a person's bag, you have to wonder: are those activities THAT big a part of their everyday experience?

Ditto the 'Shop Bag', a reusable grocery bag which is about as basic a bag as there is.  But is it shown crammed to the top with bags of milk and rolls of toilet paper and a packet of dishwasher detergent?  Nooooo!  Try, gorgeous leafy lettuce and fresh flowers.  Just thinking about the Shop Bag could make your life healthier and more attractive.

(I am not so foolish as to let a mere bag put such ideas into my head, however.  I would like you to know, I bought one on sight because it, like the Pop Tote I also bought, looks like a gorgeous lightweight everyday stand-in for my purse that died last fall.  NOT because of how pretty lettuce looks sticking out of the top.  Note to self: salad for dinner?)

The message is clear:

Tom Bihn bag owners are living lives filled with meaning and purpose.  People who carry them are not simply surviving, scraping through every day as a reactive experience to the things that happen to them, like runny noses or coffee breath; they are MAKING their lives, dreaming them and then acting upon them.

And also, there was a very strong message to me personally that I must buy a big wide watercolour brush for background washes.

(and maybe The Maker's Bag, too.)

(but not! because I am a tote girl foreeeeeever!!)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Death of a motherboard

Here at Hugs, it's not all knitting and painting and box unpacking and looking longingly at the bag that has the loom in it - I wish!  One must also be a technological whiz, if only intermittently.  And today is the intermittently part because a few months ago my motherboard... died.

Reader alert: this creatively barren post will be illustrated by random arty photos

Thankfully when it happened I had access to a second computer, which is where as you may recall I have been conducting all my various online tasks for the many weeks it took for my computer repair shop to determine that the problem is not fixable, and for the many weeks since while I have been deciding whether and with what to replace it for reals.   This process is still ongoing.

I wonder whether it was a mistake to clean the keyboard of the original laptop with a Swiffer cloth?  (answer: almost certainly.)

Anyway, I miss my beat-up old laptop SO MUCH, right down to the painter's tape holding it together and the super worn down keys.  And I also miss all the stuff that was on its hard drive (especially every single detail of the itinerary I spent about 50 hours mapping out for our summer trip to the UK, which I forgot to back up), and in its browser software, which was remembering all my passwords for me.

Do you use the same password for every site?  It's so tempting, only needing to remember one!  But it's not a good idea security-wise, so I try to be imaginative and come up with a different password every time.  Sometimes I can even remember them all by myself, which is helpful for super-security-needing sites.

I still love stripes.  Here are some vertical ones on linen to balance out the horizontal ones on glass.

I also have multiple e-mail addresses just to make it all more complicated.  But I am juggling so many tasks these days, and so many sites also require usernames that are not your e-mail address, that even though it is easy to reset a password... it's not at all easy to renew access to every site you have to use (I'm looking at you, Presto, keeper of my public transit fare card.)

During a brief lull before Christmas I realized I also don't remember any of the details for accessing my websites to upload and prune files.   Huzzah.  Thankfully I do remember the details for my web hosting service, so I asked them to let me know the server settings I need for that job.  Today, or this weekend, or else Really Really Soon, I am totally setting aside time to make use of that information.  After I finish shopping for new software to allow me to transfer files up to the web and back down to oblivion.  My tech support friend recommends WinSCP, which I notice also has a portable edition... and that seems smart because if I have all the necessary server information on a thumb drive, it won't matter if my computer busts up again.

Well, it won't matter quite so much as it did this time.  I'm sure it will still matter at least a little.

Ugh technology, right?  But on the upside: the fact that I finally have time to address this issue plus the fact that Ray is remodeling somebody's bathroom on Monday means that our giant renovation project is pretty much done.  Whooo hooooooooo!

(except for the outside, which has to wait till spring.  oh well: more time to plan right?)

Closing with both kinds of stripes: plaid for the win!

Have a great weekend and I'll see you on Monday.  So glad to be able to say that with confidence after a whole week of posting every day - MAN I have missed Hugs.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Another cold winter

Thankfully this is no longer true inside our house but MAN is it cold most days now.  I know, I know, it's January and it's Toronto so of course it's going to be cold, but still.  Every day I wish I hadn't dropped one of my gloves at the grocery store checkout last fall, because I still haven't found a pair I like to replace them.  Thank goodness I got obsessed with making twined mittens a few years back!

This year at the Royal Winter Fair I also treated myself to a machine-knit alpaca toque.  It was black and white, what's not to love?  I have been able to wear it with my giant red parka, my fluffy black poncho, and even my stately black dress coat and it works every time.  Also: it is warm.

We are still getting used to how things work and flow in the new/old house.  One thing I am loving is the views out the upstairs windows.  I get to see so many things now that I couldn't when the house was still a bungalow!

Here is part of our neighbours' little roof, dusted with snow...

And here is our own porch roof, ditto...

Just so pretty.

As long as I'm inside and warm.

I kid!  It's nice to be outside in this stuff too, especially when you know you're getting inside and warm, later.  I'm not so winter-friendly as to ski or skate but I do love walking through snow and even shoveling it, given enough time and zero ice.  Because falling and breaking bones is no fun at all and I would very much like to avoid it this winter.

Staying inside, I am getting more time to write than if I were outside trying to create a garden out of the sea of muck that is our back yard.  And getting time to write is HEAVEN, for me.  I did a tally and realized I have five novels - five! - that I do not hate and that have a good chunk of the work done already.  That is far too many to have in play at one time but I suppose I have picked up bad habits from multiple simultaneous knitting projects.

How about you?  Is it cold where you are right now, and do you have any special things you like about that?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Installing a very important shelf

This is a super exciting achievement disguised as the most boring Hug post EVER.  Lookit!

I hung up a shelf without help!

You might have seen this before because I did the job last fall and may have shown you office pictures since.  But today I want to take the time to tell you what an amazing accomplishment it was for me to get a shelf on the wall.

Because it is not just any shelf: it is the ugliest shelf in my stash of small vintage kitchen or bathroom shelves.

For some reason I love these one-off things, and have been collecting them since we first bought our house to stick on a wall someplace.  But this particular one never worked out in the house pre-renovation.  Too plain, I think, or too wide, and definitely too tippy at the bottom to stand freely on a counter.

I bought it at a junk shop years and years ago, mainly because it was solid and because I'm always attracted to the idea of a shelf that does double duty as a towel bar, even though I never end up installing those near a sink.

Then, for reasons I don't recall, I painted it a sickly pale yellow... surely the original colour must have been less awful?  Or maybe it was just incredibly dirty and peeling and needed to be painted something, and the pale yellow was all I had (but why I would have had that colour at all... shudder.)

It had two hooks on the back so once it was dry I strung some picture wire between them and slung it over a nail in our junky storage room (now a cute laundry room with a heap of junky storage in it) and thought - hmmmm.

It was pitiful.  We kept spare light bulbs on it and I was always worried they would fall off and break because the shelf was so sad.

When we renovated the house I had bigger ideas, especially once I noticed this particular shelf was almost as wide as the table at the end of my desk where my sewing machine lives, and appreciated its clean lines as an asset rather than a bore.

First, I painted it (and two other shelves) the same colour as the walls in the office - Farrow and Ball's Clunch.

Then I pretended it didn't exist for a really long time because I didn't want to ask Ray to help me hang it and I didn't know how to do it myself so that it would function a little better than it had with the picture wire.

Then I took another look at the back and saw it had, in addition to the hooks, two little recesses to slip over the head of a screw.

Aha! I thought.

And then, NOOOOOO

because that's two screws, not one, and they have to be level and perfectly positioned to match what's on the back of the shelf.  And I didn't have a drill handy and Pete was out so I couldn't ask him where the drill is and anyway, did I really want to use a drill on my office wall?

Of course I didn't.

So I got onto YouTube and found that a very nice young man had posted a helpful video that demonstrates, essentially, how to put an anchor and a screw into drywall without a drill (spoiler alert: you mark the spot and ram through it with a screwdriver.)

And then I measured super carefully.  And used the level that Les gave me lo these many years ago.  I know, I know, the picture isn't straight, but the shelf is.

There you go!  That's me, turning clutter into something useful!

Even with the bad preliminary staging I was and still am ridiculously proud of myself about it, can you tell?

Yeah, in case you were wondering after the pic at the top of this post, I put an old spice rack on the top.  I have been collecting shabby old editions of those over the years too and painting them to match the walls they'll go on, but I ran out of steam with this one and suddenly thought:


sorry for the shoutiness, but that's how loud the thought was.

A little affection from some sandpaper and it was good to go... I am totally remembering that trick next time I notice something that needs refinishing.

Now of course I need to fuss more with what goes onto the shelf.  I mean the vintage linens are nice, and I appreciate having a designated space for the bunny who goes with me on planes and to the dentist, but I'm not sure this is its best use.  Do I focus on sewing aids, inspirational items, colour staging, or just plain storage?  It's on the wall firmly enough to take weight, I can tell you that much, but it's a little shallow even for paperback books.  Hmmmm.