Saturday, November 30, 2019

Sweater Weather

Fall is my absolute most favourite time of the year, because it's beautiful, and because it's just the right temperature for going out inside a series of sweaters instead of a coat.  Spoiler alert: there are no sweater pictures in this post.  It's all trees, plus the occasional Hydro wire.

Earlier in the season, the changing foliage colours are just gorgeous wherever you look.  But this sort of day, with steel grey skies and mostly-barren branches reaching up to them, is so special to me.  I mean, I like sunny days with blue skies too, because they make an equally stunning backdrop. You have to admit though that this sort of weather has its own charms.

On a day like this, your sweaters and scarf keep you warm everywhere but your nose, which might even sting a bit from the cold or the wind.  You might look around and see dreariness, but that's okay and better in a way, because when you are finished doing whatever it is you're outside for, you will enjoy even more coming into a warm, cosy, softly lit nest.

It's almost like winter - those chilly grey moments when you look down from the trees and see snow all around you, and hear it crunching under your boots.  Only what you have underfoot is leaves, either wet and sluggish or dry and skittish.

It's a great time for reflection, walking in all this strange stillness.  Without colour to distract you, you can appreciate the symmetry of those tiny tree branches, not to mention the variety.  I love that some trees look stark and dark and detailed against the sky, while others look almost fuzzy with tiny twigs far away at the very tops.

I love this particular stand of trees so much.  It is near enough to my house that I get to see it almost every day, in every season.

Birds still sing when the world looks like this, and squirrels are still darting around everywhere.  Walking among all that reminds me of the resilience of life, and the value of preparation for harder times so you can enjoy the beauty they bring along with the challenges.  Like knitting sweaters in spring to wear out on a November walk.

Or even just handwarmers, in case a full mitten is too much.

(or of course, socks!)

Hope you get some nice days like this, however grey others might find them. 

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Care and Feeding of Elderly Socks

As the weather grew colder this fall, I took stock of the living room and decided it was time to tidy up the stacks of knitting, one of which was not exactly decorative.  I am referring to (cue horror music): the darning basket.

Naturally my first stop was the fireplace mantel, which I have staged with needles, thread, my little tin of knitting tools, and sewing scissors (inside the covered casserole dish) and with a gravy boat/bird's nest stuffed with yarn scraps.  It's surprising how often yarn scraps come in handy, and I never have to go looking as long as the birds are keeping them safe.  I had removed them for this picture but they are a pair of wooden tree ornaments I bought in England last year.

They like vintage buttons too, apparently. Birds after my own heart. 

And now, on to our story.

My winter boots, as it turns out, are not handknit-sock friendly.  Or maybe they are too friendly, nuzzling up against the stitches to the point of destruction?

The first time I took them off at a friend's place and discovered my actual toe sticking out from the sock toe, I thought, Well, I guess these socks were getting old anyway.  The second time, the hole was on the top of my foot on one side and I thought, okay... maybe that was a weak spot.  The third time, I knew the boots were chewing on the stitches, and stocked a few pairs of acrylic or cotton socks to wear on days when the snow and slush and general slick are definitely going to be too much for my treadless Blundstones.

Also I am hunting for new boots.

Darning is one of those things you know about but maybe don't do.  I am pretty sure I have done it in the distant past, because I have vague recollections of stringing yarn across a hole in two directions, weaving a sort of fabric where stitches used to nestle together.  Jan uses a darning egg for her socks, which is to say, my socks - I guess I haven't knit her enough yet to keep the ones she has from wearing through - but I haven't got a darning egg so I had to use my hand to keep the fabric steady. Also, importantly, to keep the fresh yarn from going through the opposite side of the sock and creating an entirely new problem.

The results are not exactly pretty, but let's face it, socks this worn are lucky to get any kind of a facelift.

I guess darning is like everything else in life: you have to do it a lot to get good at it.

My stash of leftover yarn scraps included a sample of pretty much every sock I've ever knit, so I was able to find matching colours for most of the holes, but it was a shock to see how much the vibrancy had faded over years of wear and washing.  Check out the leg of this sock, down the right side of this picture!

I mean, I wouldn't feel easy about a sock dye that didn't fade ever, but it did make me question whether I should be trying to match the new faded colour rather than the original.  The outside of the sock looks a lot better than you'd expect after looking at the inside, thank goodness.

Is it worth darning an old sock?  I think so.  I mean, the alternative is pretty horrifying.  Throwing out all those hours of work? Wool biodegrades in a year thanks to its strong supply of nitrogen, and these socks are all 100% wool, but it still means losing a whole hard-won pair.

Alternatively I could have cut off the feet and used the legs as legwarmers, or tried to pick up stitches at the bottom of the leg to reknit right from the heel, but that might look a bit weird.

Possibly not weirder than darning, but weird. This poor sock has a lot of problems, doesn't it?  The red stitches look like they're disintegrating. But it was one of my most favourite stripe combinations and I couldn't let it go.  It's better from a distance.

Okay, maybe it's not that much better.

This one also looks a bit iffy, but I don't know how I could have matched peach and turquoise stripes, while closing a hole that crossed both.

If that earlier sock is made up with one of my most favourite stripes, this is the colour combination that makes me swoon:

I still can't believe I risked ruining these inside my boots.  I also can't believe this is FOUR pairs of socks that were ruined in the same way, because it means I was even slower to catch the problem than I thought when I started writing this post.

Anyway, all these socks are back in circulation now.  They just needed a little patching, and while I was at it, a little reinforcement.  I probably won't put any of them to work on a 6-hour urban hike because there are younger socks that can take on that job, but they will still be perfect for short walks to the grocery store, or for curling up in a chair with a good book, or for sleeping.  Slower things that won't put too much strain on their joints, because I want to keep them with me for a long time yet.

Thanks for coming by today, and take care till we meet up again!

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Urban Hiking

This fall I've been putting on my beautiful handknit fingerless gloves and taking very long walks in the city, often with Jan, who agreed to refer to our marathon errand-running sessions as Urban Hiking. They feel more virtuous that way, though honestly: they are!  Even if you aren't speedwalking, 2-4 hours of moving around and (eventually) carrying purchases is a workout.

Also the views are amazing.  I love this time of year, even on a gloomy day like the one we had when I took this picture. The foliage colours are just so rich, and the texture of leaves underfoot so interesting, and the air itself so wonderful.  I mean anything that isn't swelteringly hot or three inches deep in precipitation is good for me but I am crazy about October and November.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a pen show with Holly and had SUCH an amazing time.  We both got beginner fountain pens and have been excitedly checking in ever since to share how much we are loving writing with them.  Being me, I came home with a ton of writing paper as well - notebooks and memo pads with a texture as cool and smooth as polished stone.  I still write better on a computer when it comes to work that will need many revisions, but I'm finding that working through ideas on paper with a gel or fountain or felt pen is both calming and fruitful.  Good paper makes the experience even better.  Today my attention is firmly focused on a new Moleskine letter-sized notebook with an unassuming brown paper cover, compliments of Costco, but I acquired quite a lot of Japanese paper at the pen show.

After the show I walked home, a distance that took about an hour to cover, through a wealthy old neighbourhood I like and have dreamed of living in some day.  It's set among ravines, so there are bridges with stunning views of forested areas just vast enough to make you forget you're in a large, busy city.

Also the temperature was absolutely perfect: just cold enough to need a sweater and scarf and fingerless gloves and to feel perfectly protected while inside them.

Yesterday I took the same route in the opposite direction.  It's been colder and windy, and the trees have lost most of their leaves, so now from a distance they look like ghostly fuzzy things.  Here is the same hill now, from the same spot on the same bridge:

And this is the area where the road runs through the trees.  I actually lived in one of those distant highrises for a few years when I had my first few jobs out of school.

I walked through that area with Jan later in the day and she showed me all the places she'd lived in at the same time in her own life.  We were almost neighbours! But we didn't know each other then.

A city is a funny place because there are so many layers of experience in every generation that passes through it.  Well, I guess any place has that quality but I notice it more in Toronto because there are an enormous number of wildly different people having intense, unique connections to the same places at the same time.  Sometimes I'm aware that these are people I don't know and will never know, of different cultures, from different parts of the world, for whom a particular street or building has as much meaning as it does for me. Other times I'm aware of a strong connection that's barely tangible.

Like in this spot for example:

This is an empty-looking hill in a cemetery near our house with another ravine running along behind it.  It's not the popular cemetery where everybody goes to have a gorgeous walk or run or cycle ride, but it does attract some of the same crowd at times, and I sometimes cut through it as an alternative to the busier street to the south.  But it's also where my grandparents and one of my uncles and his wife are buried.

I took this picture just after I learned that another uncle is buried somewhere within the frame, alongside other children whose parents could find the money for a personal grave but not a marker.  He was one of three who died before my dad, their baby brother, was born, and I hadn't known about any of them until I started looking at my family's history.  Isn't it amazing to think that just one generation back there could be so much lost?

The uncle who rests here was not even four years old when he died away from his mother in the isolation hospital, and he has a younger brother who lived longer buried a little farther into the background, beyond these trees, closer to the ravine.  That one made it to eleven; both succumbed to diseases for which we have vaccines now.  The not-quite-four-year-old was one of just three children who died of his disease that month, out of twenty-five children who were sick with it.  It wasn't even epidemic at that time of the year - that was typhoid, I believe, and though that took quite a few, tuberculosis took many, many more over the four weeks. I found the newspaper records tallying up the numbers and wondered if my grandmother read them too, and thought of her own child being represented in a statistic.

Now when I hike through the cemetery, I think of my grandparents, who were buried just south of these two sons and east of the one who grew up and married and brought my wonderful cousins into the world.  They came here to say goodbye to this toddler, their third child, and then a few years later for their fifth who had a longer time to imprint himself on their family.  I try to imagine how the grounds looked when they gathered for the burial, and to realize that they may have walked in the very place I am. Just as if we all lived in one small town where everybody has known everybody for generations!

People say this about Toronto, that it's too big and too cold and impersonal, but I have never found this to be true.  I run into people I know almost every time I go out, as though I were still in one of the smaller communities where I grew up.

One thing I especially like about the city is how far you can go while being within range of a warm (or cool) place to duck inside for relief and refreshment.  Fellow walk-loving friends who live in small towns describe the 45 minute loop they do every day and I wilt a little, because as much as I love those towns I like to go farther and I'm a fan of a good sidwalk.  I like off-road walks too and there are lots of options for that (have I mentioned the ravines?), but in so many weather conditions, a nice clear level sidewalk is tops.  And from where I live, there are so many directions to take and routes to explore.  What seems too far to attempt is accessible by public transit in one direction if not both, all for one flat fare.

So that's me these days, not writing Hugs but getting out for some amazing walks while the weather is perfect for them.  I've been eyeing my spinning wheel and slowly stitching a sock to the end of its toe, but my mind is on crispy leaves and cool air.

And also, oddly, on how much I am not objecting to a prolonged Halloween this year.  Normally I want to get our creepy decor back out of sight the minute we turn out our light at the end of trick or treating, but this year I left Alma out on the porch with her new pet rat for a week after the big day was over.  Check out her twig shawl pin!

Something about the grey skies we've had and the carpets of rotting leaves under bright orange newbies was just so perfect for her.  And she was so relaxed with her spiders and her pumpkin friends.

But now she's back in the laundry room, telling me what to do and being annoyed every time I have to ask her to budge so I can get at the sweater-drying mats. Good ol' Alma.

Hope you've been enjoying some scrumptious fall weather, or at least some good walks!

Saturday, October 12, 2019


Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian friends and happy fall to everybody else!  Last time we chatted I was working on a book, and this time I am working on... another renovation.  Aieee! but also, I finished the book.  Does that balance things out?  I would like to think so but at 3am most nights, as I'm lying awake and trying to play Tetris with staircases in my mind, I'm not so sure.

Let's begin with some knitting. We drove up to the cottage yesterday to admire the changing leaves and, yes, check the progress of the work being done there, and I set my car knitting down on a scarf I wove for myself a few years back.

They don't match, I know.  But the sight of them together reminded me how long it's been since I've woven anything, and made me wonder how on earth I can ever set up another scarf on my loom now that all the furniture I have is different.  Back in the day I didn't worry about leaving a dent in the back of a dining chair with the post you wrap the long strands of yarn around, because my chairs were inexpensive when new and were now very old.  The current chairs... not so much.

Okay, onto the renovation details, because I'm sure you've missed hearing about that sort of thing (not!)

As you may recall, when we did the house, it was a practical, planned, measured project that we saved up for.  That is not what happened this time.  When we went to the cottage this past July we discovered it was falling over on its piers, and needed a real foundation as quickly as possible whether we had the money to pay for it or not.  To meet code requirements the pit underneath would have to be dug down 4' or until our contractor hit rock, and since the south side of the cottage already stood about 4' off the ground, he suggested we do a whole basement.  And though we agreed because we do quite desperately need more indoor space, and it's not like we would ever go back to make the foundation deeper another time, secretly we were hoping the Canadian Shield would be our friend and spare us the cost of finishing a basement and dropping in stairs from the cottage living room.

Guess what?  Turns out the cottage was built over SAND.  There were just three rocks under there, none of them intimidating enough to have our back.

Basement it is!

Here are some before and afters.

The cottage from the driveway, nestled neatly against the ground:

The cottage raised up to allow the diggers to work underneath:

I called a neighbour to tell her we were coming up and she said, Bring a ladder.  No kidding! (actually, our electrician did want to get inside, and we did find a ladder, but the door frame is warped from being raised up, and he couldn't get the door open once he got up there with the key.)

Here's the cottage from the lake side, on a bucolic August afternoon:

And now.

I'm not even thinking about how long it will take to get the landscape it back to where it was.  I guess it'll give us something to do next summer, moving rocks and settling the soil so the local plants can stretch out their toes again?

The renovation is one of those You have to laugh or you'd cry situations, but the truth is that a few days after we found out the cottage would need a foundation to survive, my uncle (whose cottage it was for over 40 years until he sold it to me and Pete) passed away.  So I was mostly crying.

It was a really hard time and strangely, somebody on Ravelry who probably also needed a victory in that moment decided to post a bossy comment about my being wrong to have 'for personal use only' printed on my patterns.  It's the old copyright argument - does a designer have the right to dictate rules over objects made with their patterns - but jacked up (much like the cottage) with bonus hostility and a By The Way remark that she had introduced a stitch change to the ribbing of my Earbud Pouch and it was therefore now her own pattern.


Honestly I think the real question is not Does the designer have rights to the finished object, but rather, Does the knitter have the right to pass off someone else's design as their own just because they knit it? And to me, the answer is a no-brainer.  Which is why people who want to do that keep bringing up the finished object thing instead, I guess.

I had been thinking about and hesitating to do this for a while, because it seemed like a lot of work, but by the time I figured out I could block her messages I decided it was time to pull all my patterns from Ravelry and sub in a note inviting anybody who wants them to message me with an e-mail address. 

And you know what?  It's been lovely! I get to hear from all kinds of wonderful knitting people, and I find out which of my patterns make them enthusiastic about their yarn or projects for loved ones. Wish I'd done it years ago.

Doing a basement at the cottage is an overwhelmingly scary prospect. It is a three-season home with no insulation and baseboard heaters we do not use, ever, because electricity is so expensive up there.  It's a tent, basically, and we love it all summer long.  But now it's going to be a tent over a heavily insulated basement with Needs.

This is my fault.  When we started the process I wasn't interested in using cinder block for the foundation walls - too damp and cold! Instead we used styrofoam blocks you assemble into walls and pour cement into the recesses of, after roughing in pipes for future additions like furnaces and air ducts.

Let's look at some inspirational pictures of the lake to ease us through the rest of this conversation, shall we?

One of the properties of this block-foundation product is incredible insulation, and another is strength - if there is a tornado, we can hide out under the cottage kitchen and be totally safe.  But it is also flammable and gassy when lit, so we have to put something over it to allow a 15 minute fire delay while we escape in case of disaster.  And it's completely airtight, so unless the total leakiness of the upstairs and giant hole for the stairs that connect the two areas are enough to move air around in the basement, we'll need to add in a mechanical air exchanger for days when opening the windows isn't enough to switch things up.

(Can I just add that while everybody goes on now about a house's envelope and how heavy duty insulation is so awesome and essential and soundproofy - it doesn't work that way in real life?  Our new/old house has all the insulation in the world, but to breathe it also has vents.  And those vents let in ALL the cold air, or the hot air, and all the sounds of the world outside.  The only thing the insulation does perfectly is to keep the air from moving in and out, so we have to pay a machine to do it instead.)

Most people use drywall for the fire guard over the foundation blocks we bought, but I reeeeaaaaallly hate drywall.  I mean, not once it's been installed and finished and painted, ideally by somebody else on all counts.  Just when it's being prepared and sending dust all over everything, and later when it gets wet and grows mold.  To avoid the mold problem in ordinary non-flood conditions, it's helpful to heat the space, even if the furnace is just on its lowest temperature, but doing that for the space under a tent is just irresponsible. Better to insulate the tent too. Sadly if you do that and you were thinking about an addition off the tiny galley kitchen that also serves as a main thoroughfare (I do that all the time for some reason, and especially when cooking during visits from friends) you really need to do the addition first so you can wrap everything from the outside and put on siding.  And there's zero point in doing that without also fixing the pitch of roof that covers the existing cottage and will have to be built onto to jut out over the addition.

And at that point... you have a 4-season home at the bottom of a hill that is 300% unmelting snow in winter. This is not really what we want from our lakeside tent.  So I am looking into other options, eyeing the sock knitting on the shelf beside me, and thinking about how peaceful the cottage is in the fall and how nice it would be to hang out there then... which leads me back to thoughts of furnaces and insulation.

I promise not to talk about boring insulation things again.  After all, there will be lots of prettier details to discuss soon enough, like whitewashed wood walls maybe, and upgraded lazing sofas?  And that window-filled sunporch addition for the kitchen when I win the lottery?

For now, let's just admire the road back out from the cottage to the highway, and all the colourful leaves on the trees there.

And the shadows reaching across the road.

I am so grateful my aunt and uncle wanted a cottage so badly, and looked at so many for years, and drove three hours to see this one immediately after they saw an ad for it in the paper.

And I'm so thankful too that they wanted us to have it, and trusted us to look after it.  And I'm especially glad to have known my uncle, who was a truly wonderful man.  I was very fortunate to have him in my life as long as I did.

That's all from me for today, but now that the book is done and I'm only toying with ideas for another, I'm hoping to ramp up to weekly Hugs.  Think good thoughts for me on that front and I'll see you soon!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

I have been writing things

Omigosh, it's April since I posted last?  Probably the room is empty at this point and I'm speaking to myself.  However, I thought I should come in anyway to say that I did not disappear except behind my screen, emerging only for such vital things as food, sleep, yarn...

Yeah, I actually got low on stripey sock yarn (I was certain this was not possible) and bought another six skeins from my beloved Knitterly Things. This is a new-to-me yarn base, a little lighter weight than I've been using, so I will have to be attentive to my sizing instead of just knitting on autopilot like I normally do.  When I confirmed this against a band from my current sock project I realized I am knitting from yarn I bought in 2014.  This is not actually yesterday, though it sure seems like it.  Back in 2014 I was only starting the process of renovating our house, and now I am starting the process of having grass in the back yard again.  Behold:

It's a big change from the pile of dirt we had till a few weeks ago!  and omigosh, the brick project.  I dreaded expanding our brick path last summer and helping Pete move the big patio slabs that were here when we moved in, but this year I've forgotten the toll it took on my back and hamstrings and am just enjoying the clean lines.

There's been a LOT of family research going on here as well.  The whole time I was organizing our renovation I was longing to dig into that, and now that I'm free again I've gone way, way down the rabbit hole.  Not as a member of Ancestry, though I do sometimes pay-per-use to see a document they have.  I've found that no one site really hosts all the documents you might want to find, and that the ones that do will often have them under names you wouldn't think to use.  In the end though, using multiple sites and having to hunt for clues on your own and think of how it's even possible to pursue them is like solving jigsaw puzzles (so addicted to those) but with History.

I think that's the real source of the compulsion - putting rather personal faces to a place and period of history you have read about, and perhaps even studied, but maybe didn't feel drawn to before you discovered your great-aunt's experience of it.

(this is my absolute favourite kind of tree and I was so thrilled to spot it on a recent walk!)

For me, reading and researching intensively about something translates fairly quickly to wanting to write about it, and I was very surprised to knock out two short stories last month, which hasn't happened in a very long time.  Finished ones, even, which is more than I can say for any of the novels I've started in the past ten years. And I am still going.

So, Yay!

But that's been bad news for Hugs, because there are only so many hours in a day.  I have started a novel now, and I'm going to give it my best shot for actually finishing a first draft, and it may be another few months before I'm back to sweep out the cobwebs and set out a new potted plant for a friendly mood in case anyone drops by.

Hope you all have a wonderful summer being productive at things that make you feel good, too!

Friday, April 5, 2019

You may be familiar with this sheep

Lately I've been obsessing about learning how to draw. I used to think it was something people are born with, like a high school friend of mine who spent all his time reading comics and drawing superheroes, or a university friend who could do detailed drawings of anything architectural.  Now I think their natural talents, though considerable, were mainly brought to excellence because of observational skills, and a lot of practise (much like knitting?) I have come to suspect that if I am willing to settle for 'appealing in some way' as opposed to 'so realistic people will think it's a photograph', I might be able to draw too... which is how I got these sheep.

You might recognize the sheep.  You might, in fact, have the same sheep tape measure I do in your knitting bag.

Today I followed up by drawing spoons, but they aren't done yet so I'll spare you that.  The connecting factor between them is going to be Faber-Castell Polychromos pencilcrayons which I'm hoping will allow me to more colourful drawings than I am getting with the Faber-Castell Watercolor Pencilcrayons I used for the sheep.  My plan for those was to draw the outlines with a waterproof Micron fine-tip pen, then colour them in with the watercolour pencils, then soften all the colours with a fine wet paintbrush, then go over top with the pencilcrayons when they finally arrive from the shop where I ordered them.  Because going over and over the same drawing is the best way to get past having very few ideas for pictures.

Here is what the sheep looked like before I added water:

I find it ironic that the colours look more washed out without water, than with!

When I've gone over it all with the top layers, using much sharper pencils to fill in all the white bits in the paper, this little sheep scene should be downright vibrant... as well as more detailed in the flower department. A girl can hope, anyway.

The notebook I used for this is a very small Moleskine watercolour pad.  It's not something I needed or would have considered if I were shopping online, but I saw it a few weeks ago in a local art store and it just felt so nice in my hand I couldn't leave it behind.  I didn't know if I'd have the courage to put pictures in it because the pages are sewn in and not perforated for tearing out if you don't like them.  So far though, I have been using it, drawing something with the Micron pen or with pencil to be coloured in afterward, or improvising a scene in watercolour paint.

It's been a good test of character, I think, risking imperfection like that in such a nice book, and such a good boost to my sense of artistic self to find that I enjoy flipping through the pages to look at what I've made so far.  No cringing yet.

However, it's also been a learning experience, because the Moleskine paper is super textured and not really ideal for pencil sketches. I think after I've finished the spoon series, I'll focus more on watercolour paints for it and maybe even get a second book for sketching.

In other news: while I've been distracted by pencils and paintbrushes, my socks have been WEARING OUT!  Actual holes in the toes and heels... I never thought the day would come, my socks have served me so well for so long.  And here I am with another half-dozen pairs waiting for their ends to be run in so I can put them into the rotation, waiting at the door for pencilcrayons instead of getting the job done... I guess I know what I'm doing this weekend.

(running in ends, not darning.  i mean, c'mon.)

Hope all is well with you and that there are no holes in your socks!


Saturday, February 23, 2019

Best ever jigsaw puzzles

Speaking of all the snow we've had lately, assembling the snowy bits of a jigsaw puzzle can be pretty amazing when the picture's artist is Lawren Harris.

When I was at university I had a part time job staffing a small art gallery that had a few Group of Seven paintings on the walls, and I loved passing the hours gazing at them instead of working on essays for my courses (that sounds obvious but look how long the Hugs are here... I love writing like I love breathing) - there was just so much to see in each one.  I knew nothing about art at the time but I feel pretty sure I recognized Harris' particular style when I spotted this puzzle at a local (non-chain!) bookstore just before Christmas and bought it to play with over the break.


Seriously though: jigsaw puzzles.  Why???

What is the point of making something, breaking it apart, and putting it back together again only to break it apart again and put it into a box you have to store somewhere until some magical future date at which you will have forgotten the process of reassembling this particular one?  Or worse, glue it onto a board so you can frame and hang it, making you seriously question each puzzle you start as your free wall space continues its slow agonizing decline into extinction?

I mean if you find the process of restoring order to disorder calming, why not clean the house and have something a bit more lasting to show for your time? And if you love the mental challenge, what about a nice space-efficient word puzzle that also expands your vocabulary?


I have tried every possible angle and I can see no point - none - in owning or completing jigsaw puzzles.

And yet I am totally addicted to them.  There is nothing like drifting over to a table with a jigsaw puzzle on it, and putting in a few pieces or thirty, and then drifting away again until you get totally obsessed and finish it off.

(which is not to say I have a ton of jigsaw puzzles, because I broke my teeth on yarn when it comes to self-restraint, having at great length recognized that time and space are finite things.  I limit myself to one for Christmas at home, and one for summer at the cottage.)

Apart from the theoretical peeves, I have a practical peeve with jigsaws and it is the papery dust you release when you first open the bag.

Well, that and too-thin puzzle pieces that don't give you a satisfying sense of achievement when you put a piece in its correct spot.  But the dust thing is the biggie because when you open the bag, you have to somehow separate the offcut dusty bits from the actual pieces if you're going to avoid a lumpy underside to each one, and a big mess on the table where you're working.  Or in my case, on the board you set on the table.

Side note: these Masonite boards are a genius solution to working on a table with unfortunately-placed leaves in it, or a cloth on it when you need a hard smooth surface, and they come in multiple sizes.  I use mine for writing, note-making, setting under my sewing machine, painting... basically everything that isn't eating a meal.  I've also used them successfully to convert non-stacking shelves into stackable ones and often wonder: is there nothing Masonite can't do?  I got mine at a local art-supply store and they win my top review level of Yum.

Back to our story: you can imagine how surprised I was when I opened up the bag of Lawren Harris pieces just after Christmas and THERE WAS NO DUST!  None!  I was able to start the puzzle straightaway, while my enthusiasm was still high, and finish it all in a few days without ever having to tidy up little pools of the stuff. It still feels like a miracle, and February is almost over.

I've tried all puzzles from all the generally-stocked manufacturers at this point and while I do love the size of Ravensburger pieces best, as they are a bit smaller and make the puzzle slightly more of a challenge, I love the surface smoothness and instant gratification of this brand even more:

Pomegranate Puzzles

Not to mention their amazing array of picture options.  They even sell images from the London Transit Museum!  which is, in case I never mentioned it, my favourite place in the world for art, owing to their commissioning of poster art from fantastic artists during the peak years of history that I love to study the most.

It's almost enough to make me want to buy more puzzles.*

*spoiler alert - OF COURSE I BOUGHT MORE PUZZLES.  Next up is a Tom Thompson, though I am staying true to my code and won't open it till we get to the cottage in July.

Oh: and in case you were wondering why snow sections are interesting to  assemble in this puzzle, it's because Mr. Harris used colours other than white to paint them.  I am not a better painter from working on this thing, but I have a much better appreciation for what goes into creating art, and that's a pretty good outcome I think.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A bit of colour on a snowy day

This winter is the snowiest we've had around our neighbourhood in years, and while I haven't been a fan of getting out and about in it, I cannot stop taking pictures of snowy scenes and wishing I had the watercolour skills to paint them.  Like - a thick icing wedge on our lilac tree?  I am so much in love.

And the textured fluff of slightly soggy snow on our chair?  I could gaze at it for hours. 

In the morning there was a pretty layer of white over everything out back, but by the afternoon the view was white with just enough dark contrast to make it mesmerizing:

And little pompoms on the top of the posts!  It's a miracle I managed to make supper tonight, with all the snowgazing going on here.

Inside, the world is a little different.  Back when I was choosing the most neutral possible wall and cabinet and countertop colours, it was with a view to throwing a little red into every possible corner, and here is one example:

As I type this, the marble lamp is lit and there's a warm glow over Gwen and her rolling pin friend.

What do you think of the sheep on our wreath - a little silly, or kinda cute?  I put it up for Christmas over our fireplace mantel and it seemed so happy there, I let it stay.  Ditto the boxwood wreath.  We never took down last year's wreath, at first because I didn't have a painting that really worked there, and then because it faded so attractively, week by week and month by month.  By late November, it was a beautiful shade of green gold.  Why toss something so lovely?  So when we bought the new one, we put it out on our front porch as a faux back cushion on the chair where I set my bags when I'm unlocking the door.  I love it so much, and am so impressed by its staying power.

I really think it's those little things that make a day special, don't you?  And if you're reading this on the morning of Valentine's day... I hope you come across lots of little things just like it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Our winter garden

As promised lo these many months ago, here are pictures of our back yard project.  Can you stand the excitement??  If yes, then try to edit out all the muddy bits and start over because believe me: it is something!

A friend - I am using that term loosely for soon-to-be obvious reasons - saw the completed build and asked whether the pergola does anything and also, why we made it look like a Roman colonnade.  Since I've asked myself the same questions I can't hate on him, but Gah!  did he have to voice my own concerns???

Actually, Ray brought up the Roman thing as a risk when I first asked whether we might be able to reuse our original porch columns in the back yard.  But when it was done, he loved it, and we all do too, and anyway it's just the bare bones of what's coming next summer when we will train a flowering vine over it.  Even if it's still weird after that, it's a nod to the house as it was when we bought it and added on the porch of Pete's dreams.  History matters to us and so, that is enough.

Meanwhile: it's kinda cool to work at the kitchen counter and glance at the front porch with its new, taller columns and then into the back yard at the old, wider columns.  Here is that view on a snow day, aka right now:

The middle section of the new pergola marks a path to the path at the back of the yard, which is one of the non-functions of the pergola.  It's meant to create the illusion that there is 'more' behind it.  In a limited space like this anything you can do to suggest depth and add height is a bonus.

Here's how it looked with just the path and no pergola, during the period when I was laying and re-laying bricks and slabs to get them just right.  It was backbreaking work and I think after over twenty years of setting down stone paths at this house I might now be, officially, Too Old For This Sort Of Thing. Please note, this was without me laying the big slabs, which was Pete's job, as I hovered nearby with the level and a small bucket of limestone screenings.  There was just as much laughter as there was cursing during that part of the project, which made it more fun than the solitary work!

I wanted this path partly to house the bricks and slabs that were in the yard when we moved in, and partly to make it easy to maintain the fence.  Even though it is protected with stain, which shouldn't peel like paint does, it will probably need a new coat eventually and the less prep we have to do to get at it the more likely we will make it happen.  But I have to tell you...

... with the pergola in, it is SO FUN to walk to the back corner of the yard without getting muddy or even, I hope someday, wet from dewy grass.  We have never been able to do that before, despite all the different garden designs we've tried out over the years, because we always assumed we needed a big shrub in that area as an anchor and to hide the shabby, falling-apart fence we lived with for the first 20 years.

The planters on either side of the passageway were an amazing bargain find from - wow, it's got to be four years ago now.  I always intended to use them in this way, and I always intended to choose the deep blue-grey of the fence based on them and also, on the colour of our front porch pre-renovation.

I question that decision now because both sets of neighbours haaaaate the grey and it's painted that colour on their side too (because their landlords didn't care, and we were paying for the whole thing, and we wanted to be sure the wood was properly protected so it doesn't all rot out and fall down like the one it replaced, and most importantly: because they didn't tell us they didn't like it until it was all finished.)

Also because as awesome as this dark blue-grey looks in summer when surrounded by green leaves, it was a misery last winter, on a bleak day under snow and bare branches.  I never noticed that on the front porch, I guess because we have a bushy evergreen hedge alongside it?  Thankfully, this winter it looks great for some reason - maybe it wasn't the grey that bothered me so much as the piles of construction leftovers in the yard?  All that's gone now.  We still have the mud, but under the snow you can't tell it's not grass.

Oh yes, the mud.  By the time the pergola and paths were done it was too late to plant perennials or lay down grass seed, but my genius horticulturally-obsessed friend Claire sourced our two perfect spruces for me which were still safe to plant.  I love them more each day.

Why spruce, when topiary was always the goal?  I am so glad you asked.  Because, as I now know thanks to the aforementioned genius Claire:

Boxwoods around here are prone to disease*, as are cedars (which seem to attract mosquitoes whether they are healthy or not)

Yews aren't always bushy enough for a space you want to be really green

We already had a spruce from our early days here which everybody felt should stay as a carryover from that time, and it is nice to tie that in.

Spruce trees are not quite as soft as they look - the needles are in fact a bit stabby - but I keep wanting to hug these two anyway.  They are just so bunchy!

*I've had problems with sickly boxwood for years and thought it was just me so now I feel so much better about myself.  Again: hats off to Claire.

The white is VERY white - Benjamin Moore's 'Chantilly Lace' which has no undertones - and what is particularly great is that some of what's out there is pressure treated wood protected with opaque stain we had tinted to that colour, and some of it is previously-painted wood we covered with flat paint tinted the same colour so it looks like it's all the same finish.
I will probably say this if I ever get around to doing a post on paint, but we use Ben grade paint now, rather than the top of the line Aura from Benjamin Moore.  Aura is designed to dry very very quickly, which I guess is a plus?  But I'm a fast painter and the drying time is still too speedy for me to finish a section without peeling some off as I got over it with the next overlapping swipe.  Even Ray couldn't get a decent finish with it.  So now we pay less and have better results.  Win win!

Anyway, to return to the top of this post: the bright, stark white of Chantilly Lace is effective because you can't not look at it.  No matter how much you want to see the oversized climbing equipment in the next yard, or the basketball net, or the Hydro truck creeping down the laneway beyond, you canNOT drag your eyes away from the pergola long enough to quite realize you are not, in fact, looking at a small garden room at the back of a pretty house in an English village.

And that whole deception should get a lot easier to believe after we get the finishing touches on next spring.

I should have told my friend that when he asked what the pergola does, don't you think?  I should have said, It makes our home our home, the way we always imagined it.

And in case you were missing the front porch after all the talk about the back yard, here it is:

The front porch was SUCH a nightmare to rebuild.  I didn't want to have to go on with the constant maintenance we used to have to do - scraping and painting the wood every summer - so we actually bought and paid for delivery of vinyl railings that turned out to look utterly awful, as well as impossible to put together properly.  We had to eat that whole expense, and start over with wood, which Ray had to improvise into a hefty handrail because there was no such thing available ready made.

(What he came up with was a genius solution and sometime when there's no snowstorm outside, if you're interested, I will take pictures and explain.  For now: let's just think grateful thoughts of Ray and also throw some serious side eye at the raccoons who climbed all over the handrails one night last summer and gouged claw holes into part of it.)

Looking at the beautiful shadows across the floor of the porch in that picture reminds me of my old life when this house was tiny and I was a knitting fiend, publishing posts here every day of something new I was working on, usually with images of them posed on the front porch (and especially in the shadows from the pickets!)  I had inexhaustible energy, and people started their day reading my words on purpose because it was a happy way to begin - that meant so much to me.

The online world has changed a lot since then... Instagram wasn't even a thing at the time, or else not as big a thing.  Pictures have become much more important to people than words, don't you find?

I'm still trying to figure out my new life, now that it doesn't revolve around renovation or lighting selection.  I am writing more now (yay!) and knitting less (wha?), unsure of what among the things I'm doing will interest people, and still dealing with the loss of my old computer/camera setup that made it so easy to get pictures from creation to publication.

All of which is to say: sorry for the long absence, as well as the one that may well follow it!  And especially: thanks for dropping in to read this Hug.

Take care of yourself and I hope we meet up here again soon!