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!