Friday, July 31, 2009

... and then came the flood

How long can a girl with a head cold tidy up the house before noticing the kitchen sink is overflowing? Seriously, I'd like to know. I don't even remember turning the taps on, though I do have a vague recollection of thinking dang, I'd better not leave these dishes till morning.

It was definitely long enough to

fill the sink

and spill water in smooth sheets over the side of the counter

and down the cabinet doors

and into the cabinets

and onto the floor

and along the floor to the stove

and down through the seams of the floor to the basement

and out through a ceiling light

and down to the floor there

with enough force to splatter the side of the sofa

which was soaked by the time I noticed.

Solution: Towels, a big Tupperware bowl to catch the drips, and Time. More naps are in order too, yes?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Frozen grapes and cold remedies

Quite a few of my closest companions are sick these days - none of us, thankfully, suffering from The Flu That Must Not Be Named (sorry, more Harry Potter yesterday). I would like to note that I am not the epicentre, either, but merely a helpful person who obviously forgot to wash her hands at some point or other.

I've been monitoring the progress of a variety of remedies including:

Running around madly pretending nothing is wrong

Regular doses of acetaminophen

Lakeloads of water

Lakeloads of boiling water mixed with fresh lemon juice and honey


Chicken soup

Vicks Vaporub

Acetominophen mixed with cough/cold medicine (bad, BAD idea, thankfully not one of mine)

and, the winner for effective deliciousness:

Frozen grapes.

Nothing has beaten back the germs so far, though I - the person drinking the most water and hot honey lemon - seem to have avoided the whole 'nose as tap' thing.

The frozen grapes were a lucky accident: a cousin who is more gifted than Martha Stewart on the home front mentioned the concept to me once, years ago, but I never thought to try it until last week when I got sick of grapes going moldy in the 'frig before they could all be eaten. Even then it took me a few days to remember to put grapes back on the grocery list and then take the time to pull them off the bunch, separate out the baddies, wash them, dry them, and put them into freezer-friendly plastic.

The next day I tried one and - whoa! Instant sore throat relief! Way, way better than Popsicles, and no sugar or food colouring or anything.

Makes me think I should try freezing fruit juice, too. After a cup of tea though. And maybe (cough) a nap.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Things are getting a little harry

I am caught in a Harry Potter vortex at the moment - having watched movie #3 (a present from a friend) I trotted off obediently to buy movies #1, 2, and 4. I seem to recall the same thing happening when I finally gave in and read the books.

What's nice is that it's been so long since I did read those books, I don't mind a bit that there are huge hunks of them left out to manufacture a comprehensible 2 hours of film.

Mostly I'm absorbed by how drool-worthy the Hogwarts architecture is. I remember reading somebody's comment on some website or other that it is terrible the way the Harry Potter series fetishizes boarding school and thinking, why yes, it does! but I didn't, and still don't, find that nearly so terrible as I do the fact that I will never get to live there.

Also: it has to be said. I never hated Snape as I ought to have in the books, and I definitely do not hate watching Alan Rickman scraping the hair back from his face to flash another bewildered yet malevalent look. I think it's physically impossible for me to hate an Alan Rickman villain; from the time I first saw him - doing the dirty in The Barchester Chronicles back when it first came out - I was painfully aware that while I was not meant to, I quite liked his Mr. Slope. He was so deliciously greasy and such a sad character. It was a surprise to read the (excellent) book afterward and find that Slope was not appealing at all.

That's another take on how to write a villain people care about, isn't it. Ideally s/he is Real and Relatable or the evil doesn't work, and for me, Snape/Rickman always works. A good bad guy is just interesting enough that no matter how detestable... you wish s/he liked you.

If I ever get around to putting down my TV remote and my knitting needles and write a paragraph or two with a villain in it, I will definitely have to keep that in mind.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


So much of my time goes toward avoiding things that, once begun, are difficult to stop doing. Like eating chocolate (or ice cream, or potato chips.)

Why isn't exercise as difficult to stop, I wonder - or rather, why are our brains designed to be more vulnerable to the allure of manufactured sugar/fat/salt than to simple endorphins? Or maybe what I should really be asking is, how much of a drag is it that it takes two weeks to become addicted to exercise and about two seconds to reach for the next potato chip?

Not to mention that a sizable part of our population works for food companies with specialists formulating the exact balance of addictiveness so we buy more of their products and keep all those people employed?

And then there's the sad fact that exercise goes to the wall once you get sick, which is where today's avoidance is coming in.

I'm trying not to cough.

This happens to me every time with a cold: I get to a certain stage and then I start coughing, and once I start, I can't stop. And I don't mean for a few minutes, either. I'll cough for about 3 weeks and drive everybody around me absolutely insane (while really hurting my throat.)

So today's goal is to not cough. And to not cough I have to not get excited about anything (which is not like me.) Worse, I have to not talk (which is the complete opposite of me.)

And that's why I recommend that everybody take out stock in honey, lemons, and tea. Toodles!

Monday, July 27, 2009

A lovely morning

It's a beautiful morning - the air is fresh and fragrant, and sunny and cool, after two or three days of thunderstorms that left the grass bright green.

I feel neither beautiful nor bright, however, having been Struck Down by a cold and left to feel much like sludge. Fortunate as I am not to have had this happen during my sabbatical, I can't help wishing I had napped more then, shoring up reserves instead of squandering them on shameless amounts of productivity.

Very soon I will gather my energy and set up a sick chair outside so I can enjoy this change in the weather as far as possible, but for now, I think I need another cup of something hot and a cosy blanket. Another kind of beautiful morning.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Time flies like an arrow

... as my late father used to say, before revealing grammatical niceties (and you wondered where I got it from).

Can you believe today is the last day of my 4-week sabbatical??

Oh, where did the time go...

I lost some to the house painting, and some to disaster knitting projects.

There were a couple of other days when I was just wiped out and couldn't think creatively at all, which I blew on napping and sorting photographs.

But I did have two weeks of 10-hour days of intense productivity, and I met three deadlines, and I think the decision to watch a whole whack of 1930s and 40s Hollywood movies wasn't totally self-indulgent. It's the first opportunity I've ever had to watch a whole bunch back to back without commercials, all grouped by some sort of theme or spotlighting a particular actor or series, and that much immersion really teaches you how to get at the gut of a story.

(or, um, how not to.)

And today is the last day, and I haven't spent a single one of them on writing... and I won't spend today that way either, because I'm hoping to meet a friend instead.

A whole month of productive procrastination. Proud of me?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Today's ponder

If you are really famous - like, so famous that your face is recognizable across the world - how long does it take to get used to the fact that somebody you meet for the first time and have a meal with keeps having to do a mental check to stop acting like they've known you for years, and in some cases rather intimately? Do you ever? Does it break you emotionally never to walk into a single new relationship really fresh?

(and yes, I have been watching a lot more classic movies, in which closeups were reeeeaaaaally closeup.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Wonderful relatives who know from good postcards +
one's own solid appreciation for said postcards =
quite a little collection.

These two gems made their way to my hands over the last few days, and I must say I'm quite pleased with the juxtaposition:

I've read so much since spring about women knitting socks in wartime, from young girls to grandmothers, as compulsively as can be. They did it to help the war effort, to show their love for their own boys and for those they'd never meet, and to alleviate the stress and worry.

The little girl on the left - who may actually be knitting a sleeve from the cuff up rather than a long stocking - was painted in 1884 (by Albert Anker) and the ladies on the right were created in 1939 by Jack Mathew to illustrate the need for evacuation support in England during the Blitz.

The theme of industrious generosity springs off both cards, don't you think?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The return of Bruce

Bruce is back!

Not only did I not kill him during last summer's fish-sitting extravaganza (unlike the two goldfish I acquired by more direct means and promptly dispatched by some means I still have not been able to determine),

he's still alive and finning!

I love having Bruce over. He's so friendly - swims right up to the side of the bowl when I turn up, and flaps his fins excitedly at me, even if I'm not about to feed him. Also he is very very pretty, and it's ages before you have to change his water, which means I never have to do it at all while fish-sitting, (which is probably good news for his longevity; the Other Two fish were fine until I changed theirs.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

No thank you, I won't have any more paint today

It is ironic that

since I really, really, seriously don't enjoy painting

(even though I've gotten pretty good at it in all the years I've done it anyway) and

have no time to do it now in spite of

a rather nice exterior feature that needs repainting Every. Single. Year,

and as a result I gave into somebody else's suggestion that I delegate the job this time

I spent the weekend painting anyway.

Or should I say, 'repainting'?

And not just because I am a perfectionist.

(which I am, and which makes it so much more depressing to still have a bad-looking paint job and a giant gob of oil-based goo on my leg.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Everything looks better in the morning

Okay, okay. I didn't even knit yesterday. I took a walk, and had a nap, and ate brownies I was saving for other people who, in the event, expressed no interest in brownies. Probably because I was very careful not to mention there were any.

But today will be better, because I woke up with inspiration that kept unfolding as I staggered around looking for a non-brownie breakfast. And it was completely unrelated to a better way to clean the bathroom sink.

Keep your fingers crossed for me, yes? And have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, July 16, 2009


The other day I was working on something and the details just weren't meshing for reasons I couldn't understand until I suddenly remembered one of the things Wayson Choy taught in the 2008 Summer Workshop I was fortunate enough to attend: 'one rhinestone too many.'

That means too much embellishment, basically - even when those embellishments are lovely, too many of them distract from what is true about what you are creating, and form a barrier between you and your audience.

I had way too much embellishment. I realized I would have to step back and cut away at some of it, once I decided what is true about my creation - the story I want to tell, and the feelings I want to share - and what enhances that.

Today I think I know. I'm going to sit down with the project again, starting mostly from scratch, and see if I'm right.

And I'll be doing that while watching a movie because you know what? It's knitting, not writing. The process of creation is the same, something I still find staggering though it's becoming easier to accept and even celebrate - because it means I don't have to feel like I'm procrastinating when I knit!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mary Poppins' carpet bag

Behold, the little bag I bought myself from tinyhappy just before the shop component temporarily - thank goodness - closed up for travel purposes:

When I bought this I thought it would be quite small, and useful perhaps for subway tokens and lip balm, plus maybe my cell phone.

When it arrived and I saw it was much bigger than that, I thought I could carry knitting in it, and since I will be spending a little over 2 hours on public transit (not on strike!) today, it seemed a good time to test my theory. Which was perfectly sound - the pouch is wider than my sock needle holder case thingy, and roomy enough for a sock's worth of yarn, plus the measuring paper I am using for people's heads. (I will be seeing a friend today who insists she has a Big Bean - a very useful person to know when working out a Size Large hat pattern.)

Then I realized I would need to take a little more with me than this. You can knit a lot of sock in two hours, so I tossed in A Sock I Knit Earlier for comparison purposes, and my measuring tape, so that I don't accidentally work past the heel.

Then I realized that if I do go far enough to need the heel, I should switch to the second sock, since heel-knitting and public transit and me are not a good threesome.

A pen seemed sensible as well.

And there is still room in the bag for my camera, and maybe a little snack! Definitely, Mary Poppins magic.

Just in case you are thinking this post has nothing to do with writing or procrastination - though I assure you the process of setting up and taking such photographs is highly procrasinatory - today's trip is to the open-to-guests night of SummerCamp for Writers. I didn't register this year, knowing that I wouldn't be able to commit the time, but some other friends did, so I'm going to lend my support as they all read from their work to a roomful of people.

And I hope to have a good deal of writing inspiration in my Mary Poppins bag when I get back.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Procrastination R Me

Yesterday I... oh, I can barely bring myself to say it:

I procrastinated.

I really did! I spent about 2 hours taking and uploading photographs of something I designed, and wrapping a present, and then I went for a run (which I am still feeling today, ow ow owie), and then I spent about 3 hours backing up all my photographs with the shiny new CDs I purchased on the weekend. And then I toyed with supper ideas, and wiped down the top of my stove and dusted the fan cover over it.

The trouble was that the only project still left standing - apart from the novel, for which I am still not ready - was another very daunting design thing. I was scared to start.

Fortunately, I recovered in the evening and made good headway on the sample and even worked out a neat technique to solve the problem that was scaring me.

Moral of the story: If you're going to spend a whole day putting off the inevitable, you might as well accept it and clean the bathroom. Because nobody cares much about the top of the fan cover for the stove.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Post office deliverance

This is one of a few times of the year when I look at the months' worth of flotsam and jetsam that choke the corners of my kitchen counters and laundry shelf and say


and sort it all into File, Recycling, and - worst case - Landfill.

Unfortunately, my city is currently hosting a strike for a variety of services, including garbage/recycling/composting pickup. So I can't throw anything out.

I did my best this weekend. I carved out temporary storage space for some of it. I made a big box bigger by folding up the top flaps and taping them together, and filled it with paper to be stored in the garage and recycled when times improve. I recycled some mailing envelopes (another perk of online shopping) by filling them with other things I have left sitting out for the day when I might get around to mailing them. And then I mailed them.

Here's an interesting but little-observed-by-me fact: When you mail stuff, it stops being in your space! You don't have to plot or scheme or shift things around - it's just gone! and you have the added bonus of knowing that the things that were becoming a weighty responsibility while in said space are going to make a happy moment for somebody else, just as you intended when you first set them aside in a pile of papers on the kitchen counter.

Love, love, love the postal service. Especially because they didn't go on strike this summer.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sunshine and puppies

Do you like stuff? I do. I like...

Puffy white clouds

Fresh clean sheets

Croissants (especially when they have chocolate in them)

Free hugs

Sand, and the way it adapts itself to the arch of my bare feet

Rocks big enough to sit on, or flat enough to wade out into water on


Cucumber sandwiches

The way raccoon families look walking the top of a fence at night


a whole day of 1930s movies - including one with Carole Lombard! - on Turner Classic Movies.

mmmmmmmmmmm, sofa knitting.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Release the hounds!

Yesterday, a delivery guy left a box in front of my door without knocking. It contained

the predator mites

Unpacking insects is an interesting experience, if you have
a/ a vivid imagination and
b/ no experience buying crickets to feed to pets that eat live crickets.

Suffice it to say I was daunted.

I cut the packing tape and opened the lid and found:

shredded paper.

After a few minutes I gingerly lifted the shredded paper and found:

bubble wrap.

After a few minutes I poked at the bubble wrap and unpicked it a little and found:

a pair of ice packs.

Below that:


I looked back at the shredded paper on my kitchen counter and poked at that and found:

a medicine bottle full of tiny bean leaves and, presumably - they're pretty small and my sight isn't that fabulous anymore - predator mites.

Deep breath. Quick shift of medicine bottle to the coolest room in the house (they like to be around 50 degrees F if they can get it.) And then after a brief rain in the evening (they like humidity) I talked somebody else into sprinkling some of the contents of the bottle over the shrubs that the red mites have been destroying in my garden.

And now: I wait.

(and eat ice cream.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The lure of landscape architecture

Every once in a while I think I should train for some other career besides writing (as if somehow that would cure me) and a few years back I had the bright idea to study landscape architecture. I was not put off by the fact that I sneeze and get watery in the eyes if I spend too much time (translation: more than an hour) outdoors, but when I got my package from the university of my choice and read the course requirements, I went, chastened, back to my keyboard.

One thing I did learn during my brief passion was that it is important to plan for flowers to be blooming at different times in a perennial garden, so there's always interest somewhere. And darned if I didn't manage to pull that off, in spite of myself!

No sooner did the big atomic-style bellflowers stop blooming last week, but the baby ones got into the act:

and then this plant I don't remember the name of sprouted up some tiny and delicate blossoms (so tiny and delicate you have to click on the image to see them):

and the white-blooming hosta got going:

along with the white hydrangeas, bless them - they'll bloom for the rest of the summer (and hopefully go on filling in the empty space):

Even my astilbe, the one I managed not to kill in its first year in the garden and then transplanted into this little crossroads, is putting on some colour.

So - I never got the degree, but I got a nice garden to write in. Maybe I'll do some of that today!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The movies that time forgot

It's about Turner Classic Movies. The promise of 1930s musicals and 40s screwball comedies drew me in, but - can you believe it? - those don't run daily. The best my commitment and insane knitting schedule has got me was a (fascinating) documentary on Cecil B. DeMille.

Last week during the day I watched Candleshoe (better than I remembered) and Escape To Witch Mountain (which I'd been wanting to see again for quite a while now, but lost interest in after 10 minutes.) Today I saw something about a safari with Victor Mature and Janet Leigh, and after that it was My Sister Eileen, which I have always loved. There were a few years there before Jack Lemmon perfected the beaten down Everyman when he was a hot romantic lead, and this is one from that period, which was one reason for my devotion - and as it turns out, the only reason that still stands up today.

After that it was Houdini, with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. It was Janet Leigh day, apparently.

I grew up on old movies but.... these ones haven't aged well. As with silent stars during the shift to sound, I expect Victor Mature would have found the path to stardom a challenge were he starting out today. At one point during the safari movie he moved his eyebrows to show some form of emotion I couldn't quite make out, and later, when (spoiler) Janet Leigh says, breathlessly, I love you Ken, and I always will - he lights a cigarette and gives a look like he has a cramp. (Okay, I know I'm describing a Keanu Reeves performance here, but still.)

To summarize: you can see a whole movie for free without commercials on TCM! and you mostly get what you pay for. Which isn't to say I won't be planting myself in front of the TV again today, only in part because the knitting and continuing back/neck problems deem it so. It's like gambling, really - you keep losing, but you keep thinking that next time you'll win, if you just hang on long enough.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Assorted mix

Seriously, you can buy candy that's called this. Talk about yer redundancy! They should just call it Pretty Good (because it's pretty with all the shapes, and tastes good.) H'mmm. That's not so fab either.

Here's some assorted mixy stuff I did this weekend:

was attacked by one of those owie kinks in my shoulder/neck/back, thereafter turning from the waist to look at anything/one

ate a truly exceptional piece of carrot cake

was complimented on my own baking skills by somebody who didn't try the carrot cake

managed to breakthe spacebar on my keyboard so that it only workssome of the time on the first try

got somebody else to plant the last of the new perennials out front

wondered whether the people who were supposed to paint my porch will ever call to book same

accepted a very nice hug from one of several young guys wearing Free Hugs T shirts

wrote up a couple of knitting patterns

cut out some pieces of a sewing pattern

remembered why I don't sew any more, especially with a super sore back and shoulder


(of course)

consumed rather a lot of ice cream.

Bliss. Except for my back, which is still a mess.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Welcome to Vacationland

Nearly twenty years ago now, when I worked in an office and was paying off student loans and had no money for holidays, I used to sign out a laptop for a long weekend, or even a week, and stay home to work on a novel. And that is what I was supposed to be doing all of this month, but one day in I've been slaving over knitting patterns instead, until my eyes smart.

My sudden passion to create hats seems strange even to me, although there is a symmetry and depth of thought involved that is not so different from constructing a story. Plus, you know, they keep your head warm a lot more effectively than a book can keep your head dry in a rainstorm... and it is creative, and for all I know I'd be spending the month staring at an empty Word document.

Still, I feel guilty about not writing, and that is a very non-vacation-y thing. I'm going to give it one more day, and if I'm still not pleased with myself come Monday, I will head over to the coffeeshop/second office and see what I can make of the story that was coming along so nicely in the spring.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Deliciousness in the details

Yesterday was Canada Day (Yay Canada!) and while I usually celebrate by walking through the local ravine park system and the neighbourhoods near it... um, shinsplints. Even the tops of my feet hurt after speedwalking in sandals on Tuesday. What was I thinking?

Instead, I 'celebrated my country's French roots' with lunch at a boulangerie et patisserie. I love when the name over the door actually says that! It means ham and cheese sandwiches on super-fresh baguette with some totally unhealthy but awesome mayo/mustard combo - in this case, the ham even had chives or something baked into it - and if I'm very lucky, Florentine cookies.

If you've never met these, they're a combination of candied cherries, gooey sweet stuff, and sliced almonds, pressed together into a flat round and dipped in chocolate. When I lived in England I was able to buy some the size of my hand, but my local Belgian bakery makes them in adorable tiny discs.

And here's the delicious detail: the ones I bought yesterday were the same mini size, but had fewer candied cherries, and rather than being dipped in chocolate they were pressed into a small rounded cup of chocolate flavoured with orange. The flavour combo was amazing, as was the change in ratio between chocolate and cookie. I know this will sound weird coming from me, but I prefer the more balanced partnership at my local source - still, I was impressed by what a huge difference a tiny change can make. Another life lesson, I think.

That and you shouldn't have three ice creams on the same day you have a little bag of Florentine cookies, even if it is the day you celebrate living in a really terrific place.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Speedwalking down memory lane

I'm not used to being on holiday. I had a lot of nervous energy to burn before my hair appointment yesterday, so I walked to it - fast, as I didn't realize I could until an hour before I was to be in the chair. And yes, I did get shin splints, ow, and yes, Yay Kathi! the cut did force some of the grey to curl with the rest.

My route took me through my old neighbourhood, which hasn't changed much, except that even in this economy the houses are probably worth more than when I rented a flat in a dilapidated place on a quiet street there. As I understand it they were originally tenements for poor labourers; not one boasts a parking space, or more than a few square feet of back yard, and a freight train line crosses within a block or two of the whole group, rattling their windows. Since the 1980s they've been charming if teeny-tiny slices of prime real estate for the cautious wealthy. Each narrow house is like a carefully designed chocolate in a box of the best, with every postage-stamp yard landscaped for maximum impact and every door freshly painted. Not one would list for less than a million or two.

I have never stopped trying to figure out what makes these houses so special, if only to make mine look as fabulous, but no matter how much I copy their details I can't pull it off. I've ruled out the black doors, the hostas in front, and the brickwork pathways. I have yet to hang heavy brocade draperies in the window to flank a solitary but impeccable sculpture because I would go broke doing it. And that's okay, because I suspect their secret really is in their small size, and the way they huddle together, each one determined to put the best face on their collective limitations.

If that's true, it's astonishing, because it means my own tiny house is too big. Big enough, thankfully, to store a heating pad and ice pack in while I sort out those shin splints. Ow ow ow.