Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Open door

This morning I spotted an awful lot of front doors propped open all along the shopping strip near my home. It's a gorgeous day out and of course, I'm sure everybody's trying to lure in Easter shoppers, but it also struck me that we're in that never-never land of early spring:

Fresh enough to want that good air inside the store

Cool enough not to lose air conditioning outside the store

This time of year and the fall are my favourites, and not just because I enjoy showing off a good cardigan (which I don't have at the moment, but we won't go there.)

Spring especially is a time when people are just so happy to have what they have, and so welcoming of what's to come. How often can you say that?

Plus: imminent chocolate. Everybody wins!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The last frontier

June 4th is like the edge of a cliff to me, because if I haven't taken and passed a road test by then my driver's license expires entirely and I have to go back to driving with a friend until I can take the test again. Thank you graduated licensing system and also, me, for not just getting this stuff taken care of when I was 16 or even driving as much as once a month over the past year or two.

(I'd rather walk.)

To take the test I have to book one, and to book one I have to call my driving school friend and get some new lessons in. I've put up a few speedbumps on the calendar to make me stop and do this and all I've done is slow down and panic. But let's be serious:

This weekend is Easter.

If I can't make the call in the week that follows Easter, I am in real trouble.

But if I make the call and don't get out driving a lot I am also in trouble because my driving instructor is going to put me on the highway as fast as it takes to get there from my house and I will probably have a heart attack from the shock. So....

This week is all about not procrastinating. I gotta clear the slate of all distractions!

And that means finishing making some stuff for a gift swap, starting making some Easter decorations, knitting more sweater for a friend's book, and maybe using the vacuum cleaner, all before Monday.

Plus maybe coming up with a few more plausible excuses for not driving. You think?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Just add water

Right in the midst of a few rainy, grey days, some people I know went to a plant nursery and brought me some instant spring:

I didn't realize how bleh a rainy yard could be until these showed up for the contrast. Now I'm watching to see whether the nursery stock manages to retain its enthusiasm, or the home plants spruce themselves up to match... I'm betting on the latter, not least because there seem to be a few strawberry leaves unfolding in there.

Friday, March 26, 2010


I got to thinking last night how much my life has changed in the past year - some sudden shifts that shocked, and some others that crept quietly through the undergrowth and produced a subtle sense of unease until they stepped out in front of me.

That kind of upheaval happens everywhere, even in the economy and the environment, and it seems to me to be cyclical. I've had up to 15 years of a comfortable routine, before some critical component is yanked away and I have to replace it or adapt to getting along without it.

Some people even seek that experience, giving up their jobs to travel or teach a second language in a foreign country.

What I want to know is, how many of us are able to write about it while it's happening?

Because I don't seem to be able to do it. Before this round, I was finally capturing the essence of things I witnessed twenty years ago or more; it seems to take a long time for ideas to filter down to my fingers.

Well, I guess it's better than having no filter at all! and there are worse things, aren't there, than not writing. (hard as that is to believe, some days.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I looked outside the other day and saw this:

Had somebody painted the driveway?

Sort of. It's sun pouring through the slats of my fence.

I still find this amazing, and so, so beautiful.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Learning: it's a process

I got thinking yesterday that I should really do a regular series of posts on what I've learned about life since last week, because I'm recognizing at last that any sense of normalcy in how one lives it from one day to the next is pure coincidence. At best, you're going to end up with 'the new normal' every few weeks or months when the next disaster, or should I say opportunity?, strikes.

Then I realized the posts would be full of things like, "Chocolate: best not gorged upon, no matter how stressful the day."

How do I know?

Because my first idea was this:

"Pre-made Rice Krispie Squares: pay more for the smaller box; it's safer than buying an economy case of 40."

(it really is safer, though.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The boxes of spring

My life has been consumed by boxes lately: for me, spring cleaning means massive reorganization of all the stuff I got interested in over the past winter. Or just of stuff.

Last week, for example, I cut the top 1/2" off an empty tissue box so it would fit in a desk drawer and corral a bunch of pens and staplers and (wowza!) the calligraphy nibs I spent so much time practising with as a teen.

Seems almost comical by comparison to consider these monsters, purchased as catch-alls to fit under a glorified coffee table:

They're not exactly pretty, are they. I wonder if a cotton liner would dress them up?

I mean, if it can work for a wicker basket (or three, none of which I have a use for, but which look better on the mantelpiece than the odds and ends that usually accumulate there.)

Spring always prompts another look at this little box too, and a solid round of thinking how to press it into everyday use:

It's very special, this wooden box painted so badly with model airplane paint, my family name scrawled inside the lid by my late brother. He used it to keep track of the characters he was memorizing when he learned Chinese. I've tried keeping a few different things in it but nothing that sticks to my daily routine. Maybe I should use it to store a stash of chocolate, and keep it at my desk?

Ah, chocolate. That reminds me of this currently most important box:

Okay, I'll be honest - it's not the box. It's the cakes. How come all the best stuff comes in the smallest packages, anyway?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Studio Ghibli gorgefest

A little while ago I got hooked on Hayao Miyazaki's films. And a little while after that I decided I needed the entire collection, several of which arrived recently in one compact box from Disney.

I've seen all but one now and, even though I've watched them out of order without even checking to see what year they were released, it's been possible for me to see the evolution of the stories and the style in which they're told. It interested me yesterday to find that the ones I love best - the ones where the magical themes are explored with the most enjoyment and confidence - are among the most recent.

Is that a reflection of the audience's changing taste I wonder, or of a refinement on the part of the storytelling process?

Whatever the explanation, I do feel that watching all the films a few times is going to be a great way to pursue creative research.

Also: a great way to spend an awful lot of rainy afternoons. Because you know, it's either that or write something myself.

Friday, March 19, 2010

1950s embroidery designs

This week I came across some guest-grade hand towels, some of which were given to my mum as wedding shower presents - gifts stitched by hand from her friends. Others were stitched by my great-aunt Chris.

I have no idea which came from who, which makes me feel rather protective of them all.

The towels have been well-loved and each has stains or holes or both, but even if I'm not able to repair and repurpose them I love looking at the designs their makers chose, and how they pulled them off.

So many French knots! and those aren't easy.

I also love how satin stitch was used to mark off one petal from another - same stitch, and maybe even the same colour, but by starting from a new point, you create the illusion of a separate piece.

I didn't realize you could use the lazy daisy stitch to make such long petals.

Similarly, I didn't know you could use applique for such a tiny, curvy application as these two swans.

Mostly though I'm just amazed that anybody dried their hands on such perfect works of art.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The first chair of summer


I got a chair out of the garage.

Had to dig down through (and put away) all the Christmas lights to get to it - you don't want to know how much I had to move to inch it out through the doors - and once I got it into daylight I realized

it can't go one more summer without a fresh coat of stain (I've had these chairs for nearly 14 years so I'm kinda obsessed now with keeping them going as long as possible)

the weather is supposed to turn again on the weekend, right back to subzero (Celcius) temperatures and lots of slushy rainy stuff which means the chair won't even make it to summer if I don't get it back into the garage in the next two days

I can't get anything back into the garage now without a major move of epic proportions because some stuff slipped during the exit and the chair won't go back where it was

probably it won't be convenient to climb over the chair every time I want to take out the garbage

probably it will be even less convenient to pull the garbage bins up and over the chair every time the garbabe is due at the curb

maybe I could just move the chair in and out in emergencies - it's not as heavy as it looks - and

... t's a really, really comfortable chair to sit and knit in, especially when you put it in a sunpatch. Ahhhh, summer - are you really three months away?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

They say it's spring

Well, they don't say that actually, but I think it is. It is definitely warm out, and all the snow has melted, and tons of little shoots are sticking up out of the ground and I saw blue flowers too!

Yes it is all happening a month early and yes it could all go again and we could have one last big storm. I don't care.

I want to take the patio furniture out of the garage and be done with it, and not just because I am dying to clean that dump out again and get the Christmas lights back into their storage zone (I am sick of trying not to step on the trailing string all the time ). Though that is definitely a factor.

Another clue: I kinda lost it yesterday with a new approach to clutter management. I took several boxes and swept into them every bit of any non-food or book item sitting out on a horizontal surface and put the boxes into the storage room.

Yes, I was that desperate to feel like I live in a fresh and tidy space.

My plan is to go through the boxes at some later date - hopefully not at 10pm the night before I have to mail the taxes, having suddenly realized that I stored some vital piece of paperwork in them - and either put things neatly away in the spaces that I have made for them in the interim, or put them out of the house entirely.

And that is how I know it is spring. Or else my vacation. (or both?)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Vacation in 3... 2... 1...

The old school habit of March Break dies hard, especially when you've already had a few days of the kind of spring weather you don't normally get till April. I just wanna get out and play!

My ideas about how to do it are as scattered as seeds on the snow, of which we have none (see note re. April weather above) and I am trying to remember every element of last summer's day trips - a bag of essential snacks and books for the car, some pretty mindless knitting, municipal maps pointing to previously researched cool local attractions, a picnic lunch catered by my favourite Belgian bakery, and a camera with a freshly-charged battery.

Of course, today is grey and cold and threatening rain, as you would expect a March day to be, but I don't much care. All you have to do is poke your nose an inch out of the door and you can smell Spring. And that's why I don't mind a bit that my fear of flying puts a stop to any thoughts of a week on a sunny beach. The way the weather has sped up this winter, if I left the country I'd miss the crocuses!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Life goals

My mother dreamed of one day dancing with Fred Astaire - and did nothing whatsoever about it.

I mean, honestly. You don't see me dreaming of one day having a whole book out with just my name on it

(and I do mean my name, and not that of the other Mary Keenan who lives in my town and is also a writer and does have a whole book out with just her name on it)

and then just sitting around knitting or sewing heating pad covers or eating chocolate, do you?

Oh, right.

Well, as long as we're setting goals doomed to be unattained, I will publicly state my dream of one day going shopping with Patricia Marx.

Have you ever read any of her shopping articles for The New Yorker? She is such a good writer, and so witty, and what an eye for cool stuff. Shopping lost its charms for me back when I noticed I was living in an already-full, tiny house, but I would leap at the chance to hear all those quips live and in person, while stocking up on a lifetime's worth of material memories.

Meanwhile, one has the consolation of reading those articles, which may not be as good as the real thing, but aren't as hard on one's feet. Much like watching Fred Astaire dance, rather than actually being his partner.

H'mmm. Think maybe my mum was onto something?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Yesterday I had to leave my home turf for a haircut (two months later than intended) and saw several unexpected things on wheels.

First was the limousine I had to cross in front of to get back to the subway post-lid adjustment. By which I mean:

a real limousine.

Not rented for a wedding, not heading to the airport. A black stretch limousine a lady had called to deliver her to her hair appointment just as though it were a taxi, and, in that moment, was telling the driver she had called to come back and collect her in two hours. I had no idea such things existed in this city. As the light changed, the driver was graciously helping the lady out of her seat, and I recalled my friend and her hopefully temporary walker because they are in much the same state. I hope she had fun at the salon.

Next: a wheelchair on the bus!

I have been riding on wheelchair-friendly buses and elevators and subways on public transit for years now and have never actually seen a wheelchair-operating person using any of them, so that was pretty exciting. The woman whose wheelchair it was couldn't have been a lot younger than the lady in the limo, but she was a lot hipper, with seriously spiky heels on her metal-studded boots. It was very cool to watch her casually hook the chair into the space created when the driver folded up three seats.

And then -

back home again, I had time to kill, which always means a pit stop at the coffee shop for a hot chocolate. Sitting in a deep armchair pondering life (not really; I was pondering where on earth I could have dropped a stitch in my knitting) I suddenly looked up and the entire window of the shop had turned bright yellow, as though the sun had abruptly dropped into the road out front. After a few awestruck moments I saw black letters slowly moving into the frame from the left and as traffic picked up again I read the name of a large grocery chain's off-brand label in giant letters. Transport truck. Not as tall as a cruise ship parked in the harbour in Hamilton, in Bermuda, but big enough.

You know what wasn't on wheels?


I wonder whether I should get my little scooter out of the garage, now that we're getting some Spring?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A better heating pad cover

Ever since I got that great book of embroidery templates I've been dying to try something more demanding than blanket or chain stitches. So when I was asked to make a proper cover for a sick friend's heating pad I raced to the store for a fabric transfer pencil and raced home again to trace these:

Wouldn't any one of them be absolutely adorable along the top of a mini pillowcase-shaped sack for a heating pad?

I think so too, but I may never know for sure. First, I couldn't get any of them to transfer properly. Then, after tracing directly onto the fabric, I couldn't figure out how to stitch them without making a right royal mess. Nor could I figure out how to get the tracing marks off again.

After about three hours of trying to erase the problem, I came up with another brilliant solution to make a cheerful cover for the heating pad:

When in doubt, cover it up. Why didn't I think of that in the first place?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Brown paper packages

A month or two ago I heard about a book that has been mostly in print for more than a hundred years. Which is to say it went out for a while, recently, but has been brought back and can now be bought new.

Since it's about needlework (current obsession), and clearly would be talking about the art as practised a hundred years ago (longtime obsession) I decided I needed a copy for my library.

However, reviews of the book at Amazon clearly indicated that earlier editions are to be preferred, because the quality of illustration is just so much better.

So I got onto an online bookseller of used books and tracked down a 1920s copy for really quite a bearable amount of money and ordered it, and after some time - it was living in England when I got my impulse - it arrived.

There were several layers to unwrap before I got here:

and then there was a cardboard case, still intact:

Don't you love how the letter on the spine of the case would tell you what book is inside, while keeping said book dust-free? The title, of course, shows on the opposite side:

And the cover itself is still clear and beautiful.

But none of that prepared me for the illustrations:

As promised. And this may be all I need when it comes time for me to darn my first pair of handknit socks:

It's a lovely, lovely book and now that I have it, I can't stop thinking about the person who had it first and took such care of it, and wondering how long it was had before being passed on, and how many hands it passed through before it came to mine. I hope I will do all of them proud.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Flowers for a Friday

Aren't these beautiful?

I love watching white tint itself into green. And I love to look at green and pink in close proximity to each other. I hope these flowers last all weekend!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Good times

Time has been forcing itself on me lately with reflections on how brief 'the old ol' days' really are.

Like, the grocery store that some friends used to drive out of the neighbourhood to get to because it just stocked better stuff? I remember that as a whole period in my life - the days before they moved away, when we met up every weekend and ate really delicious takes-time-to-prepare foodie things. We saw the Blue Jays win the World Series together.

I passed that grocery store the other day without thinking much about it. It lost its cachet years ago, which means that happy time was years before that, and now that I think of it - it lasted about two years, tops.

This is true for a lot of my past, and it's suddenly struck me that pattern will continue with the happy times I enjoy now, and the ones I'll enjoy in the future. Life comes in stages, like it or not, and good times are often cut off by bad ones, as when friends move away.

But the other thing I noticed is that other good times replaced those ones. Kind of like water that finds its way around obstacles to reach the next lowest point, we seem to be able to find other ways to enjoy life, don't we. And I for one am going to start being more mindful about doing that, because who knows how long this particular patch of good will last?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rainbow reading

I've been staying up way too late until yesterday, when I got a new book in the mail:

No time to look at it until the day was over, so I ended it early, and boy oh boy, the ideas I got. Wouldn't it be cool to have embroidered birds or trees on your canvas summer sneakers? Or Art Deco lettering on your tea towels?

This book so does not bode well for my writing career.

Or, if I look at the upside - maybe it bodes well for a plethora of made Christmas gifts in 2010?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A new use for old shoulder pads

When I was buying up all those wool sweaters for felting I came across a massive double-breasted charcoal grey waffle-stitch 1980s cardigan/coat thing that... well, really. Hideous. Must have made whoever wore it look like a battleship sailing proudly out of the harbour, which is not an effect the average girl is looking to achieve.

I finally got around to taking it apart a couple of weeks ago and as I snipped out the shoulder pads (of course, you couldn't manufacture a sweater like that and leave out the giant shoulder pads) I had an Aha! moment.

Which - with the aid of a small rectangle from another sweater - came out looking like this in back,

and this in front.

I gave it to my goddaughter for her birthday with a present tucked inside. I was thinking it could do for jewelry or stamps or folding money or a mobile phone, but she tells me it is the perfect size for CDs, so I expect it will be seeing some action on that front as well.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Singer sings

Sewing machines that do automatic embroidery are old news to me, but I didn't know you can buy machines that let you you work freehand. Seriously, you just push the fabric around the way you want, taking all sort of tight turns without the least resistance.

This is a lot more attractive to me than programming something in and then effectively sitting back to watch a lot of perfect embroidery stitch itself into your fabric - for me, the fun is in trying and messing up and ripping out and starting all over again after another cookie break. But you pay an awful lot for the privilege, so I'm staying with my 1940s Singer a while yet.

Consolation prize: said Singer can do some embroidery too.

Cute? And also:

Yes, well, you see what I mean about the messing up part. Still - embroidery! and don't I have a great eye for exactly the right shade of thread, even without the memory required for bringing the fabric along with me to to the store?