Monday, May 31, 2010

Embellishing a plain canvas bag

I got really hooked on giving art supplies in an artist's tote for the kids' birthdays I've been invited to this year, so it's been bothering me that I was too busy driving and knitting on a deadline to make a bag for the latest event this past weekend.

Turns out I didn't need to worry, because the art supply store was selling these:

and when I saw the rack of them I remembered I have a bunch of things like these:

I bought them last summer, for about 10 cents apiece, in a small town Salvation Army store. (don't you feel sad when you see somebody's work just set aside like that and not really valued?)

Probably any little girl who's carrying her art bag off to sketch with will want a little doll or stuffed animal to come along with her, or maybe some sweets, so I thought a little pocket would dress up the bag and show some love for the doilies at the same time:

It was a bit tricky given that the bag was already sewn up (and pretty small at that) but I was able to machine stitch the doily onto the front from just past 10 o'clock to a little before 1 - the perfect way to hold the doily's shape and still let a hand in there to scrounge for chocolate.

H'mmm... that feature makes it a perfect gift for me too, doesn't it. Good thing I have more doilies!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Adolescence: complete

Whew. It still hasn't sunk in that I finally have a full driver's license.

At my age!

After about 10 years of knowing I was going to have to get it dealt with!

In spite of the 14 mistakes I found marked on my test report after the dust settled yesterday!

But it's true: I've finished that project. And as it's hard on the heels of another finished project that should have been completed while I was still in high school (getting braces), I now feel that my adolescence is finally all wrapped up.

Translation: I get to have my 20s now.

The first thing I did after dropping by the office where I needed to renew the license and have my picture taken was to drive to the grocery store for this:

I hadn't tried this flavour before but they were out of Vanilla Swiss Almond (chocolate-covered almonds in vanilla ice cream for bonus protein) so I succumbed to the melty looking caramels. It's great and I did eat the whole thing before bedtime. I still like VSA best though.

And now that I've had all that sugar and a pretty good sleep I'm thinking...

... time to get back to work on that novel? A novel is a good thing to write in your 20s.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

For test results, click here

6:55 am

This is where I will check in after my driving test today and post whether I passed or not so that everybody can get off the edge of their seats and go on with life. I'll be home and post-ready by between 12:30 and 1:15.

For now, I'll just give you today's update:

I did get out to drive yesterday, deciding that I should maybe just do a final polish on the whole parking thing. I'm so glad I did.

Seems I have a 10% chance of doing a parallel park right the first time, and a 75% chance of knowing when to stop correcting to get it exactly right the other 90% of the time. That's if I'm just parking behind one car and not between two. If I'm between two I know how to correct but have about a 40% chance of not hitting the curb. Hitting the curb, you lose points. Jumping the curb, you fail. So let's hope I'm not asked to do one between two cars up a hill backwards, shall we?

(There is only about a 10% chance I'll be asked to do a parallel park at all, and I have the last test slot before lunch on what will apparently be another oppressively hot day. I'm going to just not worry about this.)

Backing into a space in a parking lot, I have maybe a 5% chance of getting it right the first time, but a 95% chance of adjusting successfully before my examiner dies of old age. There's a 90% chance I'll have to do this one.

Driving into a space in a parking lot - whoa. That one is a big zero. I couldn't get it right even once, and no amount of correction made it perfect. But that's more the fault of my car and its not-so-fab turning radius. Only 10% risk I'll have to do this one, and if I do my confidence is going to get me through the amount of points I'll lose. Since I know exactly what to ask of my car, the confidence level should be pretty solid.

Apart from a little more practise pre-test, I'm left with only one thing to do: be very meditative and focused and do only the thing I am doing when I am doing it. I won't fail on parking. I will lose points, but not enough to fail unless I mess up badly every 6 or so minutes. So I suspect the key is to take it slow whenever I'm asked to execute something, so as to drag out the time spent doing them and leave less for doing something else.

Have a good morning, folks - see you later!

12:00 noon


I didn't start off well in the parking lot where the examiner was asking me to demonstrate that my lights worked, but when I parallel parked (nailed it) he said 'Beautiful!" and a few minutes later in the emergency stop he told me he was really impressed with my driving.

So now I just have to head to the nearest motor vehicle office and get my license renewed and my picture taken and I won't have to take another road test till I'm 85 or something.

Man. I could sleep for a week - and finally, I should have time to.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Too ready?

I had a great driving lesson on Saturday and at the end of it my instructor said Well, I'm pleased to see you're multitasking now. The downside is, you're not quite ready to do that.


This was mostly a reflection of my chatting while driving, something I will not be doing on the actual test since examiners limit their conversation to things like "When safe to do so, move one lane to the left." Even I can't find much to work with there.

But yesterday, when I rushed out of the house under pressure for practice time, and again today when I had my last lesson before the test, I noticed I'm definitely getting sloppy - even a little aggressive - with my city driving.

Maybe I'm practicing too much, to the point where I'm comfortable and not paying so much attention to every detail? Maybe it would be good if I took tomorrow off entirely, and just went over everything one last time right before I have the test on Thursday?

Or maybe these two bad practice sessions are the consequence of forgetting my St. Christopher medals at home and I should stop obsessing and get a good sleep.

I kind of like that idea, actually. All it's missing is the chocolate.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Three little words

1. Driving
2. Knitting
3. Takeout

Three days and counting, people: and amazingly, I feel nearly ready for what will hopefully be the last road test of my life.

(though even more hopefully, not because said road test will mark the end of same.)

Saturday morning, I had a fabulous driving lesson that involved repeat loops around two different highways, including The Busiest Highway In North America (TM). I felt so comfortable afterward that I actually drove out of town on it later in the day to take some friends out for supper and one of my passengers was sufficiently comfortable to doze off.

(we will not discuss the left I had to make onto a busy 4-lane road out of a movie complex when I came across an unexpected No Left Turn sign en route to the restaurant, apart from noting that banshee-like acceleration foiled the Lincoln behind me in its efforts to make contact. Thank you Manny for that tip.)

However, since I have to have two lots of (actual, professionally-commissioned) knitting work done by test day or the day after, I am feeling somewhat less poised about that element of this month's non-writing endeavors. Saturday's meal wasn't takeout, so I brought my knitting along, and I did a lot of it while we waited for a table.

Sunday being a day of rest, I drove friends to another friend's place about twice as far away via another highway, where they all swam and played and I sat under a patio umbrella and knit some more. More knitting more knitting more knitting, takeout, more knitting and a movie:

A Kid for Two Farthings

which I really liked and highly recommend.

Today is a statutory holiday where I live so naturally I'm about to go drive some more and then -

Yeah, well. I bet you can guess. And then out for supper again to another knitting-friendly restaurant because I am out of takeout places/officially sick of pizza.

Happy Victoria Day!*

* alternate choice for those three little words

Friday, May 21, 2010

You know what's good?

Mango sorbet.


2-day-old brioche buns you forgot about, but then sliced thinnish and toasted en mass in 2 slots and spread with butter and strawberry rhubarb jam.

A glass of water you knock off the counter with your elbow onto a floor that needed cleaning anyway.

Tempered glass water tumblers that don't break just from getting knocked off the counter.

Tissues softened with lotion.

Friends who love you like family.

A good cup of tea on a sore throat.

Uninterrupted sleep.

Mail with really cool stamps on it celebrating artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning (thank you Kathy!)


Days off.

Of course, days off that you can spend eating mango sorbet? those are pretty awesome.

Long weekend coming up here, to celebrate Queen Victoria in all her fireworks-inspiring splendour, and I will be spending most of it behind the wheel doing a final push to look like I've been driving daily for years and not just a month. But today I am just going to sit and knit or nap and not do anything at all. Maybe that will chase away the last of my cold?

Anything that would do that would be better than good.

Edited to add: the drinking glasses are my favourites - used 'em for years, and they still look like new.  Plus, who can put a price on not having to worry about shards of glass all over the floor?  (said Mary, shuddering at the memory of the time the candy thermometer fell.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What to do: handkerchief edition

Okay, I have to do something about the handkerchief problem (the one where I keep buying them at rummage sales etc. and not knowing with to do with them.)

Mum says embroidered ones especially are for show, not for blow - but honestly, how does one show a handkerchief in this day and age? I keep thinking they would make fabulous-looking pockets... but maybe not such strong ones.


Well, in the meantime, come and see the two I bought last weekend:

a 'P' for mum

and an 'M' for me.

Definitely, these are for show.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

No time like lunch

While stuck in bed with a fast-emptying box of tissues at my side I've been thumbing through my copy of How to Read a French Fry, a cookbook I got when I was wanting to know more about the science of cooking. (another more exhaustive one was Cookwise.)

This is both an entertaining and educational book, being as I say about the science , but it does have a lot of cheery recipes in it too like white peach and fig ice cream, and eggplant and goat cheese casserole, and roasted beet and orange salad.

I'm not actually a huge fan of eggplant, and I haven't been sufficiently motivated yet to buy an ice cream maker, but I do love reading the instructions.

That said, I know my limits. I have family coming for lunch today and I'm sick, I have a ton of knitting to get done and not enough time to do it in, and the house is still something of a mess. So we will be eating this:

I couldn't do any of that better myself anyway.

(but I am totally all over the beet and orange salad once I'm better. With goat cheese on top!)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Elephant man

There is a scene in the 1980 film Elephant Man that has stuck with me all these years: John Merrick, inspired by a picture of a child sleeping peacefully on his side, rejects the sleeping position of sitting up with head on knees he had long since adopted to allow him to breathe under the weight of his head.

Well, last night I was faced with the same sort of judgment call, having been struck down with another wicked cold. For some reason, both my sinuses closed over completely for, I think, about five hours. That is a long time to be mouth breathing in any position.

After trying to keep it up for all five hours (ever drink water while unable to breathe?) I remembered that eating might help, and it did. Eating solves an annoying number of problems, I find. By morning both sinuses had cleared and today I am merely miserable.

And super busy, as I've moved a lot of things around to go to funeral events tonight and tomorrow and still need to pack, something that is always an adventure.

Mostly though I have to figure out how to show support without spreading germs. H'mmmmm. If I don't make it in here tomorrow, you'll know I figured it out.

Friday, May 14, 2010


One of my friends has died - the dad of a friend, if you want to get picky, though I have known this man my whole life so I consider him a friend as well - and wow, there is nothing like a funeral to draw everybody together.

Well, I suppose not always together emotionally or there wouldn't be so many movies and books using a funeral as the catalyst for the plot. But physically.

Every Christmas when you hear the story of Mary and Joseph traveling for the census, I'm struck by the notion of so many people traveling to a specific place - the choreography involved, having all of them on the move, and the reunions with people who didn't leave their home towns, and the sense of Event (quite apart from having a baby.)

Funerals are like that too, except everybody affected comes to one place instead of a lot of different ones. They drop everything, or at least reschedule it. Normal life stops on practically a moment's notice so that they can come together for that moment and support each other and mark the loss... almost as though by clustering in one newly empty place it will be possible to close up the gap.

It isn't possible, of course. But it is surprisingly comforting to try.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I was just reading over the past few entries here and, yup, I'm still thinking about all the the same stuff.

That watch I got with my new running shoes, the one I may not have mentioned I felt a bit dopey about because when would I ever need a watch that controls an iPod? This week the strap on my old watch broke, and guess what replaced it?

(it's very comfortable and shows the time very brightly and I don't hate the pink strap at all.)

Bag-sewing: still obsessing about it. I have some gifts to give toward the end of June and I'm having to work hard to steer my thoughts away from something I make myself because I am practically certain I won't have time to do it.

Retirement: thinking about it all the time. Not least that I need a special piggy bank just to save up for it.

Even though I do think about how to pay the rent when I finally stop having any income at all, I didn't realize until now what a difference it makes to be able to finance a good residence option. By which I mean not just a nice place near public transit but one that will help protect against preventable situations like forgetting your meds too many days in a row, or falling and breaking a hip, or just getting sick and having that go unnoticed or written off by well-meaning loved ones as something less serious than it is.

Driving: ditto. I've had to rethink my plan for driving every day because I don't multitask creative and practical tasks very well, and right now I have a creative deadline that I think is responsible for my very poor parking. (hey, if I can place the blame elsewhere...) So I'm going to take two days off from driving, work like crazy, and then get back to intensive driving for two days and see how that works.

The test is two weeks away, as of today. Freak out much? yes.

Which leaves the second small house idea. It's totally totally crazypants, but I've been looking at the real estate listings anyway. And if you're reading this blog, you don't have to ask why.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Crazypants idea of the day

Okay, let's just say for example that you live in a super small house and can't find a bigger one you like and can afford to live in for more than a week.

What if you

bought a second small house a block or three away and turned one of them into The Hobby House?

Think about it! Sweep away those thoughts of property tax (which might actually be a wash compared to the sum total on one really big place) and heating bills and imagine what it would be like...

all your stuff in one place, and all your sleeping/eating/essential living space in another, with a walk in between to force you out into the fresh air on a daily basis

your home office far enough from the bed to prevent you from reaching for a file at 3am

no more forcing a room to do triple duty all in one day and doing all the cleanup required for same

no shortage of yard work - more exercise potential! - or space for tomato-growing

Oh, it would be lovely (apart from the extra snow shoveling). And kinda more practical than the other Crazypants idea of having a big house in a distant small town for stuff-storage and weekends and the small one in the city for the week, don't you think?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Retiring ways

Lately my job has been to look into retirement living and whoa, where can I sign up? All your meals prepared, tray service when you're sick, all your laundry done and pressed and hung back up for you, your space professionally cleaned every week, entertainment brought in... man. Bliss.

I could use some retirement right now if it meant a guilt-free break from driving practice. I had to take breaks on both Saturday and Sunday owing to extreme weather conditions (proof: many more giant tree branches all over the neighbourhood lawns and porch roofs and on the roads) and I thought I used the time effectively to catch up on life, but apparently not.

And the break didn't make me a better driver either because during yesterday's 30 minutes of trying to build on the meager parking skills acquired during last week's lesson, I managed to hit the curb so many times I fear it thinks I'm annoyed with it.

One thing I do know, I think - I'm pretty sure but I may guilt myself out to the driveway about 9:30 so I don't carry guilt all day - is that I'm taking today off too so that I can catch up on work and maybe even catch a nap. For some reason I can't imagine I haven't been sleeping well.

Okay, so maybe I will drive to the grocery store. I can practice back-in parking... and pick up some chamomile tea.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sewing and embroidery

Before all this driving nonsense, I spent a lot of time at my sewing machine with fabric to recycle. After this driving nonsense, I would like to do that some more, and here is some of the reason why:

This set was for a Spring swap I did with my knitting group. The blue floral used to be an IKEA pillowcase and the lining was a man's dress shirt with worn cuffs. Please note my oh-so-clever use of the shirt's pocket (because I am so pleased myself) for small knitting notions, and the white panel insert down the back, to stretch the pillowcase a bit farther:

The big bag is long enough to accommodate 14" knitting needles and the messenger strap means you can sling it across your body and knit outside, while walking or just standing around. The little one is technically for smaller projects but really it was an excuse to try embroidery. In the end, I had to get Melissa's help to figure out how to do it.

Her solution:

Write the words I wanted and then darken them with ink

Tape that paper onto a window

Tape the white fabric over the paper

Trace the letters in pencil

Embroider over the pencil

The embroidery part took all of an afternoon and because it was the first time I'd tried anything more complicated than blanket stitch edging it required an awful lot of ripping out and starting over, but still. It looks like my writing! and that was kind of cool.

I'm not sure I'd do the embroidery part again in a hurry but I did love making the little bag - so much, I made another for another friend to go with the knitting case I made her before:

It's basically two bags stitched together with right sides together and topstitched shut across the top with the edges folded in, and two channels stitched about an inch down from the top on either side of the outside one with a cord strung through it. I don't know if you can see it here but I did a boxy bottom by stitching across the bottom corners of each of the little bags, which isn't necessary to make it work well.

Gah, this is reminding me how much I miss sewing! Maybe if I am very lucky I will pass my driving test the first time and have maybe a whole week to spend with my old Singer before things get wild again. I can dream, can't I?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Effective-ish marketing

Last weekend a friend who runs told me about a special sale at a local sports store - spend $X, get a 'free' Ironman watch from which you can control your iPod.

I assume this is attractive because it's easier to use your wrist for resistance while pressing buttons than the palm of your hand, or maybe because it spares a runner the need to pull the iPod out of whatever pocket it's been tucked into and then get it back out again. Seriously, have you seen those shirts with the little iPod fold on the shoulder or the back waist?

Well, I myself am not really a runner, which is to say I haven't been able to run more than a block without panting since at least last summer and haven't been really in shape to do it for about 6 years. But I do use running shoes at the gym, and they do wear out, amazingly, even if you're not taking them through trails.

So since I'd gone along to the store with said friend anyway, I thought I might as well get a new pair of shoes myself.

And then the salesguy pointed out that I was pretty close to qualifying for a free watch of my own.

And then I found some pretty good-looking socks, so....

I was right: they're awesome socks. I should probably take up at least a little running again to really appreciate them, but we're looking at a cold and rainy weekend so... maybe I'll just play with the watch instead.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


It's spring, so naturally everything is pretty and in bloom and stuff, but this year I'm noticing more than usual.

Like, the deep red purple blossoms on the crabapple tree at the house on the far corner? They are beautiful. And when they fall to the ground and are blown by wind and the whish of passing feet to the edge of the deep green grass? WHOA.

I totally want to do something with those colours together, but I'll just have to remember what they look like and/or carry my camera with me next year because they were stunning for one day and by the next, they were dry and darker and you wouldn't even notice them if you hadn't seen them in their prime.

And yesterday when it was breezy, the leaves were moving - we have full leaves already on the avenue of trees that shade our street - and as I walked along it the road looked like a river reflecting the light back up at me.

When the days are like this I feel like it's the 1950s of travel ads, everything clean and perfect and hopeful (with the fallout shelters tucked back behind some shrubs) and I can pretend I am 7 years old again (with a housekey and computer and candy jar privileges.)

I mean, look at this. Doesn't that bit of sky just make you melt?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Shave and a haircut

I lasted a whole day before heading back to Summerhill Market with friends, but when I got there I kinda panicked from the overwhelmingness and pretty much only bought cookies:

Florentine cookies are an excellent choice for evaluating a bakery - they're a bit fiddly to get right. The Belgian bakery near me makes them in a silver dollar size, with rich dark chocolate and a still-chewy lump of nuts and dried fruit and goo, all of which makes them hard to top, so why look elsewhere?

Because that shop isn't open on Mondays, and sometimes Monday is the day I need Florentines most, and if I buy them on Sunday just in case they will be gone ten minutes later. I have no self-control when it comes to Florentines.

Buying these was a lesson in the importance of reading labels though: if I'd known they had soy nuts in them I wouldn't have taste-tested them at all. Soy nuts have no place in a traditional Florentine cookie. I might add that really good chocolate does, because apparently that is also news.

Still, such a relief! This market isn't all that easy to get to and what if I got totally addicted to their baked goods? I'd find a way, and it wouldn't involve walking over to burn the calories I was about to consume, either.

Later today I'll be introducing the chocolate marshmallows and the pretty ginger cookies to friends who are experts on those and see what they think. And later still I'll be trying one of the market's chicken pies: everybody I know who goes there raves about them, and it would be awesome if I loved them too because they are a lot more accessible than my current source for same.

I think I mentioned that I have been by this store a zillion times on walks and runs but probably not why: it's near a pedestrian bridge that crosses a train track. We got there just a minute or two before a long freight came through.

I hoped the engineer would honk or something if we waved but whoa: Shave and a haircut, and the two bits? That's a pretty good evening right there.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I can't stop thinking about the grocery store I was in yesterday.

I mean, seriously. I think I was ruined for any other after three minutes, and that was just the produce and chutney sections - by the time I rounded the corner past prepared foods (Oh. My. Gosh.) and into the bakery, I was totally doomed.

(see: peanut-free cupcakes with bright frosting in their own shaped plastic containers for local moppets to take to school in their lunchboxes, tucked in beside sandwiches folded into reusable, washable cloth cases in cheery construction equipment or floral fabrics, available in the elegant stationery section alongside baked goods. Oh, and let's not forget the 'Skunk' duster in Housewares - white tail as business end.)

I've known about this place for a really long time - it's in the neighbourhood I aim for when planning a long walking, or medium running route. I've just never been inside. But now that I have to practise driving every day I am running out of places to go, and on the weekend I remembered this market and thought, huh, maybe I can head over there and brush up on parallel parking. It turned out to be far too busy on the roads for that, though, which maximized my browsing time.

Yep, I said browsing: I made it all the way through without buying anything, mainly because the lineups were about six miles long and I was already out of time. But I am totally going back. Those sandwich cases? Perfect gifts. And - okay, I don't actually like marshmallows, but they have some flavoured ones handmade in Vancouver... pistachio, maple, vanilla, and about six other options I forget.

I just need to figure out a better place to park, because I don't want to be carrying the spoils three whole blocks to the quiet street I found this time.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spring thing(s)

For all that everybody is waiting for spring and watching for any little sign of it, I'm constantly caught out by something or other by thinking I have more time. Like, I saw my first fruit fly in the house last week, which means no more soft bananas on the counter till it gets cold out in the fall.

More crazy-making is the sun/windburn I got on my face last week. Okay, the windburn is probably not something I could have anticipated but sunburn in April is definitely not on my radar and I didn't get my giant strawlike summer hat out to defend against it. After five days of a hurty face and a ton of lotion and then pimples for pity's sake but no abatement of the hurty I corrected that error, and put on the hat to go outside.

Thing is, I just feel so idjitlike wearing that hat with a lot of dour black and grey in April. It's the sort of hat that Andie McDowell would wear to a summer wedding in England.

So I was quite pleased yesterday to score this dour grey alternative:

Bringing me to a nicer thing about spring - the shopping. True, this hat doesn't stay on as well as the bigger summeryer one, and will definitely take flight when I'm running someplace (as I do daily it seems, as I'm always late). Also the brim shades my face at the expense of my vision. But we will not quibble. Instead I will show you the fruits of my labours during the first try-out with the new hat:

It's really tremendously satisfying to pull up dandelions - an excellent stress-reliever. Sometimes you have to really hunt for them, they are so subtle, and you think you've got them all... and then one or six bloom and WHAM you can just dive in there.

The more years you dig them up, too, the fewer and fewer you get, a mixed blessing that sends me over to my neighbours' lawn if I'm feeling really stressed. They're so relaxed they don't mind, but they're moving - I wonder if the new tenant will want to pull up her own dandelions?

I suppose I could always go over to the park.