Friday, July 30, 2010

Passing it down

Sandals: who knew they could tell you a lot about culture and learning?

Yesterday at the Bata Shoe Museum I saw a display of three different woven sandals from three different periods in one culture's history. The sole of the sandal on the left was tightly and intricately woven, very strong and quite beautiful. The sole in the middle? Still pretty nice-looking, but woven more simply in a different design and much more loosely. The third? Same design as #2 but on a much bigger scale - no doubt faster and easier to make, but nowhere near the quality of the other two.

Somewhere between the first and second sandal, that culture developed a specialty in another area of expertise, and the people who made the sandals stopped teaching the next generation the more elaborate weaving technique. And so it was lost, and the later generation was left making a beginner level sandal as though none of their ancestors had ever known anything different.

I found this so moving, even though I personally got interested in spinning and have now learned to make a viable string with nothing more than a spindle, which sort of proves that people can recapture past skills without any economic need for it. It reminded me that no matter how many advances we make as a society, much can be lost with just one generation - with just one person, come to that.

And it reminded me how great it is when people do become obsessed with a subject, and learn all about it, and pass it on to others... because you never know when that old thing will become the necessary thing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


My museum extravaganza continued this week with more in-depth time at the ROM. One of my favourite exhibitions was a photo essay on isolated seniors and the house call practice that provides medical care for them. I've become increasingly aware lately of the reality of aging but, whoa. This really brings it home. For people without family, or without the ability to maintain a wide variety of close friendships - and let's face it, no matter how friendly we might feel we can all face that challenge as work and family commitments increase, never mind what unpleasant health issues we may develop in later life - this is a daunting possibility.

I've been pretty absorbed by the geology section too, and the exhibit on a terracotta army (life sized military figures and matching horses on loan from China) is pretty amazing, and let's not forget the awesome soup and the luscious desserts at the Food Studio... but most of all it's the people.

Usually I'm at the ROM on weekends, when there are a ton of families with young children looking for a morning's entertainment out of the rain or the cold. Weekdays in winter: it's all about the school groups, and the occasional preschooler outing. Right now? Summer camps!

These are a mixture of ROM-sponsored groups in various age ranges, with an equal number of other camps having an outing to the museum just like me (though I am not wearing a camp-issued T shirt.) Actually this is not quite true - I did meet several very friendly children in a camp group that did not issue camp Ts, and I would very much like to know how their counselor managed to herd them up all day and not go grey or tear her hair out altogether. In any case you can hear them coming from a long way away, and nothing beats their take on what they're looking at, as with the older boy explaining to some younger girls that "see, makeup back then was horrible" as they all viewed a mannequin representing an Egyptian lady dressing herself and her hair for a dinner party.

Added to the campers are a huge number of families visiting Toronto for a holiday, and I think the reason their kids are less amused than the campers is that their parents take them into the less thrilling exhibits, like 18th-19th century European furniture. They would probably have more fun running free in Egypt, checking out the mummies and the tomb, or in Greece, watching the grownup ladies giggle over the naked torsos and taking each other's pictures with same (yes, it's true, and I wasn't one of them.) But one universally-applied line from their parents seems to solve everything: yes dear, we'll get that when we go eat.

See? I'm not the only one in love with the Food Studio.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Functional art

There's a great ceramics museum where I live and, as a longtime collector of old spotted cups and little plaid plates, I've long wanted to go and never had the time. But yesterday, I did! and what a relief, as it was hot outside and cool and delicious in.

Well, I learned a lot, including how much zing a bit splosh of super bright yellow grabs your attention. I don't use a lot of that shade because ew, but oh what I've been missing: temper it with other colours and it's so nice. Really very much so.

The other thing I realized, having limited myself to spots and stripes in my own collection, is how artists have used functional canvases for their work, allowing it to become part of its owner's daily life. Paint a picture and it might only go into a giant carry-bag until there's wall space to accommodate it, but if you paint a teapot you could be admiring it every morning.

And as a bonus: a ceramics museum can teach you a lot about life for people who lived hundreds of years ago, which is my favourite part of studying history. Like for example, there used to be a drinking game - or maybe this is just a possible explanation for the three-bowl cup I saw there - in which three bowls were connected by a ceramic tube thereby allowing liquid to spill between each, and the participants tried to drink the liquid from all three on their own turn.

If that makes sense. Writing it down I'm thinking it sounds a lot like those tippy ball-bearing puzzle games you always see for sale at Christmas time or sitting on some lucky executive's desk. That and plague, smallpox, and other communicable illnesses probably explains why you don't see so many of those around any more, don't you think?

Monday, July 26, 2010

That old black magic

Things are changing here at Procrastination Central - I can tell because even though I am as full as ever of ideas that will take ages to figure out are unworkable, I am starting to go Zinnnnnng! more and more frequently about some stories I wandered off from about a year ago.

In fact, last night while I was spinning yarn because it was ever so much more urgent to do that than to sleep, some of the characters from those stories started chatting about what I was doing. This time, sleep was more urgent than writing down what they were saying, but I still remember their conversation this morning, and next time I will probably find sleep is not so important after all.

So, Ha! If I was going to be around my computer today, I would probably have a draft of another chapter to show for the day. Instead, I'll be having today's quiet time much farther than an arm's reach from same, and I really hate writing longhand... it takes me longer to get my thoughts down, and then I have to retype it all. Bleaccch. And yes, I've put a notebook into my bag anyway.

The main thing is that the writing is coming back, which means less procrastination, which will be weird.

Or maybe all my procrastinations will morph into responsibilities, and the writing will morph into procrastination? At least my life would remain balanced, and that's always a plus.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Roasted marshmallows

Almost done my busy tourism week, which has been sunny and not unbearably hot until today, which is wet and not unbearably hot, which means no forays to ice cream shops.

So here is yesterday's status:

Back to Greg's, for roasted marshmallow ice cream. And yes, it really did taste like the toffee-ish crust of a well-roasted marshmallow. And definitely, this alone is worth coming to Toronto on vacation.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Vacations at home: heaven.

In one of the earliest incarnations of this approach (low-paying job, high-level commitment to paying off student loans) I would sign out a laptop from work and take five days off to sit in my apartment working on a novel in my pyjamas, just like a Real Writer (minus the scotch and the talent.)

Last summer, I was equally happy to sit on my sofa designing a special pair of mittens while watching hours of Turner Classic Movies programming.

But this year I'm straying farther afield and being a tourist in my own city - hence the ice cream references over the past two days (today's installment: a gold medal ribbon milkshake from Baskin-Robbins. product review: delicious, but Greg's was still better.)

All this has involved a lot of walking, which is probably a blessing considering the upswing in ice cream consumption, but not necessarily more delight.

The big art gallery here, for example - well, I have to say it's an embarrassment. It's been hard for me to feel welcome there for years and though I'd heard it had improved a lot after a huge capital expenditure and renovation, throughout my latest visit I felt more uncomfortable than ever - security guards looming over visitors and speaking harshly to anybody who transgressed in any way, poor traffic flow from one sort of exhibit to another, a pretty snooty sort of cafe and really a total disrespect for children in the space, which is so not my experience at other museums and attractions.

Overall I'd have to say the best moments, apart from ice cream, have involved stopping. Sitting with informal picnic yums at a patch of University campus and guessing the source of the gargoyle's faces leering down from above, pausing under a mall tree and wondering whether it's real or artfully shaded with just a few dying leaves, admiring the skill of the stonemasons who lived and worked a hundred years ago.

And, yes: marveling at the shaping and gingerbread decorating the top floors of the old wooden houses across the street from the art gallery. Nice that this different sort of art got its own place on display, don't you think?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vindication for the ice cream

Yesterday I was horrified to prefer a fairly unexciting bean soup to a seriously expensive single scoop of ice cream purchased from a posh shop in a posh part of town.

Today, under duress (really!) (okay, not really) I went to a different ice cream shop. Not posh, but a serious favourite from my university days.

I couldn't decide what flavour to order so I went for the same as yesterday - chocolate orange - and tried not to gasp when the bill for same rang up at almost half what the posh shop was charging.

Also: I got two scoops of ice cream, not one.

Also: it was delicous.

Soooo much yummy orange flavour! The other ice cream, which shall remain nameless, was bland and had bits of tasteless rind in it. This was like smoothly frozen fudge infused with orangeness.

My friend had vanilla, also a replica of yesterday's choice, and found that it too was way better. Way better even than Baskin-Robbins, our usual benchmark for ice cream parlour deliciousness.

As we ate, people kept coming in, one at a time, for ice cream. As we left we found the ones had turned into a solid lineup out the door. Ha! Not only did we get great ice cream, we beat the rush.

So: if you're visiting Toronto, you want to check out Greg's Ice Cream at Bloor and Spadina. Bliss in a cone (or a cup.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Lunch vs. Dessert

I did all sorts of interesting things on the weekend and I'm too tired from the less interesting things I did today to tell you about them. So I will tell you instead about today's tragedy:

Lunch: a bowl of Italian soup with noodles and beans, for $3.50

Dessert: 1 scoop of chocolate orange ice cream from the best ice cream shop in town, for $4.50

Tragedy: the soup was better.

Yes. In my world. I am still reeling.

Friday, July 16, 2010


There's not much in the dessert line that I love more than my mum's rhubarb pie, so when I saw some stalks in the grocery store this week I had to buy a few. Mum isn't baking these days and I thought it would be nice to bring her some individually-sized pies when I see her on the weekend.

I love rhubarb's colours - the pinky red and the different shades of green. These stalks even had spots inside!

Mum's recipe calls for 1-inch hunks of rhubarb but I like them small, so they spread out into the custard filling.

Yes, that is a lot of rhubarb. I figured I'd freeze half for a future pie... and I doubled my recipe for sweet pastry, too. I'm evil with that stuff: as well as desserts, I use it for chicken pie. With maybe a little less sugar in it, ahem.

The tarts turned out to be high maintenance - they took most of the day to put together, on what I must say was a seriously hot day both inside the house and out.

But I knew I was doing something nice for my mum and when I got these little pastry stars on top I just felt so happy.

Actually tasting one was pure bliss. I only wish you could freeze custards. It would be nice just to enjoy random acts of pie, don't you think?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Porch picnic

Today has been the perfect sort of day to spend outside, especially while eating.

It's hot but there's a breeze, and I finally got organized about a proper wasp trap:

You fill it with apple juice and the wasps fly in to drink it, leaving you to enjoy your lunch in peace.

I didn't get around to eating the all the croissants I bought from the French bakery on Monday for a tea party, but stale croissants are awesome when toasted, so they automatically went on the picnic list. I like them best with butter and honey but that's a bit too evil for lunch so I stuck with cheese.

Sandwich planning bonus: the heirloom cherry tomatoes are ripe already.

I'm so glad I put furniture on the porch this year.

(caveat: the heirloom tomatoes? delicious in a buttery croissant, bitter and a bit ew on their own. I'll be cooking with these or throwing them into a pasta salad, if I ever remember to buy more pasta, which is debatable considering I forgot again today after going into the grocery store specifically to get some.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Laundry harvest

After reading this and thinking

b/ how brilliant to make supper immediately after breakfast, thereby being able to do other things right up to the moment of 5pm snackiness and

c/ pasta salad for supper? Yes and yes

I went to shift around the almost-dry laundry to make space for the fresh out of the washer variety and it hit me:

Laundry harvest!

Other people gather food from their gardens with which to make future delicious meals and here I am, gathering clothes from the washer to make future comfy outfits. And just like food (and cleaning) you do all that work only to have to do it all over again for the next round. It's sort of reassuring and also, more than a bit depressing.

But I won't think about that. I will think instead of the importance of remembering to buy staples like pasta and genuinely plain yogurt - vanilla doesn't count - so that next time I want pasta salad I can actually make it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Classics Illustrated

An awful lot of my childhood memories involve books. Most of those include food with the book - tea and cookies for example, or red Jell-O, not quite solid yet - but one that doesn't is the time I spent reading my older siblings' issues of Classics Illustrated.

I would pick one out from the shelves my dad mounted on the little bit of corner wall between the doors to the bathroom and my brothers' bedroom, and read it either standing up or slowly slumping to the floor. Certainly I never made it down the hall to my own room, or to the sofa downstairs.

If you haven't experienced Classics Illustrated, they're terribly illustrated comic book synopses of great novels - I still shudder at the bent faces of Jane Eyre's companions at boarding school - that somehow manage to be completely compelling. The good writing is lost, but all the action remains, and I guess that's the core of storytelling after all.

Anyway this spring I got a little obsessed with rereading some (not Jane Eyre) and eventually wandered onto eBay for some seriously competitive bidding. The last of my winnings arrived today, including both Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein, but here is the first shipment:

This was one of my favourites. The covers are always beautiful - no comparison to what's inside - but The Moonstone is so exciting, even weird drawings can't ruin it. I can't wait to read it again.

These two are also high on the list of must-reads. I did sit up with The Woman In White a couple of nights ago - it certainly captured the highlights and then, of course, there were the biographies of Alexander Graham Bell and the lady who founded Christian Science in the back.

These two, not so much. But I'm sure I'll get to them.

I've never heard of this one, and I'm going to make time for it soon because - flying ships and trains? How can it not be awesome?

Monday, July 12, 2010

How to improvise an outdoor room

I keep hearing people say 'I was ____ on the porch when...", insert 'reading the paper', 'knitting', 'chatting', 'spinning' etc. and it's been making me annoyed.

My house has a perfectly good porch on it that hardly gets used - lately, it's only housed spontaneous picnics on a polar fleece blanket thrown over the floor. The very nice chairs that sit on it all winter for protection from the elements head down to the front lawn come spring, so the porch has nothing on it in summer but the ugly back of the window air conditioner so necessary during heat waves. And it can't have, really, because where would I store whatever I put there when the other chairs come back?

Well, yesterday I decided I'd had enough. I brought some chairs from the back yard patio set that rarely gets used by more than two people anyway, and I shook out the front hall carpet I use to catch snow from boots in the winter, and dug through the rafters in the garage for a couple of the 60s wire tables I keep not resisting at flea markets and people's curbs on garbage day. Ahem.

Let's take a closer look at one of those wire tables, shall we?

I love these things. I used to keep some in my living room before I ran out of space for such luxuries, and lately they've supported pumpkins at Halloween. They are indestructible and versatile and I really don't know why people keep throwing them out, but I wish they'd stop because I'm running out of room in the garage. You don't want to know how much stuff I had to shift to get at the cupboard where I keep little pots to keep little plants in.

(the plant was a present from my mum. Cute, yes? and so matchy with the rest of the front garden.)

Okay, so my improvised porch won't win any design awards, but it's highly functional. I know because within hours of setting this up the porch saw spinning, reading, and snacking. I wonder what will happen out there today?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

At rest

It goes without saying that no easterly holiday would be complete without a stop at the cemetery where my father and brother are buried.

This time I noticed something I hadn't before - the two graves immediately to the left each mark the life of someone who died young the year my brother did, but the first was two years older than him, and the second two years older than the first.

It made me wonder whether this was a coincidence, three people dying close enough together in the early months of that year, or whether the cemetery management selected those sites for companionship - if not for the lost, then for the living. I am guessing the mother of the man in the middle grave lives nearby and comes frequently, because the flowers, for both the father and son buried there, are splendid.

And really, it is a very pretty cemetery.

Further east is another cemetery that warrants regular visits, and it is also very pretty but much, much older.

I love looking at the earliest stones - the colours and shapes.

And I love that people bring beautiful flowers to a cemetery.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

When I grow up

Sometimes when I start a sentence with those four words people point out to me that I'm already grown up, an error in judgment I suppose is sort of understandable given that I have finished with braces and got a driver's license and grown grey hair and all that other growny-uppy stuff. But I'm not. I can tell because:

I don't have anybody to pack my stuff for me when I go on a holiday.

I know, I know, you're thinking that's another mark of growny-uppiness, like paying taxes and remembering to buy milk before you run out in the middle of your cereal. But not in my world. When I grow up, somebody is totally going to sort out my suitcase for me, so that getting ready for the vacation is part of the vacation. Instead of the vacation being something you have to recover from after it's over.

Still, nice to have vacation at all. And especially nice that it's not happening in a tent, because that is a lot of packing.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Erasing the year

Okay, I did the horrible thing yesterday and went through the house for all papery traces of the last eight or nine months - junk mail, notes, notices, you name it. For a paperless society we sure still use a lot of paper! And now I've put a lot more back into the recycling process.

I'm careful about bringing junk into the house, and I toss a lot into the recycling box in the kitchen within moments of its crossing the threshold, but the stuff I have to keep a few weeks tends to make itself at home within just a few days.

And then there is that nagging thought - what if I want to check those details in retrospect? what if I will have such fond memories of that event that this scrap of paper will recall them in sharper focus? I expect these questions are common, judging by the persistence of the scrapbooking industry. But when it comes to shedding they sure can be a nuisance.

This last year, though - whoa. There's so much in there I will actively try to avoid remembering, I didn't want to tackle the pile at all. And now that I'm done, I feel more than the usual lift you get from a freshly tidied space. I feel closure.

With just a little bit of ick, because when I dug through the remains I found my order for the routine bloodwork I was supposed to have done back in March. Think I can pretend it stayed lost?

Monday, July 5, 2010


Have you noticed how even the shortest of away-overnight holidays requires effort? Maybe not so much if you travel all the time, but when you do it just two or three times a year, it's a bit of a pain - planning in advance for what you'll want to wear, where you might want to go, whether you're likely to be inspired to write or knit or walk in the rain

(I've decided I won't, even though I know it will rain on at least one of the days I'm away this week, and will concede to an umbrella but not a second pair of shoes)

and so on.

Anyway the little vacation I'm packing for is throwing off my routine entirely. On top of the whole packing thing I have to go over my kitchen counters today and clear them of all the paper that's piled up in the last 4-6 months since the Bad Time started, because pretty much the minute I get back I'm having a house guest, but

I don't wanna!

I finished Emma very very early this morning, and I want to start another Austen.

I want to sit in the garden and ignore the weeds and eat more strawberries.

I want to work on a short story and do some knitting.

I want to nap, and maybe watch another movie, and generally be on holiday here.

On the upside, apart from that one day the weather will be beautiful where I'm going, and the days filled with extraordinarily agreeable friends and family and places I like to visit. So I guess it's worth it.

Still don't want to deal with the paper mountain, though.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

At the beach house

Today is Canada Day (happy birthday, home!) but yesterday was my dream vacation - cool breezes, sunny skies, and no commitments whatsoever bar taking four bags of things I don't have space for over to Goodwill and stopping to buy watermelon on the way home.

Something about the day made me feel I was at a beach house, though I'm pretty landlocked in my part of the city. This is probably in part because of the aforementioned breezes, and the view from my desk:

That's a garage, but with those cedars I always think of my friend Pam inviting me to her grandmother's cottage up at Sauble Beach back when kids could still ride unbuckled in the back of a station wagon and nobody called Child Services, and it magically turns into a boat house in my mind.

I don't have a back deck for admiring that view but I did think to curl up beside another window to do some knitting and glanced outside periodically at this:

I read more of Emma, and later I sat down with friends and watched Wall-E, which I missed when it first came out (what else is new?) and I ate a lot of stuff I don't normally, like chips and cheese dusted popcorn and Oreos (all at once - yes, I know how to party) and generally had an awesome time. I wonder whether today could possibly top it?