Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trixie Beldon

I found these at a thrift store yesterday (my last thrift store run of the summer season, sob!):

Also, a boy-directed horseriding mystery entry that had been owned by the same girl who had the Trixies; I passed on the girl-turns-mermaid book from the same era, which I still sort of regret and am trying to get over.

These series books were pretty lame in a lot of ways I know, though obviously the concept still does well today, but when I look at illustrations like these

I can't help but remember the comparative innocence in which a child could grow up in the 50s and 60s. Obviously, not knowing about seamier parts of life leaves you more vulnerable to experiencing them when you might choose to avoid them if only you knew more. On the other hand, freshly back from picking up fruits and veg as I am? I gotta say I am glad I wasn't checking out of the grocery store with my 40-something mother at a time when Cosmo is considered an impulse purchase to be displayed directly above the batteries.

Seriously, most of the headlines on this month's issue are worse than Barbie!

(disclaimer: Barbie did not teach me personally that social success can be obtained only by fitting a certain mold, but I do blame her for my time- and energy-wasting love of putting together outfits.)

Anyway this is it, my last hurrah. I've got my work cut out for me this week to get ready for my return to the writing life, but I am carving out a few last bits of summer reading time to laze in a chair with my jeans rolled up and my hair in ponytails to solve a mystery about a red trailer. Yum!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Stocking up

I got into four different thrift stores today hunting for materials to use in the inevitable sewing projects that will overcome me this fall and winter. Why I feel the need to do this when I'm sneaking out to thrift stores in those seasons is beyond me, unless it's because I don't get out of the city to do it once summer's day trips are done and small town thrift stores are just more fun, but I'm trying not to question myself too much.

So far, everything fits into the storage space I've got, but I've noticed myself getting picky about what I bring home; I turned down at least five things today I would have leaped at in June. Good Mary!

Moderately good, anyway. I probably should have turned down a couple of these sheets because I have far more lining than I do outer fabric for tote bags... but I love the prints, and I know I won't be able to find them when I eventually run out and go looking for them in stores again, so I've washed and dried them and found some little nooks and crannies on the lining shelf.

And can you believe this tablecloth, the perfect size for my table?

I'm hoping my friend who's allergic (seriously) to the expensive holiday cloth I have had to stop putting under the turkey dinner won't have a reaction to this one because hello, fabulous? and not a single stain. (and $4.00, to boot.)

I checked every store for wool sweaters but there wasn't much on offer. You know, except for a single cashmere ($3.00) and a couple that turned out to fit me and have therefore been washed and set out to dry. And this cutie from New Zealand which is felting as I type:

and these three primary colours, the scraps of which will end up as raw material for some art objects I think.

The yellow has already been through the washer after a discussion with Trish about whether it was worth unraveling for its yarn (No.) It's come out as flat and as stiff as a board and I think wants to be a bag, with some cool lining from a sheet, probably the new one with the matching yellow cabbage roses in the top pic. The other two - indescribably soft - are quite thin and floopy and might make some really amazing mitten liners. I know that seems like a waste, but the hands of loved ones really do deserve a treat in winter, and you'd be amazed how many other projects the cut-up bits of a post-mitten sweater can go into.

Not to mention how much space they take up. Oh dear, and there's one more thrift run coming up next week...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Big Little Books

One of my favourite things about thrifting is the discovery of things I had or at least saw when I was little - something that, oddly enough, happens more frequently when I thrift in the region where I grew up than in the one where I live now.

These two Big Little books were a particularly nice find. I never had these two titles, and I couldn't tell you which ones I did, but just the sight of these chunky books with their comic book illustrations?

They brought me back to some quiet happy day in summer when I was smaller and no doubt wearing my much-loved orange shorts/yellow T ensemble with a kerchief over my hair, worrying about not very much at all.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Summer on a plate

I saw this plate in a thrift store a couple of weeks ago and even though it's pretty worn, I didn't think twice:

It kind of encapsulates my summer - the day trips and the thrifting, the family and the friends, but also Museum Week when I was alone for part of every day looking at very old, brightly painted ceramics and tea sets and thinking about how many generations of people have used colour and imagination to make ordinary functional items special.

I'm hoping that when I bring it out at Christmas with our traditional family meringues and shortbread on it, I'll remember these not-so-lazy days that made up a special part of this year.

I wonder what family traditions it was part of in its previous life?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Sunny days are the very best for housecleaning, because the sun is streaming in and spotlighting all the places that need attention. They are also the worst, for pretty much the same reason.

This is the same problem I had yesterday at an exhibit of set props and so on from the Harry Potter movies (no explanatory link needed, I think?) You know, with the costumes. I learned to sew in Home Economics class when I was about 12, and terrible as I was with the school machines, I recognized immediately the theatrical possibilities - because for more than half my life before that I'd been watching old movies on a mainstream TV station and period dramas on the public broadcasting one. I never got very good, but I did get very persistent at making over vintage clothes to fit me, and I wore them too.

My poor parents. There they were, having survived the Depression and the War and doing everything possible to give their children an education so they'd have a marketable skill and there I was wanting to find a way to sew or knit or write stories for a living.

Just as well I didn't argue though because I could see from those costumes that I don't have the spark that would have allowed me to compete for jobs with the likes of the people who made them.

There's one character whose name I forget but who wears a disheveled looking suit that makes me just want to hug him every scene he's in - and yes, it was pretty clear looking at the suit that it's made without any sort of interfacing, so the rough tweedy fabric has to give itself its own shape. And the formal dress outfit that Ron has to wear when Hermione has her date with someone much more dashing? Well, it's better than it looks on screen, and much cooler than the staid black and white that Harry wears, but you can see how the combination of fabrics and colours would make it an embarrassment when viewed through a camera. My favourite though was the Bloody Baron's costume - the fabric was nothing like anything I'd ever seen, and I can't even imagine how you'd sew it. Just the imagination required to source the materials for these outfits is beyond my comprehension.

Fortunately I don't feel as hopeless with words... and fortunately, words don't take up nearly as much storage space. Bad enough having to vacuum and clean on a sunny day without having to shift around a lot of sewing gear to do it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Thinking and - about - vs - writing

Two weeks to go before my self-imposed start date to get back to the short story collection!

Even though today is perfect weather for knitting a fall cardigan (grey, soft-breezy, a little damp) I'm averting my eyes from such an idea and thinking about how that will work... which is to say, how many projects I have to get finished or hidden so I'm not drifting off to them instead once my tea is brewed on Day One.

And what to do if I do find I'm drifting, other than sit right back down again at the keyboard. Like, making a schedule for projects I really, really want to have done before Christmas and doling them out to myself as little rewards.

When writing goes well, it's the best thing in the world - Binnie described it to me recently as a kind of dream world where most of you is in the fiction and the rest just drifts through the house and daily life - and when it's not coming out at all, it's the hardest.

Harder even than not eating the remains of the fudge that got hidden in the back of the 'frig last week (yes, I ate the remains of the fudge.)

So: motivation. I'm a pretty accountable person and I do stick to deadlines which is why I set so many for myself, but it's tough to beat the motivation you get from a course. That's probably why along with the thinking, I'm remembering that this is the time of year when one applies for the Humber School for Writers correspondence course, so as to be sending off some work every week or two to a published, often award-winning or at least award-shortlisted writer for feedback and some direction.

Of course, delightful as this process is, it also requires a spare $3000 Cdn. So, you know, maybe I won't do it again this year. Or maybe I will use some of these last two weeks to figure out how I could.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Project ideas in the wild

I'm always getting project ideas, or at least questions, from visits to museums. This week it was the Simcoe County Museum, which includes not only an inside display but an outdoor collection of buildings and equipment (ranging in size from snow blower to train.) And in the buildings, of course, there were accessories.

Like this cute doll set from the 1922 cottage:

I took this pic for Kathi, who has a thing for paper dolls - it came out fuzzy, but you get the idea (mostly that these probably aren't paper dolls to dress up.)

But also, this interesting-to-me scrap carpet, whose pictures are also fuzzy, from an 1800s log cabin:

I've never seen one like it, and now I want to make one with my many felted sweater scraps.

This style is more common but now that I have rug-hooking tools I'm wondering - is it hooked, or woven, or sewn?

Here's a fuzzy closeup:

And here's a project I am definitely not getting ideas about - pillow tatting:

Even though the accessories are very, very pretty.

Because amazingly, I do have some sense of self-preservation.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


If I'm going to be writing this fall, I have to be sure all my procrastinations are as organized as they can be - otherwise, I'll waste valuable typing time looking around for materials instead of just making things. Which is why, today, I looked at this:

and decided to Do Something about it, with this:

Janie H. gave me this tin at the beginning of the summer and told me I had to use it for Stuff, and I am pretty sure embroidery thread counts. And those little white cards were packaging from something or other I used to buy a lot of - no idea what, even less idea why I kept them, unless it was some deep instinct that someday I would need a dozen or so little white cards that weren't index cards (index cards would also have done nicely, but these are a little firmer and also, pretty and shiny.)

See how pretty they look with satin embroidery thread on them?

I know, it's not much. But it's a start!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sheets: they're not just for bedtime anymore

I get my best ideas from strangers. Like, last month? when I made a pitiful attempt at carting along a picnic to a municipal park?

There I was sitting at this really filthy ripped up picnic table wishing I'd brought plates or something so I didn't have to nibble my sandwich out of a bag, and across at the next table there were two clearly very sensible ladies enjoying a delicious lunch (packed in a basket no less) on a sheet. A big floaty flat sheet they'd brought along and thrown over the table by way of a tablecloth.

This, I thought was brilliant, and I started hunting for sheets at thrift stores because sadly I don't have any extra sheets to take out into the wilderness with me. And that's how I managed to go those ladies one better, with a fitted sheet:

I know, I know, you can buy a plastic tablecloth for a dollar just about anywhere. But can you throw it in the washer when you get home? Can you roll it up as a pillow if you want a post-lunch nap? Will it stay put instead of getting too friendly with the wind and folding itself up onto the potato salad? Ha. I didn't think so.

Yes, those are leaves on the table. I am getting freaked out about all these falling leaves. We're not even into the final third of August yet!

Oh, and today when I saw another very sensible lady taking a picture of a butterfly? I did the same thing with another butterfly I spotted a bit further off.

Hint: it's in the lower centre of the picture, resting on the second-shortest foreground flower. You'll probably still have trouble seeing it, but it's there, and so pretty.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Blanket solution please

I feel like a squirrel frantically storing up nuts for the winter - i.e., the season when I'm less likely to be out on fun day trips that just happen to pass by thrift stores. I'm filling up my fabric shelf with old sheets and tablecloths to use whenever I need sewing therapy or can't wait to try out a new tote bag idea (I have a few simmering right now, so hey, it could happen!)

But last week's thrift finds were a little too successful, and I'm now housing things I can't really use as they are and can't justify cutting into because there's nothing wrong with them. Let's focus today on the blanket problem, shall we?

There are now three in the house:

The top one is a pale sage green, queen sized, merino wool with a soft halo and not a single hole or stain. Plus, it cost me $5, which makes it an amazing find not to be squandered. The colour gently clashes with everything in my house, and I don't have a guest room. It would make an awesome coat if I could face sewing one, but I can't. It would also make a ton of really, really good tote bags and pillow covers to give as gifts if I could face destroying something so perfect, and again - can't.

The middle shows its true colour, a breathtaking blue. Just plain old wool this time, technically in twin size but it's shrunk up somewhat so it's closer to a square that is still perfectly functional. It's soft. It shares the same problem as the sage green, except for only costing me $4; it's perfect and beautiful and looks wrong with everything.

The last is a peach double size I bought a year ago and still haven't even washed, though that will probably change today now that I've taken a closer look at it. It's stained in a few places and has some moth holes, so I can cut into it - it doesn't matter that it too clashes with everything I have.


I can't help thinking that with some matchy embroidery it would make great cushions covers for the blue blanket, especially after I've washed it in hot water and dried it in the dryer so that any felting potential is realized. And again - it won't work here.

I think there's really only one solution to this problem, don't you? I need a cottage. After all, I have enough sheets now.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cottage industry

Last night my aunt asked me whether or not I've ever considered buying a cottage and I sort of stammered over saying No, not really. Because I have been thrifting again, and here is what I have bought after hesitating longingly over vintage Pyrex double boilers and other kitchen essentials:

Wool blankets

I made these purchases with no intention of using them for their intended purpose - I bought them for cutting up into Other Things - and I can guarantee you I will not be going near them with scissors because they have no holes or stains or other problems that would prevent them from being delightful to sleep under at a cottage.

There, I said it. All this thrifting I pretend to myself is for eco-frienly craft work? I'm about 96% certain that secretly I've been amassing stuff for a weekend residence. You know, for that long-distant day when I can actually afford and justify one.

Now if only I can think of a place to store it all while I wait for the lottery to pay off...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fate is being sneaky with me

I went on a thrifting trip today (well, actually it was a day trip full of picnics and amusements and water fests and so forth that I planned as cover for several thrift shop visits) and guess what I found mixed in with the pillowcases and sheets that are so alluring as tote bag liner fabric?

Yes. Hooks for rug-hooking. A whole bowl full of them - I chose these two because they represented the two different shapes on offer and felt the most comfortable in my hand and one of them has Patons punched on the side and both were made in England, which makes them extra appealing to me.

This does not mean I will pursue rug-hooking. They cost 29 cents each and I decided a 60 cent investment that goes to charity is a perfectly reasonable response to being presented with a bowl full of tools for something that intrigued me just this week. I will be strong. I will just put them away quietly until some urgent reason arises for me to take up a piece of burlap and thread wool into it.

(and yes, that lovely blue doily really did cost 49 cents. Don't you love thrifting?)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I've been trying to ignore the solitary greenery - it's been green, which helps the ignoring - lying in my path from time to time over the last hot, humid couple of weeks, but this is tougher to pretend isn't there:

Fall. It's coming.

As are the changes you may or may not recall my mentioning with regard to The Procrastination Diary: this fall, I'm going to stop procrastinating.

(famous last words, I know.)

Thanks to some new time-to-myself opportunities opening up, I'll be writing fiction again, so that even if I'm still goofing off and chasing up new interests (I will be) I won't be writing about them here. So, not so much of the daily triviality; more of the once every week or two Making tutorial or other excitement I simply can't contain.

By way of housekeeping I'll be gathering the current tutorials into .pdfs to post from marykeenan.com, which is where I'll post future ones as well as linking to them from here. And I'll go on writing new Hugs For Your Head (small comfort if you're not a knitter, though if you really, really like my writing you can probably get little fixes there while waiting for me to come up with something publishable.)

When is all this happening? I'm not exactly sure. It very nearly happened today, until my sense of neatness stuck a foot out into my path to remind me that I really want to get those .pdfs done before I move on into the shadows. Soon though. Probably sooner than those leaves on the porch turn brown.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A terrible thing almost happened

There I was, innocently planning another day trip or two, looking up interesting places to visit and then checking for surrounding shops that might have yarn I like or fabric I'd sew because I don't care how picturesque a place is, I have to feed the procrastinations daily, and -

My trusty search engine turned up a shop that specializes in rug-hooking.
(not this particular shop, but another that has moderately less enticing photographs.)

Honestly. In about 3 seconds I went from not remotely interested in rug-hooking to 120% enthusiasm. Like I need another distraction from getting back to writing in 4 short weeks, which is how long it will take me to get the current distractions finished and off my mind.

As the adrenaline surged, I found myself thinking this would be a perfect way - with nothing more than the purchase of a $3 hook and maybe some burlap - to use up both fabric and yarn I'm not likely to do anything with. How virtuous. How could I say no?

How to say no: read the instructions. Completely damped down the flames.

A narrow escape... except that as I wrote this, I remembered all those T shirts that got holes
or shrunk
or stretched
and would make a super soft rug if I cut them into strips...

Monday, August 9, 2010

When cars were cars

It must have been fun to design cars back before you had to worry about stuff like cost and safety and part replacement:

Even the public service got cool wheels.

I got this photograph while visiting the Ontario Provincial Police museum in Orillia, which is quite an interesting holiday destination in itself. I hadn't thought about the kinds of things that you could put in a museum of police work but it turns out, there is enough to fill a pretty big room and really open your eyes.

Uniforms through the decades, for example. The men's uniforms were sort of what you'd expect, but the women's, which became necessary in the early 70s when women could finally join, started out much like stewardess outfits - right down to the hat. And instead of a belt with the tools of the trade, they got a purse.

Another thing to give pause: the work of sketch artists. There is a cool display of a sketch done with the help of a not terribly observant witness, and a sketch done with the help of a much clearer one, and the photograph of the perpetrator of the crime - and, whoa. The good sketch was a dead ringer for that photograph.

Speaking of photography, there is a fabulous collection of turn of the century mugshots I kind of which now I'd bought to look through at my leisure. The quality of the images is incredible and so are the stories they suggest.

Still, it's the car I really love. Day trips would be pretty awesome in a vehicle like that, don't you think? And boy would other drivers keep out of your way!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Cottage Country: the way it was

Yesterday was Leacock Museum day - aka the day I went to Orillia, Ontario with friends to see the summer house Stephen Leacock (had?) built in 1928 on a bay at the south end of Lake Couchiching.

The neat thing for me was that he didn't just magically have this great house: he bought the land and camped on it at first in tents, building as he could afford to do so (he started with a cookhouse - first things first, after all.)

The land around the property is built up now, quite crowded really, but there is plenty of room here for a walk through the woods along the shoreline.

This was not the case with the cottages along the side roads where we got lost on the way home: the buildings there were closer together than the houses on my street.

Still, there has been some progress in cottage comforts:

You're not likely to see painted wood counters in a modern cottage kitchen - are you?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Giving in to the thrift

I've been thrifting again, thanks to Trish and her own recent thrifting projects - just when my house was at maximum craft capacity!

There was simply no way to resist this already-felted green pullover, though:

And after months of looking fruitlessly for sheets sufficiently white with flowers to use as lining for the tote bags I keep making - well, I wasn't about to turn up my nose at all these:

Which brings me back to the problem of maximum capacity. Let's just say that organization is not longer enough - purging of unneeded extras is now called for...

... and that includes about 15 years' worth of fiction writing that went nowhere. Really, do I need all those rejection letters?? (as it happens, yes, so I kept them - but I didn't keep every draft of manuscripts I wrote ten years ago and wouldn't do a thing with today.)

At least now the felted sweaters have a home near the lining fabric. And there might be just enough room now for one or two more of them, ahem.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


My friend Trish is thrift shopping - she's gotten hooked on sweater-unraveling for reclaimed yarn - and by telling me about it, she's making my own thrift obsession worse.

I read about recycling yarn last year (before I acquired tools that coincidentally make the job easier) and thought it sounded like a ton of work, but now that I'm spinning fibre I get the appeal of winding yarn from sweater to swift so you can wash and dry it. I'm doing that now anyway - with the Trish approach, you just skip the hours and hours of spinning.

That said, it's not sweater unraveling that is making me dream of thrift stores: it's sheets. I've been longing for more vintage weathered fabric for tote bag sewing (why am I not yet sick of making tote bags?) and then last weekend I watched some experienced picnickers throwing old sheets over scarred and filthy picnic tables for an instantly glam outdoor meal. Gah! more uses for thrifty sheets.

And have I actually found any on my thrift store runs? No.

That should change this month. This is Road Trip month - of the day-long variety. Pick a town with decent weather on the day that's available, and see everything it has to offer (including thrift stores.) Last summer I got buttons and crocheted doilies that supplemented my sewing actvities nicely, and this summer - well, I'm really, really hoping for some sheets. And some rip-out-able cashmere sweaters for Trish. After all, what a friends for?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pasta, the gift that keeps on etc.

Lately I've been cooking pasta most nights. Not because it's easy - it's not, what with having the filter the tap water (lead pipes coming into the house from the city, yay) and all the extra pots you have to wash - but in part because I'm on some kind of weird sauce groove.

Like - onions sauteed in butter, then diluted with a can of tomato sauce plus a can of navy beans? Sounds awful, right? Yet it's awesome.

Or white sauce with red or yellow peppers and snap peas and carrots, or ye old tomato meat sauce, or onions/zuccini/fresh tomatoes sauteed in balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil, with grated cheese thrown on top at the end so it goes spready.

The other part of my pasta obsession is the leftovers. Yeah, if I can freeze any extra sauce I'll do that, but I'm talking about the pasta itself. I've been saving some out from the sauce and throwing it into an omelet the next day - wow.

You can go fussy with recipes such as this one from Epicurious, or you can be lazy like me - onions in butter again, then gradually add some celery and maybe some chopped tomatoes, then dump all that into a bowl to mix up with grated cheese and a couple of beaten eggs and the leftover pasta, be it bow ties or spaghetti, before pouring it all back into the pan. Looks a lot like that bean/tomato/onion sauce sounds, and tastes like heaven on a plate.

Monday, August 2, 2010

37 children, 1 mum

I started my weekend watching Nanook of the North and being amazed by how happy Nanook is in every image, living his stripped-to-essentials life. This is a man whose sole focus is providing for his family, and since he does that constantly and with great success, what's not to be happy about? Bonus: the amazing clowns-in-a-car scene in which he unpacks his large family from the hole in his kayak after pulling up to shore.

Later I visited a museum that included a very lived-in house, as explained by this plaque outside:

It's a different kind of family provision, one that I think had to be at least as exhausting as Nanook's lifestyle. You have to click on the image to get the full impact.

Now admittedly, out of the 37 children in question our Rhoda only had 18, but she still had more than either of her predecessors from her two husbands.

She didn't last long between her two marriages, judging by the less-than-23-months between the last baby from dad #1 and the first from dad #2, and I'm guessing the dads didn't last long either - even with combined households, it had to be a lot easier to put two people in charge of a pioneer farm.

Just as Nanook tirelessly hunted for seals and walruses and fish to feed his family, Rhoda produced children. Even if she started at 18, she must have been having babies till she was 45. By which time she was probably also a grandmother, don't you think? Maybe a few times over, with the contribution of the stepchildren.

I wonder whether she had time to enjoy them, beyond a few quiet moments in the night settling a hungry infant. Did she love her husbands when she married them, or did she just come to love them later, or not at all? How was it to marry men who'd lost wives before her? Did her stepchildren welcome her? Did she welcome them? and had she known them perhaps, from the time they were born?

Each question suggests so many variables - so many stories in one simple plaque.