Sunday, March 27, 2011

This seems physically impossible

Explain the math to me, somebody.  My storage room looked full but accessible before I started getting rid of stuff.  After, it looked like a bomb site with little pathways.

Today I took another foray in there and sent six boxes out to Goodwill and dumped a solid box of paper into recycling and

it looks even worse.

So my questions are:

How is this possible?


Can the situation be improved by chocolate?

(no, really, that was a joke, because of course all situations are improved by chocolate, unless it's really bad chocolate - there is such a thing - and there is no other chocolate within ten yards in which case the situation is automatically a disaster.)

The real second question:

Do I need to hire somebody to come in and make it all go away, or should I just go in there and start carrying it all out to the car without considering what I should keep and what needs to go?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The opposite of procrastination

A terrible thing has been creeping up on me the past few weeks. Not spring cleaning, though it is the time of year when you don't wait for all the snow to melt to start raking up last fall's leavings

And when green things start to look even better than usual next to the hibernating ones

And my stone bunny emerges again from under its pile of winter shovelings.

All that cleaning and reorganizing I've been getting up to... well, it got me doing some serious math.  Like, what it would cost me, per additional room, to move to a bigger house.  Which is sort of inflated because I could get the same effect for less investment by adding on to the current house, if I didn't put a value on my sanity mid-renovation, but I do.  And my conservative estimate on the value of the 8x12' room I use for storage works out to about $30,000.  Is there $30,000 worth of junk in there?  No way. 

You can see where the creeping terribleness is coming in.  I would like more space.  I would not like to go through all that junk and figure out what can go to a thrift store and then package it up to go there.  But I would like more space.

And yesterday afternoon, I thought - ENOUGH.  and instead of going through boxes and shedding stuff like I have for the past 15ish years in there, I moved every single box and bag out of it, turning the next room over into something out of that show about people who hoard stuff. 

It took 5 hours, and I am a fast mover. 

Then I dismantled the biggest storage shelf and moved it out for donation purposes so I couldn't put more stuff back in there. 

Then I realized I need to say goodbye to another big shelf if I want to be able to use that room for anything functional so I got rid of it too.

Then I realized I need to get rid of at least 60% of what I was hanging on to because I've lost about that much storage and my workbench was still completely covered in boxes.

(that's okay though.  I don't need the first communion certificate of my dad's childless cousin who died 35 years ago, or six French-English dictionaries.)

It will be a miracle if I get everything out the door or back into the room by bedtime tonight, but hey!

you can see the floor now.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cleanup rewards: vintage china

I've been clearing up my house lately to make space for new things and ditch the clutter, getting rid of anything I don't use and consolidating what I do.  It's hard to part with things sometimes - I'm sure you've had the same experience!

My aunt sent me a little summary of how to make tough decisions about what to keep and what must go which echoed what I had learned through experience.  It amounts to this:

If you don't need it now but might need it in ten years then compare its replacement cost to the real estate value of the storage space it will take up during that time.  Then get rid of it.

If it cost a fortune and you're not using it, then it's costing you even more of a fortune and not just in money.  Guilt is a heavy burden.

If you've collected a lot more of something than you can display (or use - are you getting the theme here?) then you need to prune.

Things are just things, not memories. You'll remember high school without the leather jacket you bought there in your last year.

Family heirlooms aren't heirlooms unless the current and next generation get to develop attachments to them.  Use them.

Bearing these policies in mind to steel myself for the task, I emptied two out of six storage boxes this week, and one of the remaining four is only half full.  A lot of what I decided to part with was stored china I had collected over years of thrift store and rummage sale visits in various towns I visited, by way of acquiring functional souvenirs.  What I kept, I've put in my newly-cleared out china cabinet where I can get at it.

The plate in the middle was sitting on a crowded table at a church bazaar in a little village along the eastern  coast of England when I found it.  I love it so much for its cheery colours and seeming movement.  Years ago I had it hanging on a wall with these plaid plates (I'm such a sucker for a good 50s plaid plate) but it's been nice these last few days to serve cookies on any of the three.

I can't remember where I got these, but I think they would be perfect at Christmas, don't you?  and maybe for a special meal with a friend.

This one I picked up at some totally unassuming charity thrift shop.  I can't tell you how much I love this plate - it's very smooth and new-looking and toast looks beyond perfect on it. 

I adore these two bowls, too - I did say I can't resist plaids, right?  The pink one has a little chip but I decided I don't care and it needs to stay.  They are great bowls for slipping round cookies or wrapped candies into.

This cappucino-ish set is special - I found it at a flea market it during a weekend spent with a childhood friend who was turning 30 and wanted to revisit all our old haunts, including the near-vertical cliff we used to climb along at the lake.  Horrors!  I'd like to think it wasn't quite so treacherous looking then but I suspect it was just as dangerous.  I've used them once since unpacking them but I don't know... I think I might give the set to that friend, who actually drinks both cappucino and espresso.

These ones are pretty posh by comparison with the rest, aren't they.  An inheritance from my dad's cousin's widow that I have never used, but clearly need to use, perhaps for a small lunch party or a little tea and cake?

I should do something to celebrate all this cleaning, after all, and it really can't be a trip to the thrift store.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Where maple sugar comes from

This weekend I decided that as a lifelong resident of Ontario, having lived under maple trees for pretty much the duration and being more than fond of pancakes, I needed to see for myself what maple syrup looks like when it's really new.

Any time this sort of urge descends upon me I hit up some friends to come along, and somehow even in the depths of summer Sio and I, alone of the group, freeze.  One time we had to talk each other out of buying silk shawls in some 19th century castle's gift shop because it was August for crying out loud.  Unseasonably cold and rainy, but August.

This time I was determined not to mess up.  The temperature was hovering just over the freezing point as I left the house and the sky threatened rain or worse, so I put wool/mohair socks inside my rubber boots, two layers on my legs plus a skirt, a giant wool sweater and scarf, and a wool hat with my raincoat. 

I was glad of the rubber boots.

(Sio begged off by the way, claiming to have too much laundry for gallivanting.  I bet she was warm.)

There are four kinds of maple trees.

I think the one in front of my current house is a sugar.  I grew up with two reds.  Mum didn't realize how big they'd grow when she planted them, and a subsequent owner of our house had to cut one down to save the other (and have natural light in the living room, and get any free time at all from raking leaves every autumn I expect.)

The idea is to tap the trees when the sap starts running in early spring, and catch said sap in something or other.  One of the more picturesque approaches is a pail.

The sap is quite clear and beautiful.

Also in evidence at the park I visited: the more modern method

which eliminates the risk of overflow and protects the sap from marauding raccoons. 

Either way, you have to boil it down.

This is the part that prevents sensible people from tapping the maple trees on their own lawns even if they aren't growing on the municipally-owned portion of same.  I mean, you've got to get the sap down to about a 40th of its original volume to get to syrup, which is a lot of steam, and I say this with confidence because the one guy I know who did once tap his own trees made his wife really, really mad when he boiled the sap in their kitchen.  She had to rehang all the wallpaper.  Hence the 'once'.

(the syrup was delicious though.)

You can get maple syrup in different grades depending on how much water has been boiled off the sap.  There's a brownish fluid that resembles syrup but pours like water, and there's something sweeter and  little denser that says With Real Maple Syrup on the label, meaning just a whiff probably, and there's high quality maple syrup from Quebec that is a rich lustrous brown and glugs out of the bottle or can, and there's my friend's syrup that took down the wallpaper, and then there is the sample they gave us on the trail. 

It only took about 113 seconds for this stuff to hit my bloodstream.  I'm amazed it was still liquid, there was so much sugar in that cup.

There was more of the same for sale in the Sugar Shack.

But my preference was for something with not much liquid left in it at all because

who can resist maple leaves made from maple sugar?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lime marmalade

A while ago Melissa at tiny happy made a passing remark about having lime marmalade on something or other, and while I seem to recall the point of this being the something or other I stopped in my tracks at the lime.


In my world, there is only orange marmalade. My mother likes it, so there was usually some in the house when I was growing up and I tried it once.  It was bitter.  There were huge hunks of orange peel in it that stuck to my teeth and were just all wrong, consistency-wise, for a cheery little piece of toast. Admittedly my mother likes tea that pours out like ink, so on reflection I suppose it's possible that other brands of orange marmalade might be less bitter, but still. Marmalade = ew.

Yet there was Melissa liking marmalade, and it was lime, so obviously I had to get some.  I mean, I live in a pretty big city and we do import things.  Surely I should be able to find lime marmalade?

It seemed not, for several months as I haunted different posh grocery shops.  But last week, the nearest one suddenly had: lime marmalade with ginger, lime marmalade fine cut, lime marmalade.  I went for Fine Cut, remembering those hunks of orange peel.

It is heaven.

I might even go back and get the regular kind.  But not the With Ginger.  I mean honestly.  Ginger and Lime?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Happy birthday to me

Yesterday, in honour of it being my last day at the age I've been for the past year, I took advantage of not getting Rob's first slot of the day for the haircut I've been trying to fit in since November and got myself into my favourite French cafe for the first time since I think 2003.

Twenty years ago when I lived near it and went every Saturday, I would very occasionally take a vacation from my office job to stay home and write fiction.  And at some point during the day I would go over to drink cafe au lait in a bowl and listen to grownup arty professional types having their business meetings there under cover of the always-fabulous jazz music.  Every time, I promised myself that some day I'd be in some arty line of work that would allow me to go there in the middle of the day, just like them.

So yesterday it was pretty great to sit at a marble table with my cafe au lait in a bowl, and the draft copy to review of another knitting pattern I wrote that's due to be published in a few months' time, and a pineapple danish at my side, which was just way too sticky to eat while holding a pen over paper but I ate it anyway because there is Nothing. Better. than a custard danish with a slice of pineapple on it.  See?

And this time when I listened to the grownup arty professional types - who still seemed to be the same amount older than me without actually being the same people, which struck me as more than a little time-warpy - I thought: I am really happy with my life just the way it is.

That's a pretty nice feeling to have, especially the day before your birthday, don't you think?

Tough to top on the actual day.

Unless of course you can't decide on a birthday cake

and opt to have them all.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spot the bedding

Yesterday I had to go to the fabric store to buy buttons

(newsflash: it is in fact possible to have the most stash buttons of your entire family put together plus the stash of at least five of your crafty friends and still need to spend $20 on retail-store buttons)

and spotted some denim ends in a bin for $4/meter.  Substitute yard for meter if you like, it'll do for this story.

Though I usually try to resist such indulgences when using public transit, I just happened to be carrying a much bigger bag than buttons typically require, so I bought about $7 worth of a lovely dark grey and headed home, where I immediately spotted a pillowcase on my stash fabric shelf with a shade of blue that comes pretty close to matching a blue crochet doily I've been wanting to use for something.

Then Michelle asked whether I want to meet up for coffee next week.  Aha! Michelle's birthday is in March.  A built-in excuse to drop everything and make a tote bag with the pillowcase for lining and the blue doily for an accent.

Of course, once I wanted it I couldn't find the blue.  But I did find a nice white one I'd been hoarding.

And then I did find the blue after all.

I gave both of them big roomy inside pockets - the white bag's being sourced from a sheet, not a pillowcase.


Both of these have been imagined as market bags - box bottomed, and deep yet narrow enough to hold the better part of a baguette from any of the nice bakeries on the high street.  Michelle doesn't actually use that high street any more, having moved a few neighbourhoods over, but I don't care, I will picture her carrying a baguette in her bag before visiting the butcher's and the fruit and veg store anyway.

A tougher call: which one do I give her?