Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A mouse in the house (and how to get rid of it)

Very early this morning I woke to sounds that - for a few wonderful moments - I thought might mean nothing more than an expensive repair to my dishwasher.  There were poppings and scrapings and clinkings, as when metal collides, or glass (which is what made me think: dishwasher, yay!)

Sadly no.  There was a mouse under the stove, and then in the drawer of the stove, and then back under the stove.

Admittedly I did not witness this mouse.  I just recognized the sounds from the days when I had a cat who moonlighted as a pest control expert.  In all the years we lived together, she was only called upon to identify and deter a mouse twice, and I miss her so much right now because she did such an awesome job of letting those unwanted visitors know they would be much happier outside with their own kind.

A flashlight and broom handle are not as cuddly as my cat was

(which is saying something because my cat was super unfriendly)

but they are effective in their way, and the mouse fled without ever making an actual appearance. 

This made it much easier for me to determine that the gap I found behind the stove where its plug goes into the wall must have been the mouse's access point.  more yay!

How to Get Rid of Mice

Apparently one does not want to set out traps or poison for mice.  Apart from the ickiness of this course of action (once in my student years I caught a baby mouse in a 'humane' sticky-goo tray and have never forgotten its piteous cries plus the sight of its mother trying to drag it and the tray back through the hole), it's counterproductive, because the ones that die leave a greater mouse-to-food ratio that encourages increased breeding.

Instead, you want to keep the mice out in the first place. 

1. A cat is good, and I did read that used kitty litter is an effective substitute, but after those last years of feline incontinence I kinda think that mice are preferable.

2. Finding and blocking mouse entry points: essential.  A mouse can squeeze through a space as small as 1/4 inch, so you have to be really picky about what constitutes said point.  When you find likely candidates, stuff them with steel wool, because mice can't chew through that.  Also it would probably stick porcupine-like into their gums if they tried, judging by the little stabs and hurties you get from stuffing steel wool into a hole.

3. Making the mouse smell peppermint?  Total turnoff.  Word is, mice hate that stuff, and if you drop some essential oil of mint onto a cotton ball and leave it around where the mice loiter while waiting to make a dash for your pantry, they will opt to go loiter at your unwitting neighbour's house instead. Here's a tip: don't throw more than a couple of drops on.  The stuff is strong and guess what?  I don't like the way peppermint oil smells either, not after getting overenthusiastic and putting about 10 drops on.

And... did it work?

I guess I'll find out tonight.  And if I update the Diary with news of a new cat in residence, you will totally know why.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Curator - of a cottage

Do you remember the cottage I visited last summer?  I wrote about that visit here, and also about a special chair that lives there.

Well, guess what?

It is now mine.

Until some papers passed under all our hands over the winter, the cottage belonged to my aunt and uncle, who bought it about 40 years ago.  When I was a little girl I visited every summer for a week, the most blissful weeks of my childhood.  They have always been the best hosts, and to me, its not-too-rustic comforts in its forested setting at the rocky shore of a peaceful lake is the ultimate definition of 'cottage'.

They were around my age when they bought it, as were my parents and the two other siblings in mum's family, give or take a few years obviously.  And they photographed diligently every visit over all those years.  You can actually see people maturing as you flip through albums of the same people on the same sofa or deck or forest floor.  At the cottage, they are the only things that really change - the people, and the date.  The cottage itself is still the same, right down to the lamps on the tables at either side of the sofa (also the same, and none the worse for wear; they sure knew how to make upholstery in the 70s.)

That lack of change is something I really treasure.  I love that I will be unlocking the door with those keys this spring to find the same cutlery and lamps and books that either started when the cottage did or were slowly added in as the need arose.  Yes, the kitchen counters and floor covering are new, and the woodstove has been updated, and some of the books - my uncle is a huge reader as well as an amazing writer - will be gone.  But the curtain doors on the bedroom closets will be the ones another aunt made as a gift when avocado and blue were popular colours for bedding.  The orange, brown, and cream knit afghan on the back of the sofa will be the one that aunt and the aunt-in-residence made together over the course of a summer.

How many people get the opportunity to unlock a door into the happiest part of their past and just live in it for days at a time?  I am so excited.

And, um... I might be showing off a bit more sewing in the next few months.  Because even though I fully intend to curate the cottage so that it continues to be what it always was, I am still a person who makes things, and I am not going to be able to resist tweaking a bit here and there any more than my uncle could resist bringing in more books. 

I don't think the cottage will mind, do you?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

DIY hall closet organizer

You know those lovely craft projects for organizing your front hall table or wall with a place for keys and mail and tissues and umbrellas and reusable shopping bags and so on?  Yeah, must be nice to have any space at all inside your front door.

Not that I'm complaining, much: for a while I had this crazy idea about moving to a bigger place in my neighbourhood and the open house tours revealed that I'm incredibly lucky even to have a closet there.  What was it with those 1940s builders?  Did winter not require coats then or something?

To make matters worse, you pretty much fall into my kitchen from the 'front hall', so the counter caught all the stuff that comes and goes in one's everyday existence.

Now, I did put together a fix for this, an incredibly makeshift affair that worked okay, even if it wasn't pretty.  But I dreamed of something better, and finally, after at least three years of longing to reuse the same pieces in a more functional fashion, I had the time and materials and a gorgeous new Bernina sewing machine for which I wanted some simple sewing projects to start off with.

I present to you: my hall closet organizer:

(Yes, that's the 'After' photo.  I know, sad - isn't it?  Where do all those water bottles come from anyway, and why on earth do I keep them?  There aren't that many picnics in a summer.)

Let's break this baby down into its parts.

1/ An over-the-door hook thingy from IKEA.  It's got six hooks with 2-3/4" centres and some spongy padding to keep it from scraping the paint off your door, so I love it, and have several.

2/ A garden variety shower organizer with two hooks - vital, if you want to accommodate those umbrellas.

3/ A supercheap clear plastic shoe organizer from the dollar store.  It originally had a metal hanger sticking out of the top, useful for connecting it to the over-the-door thingy, but I cut it off for this project.  And I have to tell you, I hated the thought of reusing the shoe thing here.  I so wanted to sew my own pockets.  But you know what?  A DOLLAR.  Clear Pockets.  Strong enough to last 3 years already of bottle storage.  And about an hour of my time saved (to say nothing of the fabric savings.)  Sometimes even procrastinators have to be practical.

4/ My new addition was 8 yards (post-shrinkage) of - again, cheap - 19" wide, pre-hemmed on the sides, linen tea towel fabric.  I bought this years ago when I was fantasizing about becoming skilled at embroidery, and wanted a canvas.  This stuff was black and white which I love, and apparently I thought I'd need a whole lotta yards of it, but after washing and drying it I hated the feel and stuffed it away in a drawer to get musty.

When I remembered it for this project I had to wash it again, of course, and this time it came out like butter.  So, craft tip:  Even cheap linen is amazing if you only wash and dry it enough.


Since it's already hemmed, you're going to love the width of the tea towel fabric exactly as it is and worry only about length.  Mostly.


Main piece: 60"

Top facing: 6"

Pockets: 1 at 5", 1 at 6.5", and 1 at 8"

Tabs: 6 at 6" long and 2.5" wide


1/ On one cut end of each pocket and the top facing piece, press a 3/8" fold, then fold up again at the same distance and press again.

2/ Press one end of the main piece up by 1.5", then fold the edge of that down by 3/8" and press that too.

3/ Fold each tab lengthwise and press flat, then press in a tiny fold on each of the long sides so you can topstitch it shut later.  You are not worrying about the short ends at this time.


1/ Stitch down the folded hems for each piece, including tabs.  I used black thread and tried to sew really straight.   Emphasis on 'tried'.

2/ Place unhemmed edge of main piece against unhemmed edge of facing, right side to right side, then tuck the business end of the tabs between the two layers so the ends are flush with main piece and facing.  I laid the ends flat and butting sides at points exactly 2-3/4" apart.  (remember the centres on the over-the-door hook?) Stitch together, using a 1/4" - 3/8" seam.

3/ Fold facing back, press it open, then fold it behind main piece and stitch the sides of the main piece and facing together.  Topstitch the main piece about 3" down from its top edge to secure facing.

4/ Pin el-cheapo shoe organizer to top left corner of the right side of the main piece, just below the topstitched seam.  Sew all four sides.

5/ Pin shortest pocket piece wrong side up onto right side of main piece, with the unhemmed edge closest to the shoe organizer, such that said edge is about 6" lower than said shoe organizer.  Stitch along the unhemmed length, fold up and press open, then topstitch along the seam.  Sew sides of pocket to sides of main piece.

6/ Pin middle pocket piece as in 5/, but 7.5" from bottom of shortest pocket.  Continue as for 5/.

7/ Pin largest pocket piece as in 5/, but 9" from bottom of medium pocket.  Continue as for 5/.

8. Topstitch all three pockets into sections to suit your needs.  I sewed up the middle of the deepest pocket, then divided the middle pocket into three and the top pocket into four.


1/ Hang tabs over over-the-door hook thingy.

2/ Hand shower organizer over the second-from-right hook.

3/ Fill as needed.

4/ Have a cup of tea/some chocolate so you can face cleaning up your sewing area.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The downside of decluttering

Everybody wants to organize their space these days - whole magazines and stores dedicated completely to organization.  Remember when people had far too little to be bothered 'organizing' stuff? 

(I do, because my house was built then.  Hence the need to organize stuff.)

Anyhoo: I had a major sewing-related breakthrough yesterday and spent the whole day finally making and implementing the two organizational aids* I have been dreaming of - I am quite serious by the way, actually dreaming while awake and/or asleep - and, wow!


Erm... yes. 

Well, things are very organized in the kitchen and front hall now, and very white and decluttered and tidy.

It looks a bit funny, a bit bare, a bit like I moved into a hospital, but... yes. Tidy.  And now I will be able to find things simply, quickly, and calmly, contributing to my drive to find More Time To Write. 

(I'll just feel like I'm writing in an institution, is all.)

(but I'm sure I'll get used to it.)

(and if not, I can always go back to my cluttered ways.  might happen anyway, right?)

* pictures and DIY details later this week!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cutting up some wool

I don't seem to be sewing much now that I have a new machine, but I certainly am cutting.  Every few days for a few weeks now, I've spent an hour or so slicing up my stash of wool sweaters into tidy little squares:

The general effort is toward 4.5" squares, but I can't always make it in the amount of fabric that's left from previous cuts so I have a few that are narrower.  Later on I'll pair them up and stitch them, patchwork-style, into the requisite size. 

I'm going to make a blanket with them eventually , but I couldn't resist cutting out a heart from one tiny scrap.  It might look cute appliqued on somewhere, don't  you think?

Oh my, I sure do love a felted wool heart.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

When the grass isn't greener

When you have a problem you have two choices:

a/ fix it

b/ ignore it.

Sometimes the emotional upheaval of the problem is a problem in itself, which leaves you with two choices:

a/ talk about it

b/ ignore it.

Unless the issue is 'We're Out Of Chocolate!' and you happen to be having too much chocolate anyway, b/ is always the wrong answer, 'kay?  Trust me on this - the problem just gets way worse.  The trick to a/ though is to find the right listener.

Which brings us to c/.

Recently I recognized that a friend needed a listener, having suddenly discovered she is going through problems of such unimaginable horribleness I am amazed she is still walking upright and has not turned completely grey and/or developed tremors.

Actually what I thought was, "Omigosh, I shouldn't be worrying about my stupid problems when she is going through all that."

After a long chat exploring feelings and options, it struck me that there was encouragement for her in a problem I've come to terms with myself, and I shared that - while being careful to keep the focus on her problem.  You know what she said?

"Omigosh, I shouldn't worry about my stupid problems when you're going through all that."

What's that old story about the dinner you go to where everybody dumps their problems on the table and ends up taking home their own, because everybody else's look even lousier?  Yeah.  That thing.  That is c/.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A six-sentence story for tax season

A girl slightly dizzy from too much tea stood alone in a scary room. 

The table in front of her was invisible under stacks of paper; so was the piano, and the buffet, and several chairs. 

Now that it was all out, she had lost her enthusiasm for advance tax preparation!

And there was no space left to sit down or spread out a different, much more fun project! 

She took a deep breath, took off her socks, and whisked around the room like a dervish, gathering everything up by date. 

Soon the years she didn't care about were tucked into envelopes to be ignored for months to come, and the one year that mattered tucked into another, to be ignored for mere weeks. 

the end.