Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Doesn't it look just like the trees had a wedding and threw confetti to celebrate?

I didn't realize there were so many different kinds of them within wind-blowing distance...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I am my father's daughter

A few years short of retirement, my dad had a heart attack. He stayed in the hospital for quite a while, and then he had to stay home from work a while more, while he recovered.

He decided it was the perfect time to learn to play guitar, but - alas - he couldn't manage to keep the guitar positioned comfortably on his leg. Clearly a little footstool was in order. We didn't have any, so he decided to build one. He also decided to sand and stain it, a process requiring many trips to the hardware store. You never touched anything so perfectly smooth as the top of that footstool when he was done with it.

When another family member expressed admiration, Dad gladly handed it over and built himself another. He built several, in fact, and by the time he was done he'd lost all interest in the guitar and it was time to go back to work anyway.

Last night after a long rainy miserable day I thought, h'mmmm, wouldn't it be nice to take a nice long bath?

But the tub looked a bit manky, so I decided to clean it first. While I was getting the stuff to do that I tried to remember the last time I'd done the sink or the toilet, always a challenge since I tend to block out any excessive bursts of housecleaning. I decided that whenever it was, it was probably time to do it again.

Once they were looked after, it was back to the tub, where I noticed there was really a lot of dust on the shower curtain rod. I couldn't remember the last time I'd washed the shower curtain, either, and the shower curtain liner always looks so much more cheerful after it's had a baking soda and vinegar bath, so I took them down and put them into the washer.

I wiped down the shower curtain rod and found it's a lot easier to do that without the curtain rings in the way, and after all, they looked like they could use a good soak too. So I took them off. Once that was done it was natural to think I should do the same with the curtain rod over the window, but those rings were older and of the six, five snapped in two when I tried to remove them.

Disaster was averted when I remembered stashing more rings in my storage room, left over from when I replaced the main shower curtain rings about 10 hours before a visit years ago from my friend Susan, who was coming in from Chicago. I used to see Susan a lot at conferences but never for more than a few hours at a time, and apparently I believed that she would deeply regret giving me a whole weekend if I did not replace my dollar store shower curtain rings with something nicer. (As it happened, we had a great time - from the moment I met her at the airport to the moment I took her back three days later, we did Not. Stop. Talking.)

By some miracle, the shower curtain rings were just visible under a pile of other stuff in the storage room, and I threw a few into the soapy water with the others. Then I put the original ones - very, very carefully - back onto the shower curtain rod.

Only to discover that I was one short. I got back down off the stepladder, washed another and slipped it into place, washed the window's curtain rod, and put the Susan rings on that.

And then I cleaned the tub.

And waited for the washer to finish working its magic, and hung up all the wet curtains to dry.

And then it was too late to have a bath.

Dad died of a different heart attack twenty years ago this week: it's nice to know he's still a little bit with me, even if I didn't become an engineer like him.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What Mondays used to be like

Over the summer I visited a train museum with a lot of office-type equipment in it. I don't know whether it was the lack of chocolate that day, or the really good setup in the retired train station (or ghosts!) but I had a vivid sense the whole time of the life all this tired old equipment once led.

Things would have moved slower, though the people doing those things likely didn't.

Even if you were running around or tapping furiously on keys, though, you'd probably spend most of your talking time with the people in the same room. A lot of your other contact would be on paper.

This phone probably rang off the hook during business hours.

I wonder if you were more likely to get carpal tunnel from the crank-up phone, or the adding machines and typewriter?

Friday, September 25, 2009

The lonely brain

I've been enjoying The Morville Hours, an exceptional book that is part garden, part social history, part memoir, part unexpected and thought-provoking science.

For example, I didn't know that the only physical contact the brain has with the outside world is through smell. Apparently scent goes directly to the relevant brain bits necessary to process it; every other sense hands off the information through a long series of cells.

Can you imagine? Our brains never 'see' anything, never 'touch'. Even our awareness of sight and touch may be watered down because of the delivery process from these senses, as vivid as they often are. Maybe they would be unbearable to us if we had them without interference.

And how strange to be such a powerful organ, almost completely isolated inside bone, as if in a space suit. Protected, yes - but separate too. Perhaps this is why humans, however generous and kind individuals may be, are so attentive to the self: we are built that way.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rain rain come and stay

In spite of needing new rubber boots, I am so loving this autumn rain business.

We've been having summer weather again where I live, so it's hot, and we even passed through a record number of dry days. Later, clouds kept lurching across the sky and then checking their watches and debating whether to fall here or push on to Chicago, and the few that threw a tantrum about it and shed a little water on us eventually gave in and followed the pack and left us with more sun.

But yesterday we got some real rain. It was fabulous. The temperature came down, the breeze was soft, I got to listen to birds calling over the sound of water dripping from the leaves outside my office window...


(plus, I made it home pre-downpour with two fresh chocolate croissants. It does not get any better than that.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Perspectives on procrastination

Naps are my best friend (sorry, Bob!) But it's a love hate thing, as in, I hate myself when I love the thought of having one a couple of hours after I got out of bed in the first place.

I particularly hate early-day snooziness within 24 hours of finishing one project and having another accepted. I feel that this is a time I should be uber-productive and high-powered and generally resembling a responsible adult.

All of which is to say that I felt beyond guilty taking a 9:30 nap yesterday. And nothing washed that guilt away.

Not jotting down an idea, writing up some numbers, and knitting an entire project before the day was done.

And definitely not thinking about how to make the short story better, and pondering how it fits in with my other short stories, and considering whether I have enough yet for a collection?


Because let's face it: if you can't get yourself out of the house and over to the nearest baker of chocolate croissants, can you even think about calling yourself 'productive'?

I am totally getting on that today.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mondays - now with 90% less doom

I wasn't expecting to get much done yesterday, now that my local coffeeshop features flashing neon signs for procrastination in the form of free wireless.

So I mostly stayed home and hoped for the best and here's what had happened by the time I packed it in:

I finished a complete draft of my short story
I did all the laundry and folded it and put it away
I went to the dentist, who found no cavities
I made an actual supper with real-food ingredients and
I heard that my submission was selected for inclusion in an anthology.

(admittedly, it is a knitting anthology, which is just going to fuel my procrastinatory efforts in that direction, but still - not to be confused with doom!!)

In fact the only thing that was doomy about the whole day was that I ate no chocolate.

No, wait. I ate three chocolate covered cookies and, um, a lot more than that of the chocolate covered ice cream bars clogging up the freezer. As you were.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Signs of doom

Remember how I used to go write at my other office (aka, the coffeeshop)? Having been unable to get any writing done at home the last two weeks, I was planning to work there today. But on Friday, I walked past it, and saw


"Free wireless internet."

Yeah, I know I have a thingy on my laptop I can turn off to keep it from hunting for a wireless connection. I also have hands I can use to push chocolate away and out of sight. Not. gonna. happen.

Still, I'd like to do some writing today. Maybe I could find a nice traffic island somewhere?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The deep freeze

Further to yesterday's thoughts of baking, I spent some time last night clearing out the freezer so as to make room for completed batches of same, to be baked once I'm over my dang cold. This is always a depressing opportunity to revisit the disconnect between:

a/ my aspirations toward sensible, planned, healthy, economical eating and

b/ my inability to see past the front layer of frozen goodness

(aka, the seemingly bottomless box of Fudgsicles.)

I'm pretty good for the first 8 or so weeks after my big autumn clearout, when I know that everything in there is still definitely safe to eat, and I'm pretty sure I won't come down with 'flu and need the last single serving of chicken soup I froze with future time-constrained suppers in mind, but after that...

... things start to slide.

I'm always hoarding the good stuff in January when I know I'll get 'flu, but not when. March gets to be pretty much of a black hole for the freezer; by June, it's guaranteed that anything in there is no longer edible, but I'm too obsessed with salvaging the front garden to deal with it. And then from July until I can't stand it any more it's just a repository for Fudgsicles - dessert for after a takeout meal.

Lots of people I know buy chest freezers to store preplanned meals and don't have any of these problems. I wonder what they do right?

I'll tell you what I'm going to do right. I've got a pot of chicken stock simmering on the stove right now that isn't going to go into the freezer at all. It keeps for a week in the 'frig - seven blissful cool autumn days of soup. Mmmmmm.

* * * * *

ps if you checked out the Fudgsicle link, did you see this?? You can get root beer Popsicles again! My mum used to buy those by accident when she was going for chocolate - and you know how I love chocolate, but man. Those were the best mistakes ever.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


goat cheese
grape tomatoes and
chopped basil from the garden before we had a week of sunny weather during which I did not think to water anything.

The lemon thyme survived, though!

(hungry now?)

It's come to my attention that lunch should be a delicious enticing meal that not only provides escapism from the events of the morning, but re-energizes you to face the rest of the day.

Such lunch should be pretty like my baguette and goat cheese feast, but taste better than said feast (the grape tomatoes were pretty much wax, but the cherry tomato plants in my garden, which somehow survived me not watering them very much, weren't offering anything that day.)

And... such lunch should feature dessert. Be it coronation grapes (found more, yay!) or a very few delicious cookies, there has to be a sweet or it doesn't count - the more homespun, the better.

Why these insights occur to me when I am too sick to bake, I do not know. Perhaps it's the germs deliberately jacking up the agony?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mystery view

I'm sick again - too sick to think about writing, which is

(are you sitting down??)

what I had scheduled for myself this week.

No, really!

So I've been resting and getting some knitting projects into their 'mindless work' stage and being thankful that I was so productive on the cleanup front before I was Struck Down.

I discovered many forgotten loves during said cleanup, including a beautiful blue tile coaster from my cousin on which I set my tea for many happy years until I misplaced it - and then tragically broke while washing it for a new life on my new desk.

I didn't break this though:

I bought it from the hospital auxiliary store when I was a teenager, because I thought it looked so magical. I've hung it near my desk for inspiration for years, apart from the last few when it too was misplaced, and do you know, I still love it.

Isn't it interesting to think that somebody took this photograph and liked it enough - out of all the landscape photographs people take - to have it framed and then hang it up? And that after s/he died or for some other reason had to shed personal belongings, a teenager liked it enough to do the same?

I kind of wish I knew where it was taken. Is it some famous view in England I just didn't see when I lived there? Or maybe it's more special not to know.

I'm happy to have it back regardless, and wishing I had a few extra inches of wall space on which to hang it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Troop train

This past weekend a troop train rolled slowly past a little station I'd been visiting.

It was taking the troops to see the mayor, who was giving them a key to the city.

Something about seeing all these uniformed people sitting inside a moving train and waving - close enough to feel a connection, but too far to touch hands - hit me hard. I thought of all the men who went off to World Wars I and II on trains, and how it must have been to be a wife or a sister or a mother or a friend of somebody who was inside one, somebody who was maybe never coming back, and not really being the same even if he did.

I think this page, from a display case at the Railroad Museum in Fort Erie, says it better. Click on it, if it's too small to read here:

Friday, September 11, 2009


I don't have a head cold for an excuse today, though it has been a stressful week, and I was preoccupied at the time - does that count? Do I get points at least for having good intentions about being all tidy and organized when I flooded the kitchen again?

After I got the towels into the wash getting even wetter than they did wiping up the floor, I had questions:

Why don't kitchen sinks come with that little hole near the rim that bathroom sinks do? Is it to keep potato peelings from ending up in inner sink oblivion?

Would it make a difference if I folded laundry in the kitchen when running water to wash dishes?

Would it make a difference if I didn't try to do anything else while waiting for the sink to fill?

Do I need to start taking naps again?

Should I hire a manservant? Or possibly eat out more so as to dirty fewer pots?

and one small observation as well:

MAN, does the kitchen floor ever feel clean after a bath in all that soapy water!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Extra mile: biscuit edition

Once you've got a delicious treat on a plate beside your teacup you tend not to care about its cute packaging, which is why I particularly appreciate the boxes that originally housed the cookies my cousin brought over for tea the other day.

On the other hand, a cute box does get food off the shop shelf and into your basket. I think my cousin showed admirable restraint stopping at just two.

These now-empty boxes are totally staying on as home decor.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The most magical time of the year

Coronation grape harvest!!!

You can only buy these babies in late summer, and the seedless variety is only available in small quantities (in the grocery stores near me, at least) so the one-and-a-half pints left in my 'frig are probably the last ones I'll see till next year, but


they are delicious. Everything a grape should be.

Apparently you can use them in recipes, but I can't see my supply lasting long enough to get through making a single one of them. Definitely takes the sting out of watching summer end, don't you think?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Standard of living

Forts from the War of 1812 attracted a lot of my time this past August, and since I had a new camera (the original not-so-fab one making the unfortunate acquaintance of certain flagstone paving at high velocity this past July) I took a lot of pictures in them.

Reviewing these ones, taken at Fort Erie in Ontario, I was struck by the things that don't change, whether your life is civilian or military, or unfolds through 2009 or 1812.

We all need ways to pass the time, and they don't have to be fancy: a few rocks will do.

We need healthy boundaries, with some doors for give and take.

A quiet place to rest is important.

Some places are, of course, nicer than others, and it is always striking when the nicer places are not only nicer, but all devoted to the comfort of one person rather than sixty (the straw bed above having been taken in the soldiers' barracks, a solitary single in a crowd of bunks.)

Still, a good view is free to all.

As long as nobody is firing into your vantage point.

Monday, September 7, 2009

How to get a bigger house

Get rid of stuff.

Isn't that crazy?

Ever since I was an executor a few years back for the estate of two very packratty people, I was scared straight about accumulating stuff and seriously cut back on my second-hand-shop-shopping. Even so, I've managed to fill the last three weeks with the largest-scale shedding in the history of my life. And that, my friends, is saying something.

Among the stuff I sent on its way:

my daily planners from 1991 through 1993 (though I'm sure my biographers will curse me for this when writing about my creative life once I am gone, being left with no other way to determine the precise days on which I took individual days off work)

an inadvertent collection of keychains

a rather nice-but-needing-refinishing oak table shelf thingy which I repurposed from its job of 'holding junk up off the floor' in the storage zone to an exciting new one of 'holding junk up off the floor' in the living room

a truly eye-popping series of inkless pens

What I am left with, I'm in the process of redistributing. My former work area, aka the dumping ground for 15-year-old stuff from jobs almost as distant, is morphing (much like the aforementioned creative life) into a sewing/craft/giftwrapping area, whereas my china cabinet appears to be turning into - prepare yourself - a china cabinet.

I read in one of the magazines I unearthed (and then shot into recycling) that clutter happens when you don't have designated homes for everything in said clutter. Designate homes: all you have to do is maintain them. And darned if you don't get a bigger home of your own for your trouble.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Weekend reading

I have a great family, one of whom is a cousin living far away - one of those people you particularly wish didn't, because she's always introducing me to wonderful things that I wouldn't otherwise know about.

Well, just now she's in town, and she brought me books!

The House by the Thames views nearly 450 years of London history from the lens of a particular house and the people who lived in it over that time - a fascinating concept and one I can't wait to dive into.

War in Val D'Orcia is the diary of Iris Origo, an English woman who married an Italian landowner and was raising their family there when WWII pitted his country against hers. Apparently she helped to save many lives and again... can't wait.

I wouldn't want to be able to read three books at once because none of them would last long enough, but... The Morville Hours is also tugging at me. It traces the year in a garden at a house in the English countryside through the format of a medieval Book of Hours, and its author was a rare-book librarian before she became a full-time gardener and writer. I know the journey through this book will be sufficiently intriguing to feed positive dreaming and peaceful enough to lead me to sleep.

So much better than the ghost story collections I've been scaring myself with the last few sleepless night, don't you think?

Thursday, September 3, 2009


It's so nice to sit down. I've been cleaning house all day! Dusting mostly, after clearing out old paper and making big gaps for new stuff that's sure to come in. Sometime I really must track where all that paper comes from. I have a big recycling bucket just inside the door and I try to get as much in there right away of what's going to be going in eventually, but it it doesn't seem to help much.

The good news is that I unearthed some magazines I've been wanting to read and couldn't find (plus some others I totally forgot I had.) So now that I've earned a break, I can sit down and enjoy them. Outside maybe, where it's sunny and not too hot! Oh, how I love September... after the cleaning is done.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

School bag

I am so excited about back-to-school!

Even though I am not going back to school and also, even though I didn't know I was excited until I walked into a brick-and-mortar store yesterday and saw all the products for fall, like wool leggings and fabulous eco-friendly book bags from Matt and Nat:

To my credit, I did not buy a tailored plaid jacket or a tailored plaid skirt or even socks. I deserve chocolate for that, right?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rocks, part one

I'm not talking about Charlie Brown at Halloween, either.

I just love a rocky landscape or shoreline, but I'm partial to stone walls as well, and carvings in same. Here are some shots I took at the parliament buildings in Ottawa last month:

Wouldn't it be nice to have stuff like that in the corners of the walls inside a house? The kind you could afford to live in and heat, I mean?