Friday, October 30, 2009

The mystery of the ultimate Halloween house

This is just one of several houses in the area that turn into something off a horror movie set at this time of the year (one of the others boasts a full maze, fog machine, and every member of the family donning scary costumes and taking up a secret position from which to freak out trick-or-treaters on the night).

This one perplexes me, though. There is a mystery I can't solve. See if you can guess what it is as I take you on a walk along the curb:

And now, the mystery:

Where on earth do these people store all this stuff the other eleven and a half months of the year?

ps: my favourite part? that little white pumpkin on the last shot... I just want to pick it up and hug it!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hell, meet handbasket

Ever wonder where "going to hell in a handbasket" came from? Well, I can't tell you, and neither can Wikipedia, really.

Wikipedia does offer a nice definition though:

"a situation headed for disaster without effort or in great haste."

My definition:

"this week."

(I celebrated by watching Poltergeist last night, and some of The Power, while trying to finish the next big deadline project on my list. Didn't help much, but next time I stumble across paranormalisms in the bedroom closet I won't mistake them for overwrought dust bunnies. And that's something, isn't it?)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tea leaves in the sky

I had a great aunt who could tell fortunes with tea leaves; my mother took me to see her sometimes on trips to stay with another great aunt, the one who lived alone in her own house till she was over 100 and then went on a year or two more in a retirement home.

This is only a small digression because I so often will smell something that takes me right back into the long-lived aunt's kitchen, bright and warm on a dark cool night, with bread toasting - the only food a very small Mary would eat in a strange place. (the tea-leaf-reading aunt, on the other hand, offered chocolates, which a very small and chocolate-obsessed Mary was too shy to take. Fat chance of that happening now!)

Last night I had a different memory trigger - a darkening sky lit by bright turning leaves. It reminded me of the light in the sky after a storm near the house I grew up in, but the leaves reminded me of those long-ago fortunes. I wonder if you can tell a fortune with any of these?

This one, on the other hand: it's an inkblot, or a passing collection of clouds.

I see:

an anteater
a teddy bear head
a big ol' branch about to drop on the lawn.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween houses

Normally my neighbourhood is pretty warm and friendly, but it doesn't look that way just now.

You might have to click on these pictures to get a real sense of the way my neighbours are thinking. And the mood is spreading... I'll post more proof this week.

Seriously, that last pumpkin-on-garbage-can: scary! I am totally copying it when it's time to carve my pumpkins.

Friday, October 23, 2009

We got beets!

I just love that line from The Simpsons, with which Lisa greets her father on her return from the grocery store - so happy and optimistic - and I think of it every time I get beets.

Soooo... it's fall, aka harvest season, aka the best time of the year at my local fruit and veg. store, and I have so dropped the ball on cooking meals that I totally forgot to go in there until yesterday,

when I noticed I'm coming down with another cold and needed some lemons for hot honey and lemon. Pause for sympathetic murmurings.

Then I nearly left without the lemons, having filled up my bag with pears and apples and other goodies.

Do Brussels sprouts count as goodies? I think I've only cooked them once before, but I figured if I was to try them again, In Season and Local is a good time to do it. I found a nice recipe for Brussels sprouts and carrots, and improvised slightly with balsamic vinegar instead of cider vinegar, not having any of the latter in the house:

... and - well, not so nice really. But edible!

The beets, on the other hand, wrapped in aluminum foil and stuck into a hot oven for a couple of hours, were the beets. A bit smells-like-soil, a lot sweet and yummy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Haunted, or haunting?

Last Sunday's outing included a stop at City Hall in Burlington, Ontario and, specifically, the war memorial that stands beside it. Apparently the statue is haunted - people say it blinks, changes the position of its hands, smokes a cigarette, etc. - and some of my party were interested to see it.

Well, if I were the ghost of a local boy who'd fought in the war and was buried in France, I would haunt the thing too. The site is lovely and old-fashioned, with large trees and a well-kept flagstone path around the base, an old brick house to the rear of the park and a vintage commemorative fountain at the entrance.

But the more I looked at this statue, representing a WWI soldier in full winter uniform, the more I was moved by its beauty. Days later I'm still thinking about it, about the artist who made it, and about all the local boys who wore these clothes and that gear.

The legs are wrapped, the greatcoat's folds heavy and pushed up against the back of the right leg as if by a strong wind. The gloved hands, cast so realistically that you can imagine hands inside them, rest one on a rifle and the other on the wrist of the first. The breast pockets are full, as are the belt's pockets - ammunition, I assume - and a knife and another weapon I couldn't identify are slipped through the belt at one side.

There are many more burdens, too. The figure wears two small satchels slung across the shoulder on one side, and a third on the other. Plus a backpack, and a small roll on top of that. Underneath the metal helmet is a woolen one, the kind mothers and sisters and sweethearts knit for loved ones and strangers alike. It fits snugly so that only the face shows: and what a face! Handsome, noble, resolute, brave - and above all, young.

I've thought often about the ordeal soldiers endured in that terrible war, but this statue brought me a new level of understanding of the sheer physicality of the effort - of the need for warmth, and the cost in weight of having it.

The statue is, I would guess, about 7 feet tall, and it stands on an similarly tall base memorializing the names of local boys who died in WWI, then WWII, and finally the Korean War. One name, Warrie, struck me especially, and I was pleased to find a reference to him on this page, which includes the best image of the statue I could find online - click on the picture for a larger view.

I was less pleased to learn that Warrie fought in the field for eight months before dying in an especially horrific battle. What torture those eight months must have been.

Not being able to find a more detailed photograph saddens me, though I doubt I could have taken one myself, the statue being so far above the ground. Not being able to find the name of the artist - it must be recorded somewhere, surely? - saddens me more. But what saddens me most is knowing that this memorial, with so much to say about sacrifice and tragedy and loss, is visited by hordes of people, myself included, for its entertainment value alone.

Maybe there is a bright side: maybe in staring intently at its unseeing eyes and its hands for some sign of movement, they too catch a glimpse of what those men went through.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall Sale followup

I didn't find any buttons or blankets or wool sweaters for felting, but I didn't come away empty-handed from the Awesome Fall Sale last week, either:

I have such a weakness for lacy and/or embroidered handkerchiefs. They don't take up a lot of room, which is an important consideration for me, and they're very pretty, and just rare enough of a find to feel exciting. Someday - probably a week Tuesday when I'm in the middle of writing an inspired piece that everyone will want to read - I might even think of something to do with them.

The plain white cloth underneath the hankies looks totally ordinary unless you happen to notice it's linen. And if you pick it up, you'll find it's linen that's been washed and ironed enough over the years to have a wonderful heavy drape. I found one pinprick of a stain on the underside near the edge; otherwise, it's in perfect shape, and it set me back all of $5. Again: no idea what I will do with this. But I'm happy to know that if I ever need a 3'x3' linen cloth, it's neatly folded in my cupboard and ready to go.

In the textile sections I found a lot of vintage knitting needles that I resisted, being distracted by this Singer sewing machine attachment. I love my old 1940s model, but I do wish I could serge the odd edge now and then. Zigzagging is a reasonable substitute though, and for a buck, I figured I could gamble on this 1950s attachment fitting my machine. Sometime this week when I get a chance (and if I think I don't have time, I'm sure to make it by sitting down to write a first draft of the aforementioned inspired piece), I'll find out whether or not I won the bet.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Launching in 3, 2, 1...

Tonight is Binnie's book launch!

Well, one of them. The one I can actually get to.

It's a wonderful novella she's written, Harbour View. Much to weep over, and feel glad for at the same time, which to me is rather the point of literary fiction. If you can't get to the launch, you really should treat yourself to a copy of the book.

Just being there will be a treat for me; I always feel so inspired at literary outings. Usually I come home buzzing with so many ideas, the next day I sit down at my desk and hammer away at the keyboard without having to pause between any of them.

This would be something of a problem tomorrow, as I will have no time to myself whatsoever, but still. Given my track record with writing lately, even a problem would be something of a blessing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall colours

Summer is absolutely, irretrievably over. But there are some consolations, including this random selection from yesterday:

Key Lime Pie from a friend, just because

Pumpkins, straight from the pumpkin patch

Dried maize

Flowers from a friend whose sweater I mended

Honeycrisp apples, grown in Ontario

Friday, October 16, 2009

Awesome fall sale

Twice a year, one of my local churches does a big fundraiser for its various programs and charities by hosting an Awesome Sale...

and today is the Fall installment!!!

I love the Awesome Sale. It's a well-known treasure trove of vintage furniture, glassware, clothing, toys, sportsgear, drapes, jewelry, and more - for the first couple of hours you can't find a parking space for several blocks around the church. I gave directions once to a lady who'd come by bus just to check it out.

It's hard not to get enthusiastic about a sale like that, even as you ask yourself how on earth one small neighourhood can cough up so much fabulousness. Eventually the donors are going to run out of old stuff to clear out, aren't they?

Hopefully not yet. Even showing up a few hours late I've had some great finds over the years, including a mint condition 1950s juice jug with still-bright red and green fruits on the side, and an unstained, hole-free vintage tablecloth and napkin set. I'm definitely not ready to lose this exciting semi-annual source of comfort shopping.

Three guesses what I'll be looking for this time around:

(wool sweaters
wool blankets
and big bags of buttons)

Stay tuned for the skinny on how I did!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pantry soup

I decided to make an effort about supper last night before realizing I hadn't organized ingredients sufficiently compatible for anything but Pantry Soup, version three. And so, being too lazy to go out and shop, that's what I made.

Here is the recipe:

chopped onions, sauteed in butter
chicken stock
a can of crushed tomatoes
a can of mixed beans (kidney beans, chickpeas, etc.)
worcestershire sauce
a little sea salt

And here's the side:

thawed slices of rosemary focaccia bread
sprinkled with roasted garlic powder
and warmed in the oven till they're toasty

And here's the review:

The Soup - Ew.

But so sensible you feel you have to have seconds so you can eat chocolate chip cookies afterward without guilt.

The Garlic Bread - Very nice. Even if you dip it in the icky soup.

Remind me sometime to share the recipe for Pantry Soup - version one, which is actually pretty delicious.

Reminders to forget how to make versions two and three are also welcome, sigh.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Owl Pen

Yesterday as I was scrambling out the door I checked for the mail and found a parcel in the box. A book!

and I hadn't ordered any books!

Of course, I had to be late then, and stop to open it up. Inside I found The Owl Pen, by Kenneth M. Wells, beautifully illustrated by his wife, Lucille Oille.

Confusinger and confusinger - until I read the packing slip and saw it had been ordered for me by my cousin, the one who is so vastly clever at finding all the best books.

If the first page is anything to go by, I'm in for a real treat with this one, but what a treat it's been already. I don't think there's anything better than a lovely vintage hardcover book, sent by surprise to your very own mailbox.

(except maybe reading it over tea and biscuits.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Raw material

My stealth goal for this past weekend - the one I planned under cover of other much more sensible goals, also achieved - was to acquire a whole mess of second-hand wool sweaters and felt them, so I can cut them up to make into Other Things.

Mission Accomplished!

I was able to resist starting into them, mostly because of those other more sensible deadlines, but I know I'm going to succumb before 10 more days have gone by. Even though the next 14 are filled with sensible deadlines too.

Meanwhile, I have a peachy-pink vintage wool blanket to get into hot water, bwa ha ha.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why not join the choir?

A few weeks ago a man, a longtime choir member who's moving out of the parish, got up in front of the congregation I was in and asked us all to ask ourselves not why we should join the choir, but rather, why not?

Well, I'll tell you why not.

Growing up, some of my happiest times with my dad and my sister were spent while she played piano and he and I sang. I don't pretend to be talented, but I knew I was with talented people who didn't mind how bad I was. We sang 30s and 40s hits, mostly, some straight, some campy, as with the truly gruesome "Prisoner of Love." I still remember most of the lyrics to "I Can Cook Too", the raspy voices we used, and the way my sister's fingers jumped down onto the keys for the opening chords.

Dad sang in the choir. He was a tenor, and he was so good everybody booked him for weddings and funerals. For a while until he had his first heart attack and couldn't climb the stairs to the loft any more, he was choir director. Technically he was with us for church services - we could hear him singing, and we sang along with him - but he never sat with us.

You'd think I'd be used that then, right?

But no. Twenty years now since he died and I still can't sing in church - or anywhere else for any length of time. I used to sing constantly - I even sang out traffic directions (popular) and an alert to imminent collision (less so) to a music-loving friend whose car radio was perpetually broken. Not now. My voice cuts out and breaks down and I follow quickly after. I have a niece who was born with my dad's talent and it still amazes me, the way she can push through emotion to get the sounds out, improving her delivery even more as she does it, which is even more amazing because she's pretty fabulous to start with.

All of which is to say that lately I've been remembering The Roches. My sister came across the music of these three a cappella genius sibs a long time ago and when she played their cassette for me, I was smitten. I listened to a lot of Roches during my crafty years, and maybe my renewed interest in Making is the reason I've been slipping over to YouTube to play some of my old favourites.

Yesterday, I bought their new disc, Moonswept. The three of them harmonize as wonderfully as ever and I love listening to them. Even if they do make me cry a little now.

(they probably won't make you cry, though. Especially if you read their dictionary.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fabric in, books... tumbling

My Betz White books about making new stuff with old materials (from castoff shirts and sweaters and jeans and so on) arrived this week and they are enthralling. I think there was only one pattern I felt I absolutely must make, preferably 6-8 times, but I got ideas for several more as I studied the pages.

When I was ready to set them aside, though...

I discovered there is no place left to set them. My already-right bookshelf space is stretched to the max, and I still have at least two more essential reference (oh, all right, KNITTING) books to acquire and jam in there.

I've decided to not think about this problem for a few days: I'm going to go shopping for castoff shirts and sweaters instead. Hey, you never know! Maybe I can dream up a way to build a bookshelf out of them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

bump bump bump

I can't seem to settle down to anything these days.

If I look over the sweep of a week, yeah, I'm still pulling off more than most, but by individual hours or days, not so much. And it's driving me craaaaaaazy.

Especially when there is so much that needs to be done now - like, making fingerless gloves so I can knit when stuck outside, thereby buying myself more indoor time for other things.

Is it a coincidence that this chaotic internal state is happening just when I've managed to mostly kick the chocolate habit?


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Crunching onward

It's been that kind of week, in spite of finding out I can in fact share some recent excitingness, and Wednesday's just started. Urg.

Last night I cheered myself up with some corner store chocolate, in this case, a Crunchie bar. And you know what? Every time I have one, I can still taste those giant squares of sponge toffee you could buy from the candy counter at the Grimsby Arena when I was in grade school. I'd come off the ice with my red nose and my freezing toes and my skates slung over my shoulder, facing another ten minutes before Mum or Dad came to pick me up. I probably forked over 15 cents for one of those things, if that.

I always forget this between indulgences, but sponge toffee really, really sticks in your teeth. I wonder if eating so much of it has anything to do with all the cavities I got back then?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Not so very crafty

Oh dear.

I finally gave in yesterday and ordered some craft books about making things with old fabrics. And you know what that means:

more shopping
(in second hand stores for old fabrics, since I gave away all my own old fabrics to second hand stores) and
more time spent doing anything but writing.

Interestingly, I've been thinking a lot lately about the story I left behind, aka the novel I worked on at the Humber School for Writers. I got to a tricky part and thought I'd set it aside until I had worked out a solution for it. That was about 14 months ago. I still don't have one, but I'm kinda caring about the two main characters again, so maybe they're working on it for me.

And in the meantime, I can deliberately shrink a lot of old wool sweaters and make Christmas ornaments out of them. Yay!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ratta tat tap

Whenever I'm really stuck on what to do next, I deflect to YouTube to watch tap dancers at work. How can you not be inspired by this?

I don't think I ever saw an Eleanor Powell movie before I came across that clip on Soulemama (during another elaborate procrastinatory effort) and definitely hadn't seen her dance, which seems like a loss. So I did more hunting for her and found this one, which is one of the best tap dances I've ever seen.

When she's paired with Fred Astaire, though... it's hard to keep your eyes on her. Is it because of his trousers that his movements seem so much more fluid, or does it come down to all those insanely long hours of practicing he did?

Criminy - hard work does pay off, doesn't it. Maybe I'd better go do some.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mum's the word

This is one of the many things I love about fall:

being able to buy a colourful planter filled with lots of cabbage that I suddenly like the look of after years of not so much

and having it look magnificent once home

and knowing that there will be enough rain falling not to have to water it

and enough leaves gone from the tree above to allow the rain through

and being able to take a picture of it to enjoy

while nice and dry, from inside the house

with a cup of hot chocolate.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

All caught up


I've been, at best, three weeks behind on my New Yorkers for almost a year, after many more years than that of being, at best, ahead by five days (at worst, six and a half). But no more! I'm caught up, and halfway through the current issue, which arrived yesterday.

Ahhhhh, normalcy.

I am guessing by this fact, and also by the rather large novel on my nighttable (Cloudspitter, by Russell Banks, recommended by Binnie) that I am reading again.

However, I noticed this morning a growing obsession with reading this book, and that does not bode well for a return to literary, as opposed to crafty, life.

Oh well - at least I'll always have chocolate...