Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pretty and Purple

In a couple weeks, I'll be participating in the Spike Back Against Poverty volleyball tournament, hosted by Toronto City Mission as a fundraiser for their summer day camps. I don't really play volleyball, but I guess that's not really the point of this particular event. In order to raise our $700 entry, my team put together a coffee house and silent auction fundraiser this past Saturday night. We gave it a 1920s theme, got all dressed up, and entertained our crowd with a little Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby. 

It was a delightful evening, but probably the best part of the whole this was this little bit of gorgeous I came home with:

 
A necklace, made and donated by a very talented woman in our church. It's so pretty with the perfect amount of shimmer and just the right pop of colour. 

I wish I could send you to an Etsy shop or somewhere you could buy one for yourself but, believe it or not, after a short email exchange with its maker, I learned she doesn't actually make these beautiful creations to sell! Well, she does, from time-to-time, but not seriously. It's purely a hobby, one of those things in life that you do simply because it brings you joy. 

I am so grateful to have been the recipient.

Want to donate to Spike Back? You can do so here! If you would like to donate to my team specifically, feel free to email me for our team name details. But, I'd be tickled if you donated, even if the money didn't go towards my team's registration. 


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dracula: or How Vampires Are Not Cold Cuddly Creatures That You Should Want To Jump Into Bed With

Dracula
by Bram Stoker

I have not read Twilight. In fact, I refuse to read Twilight. This refusal, believe it or not, does somewhat disturb me, because I fully believe that, in order to believe a book to be bad, one must first read it. True, other people, whose opinions I trust, have reassured me that yes, Twilight is a terrible book, full of bad, immature writing and questionable views of women and love. However, I will fully acknowledge that, in order to claim these opinions as my own, I must read the books first.

I still refuse to read Twilight.

However, I have seen the movies, so I know what Stephenie Meyer has done to the vampire. This in itself, I believe, is grounds enough to refuse to read the books. Guys, believe me when I say this, vampires don't sparkle. In fact, vampires are scary as shit.

Seriously.

I don't only blame Meyer alone for the romanticizing of the vampire, though I do blame her for the extremes to which she took it. Anne Rice did it to. Read Interview with a Vampire or The Vampire LeStat. Both are good books, by the way, but both turn the vampire into a hero, beautiful and desirable, lost and searching. But the vampire was never meant to be a hero. The vampire was always meant to be a thing of horror, a thing to be feared.

And then as we looked the white figure moved forwards again. It was now near enough for us to see clearly, and the moonlight still held. My own heart grew cold as ice, and I could hear the gasp of Arthur, as we recognized the features of Lucy Westenra. Lucy Westenra, but yet how changed. The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness.
... 
When Lucy, I call the thing that was before us Lucy because it bore her shape, saw us she drew back with an angry snarl, such as a cat gives when taken unawares, then her eyes ranged over us. Lucy's eyes in form and color, but Lucy's eyes unclean and full of hell fire, instead of the pure, gentle orbs we knew. At that moment the remnant of my love passed into hate and loathing. Had she then to be killed, I could have done it with savage delight. As she looked, her eyes blazed with unholy light, and the face became wreathed with a voluptuous smile. Oh, God, how it made me shudder to see it!
            - Dracula, Bram Stoker, Chapter 16
 See?

Terrifying.

I'm not actually saying much here. I mean, I love Anne Rice's books. And Buffy and Angel? How can I condemn such a love story between the Vampire Slayer and the creature she's supposed to be killing? Star-crossed lovers at their best. But, I am lamenting the loss of the horror of vampires. They used to be some of the most terrifying creatures one could imagine. Now? They're a watered down semblance of themselves.

So, do me a favour. Go read Dracula. You can download it for free on Goodreads so it won't even cost you a dime. And trust me - it may have been written in 1897, but it's a very accessible book, with only a little of the complicated language you'll find in other 100-years-and-older novels.

Vampires - love them? Hate them? Miss what they were or love what they have become? What's your favourite vampire book? Do you love Twilight and think I'm being completely unreasonable in my refusal to read it? (I probably am.) Will you be adding Dracula to your to-read list?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Pillow Talk: A Mini Tutorial

I have fallen in love with pillows.

A few weeks ago, Mocha and Kingsley got together and destroyed our couch for the last time. No, not the new one, thank goodness. The old one. When it happened, I posted this photo on Instagram.

We tried to make the couch work for a little while longer. We just shoved the stuffing back into the couch cushions - they had only ripped it out through the back of the cushions - and fluffed them up over the mess of the shredded fabric on the frame. Technically, it looked fine, exactly like it did before. But, it was becoming habit. Every day, we would come home to another mess, stuffing all over the house. It was frustrating.

We are so not ready to buy a second new couch though. Solution? Pillows! We have one huge square pillow, a Christmas gift, that works perfectly on the back of the couch. In a quest for two more, we popped into HomeSense and discovered how expensive such pillows really are. I wanted three more, but after checking out the selection, I was wondering if we should just go out and pick up a second Klippan couch instead.

And then, we found two pillows on the clearance rack. They were slightly smaller that what I was hoping for, but I figured they would be ok if we managed to track down enough to pile the back high. The pillows were a great price - $10 and $11 - but, unfortunately, kind of hideous. Time to pull out my sewing machine.

Plaid, purple and fuzzy, and the other, the brown, yellow and grey one, the stitching was rough and falling out. Added to the pile of pillows that needed new covers, our three year old Ikea pillows were looking rough, chewed in the corners from Mocha's puppy days, greying and faded from the years of being squished, thrown on the floor, slept on by dirty puppies.

I picked up a decent length - 2 yards - of fabric at Ikea.

Carefully ironed and laid out on my kitchen table. I removed the cover from the pillow, turned it inside out and laid it out on the fabric, making sure my edges were straight first. (Snip, then rip your fabric. It will rip easily, along a straight line.)

Using the original cover as a template, I cut a rectangle that was double the size of the cover. In other words, when my piece of fabric was folded in half, it was the same size as the cover. Then, I sewed the two edges! Folded in half so the patterned sides were together, I sewed the edges, leaving the end of the pillow open.

With the edges sewn, it looks like this, almost a pillowcase!

Next, comes the zipper. Trust me when I say a zipper is really not that hard. I painstakingly ripped the zipper out of my hideous purple pillowcase and pinned it to the open edge of my pillow.

Figuring out how it gets pinned is the most difficult part of this step. It needs to be pinned to the right side (the patterned side) of the fabric with the non-zippered part of the zipper against the edge. Does that make sense? Does the picture above help it to make sense?

Now, sew it into place! You will definitely want a zipper foot for this. The foot I use, that I've always thought was my zipper foot, works just fine but seems to be backwards.

And, voila. A finished pillow!

I still have a few more pillows to recover and source before I can actually consider our couch resurrected. At the moment, we're just kind of making it work and ignoring the mess, but soon, perhaps, our living room will be back to its cozy self.

~*~
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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thursday Things: Vintage Kitchens, Big Scarves, and the Joy of Books

One: Vintage Kitchens

Over the weekend, we spent a lot of time talking about how we could make this house work for us. We were going to move into it just the way it is, slanted floors, cracked ceilings and everything, and live through the reno. As we waited for news the night of offers, I scoured Pinterest for vintage kitchens and ideas to make that little space work for a few months. 


When our offer was not the winning offer among 20 - it was, in fact, $100,000 off what we would have needed to offer in order to get the house - this is where the disappointment was felt most keenly. Don't get me wrong: I love our little kitchen. But every so often, I wonder what it would be like to take a less-than-ideal kitchen, a run-down, rough-around-the-edges kitchen, and make it work. Would I have the skills, the patience, the creativity to make it not only functional, but beautiful? 

I don't know. But one day, I would love to try. There is something so charming, so sweet, so personal about vintage kitchens. 

Two: Big Scarves



My brother- and sister-in-law gave me a ginormous scarf for Christmas. It's pretty - a black and white geometric pattern with bright coral edging. I love it. But, I'll admit, it took me a while to get comfortable wearing it. It's huge. I would wrap it around my neck and stare at this pile of material resting on my shoulders and my chest. I watched a couple videos to try to figure out what I was doing wrong. It helped, a little. But still, to me, it looked floofy and silly and not at all like all the inspiration photos of women in scarves I had pinned. 

And then, I figured it out. There was nothing wrong with how I was putting the scarf on. It did, however, have everything to do with the confidence I had in my ability to pull such a statement piece off. So, what did I do? I wore it. That's it. I put on a simple long sleeved shirt with my black work pants and wrapped that bright, eye-catching scarf around my neck. I may have played with it a little more than normal once I got to work, but as the day went on, I gained more confidence in my ability to pull it off.

Today, I'm grateful for it. According to Google, it's -13 degrees Celsius outside right now. For the first day this week, I'm not sitting in my office freezing my butt off. It's keeping me nice and warm, and looking cute too, if I may say so.

(I am also wearing tights under my jeans - which I chose even though it's not casual Friday because denim is thicker than any dress pant material - and socks with my heels - black, of course. And, when I head home, I will bundle myself up in a super-thick, 30-year-old sweater that my Oma made for my teenaged mother, my winter coat, a second scarf over my face, hat on my head, hood pulled up and fluffy mittens on. The only exposed skin will be my eyes.

Overkill?)

Three: The Joy of Books


This video is fascinating. The books dance.


I agree - even though I love my Kobo, there's nothing quite like a real book.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bleeding Radiators and Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Scones

When we first bought our house, I thought our radiant heat was fabulous. I was always toasty warm in the house and, if I wasn't, it wasn't hard to snuggle up against one of those bad boys and quickly become toasty warm. We've played with the system a bit over the year and a half that we've lived here. We took one out completely, a ginormous, ugly, baseboard radiator that, at the time, we thought was just overkill. And, we moved one, hiding it away underneath the mudroom landing to make room for our pantry cupboards. Despite that, our radiator system is mostly a mystery to us. 

Case in point: over the past few weeks, as the temperatures have been dropping like crazy, our bedroom radiator just kept pumping out the heat while the rest of the house seemed, mysteriously cold. We thought it had everything to do with the fact that we kept that room closed at night, so the heat never had a chance to go out into the rest of the house; it is the biggest radiator after all. But then, last night, we discovered that that wasn't the only issue. 

The remaining three radiators were stone cold.

No wonder the bedroom radiator was so piping hot all the time! It alone was keeping our house at a steady 71 degrees Fahrenheit, a 71 degrees that felt cold because the heat source was so far away. No wonder we were boiling in our bed. The Husband grabbed a screw driver and a towel and twisted open the bleeding valve on our living room radiator. Nothing. No water. No hiss that we usually expect. The whole radiator was empty. Completely, utterly empty.

We stared in confusion at the guts of our house. Everything seemed fine. There were no valves closed, no pipes shut. I followed the copper lines of our water, hoping against hope that something would just pop out at me. I shivered. 

We resigned ourselves pretty quickly to the fact that we know nothing about radiator systems and everything the Internet was saying seemed so simple and completely non-applicable. Fill the lines? How? It's supposed to be self-regulating! In a last ditch effort, I snuggled under a blanket on the couch and twisted open the bleeding valve on the radiator close to me. I felt the pipe. Still cold. And then, I walked away. I walked away and heated up the house using the only other method I know how.

Baking. 

By the time I had mixed up the dry ingredients for these scones, the heat had begun to inch up the pipe and I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Our system wasn't broken. We wouldn't be calling a plumber, or HVAC person, or whoever it is who services radiator systems. We would be finding some blissful warmth before bedtime after all.

By the time I had whisked together the milk and egg yolk, the husband had bled the dining room radiator and started on the bathroom radiator.

Once I had the scones shaped on a cookie sheet, the radiator in the bedroom had finally calmed down, taking a break from being the only radiator in the apartment that was working.

And, when I pulled them out of the oven, I was blissfully warm, content.

The radiators had been so empty, we couldn't even hear the hiss of air as it left the bleeding valve. Where did that water go? We have no idea. We've seen no leaks. We bled the system after we finished our work on it last summer. The water just mysteriously disappeared.

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Scones
From Brown Eyed Baker

These are delicious. They're a little more moist than your average scone, I think, because of the mix of peanut butter and oats. And they're delightfully chocolatey, but they still make a delicious breakfast with a nice tall cup of milk. Or, a bedtime snack with a mug of hot chocolate, or tea, or, if you're like me, that fake apple cider stuff that comes in little packets of powder. (Seriously. I'm addicted.)

I didn't change Michelle's recipe much (which she adapted from this book), so I'm going to send you over there to get it. I did, however, use milk instead of buttermilk, regular quick oats instead of traditional rolled oats (which probably accounts for some of the extra moisture I ended up with) and I skipped the egg wash and sugar dusting at the end, purely because I forgot to do it before I popped it in the oven.

Also, I learned last night that wax paper is really not a good substitute for parchment paper. It smokes and makes your house smell like burning candles in a bad way. If you don't have parchment paper, just skip the paper all together. I ended up baking mine on an ungreased baking sheet and it worked just fine.

I slept like a baby last night and didn't once wake up sweating because the radiator was too hot. And then, I ate one of these for breakfast. They're not the prettiest things in the world, but trust me on this: so tasty!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Story: Toronto Real Estate and the Anxiety of Bidding Wars

Last night, we put down an offer on a house.

The idea of buying a new house is pretty fresh. It was just last week that we finally let go of the idea of a major, second floor renovation and, in the same breath, acknowledged that our cute little bungalow was not going to be sustainable for very much longer. In a way, it seemed almost serendipitous that an old, two storey, semi-detached house with plenty of work to be done would come on the market well within a price range that would allow us to keep our bungalow, increase our rental income, and, in the future, provide the perfect space to grow into.

The house is split into two, a main floor/basement unit, and an upstairs second floor unit. Its layout, though, would, truly, make it a simple matter to convert it back to a single family home, a home full of plenty of room for the Husband and I, our puppies, and whatever little tots we add to our numbers at some point in the next five years.

There were lots of things that didn't work about the house too. It has no parking. The backyard is cute, but tiny and full shade, which meant any hopes of planting another garden were dashed. The basement is low, which is unfortunate since the only bathroom for the main floor unit is down there. And, of course, everything is rough, rough, rough. There's tens of thousands of dollars of work that needs to be done. We toured the place on Friday. As we sat in our car afterwards, absorbing all the potential we had seen, I dug in my heels, forced our conversation down a cautious road. By the time we went to bed on Friday, we had agreed: there were too many uncertainties, too many compromises.

But that price!

The house was listed at $299,000. I'm aware that not all of my readers will fully understand how low that is. To put it in perspective, there are maybe a dozen houses listed at $299,000 and under in Toronto. Most of them are tiny 400 square foot fixer-upper bungalows on tiny lots that make them unattractive to builders. The remaining are run-down houses on incredibly busy streets. We knew the house wouldn't go for $299,000. We knew it was a strategy to start a bidding war. But, as we kept thinking about it, as the problems seemed to disappear, as the numbers crunched beautifully, the idea of letting the house go without sending even a feeble offer at it seemed, well... wrong.

But, here's the catch. The unfortunate, sad problem with the housing market and bidding wars. In order for it to feel like a good idea to put in an offer, I needed to get excited about the house. I needed to want it. I don't have a business mind that can focus purely on the transaction. In order to be ok with promising someone I would spend that amount of money, in order to agree to send my life into chaos, I needed to get emotionally attached to the house.

I'm sure you can see where this is going. By Sunday afternoon, I found myself sinking into emotional attachment to a house that was not mine. I made plans for the new kitchen layout. I figured out all the walls we would knock down. I dreamed of the closets we would put in and the rugs we would buy for those floors.

Yesterday was torture, waiting for the news that wasn't going to come until well into the night. In early afternoon, when we submitted our offer, there were 4 other offers. I began bracing myself for disappointment. By 7, I heard news of 14. By 7:10, the last few had trickled in and the number was 17. At that point, I already knew our offer wasn't going to cut it, but I was still holding out some hope that the housing market would surprise me.

I wish I could throw a twist at you right now and say the housing market did surprise me. I wish this could be an excited, happy announcement that we are now homeowners times 2.

But I can't.

I'm ok with it this morning. Content. Ready to move on. What we're moving on to (renovations? further house hunting?), I don't know.

(All photos were pulled from an old listing for this house on Property Guys. Apparently, the seller tried, unsuccessfully, to get rid of the house approximately a year and a half ago. He didn't change anything since then.)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Finding a Sofa = Walking 10km around Downtown Toronto

On the weekend, my wonderful parents-in-law came to the Big City to visit, take the Husband out for his birthday, and do some sofa shopping. My mum-in-law is right in the middle of a huge decorating whirl-wind that she's been talking about ever since I've known them. And now, she's excited to finally start. We gladly offered to tag along with them and help them navigate around the city as they explored their sofa options. Of course, the excursion also meant I could get a little snap happy with my cell phone camera and bring to you a round-up of sorts of places at which you can buy your next couch.

Stop One: Urban Barn

Believe it or not, of all the furniture stores that came after this stop, I think it may have been my favourite. They carry a wide variety of couches, plenty of sizes for all sorts of homes and styles. Their staff were by far the most available and the most willing to chat about fabrics. Granted, this may have a lot to do with the fact that we chose a location that was not exactly central and was, therefore, rather quiet.

Stop Two: West Elm

West Elm is one of my favourite stores for accessories that I will drool over and probably never purchase, but it's not my favourite store for couches. It has a decent number and of a wide variety, but there's just something about them that doesn't quite fit with my style.

These bowls however? I want the whole set. I don't care that Valentine's Day is one unimportant day of the year. I will use them all year round.

Stop Three: EQ3

Dear EQ3: why are you so bleeping hard to find?

Dear fellow sofa shoppers: EQ3 is not properly signed. Their address is 51 Hanna street, but their entrance is most certainly not on Hanna. EQ3 is lucky that it wasn't particularly cold on Saturday or we would have given up and headed on to CB2. In the end, wandering around in confusion, shaking my head at my phone for the extra 15 minutes was worth it because EQ3 is fun! And cute. Except for the rocking chair that feels like it's going to tip straight back and dump you on the floor.

I liked this couch there:

Stop Four: CB2

I was surprised that CB2 wasn't much help for us. They had this couch, which I was immediately drawn to and essentially fell in love because it's way more turquoise than it appear in my terrible cellphone photo but will never buy because it's $1300:

But other than that, they didn't have much that really fit with my mom-in-law's small space and modern aesthetic. We didn't spend terribly long in the store. It's two floors, but surprisingly quick to wander through.

Also, we were hungry by this point, and we still had one store to visit.

Stop Five: Structube

Once again, I didn't see a lot that I would love to take home. This store was a little cramped and difficult to navigate through. They had a few good options, but nothing really new or unique.

Stop Six: Lunch

We stopped at the first pub we found. I don't even know what it's name was. We were starving and exhausted. My final recommendation? Don't try to visit 5 furniture stores in a row. Couches start to blend together and everything looks the same.

The trip was useful for my mother-in-law though. She left with a solidified view of what type of couch she's looking for, where she's going to buy it, and how much she's going to have to spend on it. It was fun wandering among the couches and discussing accessories and different options with her. I see another trip in our near future, once the new couch has been chosen and it's time to pick all the pretty to go with it.

Obviously, the majority of the places we visited were Downtown, on the west side. There are way more furniture places in the city, and we had originally planned on visiting a few more in the more northern areas of Toronto, but by the time we were finished lunch, no one had any desire to get back to it. I guess that's what we get for choosing to walk from one store to the next.

Were there any we missed? Where did you get your last couch?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Project Raise The Roof Update

On Thursdays, I usually talk about three things because Three and Thursday and Things makes alliteration and I'm a huge fan of alliteration. But these days, I've been thinking about just one thing.

What the heck are we doing with this house?

I don't know.

Months ago, we shared with you our plans to raise the roof and add three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and 600 square feet with a second floor addition. And then, I went silent about the whole thing. We were in the permitting process for a while. We submitted some plans to the city, had them send them back because they were missing things. Sent some more. In the meantime, we kept researching. We talked to some contractors, got quotes, eyed MLS for comparables and prices, contacted realtors and talked and talked and talked.

I'm going to apologize to all my readers who happen to be in real estate when I make this generalization: realtors are unreliable. At least, if you're not immediately making them money, they're unreliable. The first one we invited came, toured the house, gushed about the work we've done, promised she would drop off a package of estimates and comparables the next day, and then disappeared.

It was almost the same story with the second realtor. He plead family emergencies and disappeared, but only after the Husband spent numerous emails and time trying to get a number out of him, just an estimate.

The third realtor came through. She sat in our kitchen and talked plainly about our plans, about the numbers, about the real estate market. She gave us concrete information that we could use. When she left, we hemmed and hawed for a few more weeks. Then, we threw the plans out.

As much as our little bungalow is calling for a second storey it is just not worth it. The apartments behind us and the house's small footprint are strikes against it that even the most beautiful renovation couldn't make disappear. Unless we were willing to build out as well as up, the numbers just weren't lining up.

So, now we're left wondering what to do. We know this house is not sustainable for us in the long run. We're already busting at the seams and, while we have no current, concrete plans to continue growing our family, the last time we added to it, it wasn't exactly planned well in advance. A home office is still out of the question. We need more space - maybe not right now, but in the very near future.

So, what do we do? Sell and buy, make the move? Build anyway? Purge and reorganize?

We're confused. We're still talking. We're figuring it out. One day, something will happen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Happy Birthday Husband

I met Mark at church. It was December 5. When we talk about it, we wonder why exactly we had never met before. We'd been going to the same church for the past four years, both students at the nearby university. I admit I was aware of him and his tight-knit group of friends. I also readily admit that I was consumed in a different life, consumed by university, consumed by relationships that didn't always fit within the walls of the sanctuary. In fact, I'm grateful I didn't meet him and his friends until that last year of school. I was on a different journey, a different path, a path that was not yet meant to come parallel with his.

On December 5th, finally, we met, thanks to a mutual friend, and standing in that circle of guys, looking at the man with the shaggy hair and glasses, the man with the easy smile, I knew. I won't try to claim that I knew everything. I won't claim that I went home and told my roommate that I was going to marry him one day. I didn't even know for sure that I would ever see him again - it was the end of the semester, after all, and January was a co-op term for both of us, splitting us apart. But standing in that circle, I knew there was something so right about him, so perfect, so matched.

Call me ridiculous. Call me uneducated, superstitious, a religious nut. I firmly believe that Mark and I were predestined for each other from the days we were born. On January 16, 20-something years ago, God put our intertwined lives into motion. I am so grateful He chose this man for me.

Happy birthday Husband. I love you.

Monday, January 14, 2013

An Etsy Shop a Month

Approximately four times a year, I think about opening an Etsy shop.

Last year, I was going to go full bore crocheting these little chair booties.

I thought this would be a great idea, especially since this post is the most popular post on my blog. Last year, it even beat out this post that so many people find by searching for 'brick', simply because I snagged (and properly sourced!) a photo of a brick wall from some random site on the Internet.

Obviously, that idea died.

But then, I made two baby blankets on two separate occasions for two people last year, and I thought to myself, I should start an Etsy shop of baby blankets!

And then I finally worked the last end into the baby blanket I made for my sister and my tired, achy fingers brought me back to reality.

Now, let's go back even farther. I used to make pretty earrings.

This is an ancient photo dating way back to 2007. I still have the blue ones. The brown and green earrings disappeared somewhere and the black and white ones were left in a hotel room, and I still miss them.

It seems like every few months or so, I'm thinking about something I can make to sell. And, every few months or so, I don't do it.

On the weekend, I stitched together two pillow covers to cover a couple down-filled pillows that I picked up for cheap in the Home Sense clearance section. It was easy. And fun. Probably the most fun, simple sewing I've ever done. Of course, my brain starts ticking. I start exploring Etsy, looking at prices, comparing expenses, punching numbers into my cellphone's calculator. Of all the random Etsy-shop thoughts I've had, perhaps sewing pillow covers in the most realistic, the most plausible.

Still, I'm unlikely to do it. Seriously. When do I have time to sew pillow covers for someone else's living room?

Anyone else like me out there? Constantly eyeing Etsy sellers with just a tinge of jealousy and wishing you could join their numbers?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Photo Friday: It's time for canvases

I think I should begin a collection of photo canvases. Surely I can find just one or two of my photos that I like enough to to hang on my walls. Surely. Surely.

I have all sorts of stuff to talk about, but nothing I'm ready to blab about here. Our days have been full of work and talking and dog walking and reading and talking and soups and salads and falling asleep on the couch and dreaming and sleeping and talking. I hope you've all had a great week and, in the same breath, I hope you're all happy that Friday is finally here.

Now go. Read someone else's blog, someone who has something more interesting to say. And then, when 4 or 4:30 or 5 rolls around, or whatever other time you get out of the office, start your weekend off right, and then have a wonderful one.

I'll see you, back here, on Monday. I promise I'll have something more interesting to say than this.

(We've been a little bit like that stalk this week, being tossed so vigourously by the wind, but remaining ever so firmly attached to our roots. I am grateful for our roots.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Book Review: The Bridge by Jane Higgins

Last year, I set myself a goal of reading 20 novels from the beginning of January to the end of December. I finished, but barely. So, what is my natural course of action for 2013? Raise my goal of course. This year, I'm looking at 25. That's 5 more books. That's 2.08333333 book a month. Should be easy. 

Then again, I also thought 20 books would be a breeze.

Anyway, since I've heard from many of you that you enjoy my reviews (and even read the books I recommend!), and since books are something I care a lot about, I'm going to continue to subject you to my reviews. Who knows - maybe I'll even read more than my goal this year!

The Bridge by Jane Higgins

Technically, this is a book for teenagers. So is Harry Potter. So is Twilight. (*shudder.*) 50 Shades of Grey, however, is not, but I have a feeling I would probably have read it as a teenager anyhow. (I will not, however, read it as an adult.) So, technically, this is a book for teenagers, but that should not stop you from reading it, and enjoying it, and recognizing the message in it as applicable to everyone, not just 16 year olds. 

I was a little uncertain about how I felt about this book when I turned the last page though. I think you should read it, definitely - it was a great read - but I will warn you that it's unlikely to leave you truly satisfied. Perhaps that's the point. 

It's post-apocalyptic, kind of, dystopian, definitely. The story follows Nik Stais a teenager who finds himself caught between two worlds - Cityside, a shiny, comfortable world of luxury and the Breken, the hostiles on the other side of the bridge, in the ruined part of the city, the invaders. When the Breken invade Cityside and destroy Nik's comfy life, he must cross the bridge on a heroic mission to save a Cityside child from the grip of the Breken. I'm sure you can imagine what happens next.

On one hand, I loved it. The plot was gripping and moved quickly enough through a dystopian world to keep me enthralled and completely absorbed in the struggles of Nik and his friend, Fyffe. It was a little predictable in its twists, and the writing was simplistic, lacking in complexity, but was full of good messages and warnings. And a good story. It's a book to read for its story. 

On the other hand, as I flipped the last page, I was dissatisfied. I recognize the dissatisfaction as being something completely and utterly real, but I felt by the end of the book like the author hadn't finished her task. I read once that a good author will take his or her reader deep into the depths of despair and hopelessness, then lead the reader out again, offering a simple glimmer of hope that reminds the reader that our world is not lost, no matter what it may seem like. 

The Bridge ends with no hope. 

Or, maybe it did. But I couldn't see it. It was an enjoyable read, but I feel like I'm looking for the last chapter.

Next up? The Lion Seeker by Kenneth Bonert. I'm loving it, halfway through and completely absorbed, but it's definitely a slower, more demanding read. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Organizing in under 500 square feet

Our house is almost exactly 500 square feet. We regularly walk into other people's homes and mentally draw lines on their floors that represent our whole house fitting into their living room. This can be depressing, but other days, it can be kind of exciting... I mean, I'm learning a whole new set of skills by living in such a tiny space, right?

In reality, probably not. I probably should be learning a whole new set of skills. I should be striving for more efficiency. I should be learning to pare down. I should be learning to put away my laundry as soon as it comes out of the dryer. Instead, I'm counting down the days until I get more square footage.

The thing is? I know that even people who live in 3000 square feet have issues with organizing and the effective use of the space they have. I know that even if/when we double the amount of space we have, if I don't learn how to be organized now, how to use the space I have now, the problem is just going to spread. And spread. And spread. 

So, let's learn some things, shall we? It's January after all. And January is about organizing.

How to organize all that crap you have


Get rid of it.


Apartment Therapy is right on with it's 'Outbox' concept, I think. 

image via Apartment Therapy. Get it? The bike's basket is the outbox!

I don't have an outbox though. Maybe I should. I do believe that everyone, and especially small home dwellers need to think hard about everything they have in their homes on a regular basis and, if it doesn't serve some kind of purpose, just get rid of it. Drop it off at the local thrift store. List it on Kijiji or Craigslist. Dump it on the curb. Just get it out of the house.

Work up.


Classic advice. If you don't have a lot of floor space, work with what you do have - walls. Add shelves where appropriate. Use tall bookcases instead of those short stubby ones. Create full wall built-ins. All of these options take a mere 12-15 inches of depth from your room, but give you a whole wall of shelf space to use as storage. This concept is where the origin of our dining room shelves came from. This is also why I love our tall bookcase. Unfortunately, we don't have enough tall storage space.

This is one of the issues I plan to rectify this month!

Label stuff.


I'm not so good at this, but I feel like I should become better. When I organized like crazy on the weekend, I may have thrown out passing comments to the Husband like, "My craft and sewing stuff is going over in this dresser, 'kay?" and "I stuck your measuring tape in the basket on the shelf in the mudroom, in case you're looking for it." and "The old duvet is under the bed, but you should really make me those closet shelves so they can go there! Better yet, I should make me those closet shelves." What do you think is going to happen? 

Yeah.

My knitting needles might end up with the office supplies and our decks of cards are going to end up with my paint brushes. Tucked away, out of sight, but well... not where they're supposed to be. The ironic thing? It won't just be the Husband, blissfully unaware and therefore easily forgive, who will be misplacing things. I do it too.

I would stop putting things in the most convenient place if everything was labelled, right? Right?

Buy some baskets.


I've known about this organizing technique for well, ever. But, every time I find myself standing in the basket aisle at Michaels, my brain does a mental spasm and I forget what I need them for. Which is pretty much everything. We have two baskets in the bathroom, but I'd like at least two more.

And then there's the mudroom. We have three shelves back there, all of which could quite happily handle some neatly labelled baskets for things like dog toys, collars, leashes, and pooper bags, and all the human things that go with them like hats and mittens and scarves. The pantry, too, could use a few to corral all my pastas and rices. 

So, why do I forget about all these things while I'm standing in the basket aisle? And, along those lines: why do companies sell baskets in threes of completely different sizes? I don't want a big one, and medium sized one, and a little one. I want three medium sized ones.

Clean


I used to be a terrible slob. I know it frustrated my mother, but as long as she didn't have to go into my bedroom, she didn't really care what it looked like. I can't say that I'm totally cured of this in my adulthood, but I have come to appreciate how absolutely crucial it is to do the dishes and sweep as often as possible. I'm sure this is something that other small home owners can appreciate in a way that our counterparts with greater than 1500 square feet can't fully understand. When you live in such a tiny space, you're living with your mess. There is no shutting the door, no turning off the lights of the kitchen and ignoring it. 

Any other tips? How do you stay organized, whether you're living in a big space or small?

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Goal for January: Organize, Organize, Organize

If you pay attention to the house blogging world at all, you probably already know about Apartment Therapy's January Cure. It's a great idea, spending a month to whip one's house into shape. I have no doubt that it will work for those of you who are playing along.

I am not doing the January Cure.

See, I woke up January 1st with the organizing itch. Perhaps it's a new year thing, but I think it's more likely the fault of our new couch. It was the final straw, the last piece of furniture that pushed the house over the line from comfortably full and manageable to holy-crap-I-just-realized-I-can-hardly-turn-around-in-here. Suddenly, the techniques I had been using to keep myself sane in our tiny little house didn't work anymore. I needed to do something about it. And I needed to do something about it right now. No slow, sitting back and gaining a new perspective on my space for me. That can come in February.

I was fan of dressers. Drawers and cupboards. Overstuffed bookcases in out of the way corners. Places to hide things, to toss things and forget about them until they're actually needed. Believe it or not, this technique has worked for me. I call myself a 'Finder' - I have a knack for putting my hands on things, a memory maybe, for where they go, and a problem solving process that helps me run through all the places things get tucked in order to find things.

(The Husband is not a Finder. He's something more along the lines of a 'Misplacer'.)

We own five dressers, not counting our two bedside tables, which are, essentially, little dressers. At the beginning of the weekend, I set out to eliminate two of those dressers. And I succeeded. Not only that, but I got rid of a crappy bookcase whose shelves were too small and kept falling off their pins. I almost emptied our mudroom shelves. I cleared out the shelves above the fridge and refilled them with more appropriate kitchen-like stuff. Organizing one area tends to spill over to the next, doesn't it?

All the while, the Husband worked away on some other things. Later, when he surveyed my work as he was getting ready for bed, the question bounced between us - Where did everything go?

And the other, unspoken question? Can we keep it like this?

Now, I'm on the hunt for new organizing techniques. If I can't hide the clutter, what do I do instead? Or, are there ways to hide the clutter without shoving it away in a space-claiming piece of furniture? I'm not doing the January cure, per-say, but January will be about getting my house in an organized order.

Next stop: kitchen.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Christmas In Photos

For the first year in my life, I didn't see my parents on Christmas day. I talked about my mixed feelings about it in last week's Three Things. I don't have mixed feelings anymore. If I had arrived back at work and returned to normal life without seeing them at all, I would probably still have mixed feelings. But, we saw them - and a couple of my favourite cousins and aunt and uncle - on Sunday, along with a houseful of dogs. We ate delicious meat pies, caught up on life, and took lots and lots of pictures.

Liia, my 'little sister'. She's getting old - 8 and a half, which for a Bernese mountain dog, is practically geriatric - but she still loves me to bits. Next time I go to visit, I should get my parents to video tape her reaction when our little car drives up the driveway and my dad turns to her and says, "Liia, Nettie's here!" (Hint: she goes ballistic. Makes me feel so loved.)

Capri, a skittish, pretty little girl whose babies you may one day be able to buy! She was so sweet, but made a little nervous by the unfamiliar territory and the overwhelming number of dogs we had in the house. She came with her BFF Niko, who, unfortunately, I didn't get a great shot of. These little dachshunds never stop moving!

And then, there were my kids! We took Liia, Kingsley, and Mocha outside for a photoshoot. My cousin had just received her first DSLR for Christmas, so we trekked around the farm, taking photos of the dogs, of the horizon, of my parents' rolling fields.

 Kingsley, looking properly king-like and wearing Mocha's collar.

Mocha, who got so coated in snow, I had to free her from the ice balls stuck to her fur by plopping her in the bath and gently spraying her with warm water. Poor puppy hated it.

They played so hard.

Or, at least, Kingsley did.

It was a cold, snowy day, the kind of day that makes the country achingly beautiful. Fortunately, the house was nice and warm, welcoming to return to once we'd exhausted the dogs and ourselves.

I hope you have a great weekend! The Husband asked this morning what our plans were. I could hear him breath a sigh of relief when I told him we had absolutely none. Bring on some relaxation, maybe a little project or two! See you Monday!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

How I ignored the fact that my house is tiny and bought a couch

Last Thursday, I complained about our couch and dreamed about buying a new one.

Then, after I pressed Publish, we went to Ikea. It seems like once we decide on something, and we know it's only going to cost us a little time shopping, very little effort, and only a little bit of our hard earned money, we wait very little before jumping on it. But, the plan, it turned out, was not to replace the couch. Instead, we replaced these two chairs:

 Yes, my upholstered chair and it's pair no longer have a place in our living room. Why? I was content with the shape of them and I knew I would get to reupholstering the coral one eventually. They fit in our living room and in our tiny house. But, there was a problem. The Husband and I are both couch people. We like to put our feet up and stretch out. We like to snuggle with Mocha deep under blankets and fall asleep halfway through a movie with Kingsley warming our feet.

It's kind of difficult to comfortably fall asleep in a tiny club chair*.

At the same time I was dreaming of replacing our worn out couch, I started dreaming about replacing the chairs with a little loveseat. I'm sure it comes as no surprise that the lack of function represented by these two chairs definitely rose in priority over replacing a couch because of a few nicks and scratches.

So, we went to Ikea. And we bought a couch! It's not as small as I was initially planning, but it's certainly cheap enough. A Klippan.

We brought it home, barely squeezed into the trunk of our tiny car, shuffled the chairs out of the living room and into the middle of the dining room and set about to building it. As soon as the last piece was fitted on and the slipcover* squeezed over its body, I started to regret it. It was so big, so blocky, so black. It narrowed the space down, made the house feel cramped and over-full in a way my two little chairs never did.

So, I started to clean up. 'Clean up' doesn't even really describe it. I turned my attention to our dressers. We had 5 dressers and 2 nightstands with drawers in our tiny space. They're great for hiding clutter of course. But, see the dresser in the first photo with the chairs? It was getting in the way. We had maybe two feet of space between the couch and the dresser which, in theory, one can easily maneuver around. But, it doesn't feel open and it is that feeling that I am always striving for in my house. So, solution? Get rid of the dresser.

In fact, I'm going to be able to get rid of two dressers, which will open up space to keep my two chairs in the dining room. As soon as I whisked the empty dresser out to the garage, I plumped my three new pillows and breathed a sigh of relief. It's still a little blocky, it still seems to shrink the space a bit, but at least the flow around the house is vastly improved.

The second regret however, is that black cover. We thought it would be our best option for hiding the dog dirt that would, no doubt find its way all over it. Unfortunately, while it's hiding the dirt no problem, it's highlighting something that I might consider even worse: Kingsley's hair. Thankfully, you can't much tell in the photos, but there's a decent coating of fine grey hair all over it already. It seems to have no resistance to the clinging strands. We'll likely go back for the natural coloured one* - we'll need one for washing day anyway, right? - so we'll figure out what's worse: dirt or hair.

It's dog-approved, and it's totally grown on me, especially with all the pillows on it. One day, soon perhaps, we'll get a second one, or maybe a slightly different couch, and finally replace the scratched up faux leather one. For now, this is a start.

* Kingsley did like to snuggle with me in the club chairs. I would turn them together and put my feet up on the seat of one. And he would happily sleep on my feet.

* The slipcover had a hole on it when we pulled it out of the package. I was so disappointed. Fortunately, the hole was at a seam, so I pulled out my sewing machine and ran it through with a nice tight stitch and plenty of backstitch to reinforce, but seriously, Ikea? Quality control is important!

* I would also love the turquoise cover, in case anyone is looking for birthday gift ideas.