It has been over a month since I posted. There are quite a few circumstances for why I haven’t been here, including taking possession of a new house, organizing contractors and making living arrangements for the next several months, as well as my grandmother breaking her shoulder in a fall that will dramatically change how she is cared for from now on. All of these reasons however are overshadowed by the loss of my Dad, suddenly, about three weeks ago.
I’ve been struggling about what to post. Words cannot sum everything my Dad means to me or how I’ve been feeling. It’s too difficult for me to make my feelings public right now.
Part of me thinks this is a good place to end this blog. It’s been a struggle for me to maintain for some time now, but sometimes I still have ideas and want to write. I haven’t completely decided my way forward.
For now, I think I will put my blog on hiatus, to give myself the freedom and space to deal with what’s going on in my life; to process everything that’s happened and to ruminate on what comes next. Chris and I took possession of our new house last week and have been spending time there working on exterior clean up and meeting our lovely new neighbours. Our next steps involve finalizing our renovation plans and getting the work underway. Stepping back from my blog is one way I can give myself the space I need to cope.
I hope, dear reader, that you will forgive me for taking the break, and come back in the future should I decide to keep this site alive. Thank you very much for your support.
Where have I been? I’ve been having quite the autumn. For several weeks I felt like I was in an angry, unhappy, depressed, grumpy spiral. I was kind of hating my job (I know, who doesn’t at one time or another?), feeling a bit bored (with no creative projects on the go and no real inspiration to start any) and generally hating the daily grind of living and working in a gritty city like Toronto. It’s a struggle I have periodically wherein I feel stuck — stuck in a topped-out job, stuck in the city, wanting something more fulfilling but not really knowing how to make a significant change.
I was at the end of my rope when a couple of family health-related crises (yes, that’s intended to be plural) over the last week threw everything into perspective again. Without going into any details, everyone is fine and on the mend. The optimist in me recognizes that the whole thing has forcibly jerked me back to a healthier, stronger mental frame of mind.
I’m planning some extended weekends over the next while to give myself some much needed time away from the office to catch up on some stuff around the house, have a cooking day or two when I can stock up on freezer meals for busy days ahead, and to work on some creative projects in prep for the holidays. I cannot wait. I also hope to use some of this time to be closer to my family. I like to believe I’ll be able to add some food content to my blog soon.
In the meantime, I heard about the film The Fruit Hunters on the CBC’s Metro Morning yesterday and the trailer looks fascinating. Despite my love of food, I am the farthest thing from being a fruit junkie, and this documentary is all about being fruit-obsessed. Watching the people featured in the film crack open such exotic foods that I’ve never seen or heard of before has me very curious. It’s screening this weekend in Richmond Hill at the Reel Asian Film Festival. I just might try to check it out.
This is a bit of a late post — I kind of forgot about posting this project until I came across the photos while doing some photo housekeeping.
I made these two backpacks for my niece and nephew’s birthdays, which are usually celebrated on the same day at one big party because their dates are so close. My nephew Magnus was about to start school, so this was mainly something he needed, but since I could get the fabric in boy and girl colours, I thought why not make them a matching pair?
The fabric is called “Zoo Pals” by Dwell Studio, in blue and pink (purchased from the good people at Tonic Living), and I chose it because the packs hold their shape better when constructed out of a canvas. This is 100% duck cotton, 7.75 oz per yard. I used Made by Rae’s Toddler Backpack pattern, however I enlarged it by about 30% on a photocopier, and I made a small modification in that I added the front pouch using a simple velcro enclosure. I kind of felt that the backpack, at the larger size, was a bit plain on the front and could use the extra detail.
I needed to make the pack larger because Magnus needed one that could carry a certain number of items laid out by the school, and because my other friend who I’d made one for said her child had to stop using his because his school said it was too small. So I wanted to make sure it was big enough for everything — his lunch, a sweater, a book I think was the list. Maybe also shoes. I can’t remember exactly. But it seems to be big enough and Magnus exclaimed, “It’s Perfect!” when he opened his birthday present. You gotta love when a four-year-old says something like that!
Kids’ Backpacks — Back
Miss Vu, as we call my niece, isn’t really talking a ton yet, at 2 years old, but she put hers on and trucked around wearing it with a giant grin on her face. Adorables!
After Christmas 2010, my mom told me about a potential sewing/craft project she thought I might like to take up for my niece and nephew, as a future Christmas gift. I endeavour whenever possible to make Christmas presents — I loath the commercialism of the holidays — and I truly believe people appreciate something more when you’ve taken the time to make it for them. Some home made gifts don’t always work out, but I’ve always found it’s about the thought and consideration you put into it that counts most to the recipient. (As an aside, I did however have a prominent local media personality, who shall remain unnamed, once tell me that “no one likes getting preserves!” during a discussion about our Christmas preparations. I was pretty offended by the comment; I had just told her that I’d made a big batch of my famous peach salsa that I was going to gift for the holidays. Clearly, this woman was in the dark about artisanal home-canned products!)
Anyway, back to the story at hand… I will openly admit that we ‘borrowed’ the concept for this project, a card table play house. There is an Etsy seller named MissPrettyPretty based in Wisconsin who sells both patterns and completed playhouses. I’m a pretty crafty person (have you noticed?) so I didn’t really feel I needed a pattern to make it on my own, and doing it on my own allowed me to customize the design. But some folks might enjoy using MissPrettyPretty’s patterns, or buying one of her pre-made houses so I’m happy to give her the airtime! There are others out there too who offer tutorials and ideas for the same concept.
My mom and I started sourcing the felt for the project about a year ago — she found some at the local fabric store and I found some unexpectedly at a button store in Boston during the holidays while we were there, so between us we had a ton of felt on hand. It can take some sleuthing to find but its around. Fabricland has some but sometimes the colours are limited. You could also use other types of fabric but the felt has a real kid-friendly feel and solid structure to it, which works well for this.
I also found, quite by accident, some kids’ fabric decals, for decorating rooms, at a local Kitchen Stuff Plus outlet — flowers and animals, which I used to save time creating all the animals and decorative bits from scratch. They just needed a bit of hot glue and Velcro and voila — they’re part of the farm!
I kind of combined the idea of a farm/barn/house — I wanted the design to appeal to both kids, who are aged 16m and 3 years, and both genders. The flowers, corn cobs, carrots, beets, pears and apples are detachable with Velcro, as are the animals, and there’s a mailbox on the front that can have mail added (with envelopes addressed to the kids!).
My original plan was to put a truck on the side with the tree, which would have been fine, but as I was working on it I started thinking about my dad and his collection of antique Oliver tractors, and how cute it would be to do the tractor instead. That was a fun little surprise to reveal when we brought it out at Christmas!
Overall it seemed like a real hit, and the kids had both me and Uncle Chris trying to squeeze inside with them! As a toy for limited space, it’s really great because the card table can fold away (and also be useful when you need an extra table).
I’m very pleased with how it turned out, and it was a lot of fun to make. Almost everything is sewn, with a few exceptions, where I used hot glue in places that were too awkward to sew. The ‘straw’ is actually yarn that I sewed onto the felt. The door is attached along the top and can flip up out of the way if needed, and every side has an opening where you can see in, with the exception of the tractor/tree side, which just has a little peep hole in the tree. While the playhouse itself doesn’t easily fold up, the felt is pretty forgiving of wrinkles (another advantage to using felt over fabric) and I just had it stored loosely collapsed in a clear garbage bag for transportation (and to keep my cat off it, who was having loads of fun dashing in and out of it, and sitting on top of the table, while it was set up).
Here it is, finally! We’ve got our photos back from my friend Angie, who did our photography, and did an amazing job if I do say so myself. I just love looking at these — its been such a busy time since the wedding that its been hard to hold onto that wonderful day. But looking at the photos brings it all back.
I am incredibly happy with everything about the wedding. There were some logistical challenges with holding our wedding at the family cottage, such as very limited parking, not a lot of level ground for setting up a tent, or even accommodations for our guests. We had to find a caterer in an area where there are not very many options. But everyone we hired — everyone — went above and beyond our expectations of service and friendliness.
Chris and I love to be outdoors, and one of our shared passions is wilderness camping and canoeing. We also love our time at the cottage, so the wedding was our opportunity to share these things with our family and friends.
And of course we wanted to share our love of finely crafted beer. I alluded earlier this summer to a very special beer that we imported for the occasion. New Glarus’s Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart were the stars of our tap list (these are the beers that saved our lives), a very rare thing for almost anyone outside of Wisconsin to get to try, as New Glarus doesn’t sell their beer outside of the state. Even getting your hands on a bottle of this stuff is next to impossible. We rounded out our tap list with Muskoka’s Mad Tom IPA and Harvest Ale, and Mill Street’s Organic Lager and Tankhouse.
We had the most incredible caterer: Bonnie of BE Catering in Peterborough. Bonnie and her crew had to trek a bit to bring their amazing, locally sourced and seasonal meal to us, but it was so worth it. Not only did Bonnie welcome my additions of my homemade pickles and Uncle Herb’s home-smoked Lake Erie trout, but her team genuinely enjoyed themselves, impressing our guests to no end with their generosity and friendliness. I hope I get to work with Bonnie and her team again someday.
As is my way, I made many of the decor and details myself. We bought a pair of inexpensive canoe paddles from Canadian Tire and some Sharpies in our wedding colours and set those up as an alternative to the traditional guest book. My awesome maid-of-honour Adria and I made ridiculous amounts of tissue paper bunting, which looked spectacular and held up surprisingly well to the damp evenings.
During strawberry season back in June, I canned 40+ jars of strawberry-vanilla jam as our wedding favours, and Amanda Keenan of Silverplate Press made me custom letterpressed labels to make them look extra special (she also did our invitations and custom beer coasters).
We were blessed to be able to have Chris’s Uncle Val officiate our service, and my talented sister-in-law April (with help from my super-awesome brother Dan) made us the most gorgeous cake balls (cake pops without the stick) as an alternative to wedding cake (this resolved problems of trying to travel to the cottage with a delicate cake, and let me tell you, the cake balls had people way more excited than a traditional cake!).
I had my dress made by Ethel, The Dressmaker, here in Toronto, based on a vintage Butterick pattern. Ethel did a fabulous job and had to make numerous modifications to the pattern to make it work — I am so glad I didn’t try to sew it myself… yeah I considered it. Briefly!
I knitted myself the Abrazo shawl, by Twist Collective, in a natural shade of Knit Pick’s Gloss Lace, with glass and crystal beads. I didn’t get to wear it for long as it was such a gorgeous day I didn’t feel I needed it until later, but I’m not complaining. In fact, I made the shawl twice — once in red — and I gifted that to my maid-of-honour.
Some other little details included wrapping jars with yarn in our wedding colours, which we then filled with water and floating candles, for on the tables. We also kept our floral decor budget in check by using large potted fall mums, and bought red roses and greenery from the flower markets at Avenue Road and Davenport in Toronto and did all the corsages, boutonnieres and bouquets ourselves (gotta love the Interweb!).
Finally, we ended the evening with a campfire, weenie roast and s’mores (instead of the late-night luncheon), which was a huge hit!
Some of our other ingenious service providers were Create Shade, for our tent and furniture rentals, and Potty Time Portables — who can pretty-up a portable toilet better than anyone! We hired Trinity Taxi out of Lindsay to provide shuttle bus services to Balsam Resort, where the majority of our guests stayed.
There are of course many, many more details. Like the unbelievable downpour that happened the Friday before, finally eroding my calm, relaxed demeanour (Uncle Val promised he had put in a word with the big guy for us and all would be well on Saturday — and he was right!). Or the perfect beer stein cufflinks Chris wore, a gift from my mom last Christmas. Or the impromptu wireless audio mics courtesy of Brad, our resident sound guy. All in all I don’t think we could have asked for a better day — the perfect start to a lifetime together.
If you’re up for it, here’s the full slideshow of the best of the photos. Enjoy!
I’m going to admit right now that I’ve shamelessly copied Amanda’s post by adding this video to my own blog, but it literally brought a hitch to my throat and a tear to my eye. Growing up on a small farm that’s been in my family since it was settled, and for which the future is uncertain, this gorgeous little animation hit a visceral note for me.
I know I know it’s for a giant fast food chain, but still. Well done. And who doesn’t adore Willie Nelson?
It’s Father’s Day and since Canada Post workers are locked out, and my card to my Dad is likely still sitting in the post box by my office, I thought I’d do a little shout out to my papa from here.
My Dad works as a metal fabricator for a local shop, which comes in pretty handy when I need some random ‘thing’ created. This spring Chris and I had some trees removed and some limbs trimmed in our very shaded backyard, and now we feel there’s enough light to grow more veggies back there, albeit probably more cool-weather loving varieties. Learning from the creation of our previous raised beds, we knew we wanted to go with either composite lumber or cedar this time, and to make assembly quick and easy, we asked my Dad if he could whip up some corner brackets out of stainless steel. We had 12 done, with pre-drilled holes, for three new beds.
Stainless steel corner bracket courtesy of my Dad
In the end we went with cedar since the composite was so prohibitively expensive. I had a lot of leaf compost available so I lined the bottoms with it, using thick layers of newspaper in the spots that needed some grass suppression. This week we had a (way too large) load of triple mix dropped on our driveway, and now the beds are full, waiting for some (late) planting.
Three new raised beds, awaiting dirt
Last year I also asked Dad if he thought he could make me a crank-style compost sifter. I had previously been using a pan that I had to shake manually to sift, and the amount of compost I’m working with makes that process just ridiculous. Lee Valley makes one of these types of compost sifters, but it’s around $70. The one Dad made me is magnificent, and works like a charm. I can blast through a composter’s worth of black gold in no time, allowing me to efficiently claim compost from my two bins twice a year or more, for the garden.
Crank-style compost sifter made by my Dad
So here’s thanks to my Dad for enabling my urban agriculture experiment — for helping me stick to my roots and for being always so helpful and inventive. Love you!!! Happy Father’s Day Dad!
I’m a little tardy in relaying this news via my blog but I’ve been trying to enjoy what’s left of my vacation buzz, and of course transitioning a very resistant brain to being back at the office.
We spent the last week of May exploring the northern peninsula of Newfoundland and the southern coast of Labrador, and as always, this was an amazing trip. Our third time back in as many years, The Rock did not disappoint. The highlight of the trip most certainly was Chris’s proposal during a ridiculously gorgeous sunset on the northern shore, in front of an iceberg. No seriously — redonkulously gorgeous:
Sunset on the ocean with an iceberg
Apparently Chris’s plan involved getting the proposal out right away on the first day of our trip, while we were back in Trout River in Gros Morne, a spot we’d fallen in love with three summers ago on our first visit to the island. At the time, we’d discovered a small hiking trail that started with a set of stairs built into a hillside that lead up to a lovely coastal hike along cliffs. It was sunset, and getting dark, and we hadn’t been able to finish the trail. Both of us vowed we wanted to go back, so we did. But this time the weather was cold, the wind was high and it was drizzling rain. We hiked the trail anyway, Chris hauling a tripod, the 7D and a microphone, and after the first 15 mins or so we both thought, “this kind of sucks!” But we pressed on, and apparently Chris had decided he would do the deed around the bend where there was a bit more of a sheltered spot, out of the wind. And we rounded the corner, only to discover a dead sheep. Yup. The carcass was just laying there, with wool all over the hillside. Took us a few to figure out what it was even. And obviously while I was inspecting the thing, trying to figure out what it was, Chris was panicking and thinking “abort!!! abort!!!”
Our vacation continued with pretty great weather until the Friday, when we had hoped to take a boat tour of icebergs out from St. Anthony. The tour didn’t run, and so we spent the day driving all around the coastal towns in the area, eventually making our way back to L’Anse aux Meadows where our B&B was. Along the way however, our rental car up and died; we figure the transmission went on it somehow, since we had lots of power and the engine was running, but the thing would not flip into gear to go anywhere.
After a bit of a stressful afternoon wrestling with Avis’s (ineffective) roadside assistance program (“are you sure you’re in Canada?”), we eventually got the local (as in 6 hours away local) rental office to help us out. Again, we were struck by the kindness of Newfoundlanders — the friendliest strangers you will ever meet. A local garage owner lent us his car overnight (not having our names or credit card info at all) and we went off to enjoy a fabulous meal at a diamond in the rough of a restaurant in L’Anse aux Meadows (were there are like 6 houses). The Norseman had just opened for the season, and we were the only table for the first hour or so of the evening. Eventually a few more tables arrived, and a local musician came to perform. We watched the above iceberg float across our coastal view during dinner, and as we came back to our B&B to settle in for the night, the sun appeared over the horizon and set the sky ablaze. It had been pouring rain all afternoon, and we even had a dash of snow as we watched the sunset. I convinced Chris we had to jump into the borrowed car and drive the 5 mins to shore because this was just too fabulous not to capture from there, and voila! Now I’m engaged. Chris’s plans worked out after all!
I have yet to download and process all our photos from the trip due to a very very full hard drive, and so hopefully in a week or two I can post photos and highlights from the trip (besides this one). And of course we’re now planning a wedding. Lots to keep us busy, for sure. Stay tuned!
These guys put on a show for my parents, who accompanied us at the cottage in Coboconk for the first time this Family Day Weekend. In fact, all the wildlife was out putting on a show — we had swans flying over, geese and ducks, and a pair of bald eagles hanging out across the lake. Unfortunately they were out of range for any good photos or video. But the turkeys were plentiful, driving the dogs crazy (one of the neighbours feeds them, so they hang around and are quite abundant). This is the first time we’ve ever seen them walk across the frozen lake like this though. Oh, and apparently a group of turkeys is called a ‘rafter.’ Who knew?
I’m a little ashamed to say that I had not been to the ROM since it was renovated until just a few weeks ago. I’ve been to the ROM several times, just not since they added the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal addition. The reason I was a little ashamed is that I’m a culture worker, and I work at another institution in the city, one with significant architecture — architecture considered to have been the instigator of what has been called the cultural renaissance of Toronto, of which the ROM addition is a part. It kind of feels like it was a cultural duty of mine to have gone and checked it out pronto, as soon as it opened, and that I shirked that duty. But whateves, I’ve finally gone, so I guess I can cross that off the list!
My parents came up for a weekend in November and we decided to dedicate a day to the ROM. My parents had hoped to come by train, but VIA Rail maintains a terribly inconvenient train schedule for the Southwestern Ontario corridor, and as a result the train just wasn’t a viable option (not to mention ridiculously pricey). My dad used to come to Toronto as a kid by train, and I think he wanted to do it again for nostalgic reasons. Unfortunately he was sorely disappointed by VIA, but our trip to the ROM was super fun.
We went primarily to check out the Terracotta Warriors exhibit, which, unfortunately, was not allowed to be photographed. So I don’t have any photos of that magnificent show (you can however view some photos on the ROM website), but if it interests you, I highly recommend you check it out before it closes in January. The exhibit is rich with information that really helped me better understand China’s early history, and while I was aware of the terracotta warrior discovery (an entire army — 8,000 strong — of larger-than-life sized terracotta figures buried in an emperor’s tomb), I wasn’t aware of the significance of Warrior Emperor Ying Zheng, China’s First Emperor and the first Emperor of the Qin dynasty — he was the first to unite the warring states and establish the country of China as a whole. The exhibit is presented in three languages, English, French and Chinese, which made for a lot of text to weed through, but overall it was a thoughtfully created exhibit and a rare chance to see a selection of the figures up close. They are huge, the technique for building them is impressive given that this was around 200 BC.
After the warriors we had a lovely lunch at C5, which was quite chi-chi for my parents, and tasty. Then we explored the other galleries and had a blast, being at liberty to photograph at will. We then took the folks out for Ethiopian food at our favourite little spot on the Danforth called Rendez-Vous — quite outside of my parents’ comfort zone, but I think they enjoyed it. I mean really, what’s not to love about Ethiopian food?!