Saturday, January 31, 2015

Escaping Snow... in Toronto

Ottawa has lots of snow... So when my daughter told me her Toronto street had no snow on it, I decided to hop on the train and head to Toronto last weekend!

All along the four-hour ride, I kept waiting for snow to disappear. An hour south of Ottawa, in Brockville, there was still lots of snow!

An hour later, in Kingston, there was less.

But it wasn't until we were almost at Union Station that the snow finally disappeared - though skies overhead were grey!

It wasn't a cheery welcome, but my eyes were on the snowless bare sidewalks - and they looked good to me!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Remembering Retirement

It's hard (for me) to believe... but I retired 7 years ago, at the end of January 2008. (I recall that my mother didn't want me to retire - she said it made her feel old!)

I recently came across the program for her retirement party - in June 1983.

(How different she looked then!)

As I read her plans - to garden, travel and spend time with family, I realize that her retirement goals weren't all that different from my own! And she did achieve them all...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ribbon Wreath

I found this wreath - made of Styrofoam and ribbon - among my mother's things.

Did she make it? Or was it a gift?

Was it originally meant to be hung on a door...?

 I have no way of knowing...

But it's delicately made... especially the pale blue ribbon.

I think I'll use it as a pin cushion. (I can never have too many of those!)

I discovered quite a few ribbon wreath tutorials on Pinterest - but none looked exactly like this.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My Mother's Favorite Calendar

For years, this was my mother's favorite calendar...

I'm not sure where she got it.

At the beginning of every month she carefully assembled it. (I'll have to look for all the pieces.)

Did putting it together each month make her more aware of time?

Hmmm. I often don't remember which day it is...
Maybe it's something I should start to do...

Or maybe it was simply part of her monthly routine... We all need routines!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Glasses (For Cooking?!!)

I've worn reading glasses for years now to read fine print. But I was recently shocked to discover that I needed glasses for the larger print in labels when cooking, too.

It happened when I mistook this... (dill seed)

... for this (celery seed).

I had to quickly scramble to remove the dill from the tuna salad when I realized that the shape of the seeds wasn't right! It might have tasted fine... just different. But Terry wouldn't have liked it. Dill isn't his favorite flavor.

I'll have to start smelling the spices before I add them! These two definitely don't smell or taste the same! I'm not ready to wear reading glasses all the time!

Monday, January 26, 2015

My New Orchid

I read online that orchids and snake plants are excellent household air purifiers.

We already have a snake plant... which I hope to divide in spring. Perhaps I need one in every room! At least, every bedroom.

Now that winter is here and our windows have been shut for several months, I thought I'd start looking for an orchid.

One mild day not long ago, I found one...  a phalaenopsis...

I hope it survives in our non-tropical indoor climate. (Dry and cool!)

Palm trees always manage to survive in our house - but maybe they're more flexible!

Hopefully the orchid will last - I can never have too many indoor flowers in winter!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Don't Poke the Bear" ... and Other Idioms

One of the hardest - but most interesting - vocabulary exercises in teaching English to foreigners is teaching idioms - expressions that have a special meaning. If I were still teaching English, I would probably use this anecdote as an example of several idioms...

A friend of mine works in customer service. He is experienced in dealing with complaints. His favorite way of dealing with them is saying: "Let me get my manager..." He likes to avoid conflict. His manager is the expert in "damage control."

One day a co-worker of his tried to help an unhappy customer.
I've already called the manager and he's on his way, he told her, but she kept on talking, making matters worse. By the time the manager arrived, the customer was threatening to complain to head office - about the problem and the person serving him.

After the customer had left, the co-worker declared indignantly: I didn't do anything wrong. 

My friend quietly replied: No, you were poking the bear. Your attitude was clearly upsetting him more.

"Poking the bear" - not keeping quiet in a tense situation when you know that saying something - saying anything - is going to lead to conflict. "Adding fuel to the fire".

I've done it many times in arguments with my parents, my husband and kids. Kids are good at "poking the bear" with each other.

The opposite, "Let sleeping dogs lie," requires maturity. It usually comes from experience. If there is no problem, don't create one. Especially if you know what annoys someone.

On another level, "poking the bear" has been known to create political issues and strain international relations - in fictitious movies about real-live tyrants and satirical cartoons mocking values someone holds dear.

I believe in free speech - but I don't believe in demeaning people, whoever they are. It can "blow up in someone's face." The tragedy is that innocent people are sometimes harmed.

If I were still teaching English, I'd say something like this to my class. Hopefully two lessons would be learned. One would be about idioms... 

Did you count them? I counted five.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fixing My Mother's Quilt

The first quilt I ever owned was a garage-sale find. I mended it, removing squares that were too torn to repair. Fixing it was probably as much work as making a new one - but it was a labor of love.

Since then, I've learned to make quilts, and I've had to repair a few of mine that were family favorites and got a lot of wear. I always get a sense of satisfaction giving a quilt a new lease on life!

Over Christmas, we pulled out one of my mother's old quilts.

I noticed a tear in it... Perhaps I should mend and machine quilt it. It's an interesting patchwork design. My mother made her quilts out of fabric scraps and tacked the layers together with a few stitches of yarn.

It could be fun... I love the design! (Though it might be almost as much work as putting a new one together.)

I wonder if the pattern has a name...(?)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Short Sleep Cycle Cure?

I have had insomnia for years and years. It started long before I retired and has continued into retirement. I should probably clarify that I fall asleep easily enough when tired. (I don't go to bed unless I feel very tired.)

But a few hours later, I wake up again, as alert as can be. At this point, I usually get up and start my day. But a few hours later, I'm ready to go back to bed again and sleep for a few more hours.

Now that I'm retired, my interrupted sleep cycle isn't really a problem. Most days my schedule is flexible enough to accommodate a nap here and there.

But during my working years, it often meant that I went to work tired. At 5 am, I didn't feel it was wise to go back to bed again, so I made lunches and graded papers before leaving the house, exhausted.

Now that I'm retired, I've built my life around this strange sleep pattern. In fact, I quite enjoy being up alone when the house is quiet.

But recently, since I started spending a few hours every day moving boxes in the basement (in my efforts to organize that space) - coupled with a few hours of walking in a shopping center - to get me away from all this sorting, I've been sleeping better! I wake up, as usual, at 2 or 3 am but I'm too tired to get up, so I roll over and fall back asleep again.

I never really thought of organizing the basement as hard "manual labor" - but perhaps it is! Perhaps this is the "cure" I need to sleep better!

I know Terry will be happy if it is! Once he reads this, he'll suggest I continue spending several hours daily doing housework! (To sleep better, of course!)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Organizing Photos

I have a lot of digital photographs stored on my old computer...

With my computer acting up, it's time to think about removing them - perhaps making them into little albums, like these I made up after trips to England.

(This winter, there's no lack of organizing that needs to be done!)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Organizing the Basement

For the past week, I have been spending part of every day in the basement, getting rid of stuff we no longer need.

I have sorted through boxes and bins, tossing and organizing ...

Shelves have been emptied... (Then refilled with new stuff!)

Garbage and recycling have been taken out.

I wish I could say that the basement looks wonderful.

It doesn't!

It's still largely a storage area... But I do have a better sense of what's down there now. And I hope we've managed to get rid of things we probably won't use.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Stuck in the Snow!

I have vivid memories of my mother sliding into a muddy ditch when she first learned to drive the car. I was in the back seat.

I don't remember how we got back onto the muddy dirt road in the country. Perhaps a friendly farmer with a tractor came to our rescue. There would have been no cell phones to call for help back in the 1950s... as hard as that is to imagine! Did someone see us or did we have to look for a nearby farm?

Just yesterday a similar situation happened on our street. A school bus made a wrong turn. (They don't usually go down our narrow dead end street.)

In trying to turn around, the driver misjudged the driveway and drove into the ditch.


It totally blocked the road.

It took several hours for a large tow truck to come to the rescue.

It added a little excitement to our quiet winter day, but those of us who live at the end of the dead-end street were relieved to see it go.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Do I Need a New Computer?

I've had this laptop computer for a few years...

Slowly it's begun to act up: If I want to add photos from my camera, I have to restart it between photo uploads.

Now the battery has died. I can still use it, plugged in.

Should I hunt for a new battery? Is it worth the cost? I really don't want to invest in a computer that is acting up and showing signs of wear.

In the meantime, I should probably burn photos I want to keep onto a DVD... in case something else goes wrong. I really don't want to add to landfills until it's absolutely necessary.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Right Job...?

For much of my working life, I wondered if I was on the right career path. As a child, my dream was to be a writer. My life - as I visualized it - would consist of traveling from one country to another, living somewhere for a while, writing fictional stories about someone who was doing just that - traveling... And then I would move on, to another exotic place...

(I'm not sure what novel or movie inspired this career goal, but that's what it was!)

My career path didn't follow that course. I did travel, but I didn't move often. I stayed, building a life in three or four places. When I thought about writing, I always felt I didn't know enough. And when the time came to look for a job, I always ended up working as a teacher (...and occasionally a secretary)!

"Could I have followed my childhood dream if I had been braver?" was the question that came back to haunt me again and again.

Occasionally I would read career planning books, and wonder if I should change careers... I interned in a newspaper one summer. I could have asked about a journalism job, but the time didn't seem right for me to switch careers...

So all my working life, I (reluctantly) taught.

Recently I picked up another career planning book, intending to give it to a friend who is having career doubts.

But first I want to read it...

Early in the book, I found a quiz aimed at determining if a job fits a person's personality.
  • I like my co-workers. The choices are: Few Some Most All  (Yes, I liked most of my co-workers when I was teaching. In fact, there were very few I didn't like.)
  • People I work with share my values. Again the choices are: Few Some Most All (Again I'd have to say most shared my values - we all valued education and liked people.)
  • People I work with respect my skills. Few Some Most All (Again, I'd have to say that very few - if any - ever showed signs of disrespect. So I'd say Most.)
The next batch of questions had to be answered: Yes No or Somewhat. I answered Yes for all:
  • My job utilizes my abilities. (Yes)
  • My job utilizes my education. (Yes)
  • My job is related to my interests. (Yes - especially when I worked with immigrants. I found their lives and stories fascinating!)
  • At work, I work on problems I think are important. (Yes - teaching students to communicate clearly is extremely important.)
  • I am proud of the role ... I play at work. (Yes)
  • I am able to express myself at work. (Yes)
  • At work I am rewarded for my abilities, financially and/or through personal appreciation. (Yes)
The more often the answer is Yes or Most, the better the career fits, the book advises.

Wow! I never realized how much teaching did suit my personality!

Strange as it sounds... after doing the quiz, I felt better about my working years. Realizing that I had kept on teaching because I had positive feelings about the job - not because I lacked courage to switch careers - has allowed me close the door on regret.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Capturing Outdoor Scenes

I've always thought it would be interesting to sit somewhere to draw and paint... like plein air painters I associate with Paris, sitting by the Seine with their easel and canvas.

Apart from the outdoor botanical painting I did for a while in the summer with a group of botanical artists, I've never painted outdoors. It's complicated to find a good place (in the shade) - with a nearby parking space - and then cart out easel, paints, water and a stool.

But occasionally I do sit by a window painting the limited scene I see outdoors.

One day this winter I was attracted by the colorful sky through a north-facing window. I focused on one of the trees - though my interest was painting the sky.

I decided to add a few birds on the branches, though they weren't sitting in the tree at the time. I'd like to add a squirrel, the next time I see a black one...

It's not the same as plein air painting - but in some ways its a lot easier.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Mary's Latest "Pet"

I often feel that our city (Ottawa) has been plopped in the middle of a forest clearing - but nobody bothered to tell the animals that we humans have taken over the land...

They haven't gone away. They just basically ignore us: I regularly see squirrels, raccoons, groundhogs, ducks, skunks wandering around the neighborhood. One night, a few streets over, I almost hit a deer that jumped out in front of my car as I was driving along. On the edge of town we once drove past a bear eating from someone's apple tree...

The animals simply work around us...

But I was more than mildly surprised the other day when my neighbor, Mary, emailed me pictures of a garter snake they had just found in their basement...

She was busy painting in her little basement office a few evenings ago, when her husband noticed it crawling near her on the floor...

It's really nothing - only a baby about 8 inches [20 centimeters] long, she emailed me...

How did it get in?!

For me that would be cause enough to call an exterminator! At most, the snake would quickly find itself outside in the snow!

But Mary and her husband, Earl, are true animal lovers. So, until they can give it away or set it free in spring, it's their latest "pet"!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What does Minus 26 Look Like?!

We've had a cold week...

Yesterday, when I got up, it was minus 26 degrees Celsius (minus 14 Fahrenheit)...

What does that look like? It actually looks beautiful! It looks sunny and bright... (Clouds keep warmth in.) Clear days in winter are usually cold. They look like a picture-perfect winter's day...

Until you look at the thermometer and realize you have to really bundle up if you go outside!


An indoor give-away is the towel blocking drafts at outside door...

And the frost forming inside the windows. (We have to wipe the water up from time to time as it melts during the day.)

Fortunately we only have a few really cold weeks most winters. And this is one of them!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Unique (And Scary?!) Ring Holders

I'm back at pottery...

For my first project, I thought I'd try making a ring holder in the shape of a hand. I traced my hand on a flat piece of clay, trimmed around it, and tried to shape it to look more realistic, more three-dimensional...

Hmmm. Not sure anybody would want that on their dresser or night-side table!

So I tried again... This time a unicorn head. The ring could slip over the horn on the head...

I've drawn horse heads dozens of times, but I couldn't remember the details. It didn't really look like a horse... Oh, well. Close enough...

I wonder what they will look like when done. (They are currently drying for a week...) Once they are a little firmer, I hope to shape them a bit more...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


One of the first quilting projects I ever made was a log-cabin tote bag - made of dark and light denim.

I used it so much, I actually wore it out! (Though I kept remnants of it in my denim "stash" to use as a pattern.)

Now, as I go through old magazines, I came across some denim inspiration in an old Mary Engelbreit Home Companion magazine (a magazine which may no longer be in print).

These little pockets would be easy to make... What could I use them for?!


And here's another tote bag idea...

In the basement, I have a big bin full of old jeans - maybe I could use it all up! I always have loved the look of denim!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Finding Uses For Pottery Dishes

I've been making pottery vessels for about a year and a half. In that time, I've accumulated quite a few.

I didn't start out trying to make useful items, but it would be nice if I could use them. Most are just sitting on a shelf...

The ones I use regularly have a place in the cupboard. (No two are alike!)...

I use them mostly for serving snacks, like nuts...

Holding creams...

A candle...

I've just started using this one as a soap dish. Now I am wondering: Should I try to make a toothbrush holder to match?!

I remember an artist friend commenting that pottery is about making vases... That's one thing I've never made!

Last week I headed back to the pottery studio. One thing I plan to make - that I've never made before - is a spoon! It doesn't look hard.