Friday, 12 December 2008

Process and Pleasure

Pleasure can mean letting go...forgetting and focusing...existing in that liquid, effortless bit of time where judgments and qualifiers slide off you and it feels like it's forever and nothing all at once.

All of that to describe an afternoon of potato stamps.

I hadn't done potato stamps since I was a kid, and it was Safiya's first try. We decided to make cards, and her suggestion was for us each to pick an animal and a colour and then people "would know who the card was from."

The T-Rex gave me confidence.

Soon it will be solstice...preparations are being made...

Friday, 5 December 2008

A Long Week for a Little Person

You know it's been a long week when you think it's perfectly reasonable to try on a pair of but-they-have-such-a-nice-sheen gold pants at the thrift store. You look at the mirror thinking, "I could wear a long sweater over them." Then you ruefully realise that no sweater, no matter how long, would be able to hide the expression on your face that comes with the knowledge that you are wilfully walking around on gold-encased sausage legs.

Instead I came home with this:

Seemed appropriate, and all three of us had a riot this evening, especially when it degenerated into the four-year-old version.

Safiya had had an infection this week, one that landed her in the hospital for IV antibiotics, so it was good to see her giddy and energetic and just silly. She slid into this sickness over the course of a week-and-a-half (which culminated in four days of high fever), so it wasn't until the antibiotics kicked in this past Wednesday morning that I realised just how un-Safiya-like her behaviour had been for the last little while. Poor honey.

She had the IV not because it was an advanced infection, but because it was a weird bacteria that had got into her urine. So, a UTI ("not uncommon in little girls", the doctors kept saying...and I'm sure that, when she's older, Safiya will really appreciate me writing about this....) But to me, I mean, isn't that one of your primary jobs as a parent? To make sure that poo stays away from everything? sigh.

She was awesome. Mr. S. was at attention, doting, and, as he will readily admit, a wreck (and I love him even more for it). I discovered that I am not a craft-in-moments-of-stress kind of person. I do not sit there and knit. I sit and watch. So I'll be pretty much useless in any craft emergency. I'll just sit there and watch all of you work away.

And I've also discovered that "saint" is actually an everyday kind of word. It is not reserved only for those who, with great courage and determination, rise to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. It's not so much the circumstances, it's the action that counts. Does that make sense? They are those who call because they're concerned, who don't bat an eye when you have to reneg on a commitment, who relay the awesome gifts their kids have made for their friend who is hurting:

and who bring to the hospital their welcome company and (as if it's a normal thing to do) ridiculous things like sushi dinner, homemade cinnamon buns, and this:

You know who you are.


Thursday, 27 November 2008

More Keepin' Warm

This is what happens when you've been boiling cherrystones for an hour or two.

It was a warm and sunny summer day when the farmer handed me the cherry pits I had requested with a wry "Well, I'm never doing that again." :-) I hadn't asked for them dried, just saved, but she'd gone to the trouble of kind of cleaning them and then laying them out in the sun to dry. Unfortunately all her trouble meant that I this past weekend I had to rehydrate them to get more of the gucky stuff off for them to be usable. I think I'll be brave and very nicely ask her again next year, but suggest that she just keep them in the freezer instead!

Why? I can hear you saying "but why?" (well, I can hear Mr. S., anyway ;-)

When you're playing chicken with the furnace, it's good to have a secret weapon, I think. In The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe kept her panties in the freezer to beat the heat. Well, I'm going to keep this pillow in the oven to beat the cold! Maybe not as sexy, but certainly as practical!

Here are the instructions for making a cherrystone bedwarmer, you know, in case you have that many cherry pits lying around. I boiled and rinsed mine twice and then added some more cold water rinses at the end just to get as much cherry off as I could - I'm sure it's easier with freshly pitted stones. Then they dried off in the oven at very low heat for a couple of hours. Made a little cotton pillow, filled it, sewed it up well, made a cover for it, and ta-da! guaranteed warmth.

We don't have a microwave, so I'll just pop it in a low heat oven for a while (it's covered in a felted wool cozy, and wool is very flame resistant) and that should keep our toes toasty when we dash under the chilly blankets at bedtime.

Someone's toes are already trying to snuggle in!

Monday, 24 November 2008

A Golden International Breakfast

French toast, Turkish coffee, and Indian chickpea flour "crepes" with ginger, garlic and fennel seed potato filling - that is the perfect Saturday morning breakfast. And, don't forget the last of the homemade mango chutney so gratefully received from my friend Kat.

The French toast was mainly for Safiya and Mr. S.; it's a Saturday morning ritual. The rest was my indulgence - I've been playing around with a lot of different grains lately (and some not even grains!), making bread-like stuff. The chickpea flour crepes are to die for; savoury, silky on top and lightly crisp on the bottom, and you don't even have to flip them! I'm hoping to venture into bean-based flatbread territory soon, using one of my favourite cookbooks, Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Coooking.

Some plain leftover potatoes were transformed into a better version of homefries ;-) using one of my favourite recipes, sookhe aloo ("dry" potatoes with ginger and garlic), from Jaffrey's Indian Cooking, and voila, a golden warming breakfast on a chilly almost-winter day. They're so good (we find the fennel seeds essential and put extra in, and will also substitute anise seeds if there is a we-have-no-fennel-seeds emergency), that I'm trying to share the recipe here; if you can make it out, it's worth it!

For breakfast, lunch, or dinner.... :-)

Note: thank you, Google! Here's the (almost-identical) recipe for the potatoes. And here's the chickpea-flour pancakes (although in Jaffrey's cookbook there is much sprinkling of oil around and on top on the pancakes after they're poured :-) Enjoy!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Playing Chicken With The Heating, Part the Second

The reason I don't make clothes for myself (so she says) is that it's impossible for me to take flattering self-portraits. So here I am, with my woolly socks and mid-morning-even-though-it's-after-lunch hair, but still inordinately pleased that these are done. When playing chicken with the heating (I signed us up for Crunchy Chicken's "Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008" challenge, just for fun :-), one requires more than flimsy cotton pyjamas in the evening....and morning....and afternoon....

Everybody has been raving about Amy Butler's Lounge Pants, and since I like lounging as much as the next person, I figured this was a good start to making-myself-real-clothes-from-real-patterns. And I have to say:

I love these pants. They are comfortable, roomy, lounge-y, but not slouchy. I will not be ashamed to take the garbage out or check the mail in these. And this pair is warm.

Given my penchant for wool and my dislike for being cold, I had a dream: woollen pyjama pants...lined with silk. Both wool and silk have wonderful insulating properties. With some wool from my Mom's old stash (had to piece it together a bit to make enough length) and just enough leftover silk from when she very generously made my dream curtains for our first house, I made them in about a weekend and a little bit here and there. Voila! the perfect pair of pyjama pants. I hadn't made pants before, never mind lined anything, so that's a testament to the clarity of the pattern.

It's a bit like walking around in a cocoon. I love it when utilitarian meets decadence and then they make love...and have a woollen pyjama pants wearing baby :-)

Speaking of curtains and babies:

The original curtains, and one very cute and beautifully chubby seven-month-old Safiya. Why? Because I can. Kind of like the pants :-)

Friday, 7 November 2008

Playing Chicken With The Heat, Part the First

Simple leggings for a fall day:

Take one felted wool sweater (one that still has some give) and cut the arms off past the shoulder seams (be generous in the length, and choose a sweater that you guess will fit the child in question). Then, after a couple of wriggly fittings, sew together to create a middle seam. With the top folded in once to make the casing for the elastic, these are easy-peasy, and if you are not interrupted a gazillion times, probably sewable in precisely two minutes. O.k., so I exaggerate, but it is really easy.

I put a dot on to mark the back:

See, it really was made out of just the two arms!

A bunch of these are on the drawing board because we're playing chicken with the heat, so long underwear will be a necessity around here (this November heat wave has been so lovely), and because the wonderful wool long underwear that we bought for Safiya two winters back are starting to wear.

Actually, to be fair, the pure wool long underwear has not started to wear; it's a bit short, but still going strong. We had also got her a pair in a lighter silk/wool blend, and those are the ones that I'm going to have to darn. These woollies were worth their weight in gold (I should mention that I'm not associated in any way to Nova Natural), and we got them before my new-found-ish let's-clothe-the-child-in-cast-off-sweaters bravery started. Frankly, since the proper $7 second-hand sweater will now provide us with not only leggings but mittens and a scarf from the body (or a hood.....or a tea cozy....), I wouldn't spend that amount on long underwear these days, but if you don't want to sew your own, we found the ones we got to be really really useful, well-fitted and warm, and all kinds of nice.

Oh, and if you want a proper tutorial, I saw that Green Kitchen has a nice sweater-pants tutorial that is very clear. It's in a similar vein to the pants pattern that I used for Safiya's pants.

Clearly my sewing methods are not proper, and it's highly probable that the next pair of leggings that I make for Safiya will not resemble these ones in the least :-)

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Something Like a Miracle

Yesterday was a day of puttering around the yard, cleaning up, and exploring corners that have gone neglected for a while. Being a very novice gardener with a lot of knowledge stored away in my brain, but little experience is a disastrous combination. For example, I'd love to just skip right to growing fields of quinoa if I had the space. :-)

And I forget about things. Usually the outcome is not good. However, this year I noticed some rather tall pretty yellow flowers that had sprouted up (from nowhere?) and then remembered that Safiya had planted some sunroots (Jerusalem Artichokes/sunchokes) left over from groceries earlier in the year.

Pulling them up was a momentous event. Such pretty things! After relocating our friend the worm, Safiya plucked, washed, smelled, cradled, and nibbled them and then insisted we eat them for dinner. One was elected to go into the curried butternut squash soup, and the rest were sliced and fried. yum.

From one little root to many, feeding many. Nature is something like a miracle.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

A Dinosaur Goes To Brunch

We have a rather large addition to our house, courtesy of my Father-in-Law. I think Safiya is in love.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Zen and Sewing

The child had one pair of pants. One. From amongst a pile of too-short, too-tattered relics of the past year emerged the last remaining pair of jeans, still sturdy to the world. This is a challenge, right? I could pop over to Value Village and pick up a $5.99 pair of perfectly serviceable jeans for her, or I could go down to the basement and try out How to make easy kids' pants, which I'd been itching to do for, oh, over a year ;-) Besides, I had the perfect fabric in mind: a soft light blue baby corduroy that I'd been saving for something nice. There would be just enough for a pair of pants.

At the same time as I was getting all adventurous and taking apart an old, nice-fitting pair of Safiya's pants to trace a pattern from (never done that with pants before, so was kind of nervous, but it worked out well), I was also having an argument.

It doesn't matter with who, especially because the person wasn't there. I was not paying attention, just indulging, and what I wish I could say or should have said came pouring out in a fantasy (one-sided) conversation where everything got resolved, and where anger and hurt feelings had free reign. Oh, and of course, where I was right, and vindicated, and all that good stuff ;-)

Now, I hear you saying, how can you do that and sew at the same time?

And of course, the answer is that I can't. I cut the pants out completely backwards and the fabric was not salvageable. Which forced a big sigh, a kick in the brain-pants for me, and a refocus on the project at hand. Ugh. Those thoughts, those arguments, while they seem satisfying in the moment, are ultimately so deceptive and unproductive.

Hands with scissors, on the other hand (ha!), can be quite productive:

I'm discovering that it is very difficult to get a four-year-old to stay still! Especially when fitting things....oh, I take back all that wriggling I did to my Mom when she made me clothes years ago....arg!

The back-up pair did turn out just fine, and I highly recommend this method of making pants; once you get going, you could probably make a pair of pants start to finish in 30 minutes-ish.

I do not, however, recommend sewing angry...imagine what all our clothes would look like!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Season of Change

It snowed today. After such a warm October, I find this reassuring. The leaves in the picture above now pad our walks, and the air has changed from that sun-warming-leaf-pile smell to that air with the edge to it, just a little too bracing for the unready under an overcast sky.

There have been other changes here, too. Other additions; and no, I have not been nourishing a secret pregnancy :-) A friend of Safiya's comes over after her school to hang out most days in the week, an arrangement with many benefits for all involved. I like a house with extra people, and my friend needed help, so things fell into place and now there's another personality thrown into the mix with some regularity around here, as well as some regular income on my part.

So now there are two cups of hot chocolate in the wagon in the afternoon. They are both only children, and it's been very interesting to watch them hash things out. At first there were territorial disputes to be presided over ;-)

However, I'm a "smoother-over-er" by instinct, which is not always a good thing; I get in the way. Frankly now it seems best if I step back and keep an eye just with my ears. The lovely thing is to hear them pretending and making up stories and talking about their respective imaginary friends, and giggling at eachother's silliness.

This wanting everything to be smooth for her is a desperate longing that I think all parents have, but in reality Safiya blossoms in her own decisions, her own fights, her own muddiness.

It's hard, but it's easier to remember when I think of how much fun mud is :-)

Monday, 6 October 2008

All Dinosaurs, All the Time

When we started talking about Hallowe'en, Safiya very promptly informed me that she wanted to be a "T-Rex dressed as a fairy", which might be the best costume idea ever. And then she looked up at me with those earnest, elf-green eyes and said "You can sew that, right Mama?"

All I have to say is, thank goodness for thrift stores...

Monday, 29 September 2008

A Project That Will Grow...

Ooooo, I've been sitting on this one for a while :-) Now that there's an official introduction out there, I finally get to show my excitement here! I just wanted to make sure that it was really going to happen, and not let anyone down, including myself ;-)

There are a couple of intersecting spheres of activity and ideas here, so I'll do an old-fashioned narrative to straighten things out. Sit down, grab a coffee.

It started with a walk. Good things often do. Late last summer, that is, in 2007, on the way home from a visit to the park, my friend Katharine, the kids and I stopped to talk to a lady who had a very nice pear tree in her front yard. Not an astounding pear tree, but a very nice, abundant pear tree. We complimented (and by that I mean envied) her tree, she said that the landlord used to pick it but no longer did, and that maybe someone she knew was going to come by and pick it, but if not the pears would fall and. would. go. to. waste.

Arg! The Mennonite part of my heart contracted in pain at the thought of that food going to waste, and more and more I started to notice bags of apples and pears being brought to the curb on Tuesday mornings (garbage day) when Safiya and I would be walking to the East York farmers market to buy...apples and pears.

Surely someone could use these? A couple of years ago I had read about Fallen Fruit, an urban fruit foraging group in L.A. There had to be someone in Toronto doing this. At that time, and by this time it was winter, I couldn't find anyone. In spring I fell in with this wonderful group called the Shoelace Collective, a group dedicated to alleviating the symptoms of poverty in our neighbourhood. Practical stuff, like community lunches and dinners, a workers' referral system, and working with the food bank.

Went to a meeting, brought up the idea of a residential fruit harvest; something walkable/bikeable. Where we could share the harvest with our neighbours, with an emphasis on preserving the harvest so that we could use it for dinners or donate it to the food bank or have a bazaar and sell it or give it away...the list of ideas got big fast :-)

A late summer meeting saw us ready to go, with a name and kind of a plan. I'm really a "huh, I have feet and hands, you have a fruit tree, I know of a kitchen. Maybe people will join in. And...done." kind of gal. So, with a neighbourhood newsletter in the works, we were waiting to go and then I got a very interesting email from someone at Shoelace after the meeting about....duh duh duhnnnn:

not far from the tree

I emailed Laura, the (phenomenal) project coordinator, right away, hoping to talk to her about some tips for us, since clearly they had their act together :-) They looked to be about a year ahead of us in planning and experience. Perfect. She said, let's talk. We met in a coffee shop. The gleam in our eyes was the same kind of gleam, and Laura took a very large chance. And the rest is history, or actually, just the beginning.

We will be the Woodbine Heights Hub of not far from the tree. As each neighbourhood is unique, we retain a similar, but slightly different mandate (ward 21 donates fresh fruit, we'll have an emphasis on preserving) and our own not-for-profit affiliations (Shoelace, in our case), but are under the beautiful, caring, inspired umbrella of not far from the tree.

And I have to say, it gave me goose-bumps when I sat in that first meeting with Laura and we shared the vision of the entire City of Toronto covered; linked, with these hubs. "Can you imagine?" we kept saying...

But as for now, now it's just me and my neighbourhood. 'Cause that's where food security starts. And everything starts with food security.

peace and sweet, fruitful dreams to you, my friends...

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Not Dead Yet...

This probably should have been a beginning of the summer project, but better late than never! Safiya cut out bags from fabric scraps for her stuffed animals while I, sniffling away and ignoring dishes, attended to this:

My Mom hates this bag. Seriously. "Loathes" would be more appropriate. She calls it "that ratty thing", as in "you're not going to take that ratty thing with you, are you?" Ha! Then there was a point at which even I had to admit that it was really ratty. It delighted me to give it a good wash, cut off the top, re-sew the drawstring and voila! casually flaunt it to my Mom the next time we went out. Daughters are supposed to irritate our mothers. It keeps them on their toes. :-)

Alas, the beloved bag wore out again quickly, and since repairing it again would render it too small to be serviceable...I can see my Mom raising her eyebrows in anticipation, glee about to escape her lips. Not so fast, Mom...

Assorted market bags, ready to go, their logos replaced by some pretty scraps, including that one in the back there...


Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Catching Up

This has been the view of our front stair for the past week. Safiya's offerings, her decorations, her busy-ness, there for the mail-lady, the neighbourhood kids, friends, and me and Mr. S. to step over in our comings and goings. A reminder of the other things that are important in daily life. Physically making us shift our focus.

It's been a good week, and a busy one. I was proud to pass two custom quilts into the hands of my friend-in-craft Leah. Making things for fellow crafters is nerve-wracking and, I think, could be ultimately unsatisfying because there's that part of me that decides "you could have done even better". I don't like that part of me very much anymore, and I don't let her talk very often these days, but she's sneaky and will slip me a mickey when I'm not being vigilant. I have yet to find the antidote, but I'm getting pretty good at bowing my head and forging on as I get older.

The quilts were a lot of fun to do, and I'm finishing up another one for a neighbour's daughter who has been patiently waiting for her special blanket. There aren't any craft shows on the forseeable horizon, so I've got a breather and can catch up on promised projects and things for the house. And indulge in some stocking up of, well, stock:

Along with the fishing sets I've got a whole stack of hoodies to my leisure ;-) Not sure if that's good business sense, but Mama's got a cold and is just going to poke along for a couple of days.

Poking along today I made some veggie borscht with this:

That, my friends, is part of why I disappeared for a while there in August. My friend-in-insane-ideas Katharine and I, with the help of our unwitting husbands and children, put up over 100 litres of various incarnations of tomatoes. By the end of the two day saga, we were tired, happy, very proud, satisfied, and very tomato-y. Working beside a friend is one of the joys in life, and in this case produced some very yummy results, as the borscht will attest.

There has been other good work going on around here, a project about which I am very excited. It has to do with these:

It is fruitful work, and I'll be ready to tell you about it soon! :-) Now off to bed I go, with some sweet dreams, I hope, in tow...

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

A Fine September Day

I love this time of year. The chill morning air gives room to breathe. There are signs of fall, and yet the bees are still poking around...

Our neighbours still have green tomatoes on the vine....

And the earth is still producing bounty, sometimes with weird and curious results...

The farmer very prosaically explained that the watermelon had rested on vines. I prefer to think of it as a magical watermelon tattoo. It's so beautiful. And it was in relief, so there we were at the market, Safiya and I, caressing this watermelon in wonder.

Sometimes that's all it takes to make a day fine.