Thursday, 27 June 2013

The great shed cleanout

Last weekend summer finally arrived. The temperature soared to the high 20's/low 30's, and with humidity factored in it was above body temperature for quite a few days.

As usual we weren't prepared for it. Our air conditioner is under our front porch, covered by a trap door. The porch has windows for the cold winter weather, and screens for the summer. So in order to use the AC we have to change out the windows for the screens and open the trap door up.

Unfortunately we hadn't put the screens in yet as they were buried in the shed. And I mean buried. When we reno'd last summer we put a lot of stuff in the shed. We don't have a garage, so the small 8'x12' shed already holds a plethora of stuff; lawnmower, garden tools, bikes, sporting equipment, and was filled with a lot more that we usually store in the basement.

The first order of business was to empty everything out. Don't judge me - imagine how large a pile you would have on your driveway if you emptied every single thing out of your garage.

I'll admit that there's a lot of crap there, but we do use most of it.

We had that one tall gray shelving unit in the shed, but it was a little narrow and wasn't making the most of the space. So I decided to build a new shelf that spanned most of one end of the shed and sent Alan off to the lumberyard.

Since it was just for the shed and I didn't really care about precision, I had the guys at the lumberyard cut the boards to size for me. I used a 1x10" and 1x12" for each shelf so that they ended up 22" deep and 5' long. Then I just screwed the boards onto 2x4s cut to size.

I add 2x4s to each end as supports, and had a set of shelves. Then it was time to move everything back into the shed. This took at least twice as long as it should have due to the heat. I had to keep stopping to rest as the yard was so sunny and hot and humid. I love summer heat, but when the humidex takes the temperature over 40°C (104°F) I start to wilt.

I did manage to get everything back into the shed, and not any too soon - just after I finished a rainstorm moved in.

It's looking pretty good now, and it's nice to finally be able to easily access my gardening tools. The shelves hold all of the small gardening stuff and the boys toys, with enough room to the left of the shelves to stand all of the shovels and rakes.

And the opposite end stores the porch windows, our old screen door that we haven't yet reinstalled at the front, our bikes and the hammock. 

The mess made me grumpy every time I opened the shed door to get something out, so it's nice to finally have this all organized.

Friday, 21 June 2013


This past weekend my sister taught me a new skill that warms me to my ever so slightly obsessive-compulsive core. She saw it on Pinterest, and I have no idea how I've lived so many years without it.

It involves the dreaded pile of plastic grocery bags.

You know - the ones that accumulate under your sink or next to the door inside your garage. And no matter how you try to stuff them into something, anything that will corral them, they're either escaping and puffing up and blocking access to your dishwasher detergent, or they're packed so tightly into some container that when you finally manage to spring one free, twenty more follow and drop all over the kitchen floor.

The solution? Well, I've decided to call it bag-igami. Like origami, but with plastic bags. It's magical.

This is what my plastic bags looked like before, all stuffed into a plastic holder that's supposed to make them easier to store and dispense, but is just bulky and impossible to extract a single bag from.

And this is how they look after the miracle of bag-igami.

Seriously, how is that possible? It's as easy as pie - but simpler to explain with pictures than words.

You just smooth the bag out flat, fold it neatly three times lengthwise, and then start folding a triangle from the bottom corner. If you get to the top and can't tuck the handles into the flap, go back a few folds and redo it a little tighter (or looser).

The initial organization was a little bit time consuming. It doesn't take long to fold up one bag, but I had dozens to do. I just sat and folded while I watched TV one evening and it was over before I knew it. And now I have tiny, neatly packaged bags that I can just drop in my purse, the glove compartment, etc.

With two messy boys, you never know when you'll have an urgent need for a bag to carry home wet clothes or shoes, flowers, stones, sticks, pinecones... you get my drift.

It really is a thing of beauty. But it makes me wonder what other mad skilz big sis is holding out on!

Monday, 17 June 2013

We're jammin'

We're jammin' 
To think that jammin' was a thing of the past;
We're jammin' 
And I hope this jam is gonna last.

I've had that earworm stuck in my head since Saturday afternoon.

Alan's away in Scotland for a week, so the boys and I took advantage of a weekend at loose ends and traveled to my sister's house down in the Niagara Region to make some strawberry jam.

Matthew, my sister, my mom and I went to a pick your own farm and dragged home about 25 quarts of fresh berries. It's still early for berries this year and they were fairly sparse in the fields, but we picked enough to make 40 jars of jam.

We eat a lot of strawberry jam in our house.

It's a pretty simple process. First, you mash up the berries to the consistency that you like. We like our jam with some chunks of berries, but you can mash it up until there are no chunks left if you prefer a smoother, more jelly-like consistency.


Put the berries in a large pot on the stove and add the pectin. Bring the mixture to a boil and then add in a shocking amount of sugar (7 cups for every 4.5 cups of mashed fruit).

You bring that to a hard boil that can't be stirred down and maintain it for one minute. At this point you need to be very careful with the boiling fruit mix. A big bubble burbled up from the bottom of the pot the second batch my sister was stirring and gave her a pretty bad burn on her hand. She had to sit with her hand in a bowl of ice water and fire off directions to us.

Which, as you can imagine, she didn't enjoy one bit.

After one minute at a rolling boil, you remove the pot from the heat and let the jam cool for a few minutes. Then skim off the pink foam from the top

and pour it into mason jars that have been sterilized in the oven. I use a glass measuring cup as it's bigger and easier to handle than a ladle.

As Cal would say, easy peasy lemon squeezy! 

Friday, 7 June 2013


Nope, this isn't a post about the latest in the Rob Ford scandal. It's about the giant thing that fell in our front yard last night.

The street we live on is unusual as it used to be the driveway for a large estate. When the land was sold off in parcels, they maintained the trees that lined the drive and created a large boulevard in front of the houses. Well, the boulevard is large for the part of the city we live in - most of the sidewalks in this area directly adjoin the roadway.

Note the man with the stroller crouched down in front of the branch across the sidewalk - there's been a steady stream of gawkers all morning.
The trees are beautiful, but they're also really old. And they're starting to act their age and are losing large limbs at an alarming rate. It was only a matter of time until the branch that fell last night came down. It had a long crack running along the length of one of the upper branches that overhang the house. A couple of calls to the city over the years didn't result in any action. I never knew whether it was because the arborist decided that the branch was okay, or if wasn't ever inspected.

On a windy day earlier this spring I kind of lost it on Alan when he let Cal play out front on a really windy day. I know he felt that I was being kind of neurotic (as do the boys when I make them run to get off the block as quickly as possible on windy days), but I didn't want some huge branch to squash him like a bug.

Now I feel vindicated. This branch would have done some serious damage had it landed on someone.

I have to admit - I was not so secretly hoping that when it came down it would take out our front porch with it. It's time for a new one, and a little help from the city with the demolition costs would have been welcome.

It was close, but not quite close enough!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Tessa's new beds

I have about eight different sewing projects in the works right now, so I've temporarily taken over the dining room.

When we need to use the table to eat, I move the sewing machine down under the ironing board. It's working out okay for now, but I really need to get the spare room on the third floor all set up with my machines and table space to work on.

A couple of the projects I've been working on are for Cal's room. I've taken one of his old Ikea curtain panels and modified it to be a roman shade lined with heavy blackout fabric. We're hoping that this will encourage both Cal and the dog to sleep a little later in the morning. The blind is all finished and ready to mount in the window. I just need an extra pair of hands to help me juggle the drill and the blind.

The other project I just finished is a new bed for Tessa. She sleeps in the family room during the day and up in Cal's room at night, so she has beds in both rooms. The one that she sleeps on in Cal's room was big and brown and ugly.

The top piece is 36" in diameter, which makes the squished-down bed almost 40" in diameter. It takes up a lot of valuable floor space in Cal's room so I decided to make her a new rectangular bed.

I bought enough microfiber to make the dog bed and to cover his new chair. In fact, I seem to have vastly over-calculated how much I would need and have a couple of yards of fabric left. Oh well, I'm sure I'll find some use for it. Perhaps another doggy bed for the cottage - she just sleeps on a blanket we throw down on the floor in Matthew's room up there.

The bed was really simple to make. I cut out one large rectangle that I wrapped around for the top, bottom and two long sides. I cut out two small rectangles for the short sides. I hemmed the two short sides of the big rectangle, and then just sewed it all together, leaving an overlapped opening on the bottom of the bed into which I could stuff the stuffing sack.

I reused the inside of her round bed, but you could easily use this bed cover with any old quilt or blanket. Old blankets that you can pull out would actually make it much easier to wash, and thus much more likely to get washed frequently.

I used an old down duvet for her downstairs bed. It was fraying around the top and bottom edges, so lots of little feathers were escaping. I had it out on the porch ready to toss on the next garbage day, but then decided to put it to use. I folded down the edges and ran a quick seam with my sewing machine, and then folded it up and put it inside the bed cover.

Down filled bed for a dog? Nothing is too good for the Contessa, you know.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

It's the most wonderful time of the year

Some people love Christmas, some love Easter. My favourite time of the year by far is strawberry season.

Every summer I imbibe to the point of hives. The problem is that Ontario grown berries are sooo much better than the tasteless imports and the season is just too darn short. That means that I have to gobble down a year's worth of berries in a few short weeks. Which leads to the hives. Benadryl pretty much takes care of them, though.

Today we were out walking in our neighbourhood and happened across some local berries at a little stand set up on the sidewalk. It seems that some Niagara farmers are growing the plants under row covers that keep the heat in and hasten ripening. What a clever way to draw out the length of the season!

We couldn't resist buying a quart. Our favourite way to eat strawberries is in strawberry shortcake. I always use homemade old fashioned shortcake biscuits, not the yellow spongy cake-things that the grocery stores try to pass off as shortcake worthy. There was no time today to bake biscuits, and there was no way that the berries would last in the house overnight, so I settled on whipping up some cream to top them off. 

They weren't as delicious as middle of the season, freshly picked, still warm-from-the-field berries, but they were pretty darn good.

Ontario berry growers have a Facebook page where they're tracking how ripe the berries are. They expect the full season to open on June 10th. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled until then!
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