26 September 2008

Anywhere but here...

No matter how much you might love your home, sometimes you can't help fantasizing about other possible (or impossible) abodes. I'm terrible for this. I think it's a combination of my collecting instinct and my propensity for daydreaming. There are just too many incredible buildings out there to limit myself to just one! So in the spirit of an idle Friday afternoon, here are some other places I'd like to be right now:

European castles are always nice, especially this one.

(Okay, that's Hogwarts--but I did say impossible abodes. I wouldn't mind living in just about any of the magical homes in the books and movies, especially Gryffindor Tower, the Burrow, or even one of those tents they had at the Quidditch World Cup, minus the mildewy smell, of course).

For something slightly more attainable, a Queen Anne Victorian will always be my dream. Ideally, it would be in some fantastic neighbourhood where everything from coffee shops to boutiques are within walking distance. Filled with books and antiques and personal treasures. Surrounded with a lush garden. Heaven.

Partway between fantasy and reality is the Parisian apartment I find myself yearning for. In my mind, it's always in the Montmartre district. I blame the movie Amelie for this one. I envision it as small and perfect; painted in deep, rich shades; and full of the kind of furniture and accessories you can only find in France. And every room will have a chandelier. Downstairs will be a patisserie, a boulangerie, a cafe, and a chocolatier. You won't need anything practical in Paris if you've got access to pastries and chocolate. I'll also pretend I don't notice the butcher shops selling horse meat. I think my Montmartre flat would be the ideal getaway when it's too cold at Hogwarts (or those pesky boggarts are getting out of hand).

So where would you rather be right now?

24 September 2008

Quality Craftsmanship

So, I was wandering through The Bay (Canadian department store) a few days ago, and what should catch my eye but this lovely set:

Of course, I had to take a closer look, what with my teaware addiction (see previous post). The set came packaged in a pretty box, emblazoned with this label:

Note the statement "Celebrating a Century of English Craftsmanship."

Awesome, I thought to myself--I'm a fan of English craftsmanship! Turning over the box to check out the price, thrilled to have found THE perfect teacup, I was aghast to see that 100 years also meant $100. Extravagent even for me, I was still considering it (I had a gift card) when I noticed the small print: Made in Indonesia. I put the box down and walked away. So much for that fine English craftsmanship. I hate to think what they paid the person who made that $100 teacup. Instead of tea, I ended up with a cup of irony. Tea tastes better.

PS: The really sad thing is, I just noticed on the company's website that this cup is out of stock. Guess irony's a big seller.

20 September 2008

Idee fixe

I'm a collector--can't help it; I have packrat genes. Luckily, the neat freak genes keep things more or less under control, but there are some things I just cannot resist. Books, of course; my house is like a mini library. I also love ceramics and porcelain. I'd have dozens of sets of dishes if I could get away with it (and none of them plain white), as well as cake stands, mixing bowls, sugar bowls, mugs, pitchers... I have an obsession with tea paraphernalia. I don't even drink that much tea, but I've got to buy pretty teapots and cups (and anything else tea-related, as well). I must have been a Brit in a past life. My other major fixation is fabrics. Whether in the form of sheets, tablecloths, napkins, aprons, handkerchiefs, towels, curtain panels, throw pillows, or just plain yards from the fabric store, I love fabric. Give me a pretty design (embroidery, brocade, toile, stripes, checks, polka dots, florals...), an interesting texture, or a vibrant colour and I'm good. Better than, in fact. No doubt this particular infatuation comes from growing up around bits and piles of my mom's sewing material (come to think of it, I like buttons too, and pincushions...)

So, what are your collecting obsessions?

16 September 2008

Glorious

Morning glories are on the short list of plants I have to have in my garden. They're a little chaotic, but they're low-maintenance, pest-free, and gorgeous.

Ever since I saw masses of dark blue blooms spilling over a fence just off the Danforth, I've been obsessed with growing the morning glories known as Heavenly Blue. The seeds seem to come only a few to a packet, so year after year I would try for my dark blue flowers only to have pale blue ones show up instead. Don't get me wrong--pale blue morning glories are also wonderful. But they weren't what I wanted.

This year I was sure I was out of luck again. My first batch of seeds sprouted, but I took too long getting them into the ground (they need to be soaked in water first, but there's such a thing as over-soaking). Only a couple of the seeds turned into actual plants, and my excitement over those was short-lived as they disappeared, seemingly overnight. Not sure what happened there, but it was a disappointment, to say the least.

Frustrated, I was set to have another Heavenly Blue-free year when I decided, despite the lateness in the season, to try again. I soaked the seeds for a shorter amount of time and got them into the ground. This time I ended up with a few strong plants. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed masses of flower buds on the plants. When the flowers started opening, I was thrilled to see that there were dark blue ones as well as lighter ones. Finally! And the combination is fantastic. Of course, the irony is that it's been consistently grey and rainy, a condition that not only makes taking pictures difficult, but causes the large flowers to become limp and floppy. Still I managed a few photos to share (note the beads of water in the picture above).

One of the morning glories is growing with the 'Viking" climbing rose, which also happens to be in bloom at the moment. (This is a great rose, by the way--healthy, vigorous, a profuse bloomer. The only problem is the lack of scent.) Best of all, the plants will seed themselves now. Next year I should have all the morning glories I can handle (and then some--they can be a bit aggressive, so I'm going to have to make sure to thin them out).

I also have dark purple (classic) and soft pink morning glories. I tried growing some of the crimson ones too, but somehow they morphed into dark purple--go figure.

It occurred to me recently as I was looking out over the garden, that between the roses, morning glories, delphiniums, pansies, and lavender, I'd might as well plant a few sunflowers next year and just admit I've got a cottage garden again!

11 September 2008

Zen and the Art of Household Maintenance

I find few things more mentally satisfying than housework. Maybe it's the proper Greek upbringing (doing housework makes girls prettier, don't ya know! Thanks, mom...) Maybe it's my natural tendency to organize (ahem, this is also known as being anal). Maybe it has to do with being easily grossed out. Whatever it is, I love watching order emerge from chaos.

I'm not particularly efficient at it. Because I (mostly) enjoy it, I tend to turn it into a zen experience, pondering life's deeper meanings as I wash dishes (or as a former manager at a restaurant I worked at put it, "make love to the dishes") and fold laundry.

A male friend of mine once told me that if you have a clean house, you have too much time on your hands (um, thanks). There's also a whole segment of the younger population who brag about being useless at housework (not sure what that's about--why brag about being incompetent at basic skills?) Okay, so maybe cleaning the house isn't on the scale of writing the Great Canadian/American Novel (working on that too, fwiw), but as Cheryl Mendelson said in Home Comforts (see "Book-tastic", to the right), a clean home is a safe, healthy, and comfortable home. I'm all about comfort (safety and health are all right too).

Random Housekeeping Tips

  • I do try to stick to the environmentally friendly cleaning products (I like Seventh Generation quite a bit). They smell nice too, and won't harm your health.
  • Sticky rollers work better than the vacuum at getting rid of cat hair on upholstery. If you're working on velvety material, a damp paper towel (or hand) rubbed with the grain works great.
  • Squeegeeing the shower walls when you're done keeps things shiny and mildew-free.
  • Newspapers do not clean glass better than microfibre cloths or paper towels (they just get your hands--and the window frames--really dirty).
  • Using the self-cleaning feature on your oven may use extra electricity, but have you smelled those chemical oven cleaners? I'll take a little energy inefficiency over lung damage any day.
  • Running a full load of dishes in the dishwasher is more energy efficient than handwashing--and more sanitary too.
  • As Cheryl Mendelson taught me, don't put anything in the kitchen sink you wouldn't want touching your food (including water from cut flowers and from pet dishes). Also, don't put anything on your counters that you wouldn't want touching your food (where has your purse been, anyway?)
  • Mini blinds are the devil's work.
What are some of your tips?

10 September 2008

Rescue dog


This isn't exactly on topic, but I came across this blog: http://adopttillah.blogspot.com/ and was so saddened by Tillah's story, I had to share. Anyone out there able to provide a good home?

08 September 2008

Hearth and Soul


What is it about a fireplace that just says "home"? Of all the features one can find in a house, the fireplace has to be one of the most sought after. And yet, they're inefficient. They take up valuable wall space. They're frequently the source of unwanted house guests (birds, raccoons, and in the case of our last house, wasps *shudder*) They can also be the source of uncontrolled fires. And you have to stick a Victorian waif down the chimney in order to get them clean. Okay, maybe not the last one.

Because of the aforementioned wasp issue (luckily it was just the dying ones that were looking for some warmth late in the year, but still...) I wasn't exactly keen to get a fireplace in the new place. And yet, when I saw this beauty taking up almost an entire wall:


Well, let's just say it didn't make me want the house any less. Shortly after moving in, I was fussing over furniture placement as I attempted not to hide the fireplace from view (I believe decorators would call it the "focal point" of the room).

I spend a fair amount of time planning my dream house, and I have to admit, all my plans include fireplaces. For the longest time, I wanted a huge, old-fashioned
hearth in the kitchen, the kind you could roast an entire animal in. I pictured a cast iron cauldron bubbling away in there. Even now, it's not unappealing.

More recently I've come to appreciate the elegance of Victorian fireplaces and mantles. You can't roast an animal in them, but they'd be gorgeous in a bedroom or two (and still good for marshmallows).

I could see, give free reign and limitless budget, that I'd include a fireplace in just about every room. Hell, I'd put one in the backyard too, air quality be damned!

Fireplaces, for me anyway, seem to speak directly to the heart. Their drawbacks just don't seem to matter that much...

05 September 2008

Trashy

Okay, I'm the first to admit that my tastes are a little high end. It's a running joke in our household that given the option between similar items (and without knowing the prices) I'll always choose the most expensive. But even I have to question why some things are so pricy. Trash cans, for example. They're utilitarian items that are generally simply made with basic materials. So why do they cost an arm and a leg?We're still in the process of acquiring accessories for the new house. Among other things we need are waste bins for the bathrooms. Last week I found one at the Bay that would be perfect for the upstairs bathroom. It was a simple, square container made of marble, similar to the one in the picture (only with much plainer marble). It was $80! (I probably shouldn't complain--the one in the photo is over a thousand dollars.) For what probably amounts to less than $20 worth of stone and not much labour, why is the price so high? Not that any of the other ones I've seen have been more reasonably priced, even those made of plastic.

In the past I've used flower pots, which are generally less expensive, as waste bins. I haven't found any that'll work in the current bathrooms, though. The sad thing is, I'll probably end up getting the overpriced one because it really is perfect. Worse, I'll probably get two (one for trash, one for organics). I guess that's why stores can get away with charging so much.

03 September 2008

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Garden


The garden is occupying my thoughts as the season winds down. I'm getting ready to plant bulbs for next spring (about 100 of them--eep). I can't believe leaves are already falling, albeit only a few.

In the meantime, though, there are still flowers to enjoy and fun discoveries to make. When we moved, we brought a separate van-load of garden plants with us (not to mention a couple of car-loads of houseplants). Because I was recovering from wrist surgery during the move, I didn't actually do any of the transplanting, so I wasn't sure what plants were in what pots. Now I'm enjoying some surprises.

My mom did a lot of the transplanting for me. After she was done, I started feeling guilty about leaving one of the roses. It had been at the old house when we moved in. Despite being poorly placed in near-complete shade, with weeds choking it more every year (I spent 8 years weeding that garden and all I ended up with was more weeds...) it still produced beautiful pink blooms. It also never had any problems with blackspot or mildew. And here I was about to abandon it just because it didn't have a scent. This was a couple of days before we left and we were incredibly busy, so poor S had to head out in the dark to dig that rose up so we could bring it. At the time, he mentioned that he dug up another rose as well, but since I was pretty sure nothing else had survived the weeds, I thought maybe he'd made a mistake. Then I forgot all about it.

In spring when I was putting the transplanted plants into the ground, I was still sure there was only one rose in that pot. Yes, there was a big chunk of what looked like dead wood, but I thought it was just part of one plant. The other part of the plant was green and healthy. Well, both parts ended up sprouting, only one is low and shrubby and the other is tall, like a climber. They also bloomed at different times, although both had pink flowers. So it looks like we rescued two rose plants from oblivion. They do seem much happier, despite the caterpillar activity around here (but that's another story).

The other surprise happened this week. One of the plants we brought from the other garden was a recently acquired clematis. We had another, dark purple clematis but I thought it was too big to move and planned on replacing rather than transplanting it. I guess my mom had other ideas. After we moved and I settled all the plants into their new homes, my mom kept mentioning the dark purple clematis. I kept telling her we left it behind. After all, there was only one pot with one clematis in it. The light purple one we'd brought bloomed early on, but I was excited last week to see new buds. A few days ago, the new buds bloomed...into dark purple flowers. Looking at the plant more carefully, I noticed some of the leaves were lighter green and some darker. Looking more carefully still, I saw that the base of the stems are completely different (one has one big stem and one has multiple skinny stems). My mom was right--we did bring the dark purple one along too. So, along with a third clematis I bought after we moved, I now have one early-blooming light purple clematis, one mid-late blooming near-black clematis, and one late-blooming dark purple clematis. Accidental garden design at its best.

Because I've been so busy settling in, I haven't had much chance to break out the camera. I will have to remedy that. In the meantime, I found this photo of a clematis similar to mine.