Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Use What Your Mama and Daddy (and Great Aunt, and Co-worker, and Sister-in-law) Gave You

Now that the holiday festivities are over (and they are for me being the mother of a baby that I am, I won't likely get up to much of anything for New Year's Eve - a rousing game of cribbage if I'm lucky) I find myself with a boatload of Christmas cards that I can't bear to part with. And there's even a few still trickling in after the Christmas postal boom. 
I have a wire card wreath (a much-loved wedding gift that has a permanent home on our dining room wall that houses cards year-round depending on whose birthday was recent or which holiday is near), but I can't leave Christmas cards in there until our next family birthday in March. And as much as I can't abide tossing the holiday notes neither can I stand storing years and years of season's greetings in a shoe box. And so I craft. It's the perfect solution: I turn these seasonal mementos into new cards or, as in this year's incarnation, ornaments. 

These super easy orbs require only old cards, scissors or straight edge paper cutter, a hole punch, and some metal page fasteners (as we used to use in duo-tangs back in my grade school days).

 Simply cut cards into same length strips, punch a hole in both ends of each strip, mix and match for the best color combos (I used about a dozen trips per orb), attach a fastener through each end of each group of strips, fan the card strips out to form a ball and voila! 

These look as good on the tree as they do on the mantle or in a glass bowl on the table.


Next year I'd like to tackle this wreath from goodhousekeeping.com

And these gift tags from marthastewart.com and modkidboutique.blogspot.com respectively.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Time for Life

I don't get it. Where does time go? I wake up at 6am with my little guy and I wonder how I can possibly fill the 16 hours until my 10pm bedtime, especially when I can't do any one thing for more than 10 minutes without complaints from the peanut gallery (and boy, is my peanut cute). I've got his two nap times in which to accomplish my adult duties, though making up lost sleep tends to take priority these days. And yet I have mama friends who actually knit, sew, cook, read, exercise regularly, and have more than one child! They must multi task and do it all at once! It's not like I'm idle, but running a household and being a good friend, neighbor, and daughter pretty much keeps me occupied. I have all these tasks (household budget, printing photos for albums, stocking the freezer, writing letters, et cetra) that I'm saving for a slow day (or month) that never seems to come.
Then it hit me: I will never have more time than I do now - a daunting thought but also a liberating one. Suddenly, it felt like I'd better stop wasting time complaining or rationalizing (or writing) about it and just "git 'er done". So here I am writing Christmas cards at 5:30am rather than lying awake in bed listening to a crying baby and I'm thinking, sweet, I just scored 30 minutes! Maybe today's the day I do it all. Ask me tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Like a Kid in a Stationery Store

I love cards. I love buying, making, sending, upcycling, and, of course, receiving them. During the last winter of my undergrad degree, I baited myself into finishing essays and studying for exams by allowing myself to make one Christmas card after each portion of school work was complete. (Hey, those long, cold Montreal winters bring out the nerd in a lot of people.) I had an entire corner of my bedroom set up with organized paper scraps, glue stick, and paper cutter. The month before, I had been lucky enough to stumble upon a freelance invitation maven who was holding a paper sale in her apartment and I snagged what has proven to be a decade's worth of beautiful scraps.

A couple years later I was visiting friends on Hornby Island and found a 1960's fairytale book at the recycling depot, (aka: the free store), that had unbelievably quaint floral accents adorning each page and I've since used snippets of these pages in frames on my walls and to decorate my wedding invitations.

A sampling of my upcycled and recycled one-of-a-kind wedding invitations.

One recent November I found myself staying with friends in Manhattan and after two weeks in the Big Apple my husband had purchased more clothing than I had but I felt no remorse because I had found wooden Christmas postcards by Night Owl Paper Goods and vintage inspired, small scale Christmas notes by Yellow Bird Greetings at a stationary shop in Greenwich Village. These were the perfect souvenirs as far as I was concerned: pretty, useful, and something I could not get back home. It wasn't until I got back home to Vancouver that I noticed the fine print on the back of the paper cards that read: "Printed in Vancouver". I'm sure the cards were appreciated nonetheless.

Night Owl Paper Goods' wooden postcards 
(perhaps they should change their company name)

I also worked for a few years as a buyer for a chain of natural lifestyle stores. My favorite part of the job quickly became stationery perusing and purchasing. The perfect way to ensure I got the Christmas cards I wanted! Not only did I bring in Night Owl's wooden cards but I discovered near perfect lines like Eggpress. How do you ever choose just one of their cards?

Impressive Eggpress

Coming soon: the best ways to use old Christmas cards!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

All I Want for Christmas...

...is a good garlic press. This one by Zyliss to be precise.

An Epicurean wood fibre 18x13" natural color cutting board.

Two Silpat baking mats.

A subscription to Martha Stewart's "Everyday Food" magazine.

Natural, handmade soap.

Snazzy Smartwool socks (seriously, I like getting socks for Christmas).

Oh, and my baby boy's two front teeth to hurry up and stop making him a teething menace!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


The farm at the end of the road
All packed to go for a snowy weekend with friends in the mountains when we woke up to a completely flat tire. And because it's been snowing all week the tire shops are jammed with wait times of at least three hours and we can't borrow a car from anyone because they've all got appointments with their tire guys to put winter tires on. This never happens to us... until it does. It's like we were due for some bad car luck. It's like how I'd never been in a car accident... until I was. Now there's a story for a snowy day. I've got my cup of tea and hours until the hubs is home with our new tire.

A few years ago I was living in Northern California, 16 miles up a dirt road from the nearest small town. I'd been using a friend's car for the summer, a little VW cabriolet that was Hell to find the reverse gear in but better than nothing for cruising around listening to the one cassette tape I had to play in the car's tape deck (a nicely nostalgic movie soundtrack - I just can't remember which one). It epitomized summer for me to drive with my favorite emerald green sunglasses on and the top down.
On my days off from farm work when I didn't spend all day in the river, I'd explore the maze of back roads lured by ideas of catching a glimpse of my dream house, or an amazing view, or a long-forgotten cemetery, or some backwoods landed gentry that I could marry into. Most often I got a whole lot of poison oak, gated driveways, 'no trespassing' signs, and dust in my teeth.

One mid-summer evening, when everyone else had the day off I decided to join friends in town after my work day was over. The leaves of the oak trees that lined the road were coated in the dust that re-settled after every passing vehicle. By August the road was hard-packed dirt that could use a good grading, but I always took it pretty slow, putt-putting up the hills with the music blaring.

On one particularly steep and curvy section I shifted down into second gear to get traction up the bumpy incline just as a black Toyota 4-Runner came shooting around the corner, going way too fast to keep control over the wash-board. As the driver saw me (slowly making for the shoulder to make way for him) he braked hard and his truck slid sideways on the ruts and right into the Cabrio.

My sunglasses went flying over the windshield never to be seen again as I was stopped in my tracks most of the way onto the side of the road. The cassette tape played on at full blast. Without thinking I growled like a mama bear and swore something awful before I removed my hands from the steering wheel and my seat belt from the clasp. The other driver, a chiseled Anthony Kiedis type with board shorts, long hair, and tattoos was next to his truck swearing up a storm but he ran to me upon hearing my growl and asked if I was alright. I told him I was fine but that the owner of the car, which was now nearly half the length it should have been, wouldn't be so cheery.

Buddy was apparently in quite a hurry to get somewhere; he was all over the place, worried about the cars, about me, and, most of all, about his rendezvous with an important someone. He suggested I stay with the car and he'd come back to pick me up in an hour. Right! There was no way that was going to happen I assured him. As I climbed into the passenger seat of his truck I insisted he take me wherever he had to get to since my car could no longer drive anywhere. Seeing as he had no choice he reluctantly started up the engine and we took off at top speed. It was then that I noticed that he too had been blasting his music, Red Hot Chili Peppers to be precise and coincidental. There were surf stickers adorning the dashboard and he drove in flip flops, not slowing down a bit despite the recent crash. He quickly sparked a joint to calm his nerves and offered some to me upon seeing my general good nature about the whole situation.

By now we had turned off the familiar road and up some winding rutted roads, past a few deserted, unmarked intersections, and pulled up and parked outside a locked gate at the foot of a driveway. I knew there was no way I would ever intentionally be able to find my way back to this unremarkable location, but his paranoia was rampant. He prattled on about having to change the locks now that he was taking me by his place and how he hated to be late to meet his "distributor". He left me alone in his truck for five minutes while he disappeared up the driveway to leave a note. I remember thinking to myself, 'I bet he has a gun. This guy should not have a gun.'

Once he returned I directed him to the end of the main road and the farm where I lived. Upon hearing that the owner of the car's given name was Buffalo, surfer dude lost an iota of his swagger and offered up everything in his wallet to pay for the damage and to keep his name off the record. In the end we made more than the car was worth and I got a glimpse behind one those gated back roads and that was enough to persuade me to look elsewhere for a husband.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Digital Dust Bunnies I

Like most people these days, I take a lot of photos. Unlike most people, I converted entirely to digital photography somewhat reluctantly. Don't get me wrong, I think the digital way is more convenient and user-friendly (though typing that out makes me cringe and hope my beloved, well-traveled, non-digital, SLR camera didn't hear me think it). Each year I've had my digi-cam I've taken more and more photos. I started in 2007 taking 236 and so far this year I've taken nearly 800. Now these stats are skewed as 99% of this year's photos are of my 8 month old baby boy (and I know full well that the next kid won't be quite so well documented). Nonetheless, I have a lot of images on my hard drive and, while I don't have shoeboxes full of negatives, neither do I have have photo albums to show, share, or peruse (unless you count online albums).
So I was thinking about printing out the best of the last four years and while going through my early digital images I realized that I'd forgotten that I used to take shots of subjects other than baby Oakley. Here's a few images that aren't film but are at least pure in the sense that it was before I knew how to crop and retouch photos on my computer. Photos like these always feel like they deserve more than to be relegated to a position next to pictures of our summer croquet party, and yet I'm not about to blow them up and hang them on my wall, so I've deemed them blog worthy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Falling into Winter

It's fall and we're falling into winter
but we're still camping in the alpine.
It's cold but we hardly give a shiver...

That's about all I can remember of a little ditty composed while hiking in the Valhallas one September many years ago. At that time of year it is technically still summer (though school children will argue the fact) and up here in the Pacific North West (AKA: the Canadian South West) we may have a day warm enough for swimming but the green leaves are tinged with gold; you can smell Autumn in the pine needles and leaves that have already fallen and there is a hint of winter in the slight change of temperature.

I've spent two partial years in different tropical climates and on both occasions, despite great fun and adventure, the endless summer did in fact lose it's shine and I found myself craving the change in season, the warmth of Thanksgiving, nighttime neighbourhood Halloween revelry, the darker days of Daylight Savings, raking leaves, and the excitement of the first snow.

I grew up in a mountain town with a thriving snow sport culture where the first snow was always met with hoots and hollers, a tangible electric excitement at the thought of the piles of snow to come, and people taking to the steep streets on their rock skis. Now, living on the coast, where we don't see nearly enough snow (in my unpopular opinion), I've come to terms with a brief winter; it's not long after New Year's Eve that the snowdrops and crocuses pop up in the sunny spots. But I still look forward to those few days when everything will be white and I'll see kids trying to slide down hilly alleyways on dustpans and garbage can lids.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kids' Books Are Like Kids: Short, Sweet, and Amusing

There is something perfectly satisfying about a book that can be completed in a matter of minutes, can be read in words or in pictures, can come in all shapes and sizes, and, like poetry, distills meaning down to the exact words necessary to portray the best version of the story. Entire, albeit small, worlds come to exist in the limited pages of kids' books. Realities that comfort with their familiarity or amaze with their creativity, but almost always point out just how exciting everyday objects and situations can be with a little imagination. Above all, children's book may be simple, repetitive, or silly, but they are never boring.

My nephew enjoying a good book
Here are a few of my favorites from my childhood bookshelf that now have a permanent home in my son's library.

One Monster After Another written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer.
Generally, the stories that stand the test of time are the good ones. This book was first published in 1974, has been on my family's bookshelf since the early 80s, survived my siblings and me (with a little masking tape), my niece and nephew, and now, with a little more tape, it should make it through my children. It has been a favorite of mine since before it was mine; the inscription proves it was a gift from my uncle to my sister. This book is oversized; it takes up your whole lap, allowing the illustrations to lead your eye down the windy road and over the knobbly hill into the next page. The trees are gnarly and intricate and there's a dozen entertaining details on every page to amused parent and child alike. There is plenty of action (aided by onomatopoeic verbs and a heaping spoonful of humor) and a happy ending that leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next. Near perfection. See also Frog Goes to Dinner.

Introducing our 2 month old son to Tintin
The Adventures of Tintin written and illustrated by Herge.
My husband wooed me with Tintin. I grew up only ever having read one of the series (a gift from father on a trip to a big city second-hand book store which I valued more because it was from him than for the content). But Mike grew up reading Tintins from the library. The first summer we were living in our own place, we read all the Tintin books. We'd bicycle to the park, lay out a blanket under the willows by the lake and he would read Tintin's adventures aloud to me, and you better believe he did all the voices. You should hear his Madame Castafiore! Needless to say, we're big fans of the series and can't believe a movie has still never been made.

The Animal Family written by Randall Jarrell and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
This is a true story book. The few pictures (more decorations than illustrations) don't ever portray the characters, just the scenery. How a hunter, a mermaid, a bear, and a lynx can all live together in a cabin is left up to the reader's mind, though the words never allow you to find the circumstances odd, just enchanting. I read this book at least once a year.

Blackboard Bear written and illustrated by Martha Alexander.
I have a box set called Four Bears in A Box and I can't seem to ever read just one book. They are tiny books, about 4" x 4.5", the drawings are perfectly minimal and adorable without being overly precious, and despite the simple trajectory of the stories, I reveled in the boy's victory as much when I was first reading the story as I do now.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

All in an Unpaved Alley

I do get it sometimes: something
for nothing, freedom
walking in an unpaved alley
in a paved-over city.

Off kilter fences, slats leaning
this way and that. Painted, peeling,
garages. Gravel
and untended greenery.
Garbage and thorns
and sometimes
even a berry or two.
Sometimes: a reminder of what I used to know
I wanted, hard to find
now that I’m here.

Sometimes: a sense of what came before,
how this place was.
All the neighbors and kids
that have existed here
washed away like the gravel underfoot,
shifting unnoticed by the people
who see it everyday.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Present participle of co·zy (verb)
1. Impart a feeling or quality of comfort to something.
2. Give someone a feeling of comfort or complacency.

It is officially cozy season: the harvest moon was this week, the 78 cents a pound local spartan apples are in stores, condensation is gathering on my single-pane windows, and I'm wearing socks around the house trying to escape the cacophony of competing leaf blowers exhaling dead flora from one neighbors lawn to another and back again as the wiry yard maintenance men keep each other in business.
And I suppose I do find myself feeling rather comfortable and complacent. As soon as I realized that the hot season was over I started jogging, only to discover a week later, that the rainy season had arrived just in time to dampen my zest. Now as much as I love how running in the rain makes my cells tingle, my new rubber boots are simply more enticing than running shoes and darn hard to jog in.
I'm 6 months into motherhood and I've been dismayed at how this stay-at-home parenting gig has really hindered my ambition. My greatest aspirations have whittled down to writing a small amount every day, providing my family with healthful flavorful meals every night, and having three more babies in the next six years. Pretty reasonable, no? 
At least I am writing every day. Some days I put something downright mundane in the agenda I'm using as an alternative to the traditional baby book, like last Friday's riveting "O rolled front to back 3x" while other days I manage a heartfelt email or blog posting. One day soon I'll get back to my writer's group; maybe once Oaks stops waking every three hours at night or perhaps when I stop missing him as soon as he's in bed. 
Most days I'm pretty satisfied with the variety of colors I get onto our dinner plates and the ratio of roughage to protein and starch. Though I suffer from the serious culinary condition of not being able to remember what meals I made recently and which were keepers, so that I find myself struggling daily to make something I've never made before. This is fine (though exhausting) for someone like myself who prefers not to eat the same dish twice in one month and is currently on maternity leave, but nearly impossible to maintain when working outside the home. To assist in my constant recipe mining I reference my collection of cookbooks (frequenting The New Basics, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, and the stack of Everyday Food magazines that I found at my old laundromat) as well as epicurious.com and my food-loving family who also enjoy a good meal every now and then, to put it lightly. Whenever members of the Dante clan share a meal the conversation always drifts towards planning the next meal while we're still enjoying the present one; it would be a good joke if it weren't so true. Emails between my mother, my sister, and myself begin or end with what we've pulled out the garden or a new recipe or concoction. In fact, my sister prompted this post with the mention of her recent parsnip and pear soup inspired by the cooling weather.
The killer instinct is alive and well in Central Park, NYC
And I wasn't kidding about the multiple siblings for Oaks. The little guy has really got my baby senses tingling, but my career goals not so much. How do they do it those mom-preneurs? I wonder if I ever had the killer instinct or if my languishing gumption is a symptom of first-time motherhood. So while the season is imparting its comfort, I am cozying up to the idea of going back to work in a few short months and coming to the conclusion that Fall is definitely too fleeting.