My Cupboards are Bare

the highs and lows of my kitchen efficiency…

I went grocery shopping for the first time in at least 3 weeks last night, so they are, actually, not bare. They weren’t exactly bare prior to the grocery shop either, because I can’t help but buy canned goods when they’re on for a good price (thanks Dad). I preplanned my meals for the next two weeks, though, so I avoided the temptation of buying a huge amount of random things in hopes of them coming together in some mystic ball of glory.

Last time I went grocery shopping I got, amongst other things, bread flour, an ENORMOUS round of brie and two sweet potatoes. I had plans for baguette with brie that disregarded that I am a person who lives alone and maybe shouldn’t have cheese sandwiches for all meals for three days.

They were delicious though.

baguettes
I definitely should have put something under the bread, though… Binging with Babish, if you too desire a fancy sandwich

On Sunday I peered into my fridge, hungry – condiments and pickled things, half a giant brick of brie and some very very sad celery.

My freezer – frozen veggies and fruit… and two tupperwares full of chicken bones (thanks Dad!). I put a pot of bones and water on to simmer, and added some celery.

I rummaged through my cupboards – chickpeas… chickpeas… canned soup… tuna… sad shallots… chickpeas… and two sweet potatoes starting to sprout.

I am aware that I described a decently stocked cupboard (didn’t even list it all – it’s called dramatic effect). I just didn’t want any of it. stomps foot. I also didn’t want to grocery shop, order in or go pick up takeout. Stomach, thou’r’t a fickle beast. I ate crackers and cheese and agreed that I should go grocery shopping on Monday.

On Monday, I… did not go grocery shopping. I did not want to. stomps foot. I am transforming into a recluse, going into public places is not the fun.

If preplans two weeks of breakfast, lunch and dinner is my Dr. Jekyll… my Mr. Hyde is googling “Sweet potato + chicken stock?”, rejecting all the recipes that I actually have all the ingredients for and then subbing things out that are sort of the same ish, but not.

Mr. Hyde butchered spicy thai peanut sweet potato soup…

Nice homemade chicken stock… salvaged shallots… celery… promising. Peanut butter and gochujang sauce. Bam. So maybe it turned out more Korean? It might also be very likely that it doesn’t fit any cuisine style outside of Mr. Hyde’s. It has been actually quite tasty, no complaints.

Dr. Jekyll is back in control again, though – I’ve got soup and salads and slow cooker beef and quiche and salmon planned, and have pre-prepped most of the vegetables for storage purposes. It’s gonna be niiiice.

Hopefully in two ish weeks, Mr. Hyde has an idea for a tuna chickpea combo. Maybe hold the peanut butter.

Working From Home

musings 9 months into working from home

I chose this March to finally paint my house. Or rather, I decided to paint the kitchen and living room. I spent a chunk of February scraping the popcorn off the ceiling(the spackly kind, not the tasty exploded corn), and was really nearing coming to a decision about what paint colour I would go with. Anything was better than the ketchup mustard and zombie skin combo my house’s previous owner decided to paint the place. Nothing says “Let’s Eat” like a kitchen the sickly green-beige of a Scooby Do villain.

If I had to do the popcorn again (and I do… in three other rooms)… I would do it SO very differently. Don’t trust that it can be vacuumed up! don’t do it!

A critical thing to note is that in order to paint my kitchen and living room, I had to move all of the things from there to the two bedrooms… so when the world started talking about lockdowns and working from home, I found myself frantically racing to finish painting so that I could set up a (LARGE) desktop computer somewhere other than in my bed or in the bathroom, the only two spaces in my house that weren’t stuffed with furniture or covered in drop cloths.

Gollum, as portrayed by Doodle, in the zombie-beige kitchen. The lighting doesn’t do it justice.

Covid got me to pick a damn colour (purple!) because it seemed very likely that the paint store would close at any moment.

Covid also gave me free labour in the form of a sibling laid off and living with me through the spring lockdown. Thank goodness, because she was able to progress the priming and painting while I was at my office during the day. By the time it was official that I HAD to go home, I had the ability to lay out my living room and include a desk area.

Why yes, I don’t have a real desk…

The first few months working from home were full of the constant overwhelming anxiety of the whole world going to hell in a handbasket, compulsively refreshing online news outlets, paranoia that I wasn’t being productive enough and would, at any moment, get fired, finding yet more dust from taking the popcorn off the ceiling, and melting in my un-airconditioned house in the summer.

Now that I’ve mostly acclimatized to the hell-in-a-handbasket element, and we all have rules to follow to keep each other safe, working from home has grown on me.

I can listen to my music without headphones, and no one can sneak up on me.

The coffee is MUCH nicer, though on the down side, I am paying more for coffee and cream than I was when I was only drinking the free stuff available at my office.

Pajamas/sweatpants/yoga pants. While I did try out camp “dress for work so you’ll do work”, I quickly decided it wasn’t for me. I really like being able to sit cross-legged in my office chair.

Functional breaks – when I need a few minutes to think on a problem or just be not-facing-a-screen, I can fold laundry, check on my plants, play with the dog, do downward dog, or any number of other things that aren’t limited to things-that-are-appropriate-at-work.

I miss being able to swing by my coworkers’ desks to catch up, but I mean… look at my new office buddy!

The couch directly beside my work area.

Where necessary – lunch naps.

Also where necessary, but less healthy… going back to work after taking the dog out at 5pm.

What was your biggest adjustment to working from home? What’s your desk setup?

Taking Care of Business!

It’s… about butts…

I assumed everyone was getting this advertising, but apparently it was just me. I blame it on having watched this video. It’s hilarious, and also made me want a better toilet experience. The advertising worked, and I’m the proud owner/installer of a bidet! My business has never before been so fresh and clean outside of shower-hours.

Thankfully the video had already made me interested in the possibility. While I’m definitely susceptible to marketing, I am also extraordinarily resistant to spending money. So the ads for Tushy made me really want to buy a bidet, but my wallet made me research and decide that I didn’t need that bidet, when I could get one that wasn’t shipped across borders, was slightly cheaper, and was more easily returned if there was something wrong with it.

I purchased the BioBidet Dual Nozzles with Self-Clean (and what a sexy name that is). It isn’t quite as aesthetic as the Tushy (which seems to be the only brand of bidet that is aggressively pursuing customers in North America), but it was as easy to set up, and quite a bit cheaper.

Installation

I had a solid metal pipe connector, so I had to buy a second woven metal hose to replace this guy

I watched a lot of videos of random non-plumbers in my review process to confirm that this was, in fact, something I could install myself. I watched A LOT of videos that got everything connected, turned the water on, and found that their bathroom was flooding. Not a one of them, on the first go-around, used the silicone tape that comes included in the packaging.

While I definitely can sit on my high horse, having already known about silicone tape (it seals the joint you’re screwing together, letting you avoid leaks), I do really believe the average non-plumber could install this bidet, or anything equivalent. Just… use the tape.

Of course, when I installed mine, I slowly turned the water back on, holding my breath, and breathing a sigh of relief when the joints all held. Not a drop of water in sight.

Until water started pouring from the inside of the bidet itself. I want to firmly state that this was a MANUFACTURER error, and not an INSTALLER error. My joints were excellent.

~2 weeks later, I got a replacement (and still, due to COVID, have the broken unit in my house to return), and repeated all the steps, with Silicone Tape.

That’s a precautionary towel, and some leak-free connections

Thankfully the second round worked, and I now have the option of spraying water at my derriere from the toilet.

Victory

Review

There is… no good way to talk about bidets with people. That’s why I’m telling the internet, since it feels more natural to the flow of conversation than randomly during a work meeting.

It’s nice. I like it a lot. Five Stars. I bet the ones with the air dryer and the heated water would be even nicer. New longterm goals in my house include adding an outlet next to my toilet.

I do recommend the model I bought, despite the fact that the first one was broken. One of the videos I watched had something similar happen to the more expensive Tushy model, I think it’s just part of buying things – sometimes you get a bad egg, and there’s a bunch of water pressure running through it. There are tons of different brands and models, at a pretty broad price range, even before you get into the really fancy Japanese toilets. Some things to consider:

  • dual nozzles vs single nozzle – I switch between bum and… front cleaning, and I like that. Both are good. You could probably make the single nozzles accomplish what you want, and some of them can be moved.
  • this type of bidet doesn’t require you to have an electrical outlet right next to your toilet… which is not a thing that we typically have in North America. The other type looks very nice, though I’d assume slightly more complex to install.
  • Aesthetically, it blends pretty well.
  • this project would probably be beginner-intermediate (see below for more detail on that)
  • Young kids – I feel like you wouldn’t want to install it on a toilet your young kids use/have access to? On the one hand, their butts are tiny, and I don’t think they could comfortably use the bidet. And on the other hand, the knobs are at small child height, and when a bum isn’t in the way of the stream, turning it on shoots a fountain of water out of your toilet and into your bathroom. I’m not a small child, and that is tempting to me.
  • Your bum does get wet – I have taken to having a wash-towel handy to dry things out (and avoid using extra toilet paper for drying), and am coming up with a system for a theoretical future in which other people come to my house and want to use the bidet. Which I will try my best to not creepily point out when they come in.
  • don’t go straight to the highest level.

Brass Tacks

Price – my model was about $90 CAD. There were others that were cheaper, and others that were quite a bit more pricy. The extra hose also varies in price, but you should be able to pick one up from a hardware store for under $20.

Skill level – Beginner-intermediate – this is a project that requires you to have at minimum an adjustable wrench and pliers (or two adjustable wrenches or two sets of pliers), because it’s likely that none of the moving parts in your toilet plumbing have been moved for a long time. That’s the intermediate element, because I do realize that lots of people don’t own their own tools. Lots of people also didn’t get an actual adult-sized tool kit of their own for their 8th birthday. Working with plumbing is definitely very intimidating, but the majority of the people I watched on youtube doing this install were beginners, and they all got it done. Watch some videos, follow the instructions carefully, and you can 100% install a bidet.

Environmental impact – On the one hand, the model I purchased came from in-country, and on the other hand I can guarantee it was manufactured elsewhere. the Biobidet also came with everything wrapped in little plastic bags, which I was NOT a fan of. One thing I did really like about the Tushy brand is that all of their packaging is recycled paper.

Links?! NO! I am not 100% on board with a specific brand, and different things are available in different countries/areas. At the end of the day I didn’t buy the highest rated system, nor did I buy the most internet-advertised. It came down to finding something that had good reviews that was available to me.

Bi-do-et, or Bi-don’t? TMI?

The Window into my new Obsession

When I moved into my newly purchased home a few years ago, my realtors gave me a moving-in present. It was a beautiful kind of canoe-shaped slate grey concrete pot full of artfully arranged succulents. It was actually from my old landlord’s new plant store!

I looked down at the beautiful little leafy things, and thought, “Poor bastards.”

Then I thought, “Maybe when they die, I’ll use this pot to keep fruit on the counter.”

It is a very pretty pot, very my aesthetic. And a similar colour of grey as my ‘green thumb’. I have purchased an assortment of plants over the years to no avail. I turned a wavy fern into a crispy-wavy fern. I caused a tiny cactus to explode into green goo. My lucky bamboo was not so lucky.

The only thing that has survived my care long-term is african violets.

Seriously… just stick a leaf in some dirt and wait… a lot of months. Voila, fuzzy leafs!

That was, however, before I moved into a house with a full sun south-facing window. To my utter astonishment, the pot of succulents not only survived, but thrived to the point that I needed to split a bunch of them and repot sections.

It was very satisfying.

Next, I got an indestructible vine cutting from a friend, who assured me it would take whatever light or water I chose to provide it with.

From there my collection has grown…

Angel leaf begonia

And then covid happened, and my hobby became a larger part of my house… and grew some more…

Some of these plants, it turns out, actually needed less than 100% light, so a move from the south-and-west-window corner was required

And… well…

It’s not a problem if no one is getting hurt by it. Right?!

Podcast Recs – How to Save a Planet

Podcast Genre: Science

Episode Duration: ~1 hour

How to Save a Planet is a podcast that discusses climate change – both from the perspective of how it is impacting people and the natural world, but also how people can have an impact on climate change.

The podcast does provide things that you on an individual level can do to help fight climate change, but it doesn’t put the solution squarely on the individual’s shoulders. A lot of the recommendations involve getting involved politically – because systemic change is necessary to make the change required to actually slow climate change.

I do appreciate that they’re not coming on and harping on the evils of using plastic straws. Which, if you didn’t know, represent a tiny portion of the plastic waste in the ocean – how about we stop leaving massive plastic fishing nets in the ocean on top of making non-plastic straws more common-use, huh?!

The hosts are Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Journalist Alex Blumberg, and they have a good rapport with each other, and, more importantly, genuine enthusiasm about their topics. They are both clearly passionate about doing something about climate change, and about educating people on the issues.

The podcast is pretty US-centric when it comes to the political solutions it recommends, but all of that can be easily commuted to your political system.

If you’re a wee bit obsessed like me, you can listen to the podcast in order, but each episode is a stand-alone. I’ve enjoyed all the episodes, but if you’re not looking to invest in catching up, here are a few I particularly enjoyed:

Soil – the Dirty Climate Solution – this episode talks about how you can farm in a way that works best with the natural world, and allows the earth to act as a carbon-sink. They interview two people with drastically different perspectives – a first generation black farmer with a small farm in upstate New York and a third generation farmer with a large industrial farm in Minnesota. The first generation farmer produces fruit and vegetables for the local community, and purchased poor-quality farming land, which she was able to transform with her farming practices. She brings in youth from nearby communities to introduce them to regenerative farming techniques. The third generation farmer produces commodity crops, and made gradual changes to their farming practices that ended up reducing their workload, reducing the expenses on their farm, and increasing the yield of their crops. I just found it fascinating that they both arrived at a similar type of farming from two different directions, and that this type of farming actually has really huge cost-benefits for industrial farming, even if you ignore the health benefits for the farmers themselves, and the climate benefit.

Black Lives Matter and the Climate – Black Lives Matter is the largest movement in U.S. history, and it’s had environmental justice as part of its policy platform from the start. In today’s show, Alex and Ayana talk about why the fight for racial justice is critical to saving the planet, and what the broader climate movement can learn from the Black Lives Matter movement. **OK, so I just copied all of the above directly from their post. It’s a great listen, but I couldn’t rephrase it in a way that sounded good. Dr. Johnson is a black woman, which gives this podcast a good background to be able to do an episode tying BLM into the climate so well. This episode really blew my mind in terms of making connections I’d never even considered, but that were blatantly obvious once they were discussed.

There’s an episode about how an economy crushed by the closure of a coal power plant was revived with wind energy, one about the wildfires in California, and even one about real-estate in Florida. There’s an episode that goes in-depth about the pros and cons of electric vehicles, and one about that youtuber who convinced his enormous following to plant a ridiculous number of trees.

Every episode has links to ways you can make a difference and further reading about the topics.

What are your thoughts on climate change? Are you trying to make an impact on an individual level?

I have been trying to reduce the number of things I bring into my house in plastic. This makes grocery shopping more stressful, because I really want grapes and strawberries and such, and DO NOT understand why they are not available in cardboard? I’m also slowly expanding my gardens, and planting local flowers that will encourage bees. This is much less stressful, especially since all it takes is commenting on someone’s flowers for them to offer to give you some seed-heads. This is how I have echinacea.

Review – Aftershokz Headphones

Review of bone conducting headphones

This post is not sponsored – I have a pair of Aftershokz Trekz Titanium, which I’d link to, but they don’t appear to be for sale anymore. Possibly because I’ve had them for at least two years now.

Let’s assume they’ve continued to improve their technology. Check them out at Aftershokz, or at any number of stores that I’ll let you google instead.

Aftershokz makes bone-conducting wireless headphones. What this means is that the headphone doesn’t actually block your ear – it wraps around your head and sits with a little block on your cheek right in front of your ear.

So why am I ‘reviewing’ a set of headphones I’ve had for two years? I’ve been thinking about habits, and ways to improve your health and state of mind that don’t require you to magically acquire momentum and motivation to do the healthy thing. And having headphones that allow me to comfortably walk without being entirely blocked off from awareness of my surroundings (or having just one earbud in and thus only aware on the opposite side) has improved my health.

I use them as my primary headphone, for music, podcasts and phone calls. These headphones have drastically increased the duration of my dog walks, because they mean I can comfortably listen to music or a podcast while I’m walking. I love my dog, but evening walks in the winter, with just me and the dog, are lonely. He is not a conversationalist. Plug in a good podcast and I’m game for a much longer outing, no matter what the weather is.

The Good

Hands-free – I shove my phone in my pocket and go on long walks, or leave my phone charging at my desk and get chores done around the house. Bearing in mind that I live in the main floor of a bungalow, I can access everywhere in my house without relocating my phone or losing bluetooth connection. If I go to the basement I’ll need to bring the phone with me. My absolute favourite thing to do while having a nice conversation with someone is futz. I’ll be chatting, but I’ll also be chopping vegetables, or folding laundry or tidying up or any number of things that are inconvenienced by a wire.

Awareness of your surroundings – This might be an element of having grown up with my dad – before I got these, I did not wear headphones/listen to music on dog walks. Because safety first, and awareness of your surroundings can not be achieved when you’re blasting DREAMER and wearing earplugs. If I’m wearing in-ear headphones, I don’t hear the person bellowing at Ripper to leave the nice dog alone, as their off-leash dog-aggressive dog tears towards us across the trail. If I’m wearing in-ear headphones, I might not notice a car coming when I go to cross the street in my all-black winter-wear at dark-o-clock. Might I also add “woman walking alone”? With bone-conducting headphones, I am still aware enough of my surroundings that I can hear people, cars, etc. approach.

Comfortable – I find these extremely comfortable. I wear glasses, and while I need to pull my glasses up so that the arms sit above the headset for it to fit properly, I can comfortably wear both for long periods of time. Especially compared to earbuds, which I find uncomfortable and hard to keep in my ear.

Quick Connection – You’ll be connected within seconds of turning the headphones on.

The Bad

I use this term loosely – it’s not so much bad as it is “not good”. These are the downsides of this type of technology.

Music Quality – when I first started looking into these headphones, the main complaint was the base. And I would agree, you’re not getting the kind of rich base tone you’d get with, say, your speakers, or a great set of noise-cancelling headphones. These are not what I’d call “sit and wrap yourself in music” headphones. The purpose is to be able to hear your surroundings. When I’m at home and listening to music, it’s playing loud and on speakers, or even just my phone. I live alone, so I don’t need to have headphones to keep the noise down, but if I did, I’d have an over-ear pair to listen. So while the music quality doesn’t match up with that of a quality pair of headphones that muffles outside noise and is intended to immerse you in the sound.

Outside Noise – This is another element that could best be described as “Not the intent of the headphones”. If you are in a loud place, or vacuuming, or a garbage truck drives past you… that’s what you hear. Not the music, not the podcast, not the person you’re talking to. This is the downside of the “aware of your surroundings” upside. When you don’t need to be aware of your surroundings, you can either put in headphones that do block out noise, or put in ear plugs. I work in construction… I have reusable earplugs around the house because protecting your hearing is super important. And yes, instead of owning a pair of nice headphones, I just put in earplugs to listen to music while vacuuming or mowing the lawn. Long term, maybe I’ll get a set of wireless headphones that aren’t jawbone, but for now it works for me.

Wind/Echo – I have had complaints from people I’m talking to if the headphones aren’t settled properly that I get echo-ey. If it’s very windy out and I am talking on the phone through my headset, the person on the other end gets a lot of background noise. More, I think, than if I was just on the phone.

The Neutral

Just some info, no judgement in either direction.

Battery Life – my headphones last 5-6 hours typically. When they’re connected to my phone, I can see the battery life on my phone. I believe there’s also a way of getting the headphones to tell me this, but I haven’t ever bothered to figure it out. I typically just charge it every two or three days, so that I don’t lose power mid-walk.

Price – the cheapest ones on their website are in the $110 CAD range, but they go up to $200 CAD for the swimming ones. I don’t know where you’re at, but they definitely didn’t fall into the category of “Impulse Buy” for me. I did a bunch of research, and then a friend told me about her experience with them. They also didn’t require extensive saving for me, either, so I can’t speak to whether they’re worth the price for you. What I can say is that I use them almost daily, and have been for over two years. I believe I bought mine on sale for about $100CAD.

Some of the new ones appear to be waterproof in a “Go swimming in them” kind of way. If you swim that much, maybe having music would help you swim harder? It works for walking. I’m intrigued, but can’t comment, as I haven’t tried them.

Summary

These headphones aren’t the same as blasting music from your stereo, but the sound is still good. You won’t hear much from them if you’re walking down a busy street – traffic noise will cover a lot of the sound.

Doing outdoor activity while being able to maintain awareness of your surroundings requires a bit of compromise, though. Bring your music with you without blocking out the world!

I love these headphones, and recommend them for people who like to walk and talk, or who would get further in their jogging or walking or biking if they had some tunes. Check out my podcast recommendations (more coming) if you’re looking for something new to try.

Fair warning, like with any bluetooth device, you will look like a nutbar walking around the neighbourhood talking to yourself.

Naturebound – The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again?) of Self Sufficiency

My mother has an enormous number of skills that she, by and large, keeps to herself. It’s not intentional, it’s more like she assumes that either a) everyone can do that, or b) no one has any interest in doing that. This has been a source of great frustration for me over the years. Example conversation:

Lexy – My university roommate taught me how to knit! Look, I’ve made dish cloths!

Mom – if you wanted to learn how to knit, you could have asked me to! I used to teach knitting at a yarn shop, and I used to sell my Fair Isle sweaters as a side business.

She proceeds to point at an assortment of things around the house she’d made. I have never seen her knit before in my life. Had I been more of sleuth, I might have put two and two together and connected the giant chest of assorted yarns with someone having skill to turn them into things, but no.

If your skill isn’t known to people, they will not know to ask you about imparting it. That’s not an indication of a lack of interest.

My sisters and I have taken to asking my mother directly if she’s done the thing before we begin a new hobby or art type. Doodle got my mom’s leatherworking tools. No luck with bookbinding experience, though she does have the tools to make a book press. Calligraphy? She did her own wedding invitations. Pen and ink drawing? The lady can draw perfectly parallel lines!

And yes, of course she knows how to sew.

Another of her random highly skilled jobs was working for Naturebound (the Kit People). This company is no longer in existence, but in the 80’s, you could purchase kits from them to make outdoorsy clothing. Khakis, down jackets, and an assortment of bags, to name a few. Along with packing and shipping kits, my mother would write the instructions for each kit, and do line art of the pieces and steps to go with it.

The company was sold by its original owner in the late 80’s, and while my mother considered making an offer, she ended up declining. She had me, a second kid on the way and a full time position teaching at this point, and no background in clothing design. I can’t tell you what happened to it after this, as the answer is not on the internet.

From her middle teenage years through to the late 80’s, it had become more and more uncool to make your own clothing. Wearing something that didn’t come from a store was a good way to get bullied at school, and even get comments from other adults in the workplace. It became a point of pride that you had the money to afford to have someone else make your clothing for you. You’re not wasting your own time making it. While she loved the company, she didn’t see a future for something whose sole purpose was encouraging people to make their own clothing.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">I suspect a huge part of this shift is the shift towards dual income households – who has time to come home and work on your own projects when you've had a full day of work, and still have children to care for. It's the same reason that most people don't have the skills required to build a deck. I suspect a huge part of this shift is the shift towards dual income households – who has time to come home and work on your own projects when you’ve had a full day of work, and still have children to care for. It’s the same reason that most people don’t have the skills required to build a deck.

While I’m not claiming that no one has been making their own clothing since the 80’s, I am saying it fell out of fashion with the rise of fast fashion and cheap machine-made clothing.

I wore a lot of second hand clothing as a kid – and felt an excruciating embarrassment for it in the moment, nothing quite exactly this year’s style. I would have handled clothing made by my mother even more poorly, I am certain.

Adulthood, and the decreasing quality of store-bought clothing, has changed this. I remember the absolute joy of getting that GAP sweatshirt to join the hordes at my elementary school. The excitement of going to the mall with money to spend on clothes with the price tag still on!

Now I just want to have a tee-shirt that isn’t translucent enough to read small font text through it. And, in a more abstract sense, something made by someone who is getting a living wage. My focus is less on “many” and “new” and more on quality. I’m not alone in this, considering how much more easily I can find a pair of eco-friendly locally made sweatpants.

I feel as though something is shifting, and has been for several years. I am very likely late to the game. I don’t know if it’s the internet connecting like-minded hobbyists, the fact that you usually have to layer two women’s tee shirts to achieve translucency, or the crushing weight of consumerism and capitalism, but I feel like home-made is having a great come-back, along with buying second-hand.

Of course, we have the mask making cottage industry making people dust off their old sewing machines. But beyond that, there are so many youtube channels devoted to home-made clothing (and a million other things), pinterest is overrun with blogs and ideas, and enthusiastically responding to a clothing compliment with “I got it second hand!” is almost as common as “It’s got POCKETS!”.

Self sufficiency is in. Reducing waste is in. Reusing is in.

Even without the internet, I know a lot of people who are working on making things for themselves instead of relying on their credit cards, including a man who makes and sells beard oil, and a woman who has several sweaters she’s hand-knit for herself.

My mother has a great many skills that she has been passing down to my sisters and I gradually over our lifetimes. When I expressed an interest in expanding my sewing ability past hemming pants and making masks, with the desire to make my own clothing, she knew just the thing to get me started.

Those boxes of yarn have, since the late 80’s, been neighbours to an assortment of Naturebound kits. Some of the corduroy has dissolved, and everything (but especially the instructions) smells MUSTY, but it’s still good. Wash before use.

Any guesses what my first project was? What projects have you been working on?

Nan’s House

This was a response for YeahWrite #508:

A teapot

“Teapot with purple steam” by garrellmillhouse is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

***

“Nan’s house is magic, you’ll love it!” Gia was positively vibrating in her seat, straining against her seatbelt like she could make the car speed up and get there faster.

Brody had his doubts about this. He’d found grandparents to be a real sticking point with foster homes in the past. Old people had a distinct preference for kids who were the kids of their kids. Not so much the random one they got saddled with babysitting at the same time. Grandkids are a blessing, but other peoples’ kids were a chore, one rosy cheeked old woman had muttered to her neighbour friend when he’d slunk into the kitchen to ask for a glass of water.

“And Nan’s magic, too!” Gia added. “You’ll love her too!”

“What do I call her?” Brody asked, pitching his voice loud enough to carry towards the Bernardis in the front seats without, he hoped, being obnoxious. This home had so far been too good to be true, he’d do what he could to keep on their good side. If that meant being invisible for the summer so Nan wouldn’t complain to them about the extra work of looking after another child, he’d be the world’s most polite potted plant.

“Nan, of course,” Gia sent him a baffled look before resuming her strain towards the house they’d be living in for two months while the adult Bernardis went away. Mrs. Bernardi had to go to somewhere in Germany for research, and they’d decided to make a vacation of it.

Mr. Bernardi glanced in the rear-view mirror and met Brody’s eyes for a moment. “She’ll likely encourage you to call her Nan, but you can also call her Mrs. Costa if you prefer. Whatever makes you most comfortable.”

Brody was most suspicious of Mr. Bernardi. His eyes were so warm. He was too perceptive. He’d noticed Brody’s interest in the coffee table book about frogs and gotten him another from his office! Later, the man had offered to take Brody to the library! He had looked positively delighted when Brody slipped some books on sharks onto the checkout counter too. Brody couldn’t figure out his angle.

The car pulled off the highway and wound down back roads for another hour, and, all too soon, they were creeping down a winding tunnel of trees and hedges. Nan’s house was small and brick, with a riot of gardens all around it, a huge pond out front and a flock of wind chimes hanging from the wide porch.

Nan herself was a tall scrawny scarecrow of a woman, long white hair frizzing out of a long braid, wearing overalls, birkenstocks and a tee-shirt with a large smiley face on it.

She met Gia halfway, dashing the gangly girl up in a tight hug before pulling her back by the shoulders to do the standard grandkid once-over.

Brody hung back behind the Bernardis, clutching his backpack full of books to his chest and sidling towards the trunk to help with the bags.

He let out a yelp of surprise when he found himself swooped up in a tight hug by the old woman, who had apparently skipped the Bernardis to come and greet him first.

“Brody! I’m so excited to meet you! I’m Nan, and I’m so happy you’re here!”

Brody stood frozen in surprise as she proceeded to hold him at arms length and give him – him! – the grandkid once-over! It was madness! She didn’t even have a previous iteration to compare him to!

“I heard from Dan that you’ve got an interest in aquatic creatures, which is just wonderful, because you’ve arrived at the perfect time for tadpoles!”

She gave him a friendly slap on the back, passed him his bag from where it had fallen, and went to greet the adult Bernardis.

Gia bounded over and started unloading the trunk, her grin a match for the raspy-voiced old woman’s.

**

Brody spent the evening braced for the switch – the Bernardis had left after a hearty lunch in the back garden, which could only mean that Mrs. Costa would soon show her true colours.

So she urged him to help himself to seconds… of dessert. And then urged him to join her and Gia in a boardgame. She gave him extra marshmallows in his hot chocolate later, with a friendly wink and a comment about growing boys. She then gave Gia extra marshmallows with a comment about growing girls. Then added more to her own, with a comment about growing old.

It would happen when Gia wasn’t around, he was sure. Maybe she didn’t want to let her granddaughter know what she thought of the foster kid she was stuck babysitting. Adults were sometimes like that.

Though he was apparently definitely supposed to call her Nan.

**

Brody lay in bed as long as he could bear, hoping that Gia would prove to be more of a morning person here than she was at home. He was wondering how long he could continue only interacting with Mrs. Costa while in the presence of her granddaughter. He liked Nan-Mrs. Costa… he didn’t want to meet only-doing-my-daughter-a-favour-Mrs. Costa.

But it was nearly 8, and he was horribly bored.

He’d just slip downstairs and go explore a bit outside.

Mrs. Costa – Nan – was in the kitchen, eating toast and reading the newspaper. Not absorbed enough for him to slip past unnoticed, however.

“Lovely, a fellow early-bird! I’ve got toast, cereal, and, if you’re up for cooking yourself, there are eggs. Help yourself to whatever condiments – the cupboard by the fridge has nutella and peanut butter, jam’s in the fridge, so’s the milk and juice, butter’s on the counter.”

Brody made himself some toast with peanut butter and jam, uncomfortable in the silence. Nan pulled the comics section from the paper and placed it in front of the seat opposite her. Brody slipped into the offered seat and pulled the pages towards himself. Nan seemed content to sip her coffee and peruse the paper in silence while he ate.

“Gia wants a tea-party this afternoon,” Nan commented, staring into her coffee.

“Really?” Brody asked, surprised. Gia was thirteen – Brody was only ten, but quite sure Gia was long out of the age of tea parties.

Nan raised her eyebrow at Brodys tone – or possibly, Mrs. Costa did, he thought – and he looked away.

“You’re never too old for a tea party, kiddo- nothing makes you feel fancier, or more like a giant than tiny tiny sandwiches.”

Nan then suggested Brody join her in the garden to hunt for toads.

**

The tea party was more of a picnic. They all spent some time prepping tiny sandwiches – cucumber, pb&j, and egg salad – and chopping vegetables and fruit to go with the dips.

Once everything else was packed, they each chose a tea-cup from the many on the shelves, and packed that into the basket. Gia carried the basket, and Brody carried the blanket. Nan pulled down a small teapot and filled it with tap water.

They all trooped out to the far end of the garden, where there was a nice sun-dappled patch of grass surrounded by flower beds and trees.

Once everything was set up, their tea cups arranged on the basket-top, Nan looked at the children with a solemn expression. “And now for tea.”

“Me first!” Gia burst out, earning a reprooving look from her grandmother – not unlike the look she’d given Brody that morning. “Brody hasn’t done it before, he needs a demonstration.”

Nan nodded at that, as though Brody really did need a demonstration of cold water being poured into tea cups.

“Very well, my darling, what will you be having today?” Nan asked, holding the pot poised over Gia’s cup.

Gia scrunched up her face for a long moment in needlessly intense thought. “Raspberry Cordial.”

“Excellent choice!” Nan poured the water, giving it a bit of dramatic flare by drawing the teapot up high so the water cascaded down into the cup.

Gia smiled at Brody after taking a sip of her water. “You can ask for any kind of drink you can think of, Brody! But the raspberry cordial is really good, if you can’t think of anything.”

Brody wondered how he’d already lived with this girl for a whole month before learning she was crazy.

Nan turned to Brody. “And you, sir?”

“Um, could I please have some water?” He did his best to not roll his eyes.

Nan nodded without a comment and raised the pot, but Gia darted her hand out to cover Brody’s cup. “Brody – water’s the most boring thing – you can pick anything, really! It’s no fun if you just pick water.”

Gia looked so upset by Brody’s lack of effort to participate in the game. She was so nice, even if at times more enthusiastic than Brody was used to.

“Um, then how about… um… orange soda? Please?”

“Delightful choice!” Nan crowed, dramatically pouring the water into the tea cup. “In fact, I think I’ll have the same, since I can’t even remember the last time I had orange soda!”

She proceeded to pour her own water as dramatically as theirs, and took a sip. She smacked her lips then burped. “Oh, the bubbles do have that effect! Definitely a good choice, though.”

Brody smiled politely, resting his teacup of water on his knee. He was about to reach for a sandwich when he realized that Gia was staring at him with tense glee in her expression. And Nan was watching him rather intently too.

Apparently playing the game in full was the barrier between him and tiny sandwiches.

Brody lifted the cup and took a small sip of water to appease the others. And gasped in surprise, causing orange soda to fizz out his nose and down his chest.

Gia howled with laughter, while Nan simply smiled, eyes twinkling, and handed him a napkin. “There’s a good lad – I knew you had it in you.”

He did try the raspberry cordial, and it was really quite good.

Brody was beginning to think Gia was right – this summer would be magical.

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Podcast Recs – The Magnus Archives

A short review of the Magnus Archive Podcast

Podcast Genre: Horror Fiction

Episode Duration: ~1/2 hour

The Magnus Archives is a horror fiction anthology that follows the archivists at the Magnus Institute. Every episode includes the head archivist reading aloud a statement submitted to the institute about a strange or frightening event. Gradually, the stories begin to tie into each other, revealing an ominous bigger picture truth about the world. I’m paraphrasing their description a bit, click the photo for their official podcast description.

Firstly – Horror – yech. I cannot handle horror in movies. I don’t generally seek out horror in books. If you want deeply unsettling murder mysteries, look to the Scandinavians. My sister and mother love them, but brace yourself for the extra bad things happening to the adult or child who is missing/murdered. They spend too much time in the dark. If you want jump-scares, you’re on your own. Horror movies make me scared of bathrooms. What’s behind the door? What’s behind the shower curtain? Why does something bad always happen in the bathroom?

I’d define this podcast as Spooky, or Ominous. I realize that is not an actual category of fiction.

The Magnus Archive is not that jumpscare type of horror – it is more reminiscent of campfire stories. I think it helps that the Archivist reads the statements in a calm and occasionally dismissive tone of voice. He tells you about what happened to someone, read from their perspective, and it is an eerie thing, or an unusual thing, or even a frightening thing. And one that you know they survived, at least long enough to get to the Magnus Institute and write out a statement.

After the first few episodes you start getting to know what’s going on at the institute, including what’s going on with the other archivists. The statements are the anthology, but they’re tied together by the goings-on at the institute, and by the strange connections between them. If you enjoy the level of scary the stories are, I do recommend giving it a few episodes to decide if you like it or not – I found I enjoyed it more as it went along because of the storyline emerging around the statements.

I know nothing about how to make podcasts. That being said, the volume is all very even, they have subtle music and sound in the background of the episodes that really lets you get swept away in them, and the actors are all excellent. The first time I heard the actor Jonathan Sims (who plays the character Jonathan Sims) speak outside of his character voice I was NOT expecting Johnny Sims. The stories are the right amount of scary that I can listen to them while walking the dog alone at night, but still feel a bit of a thrill. Sometimes the sound does make me look around to find out where the rustling noise is coming from, or the echo-ey steps.

A nice, but also sad thing is that the story is coming to a close in the next few months – you won’t have to wait for a new episode every week. Or wait for the next season during the dreaded hiatus. On the down side, soon there will be no more episodes of the Magnus Archive.

If you’re looking for fandom, you’ll find an awful lot of artwork, embroidery, and fanfic, wherever you find your fandom.

They do give content warnings in their summaries, so if you’ve got anything that you’d call a no-go, read those, get warned, and make a decision.

Have you listened to the Magnus Archive? Let me know your thoughts! If you do try it out based on my post – maybe come back and let me know if that was a good life choice, or if I’m on your list of untrustworthy people now! What else should I be including in a review?

~Statement ends~

Hacking It

YeahWrite weekly writing challenge #507 (yup, that’s the previous week’s!) – “Can you Hack it?”

I once found a kid weeping on the phone at an international competition because she didn’t get top 5, and she felt as though her life up to that point had been a waste. The pressure on teenagers boggles my mind.

**

Tuesday – 5 am

“This is your life, Allison!  You have to take responsibility! Can you hack it or not?”

Allison nodded silently, chewing furiously on a protein bar as she shoved her books into her bag.  Late.  She was so late.

Coach frowned when she skidded onto the pool deck. “Late again, Heitzner.  Team captains aren’t late – shape up!”

Allison rushed her apology and joined the rest of the team in the warmup.  She finished last, just after the next slowest. Some of her teammates cast commiserating glances, others covetous. How many lates before they could add Team Captain to their resume?

Two hours later, frozen hair dripping chills down her back, she slid into her first class of the day.  No time for her banana, coach made her do extra laps for being late.  Time only for concealer for the shadows under her eyes.

An A- slid across her desk.  “Not your best work, Allison.  You have so much potential, but you’re just wasting it. Focus less on makeup and more on your education. It’s what you’re here for.”

She managed to eat the banana between classes.

An A+ and an essay submitted in the next class. 

Half a sandwich before debate club.  Fifteen minutes after debate club, enough time to finish up and submit her article about the swim team and the one about the volunteer group she lead, the one that would be working all March break.  The roster was full for March break, but they had plans to do long weekend and summer activities.  Those would also fill up quickly. At least she didn’t need to worry about filling in her volunteer hours.

The rest of the sandwich right before the quiz in chemistry.  Not a wise choice when they switched to a lab in the second half –the blast of sulfur did nothing to settle her ham and cheese.

A presentation in her last class, working on her practice sheets for Mathletes while other students presented.

French club after school.  “Si vous ne pratiquez pas, vous n’améliorez pas,” Madame scolded.  “Si vous n’améliorez pas, je n’écrierai pas un lettre de recommandation.”

An hour of dryland training, reviewing history notes, followed by half an hour on the bus, earbuds in and following along to Rosetta Stone.

“Hey Kiddo, how was school? You know, high school is some of the best years of your life!”

The idea of that being true made her nauseous. Or maybe it was hunger.

Dinner reheated and eaten over homework. 

Dissect the A-, dissect the A+, dissect swim practice.  Agree to suggestion that a part time job at Dad’s law office would look good on College applications.  Agree to add more running to her training to improve her cardio. She could complete assigned readings while on the treadmill downstairs.

Homework.

“It’s late, Allison, why are you doing this now?  We need you to be more helpful around the house.”

More homework. Midnight. She pulled out her phone and sent a quick message to her best friend.

“It’s no wonder you’re always oversleeping, you’re staying up late wasting time on your phone. Lights out, kiddo.”

Wednesday – 4:30 am

Allison bolted upright at her alarm. On time. Not late. Halfway through pulling on her swim gear before she was fully awake, her to-do list washing over her in a burst of adrenaline.

Ready to race through another day. So that she could race through another after that. Because it was her life, and of course she could hack it.

She changed back into her pajamas. She didn’t want to hack it, she wanted to live it.