Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Time, Sweet, Fleeting Time

I've been home in St. John's just 14 days, and I'm already back at the airport getting ready for a flight to Toronto. It's the life I chose, and a life I love, but it doesn't make leaving home any easier.

I had a productive two weeks at home. I got caught up on sleep, I made a lot of progress combatting the paper in my life, I went bowling with friends, spent much-needed time with my husband and booked a vacation to Belize.

Gallery Floor (soon to be Gallery Wall)
I had some fun making my home feel more like a home. I pulled out all our framed photographs and paintings, and started arranging them on the floor in the Red Room -- called that because the floor is red and when the sun shines in, the whole room glows red. This is step one in hanging a gallery wall somewhere in the house. I have four naked walls upstairs looking for artwork... in fact, most of the walls in our house have yet to wear any artwork. There are a lot of things leaning against walls, but I've not committed much to any one wall. Before I go to Australia, I will at least hang the items in the picture below.

Reading and Re-Reading List
I've kept myself pretty isolated these last couple of weeks, something made easy by the fact that it's cold outside, and I'm feeling the urge to hibernate. Brian and I finally got Netflix (in Toronto, we were sure we were singlehandedly keeping Queen Video on College Street alive, but now, with no Queen Video, we've succumbed to Netflix.) But more importantly, I've been reading again. I've been feeling like I need some written words to nourish my brain and heart of late, and some of my favourite books are back on the table. The ones I've already read and re-read: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris; Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides; Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, Tom Robbins. On my to-read list: The Orenda by Joseph Boyden; Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens; Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood. I'm currently reading The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry -- and his latest, Die Empty (there's a theme here) and the Lonely Planet book on Belize, because right after my trip to Australia Brian and I are going to Belize. Hello, sunshine!

Gadgets and Stress Relief
A couple days ago, I started feeling really anxious about trip planning, going to OZ, doing my taxes in time... you know, life and I went out to Henry's and bought a 18-135mm lens for my Canon 60D. Then I raced home and baked my mother-in-law's favourite cookie recipe. The cookies are (were) amazing and now I have a stomach ache from eating raw cookie dough. I took a photo of them with my new flashy lens. I love the lens, and I love the cookies. Brian ate the rest... of the cookies. He left the lens.

It has become my custom to go up Signal Hill and look out at the water at sunset the day before I leave town. I love that view. I never tire of it. And it's always fun to see what company I'm keeping up there. I leave you with this photo of the ocean.

Monday, February 3, 2014

My January Cure - Mad Rush to the End

I wrote the majority of this post before my flight to St. John's a week ago. Though it's a week old I'm posting it anyway.

I'm sitting in my favourite coffee shop in Toronto after ten days away champing at the bit to get home and finish this January in style. I have three days to do eight days of work. I made some serious progress before I left on January 18th, but there's work to do and an eager Kerri ready to do it.

Here's what I got up to before I left.

Assignment Eight - Get a Get Together, Together
I can't lie, this isn't going to happen in a timely fashion. I've been away too long, and Brian's working crazy hours (between his commute, his ambitious morning workout schedule, and his actual work day...) We had originally planned to have our housewarming party on February 1st (this coming Saturday) but seeing as I am not home to prepare for said party, we decided to delay until further notice. Plus, I think it's about time he and I had a weekend together in our home, without interruption.

Assignment Nine - Create a Landing Strip
I wish this had a different name, I really do. But in spite of its name, I stand by the "landing strip" as the simple most important thing you can do for your home. To create an area in whatever space you have where the mail goes, where your backpacks and purses go, where you can hang coats (oh my lord, we are two people who own 14 coats, how do you people with children do it?!), where you can collect the dirt and wet from your shoes... it will only improve your home. We put mats down to collect dirt, we made sure there's a surface to set our mail and a bowl for our wallets and keys. Creating our landing strip meant a wall needed painting (done!) hooks needed to be pulled from the wall and replaced with newer, sturdier hooks (done!) and that a shoe rack needed to be placed in a prime location. We did it. It took an hour to paint the wall, an hour to patch the wall and let it dry, and an hour to sink some anchors, level the hooks and tidy the area. Our entry way is well on its way to keeping the rest of our home tidy. This was a huge success in my books.

Assignment Ten - Unplug for an Evening - Media Fast
Ah, the ongoing effort to leave the computer screens behind and live life in the present. It's on all our minds, how to be connected without being constantly connected. I'm happy to say that while I'm home, I'm quite successful in muting my phone and turning the computer off. However, when I am on the road, my phone is in my jacket pocket, and I'm constantly seeking wifi passwords wherever I land. Last week, on tour in the US, my phone stayed off to save on roaming fees, and wifi is my only connection to the outside world. While scrambling at the Gillette airport to get wifi, once online, I discovered how little I was actually missing. I'm trying hard to communicate with people in a more substantial way. I'm trying to visit my family more, and phone my friends. I'm trying to keep my blog updated so when you hear from me, it's more than one sentence long. These efforts make me feel like a real person. That being said, I love turning everything off and just being with the people I'm with at that time.

We paired our media fast with working on the house. We kept our computers off, our phones hidden and our urge to work quelled, by spending time together putting the hooks up in our entryway. We retired to bed early, and read books under our big red duvet - something we both love to do, but never seem to make time for anymore.

Assignment Eleven - The Halfway Point - Project Progress
It took a day and a half to do, with a second day of touch ups, but I got it done. It helped that Brian had bought the paint while I was away, and that we have paint brushes galore downstairs. The stairs are a rich deep blue. Check it out!

Assignment Twelve - Weekend Chores - Get Ready for a Good Sleep
I get a big kick out of running around cleaning my house the last day before leaving for tour. I'm sort of doing it anyway, packing, making sure I have the right clothes, footwear and electronics in my bags. So while I pack, I launder, I empty all our garbage cans, and change the sheets. I sweep the floors and cook a meal to pack for the plane the next day. Also, I am self-employed which means I live in the place that I work, and work in the place that I eat, and eat in the place where I work out, so keeping things tidy and streamlined makes my work/life situation more productive. The only thing I didn't do was get more flowers. I love them, but Brian is gone so much, he wouldn't even notice them until they started giving off a weird smell, so I opted out. *I'm home now, and filled my home with red roses on the weekend. It's very romantic in here right now.

Assignment Thirteen - Less Mess - Organize Paper & Files
This is going to take some time over the next two weeks. I took some photos of what I will face when I get home, just to keep me motivated. I have binders and boxes of paperwork to sift through, I have baskets full of bits and bobs that just accumulate more bits and bobs as days go by. I have so many little hobbies that require lots of tools and supplies. It's a matter of time and planning to get my stuff sorted. That's first up on my list of things to do. Dear lord, I have some paperwork to tackle. All in due time.

I feel pretty good about the progress I made in January despite a ten-day trip away. I'm continuing the work through February, and will share with you what I get done. Right now, I'm planning a trip with Brian, after my tour of Australia. Lots of travel in my future - I can't wait!

Friday, January 10, 2014

My January Cure - Seven Assignments So Far

[Please note: this was not proofread. There may be grammatical/spelling errors. Will fix when I land in Toronto. Please forgive my hastiness.]

Last year, when I participated in the January Cure, I was renting a two storey apartment in downtown Toronto. I had been there a year and a half, and though we had made the place our own (as best we could) there were still things I wanted to do without spending thousands of dollars doing things I could never enjoy in my next space. Turns out, my next space is my first home, in St. John's, Newfoundland and I've only been in it for six months, so you can bet there are projects on my mind!

Assignment One - Make a List
This exercise was supposed to take an hour, but I've been jotting things down as I think of them on my chalkboard wall for month so I was done in about 10 minutes. When the January Cure is over, I'm pretty sure I'm going to participate in my very own February Cure ... and maybe an April Cure after I get back from a month on tour in Australia. But, one day at a time.

Assignment Two - Floors & Flowers
I was really excited about the first weekend of the cure. Since I've been in St. John's, I haven't bought flowers once. In Toronto, I used to buy flowers all the time as I had access to a half a dozen fruit and flower markets near my home, and two proper boutique flower shops around the corner for times when I wanted to splurge. On Saturday morning, however, I woke up to a mountain of snow outside -- and drifted around my car (which meant at least 2 hours of shovelling before I went anywhere) and a province wide blackout that left me (and the majority of Newfoundland) without power for 13-72 hours. Instead I (we) shovelled, and cleaned the basement, and on Sunday I bought flowers and went on a floor cleaning bender in between rolling blackouts. I slept like a champ Sunday night, which was due in large part to the fact that the power went out at 9:30 again and didn't come back on until after midnight. Ah, winter in Canada.

Assignment Three - Get a Fresh Perspective
Since I've only been in my house for six months, I still have a fairly fresh perspective on how I want things in the house to shape up. We've been pretty good about setting up the house the way we both envision it. I'm not acquiring anything new until I decide what I want the rooms and hallways to look like. Before our furniture arrived in St. John's, I walked around the empty house and took photos of every room in its stripped down state. The walls are white (thanks to my hardworking husband) and the floors were scrubbed. So now it's decision time. Our smallest room is functioning as our walk in closet. I think I'm most excited about taking all the temporary hanging racks out and making a more permanent closet in there. I'm going to design it and build it, and make sure the lighting rocks. The hallway upstairs is a wide, mostly empty, open space that I haven't quite figured out. I need to hang photos, and a couple of instruments, and give it some life.

Assignment Four - Set up my Outbox
Easy peasy. Done and done. It's a hamper upstairs in the spare room. It is already full of clothing, toys & bits and bobs I haven't been able to make sense of. It's going to be fun to get rid of a lot of those little things that just follow me from home to home. I'll have photos when I decide to purge them.

Assignment Five - Pick a Project to Cross off My List
This was a no brainer. It's not a sexy project, but it's a project that's been hanging over my head since I moved in. Brian had a contractor build us new basement stairs in June. They are beautiful and sturdy but they are unfinished. They are currently sitting with a piece of plastic on them trying to protect them from getting dirty from our shoes. This project will take a few coats of paint and a couple of days of work. I plan to paint them next week when I'm home from New York City. Here's the before shot, complete with plastic covering. Looks unsafe, right? Yep. It's time to paint these suckers.

Assignment Six - Choose a Piece of Art to Frame
I went full steam ahead with this task too. I already knew which piece of art I wanted to frame: a print of the neighbourhoods in St. John's, NL, by Jud Haynes. I got it months ago and I've been carefully setting dictionaries on it to keep it from curling. Since I'm leaving town for 10 days (Jan 18 - Jan 28) I thought I'd jump the gun, and matte and frame the print too, and set it up where I plan to hang it. It's looking pretty slick all framed up now. I can't wait to get it on my wall.

Assignment Seven - Weekend Chores: Flowers, Kitchen Organizing, Making a Meal
That brings us to today and to the weekend. I'm leaving town in about 10 minutes returning Monday afternoon, so there won't be new flowers until then. I'm happy to report that when our power went out last weekend, I found myself doing some chores I've been putting off. We reorganized our basement (which took an hour and kept us warm as our thermostat plummeted) and we cleaned and sorted our kitchen. The kitchen is a tricky area for us though. It's easy to keep clean; we don't have any extra plates, mugs, towels or appliances. We use everything we own, and because we just moved in, it's still pretty tidy. With all that being said, the kitchen is in and of itself, kind of gross. The cabinets don't close properly, the drawers need fixing, the counters are really marked up, and the layout is pretty dumb. So, it's really organized right now, but we just don't love what we're working with yet. It's big, it's bright, and the floors are wicked, but we're planning to renovate in the spring. When that gets going, you can bet I'm going to blog about it as we go.

This is a photo I took in June when we moved in. I'm looking forward to seeing a major transformation some day soon.

How did your week go? Are you keeping up? Do you love/hate the cure? Thanks for reading. I'll post more as I get more done. See you Monday!


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Snow Storms & Power Outages: My First Winter in St. John's

Holy hell, what a weekend. Since I returned to St. John's on Christmas Day, we've had three snow storms; a province-wide blackout (and continued rolling outages); there have been record-low temperatures for the city, frigid wind-chills, high winds and three feet of snow on the ground.

(The growing snow pile outside my house.)

My power is back on (for now) and I'm looking out at the huge snow drift growing in my front yard, wondering what the rest of winter has in store. In the Prairies, the wind chill is a heart-stopping -50, in Ontario, freezing rain is cancelling buses and frost quakes are waking up my loved ones. I want to say something about this being a Canadian winter at its most dramatic, but while Toronto saw -40 temperatures overnight, so did northern Texas, so I'm not sure what to say about that. (Sidebar: while writing this paragraph, I lost power for an hour.)

Friday night when Brian got home from work the blizzard had already started. We braved the weather anyway and headed to our nearby grocery store. Our pantry is pretty healthy while I'm home; I go to the store every other day for our produce and insist on stockpiling non-perishable goods. Why buy one, when we could buy three? It's an ongoing argument between the two of us. Brian likes "winning the war on clutter" meaning he only wants what he needs around him, and nothing more. Though I admire that quality in him, it doesn't jive well in our current living situation. We live on an island with a limited supply of items we desire (our favourite cereal, coffee, fresh produce to name a few) and now that we have pantry space it makes sense to me to stock up. We were not the only ones "blizzard" shopping. Our local grocery store had an apocalyptic feeling to it with more empty shelves than I'd ever seen before, and the lineups at the cash (and the neighbouring liquor store) were sometimes 15 people deep.

Grocery store pickings were... limited.
Last week, after the second snow storm, I bought candles, a few days ago we went bulk shopping for dry goods and months ago we bought shovels. We already had a barbecue lighter for our gas stove and after that final trip to the store we had more than enough food to make it through a blizzard.

It's clear to me now, that I'm about 2/3 ready for a power outage in the dead of winter. Brian trumps me in this regard in every way. This is partly because he's been on winter camping expeditions and therefore has a camp stove (though currently no fuel for it - *please note we did not use the stove at all and would never inside the house) a sub-zero sleeping bag, and partly because he used to live in Thompson, Manitoba where frigid temperatures were the norm and thus acquired 2 balaclavas, 2 industrial pairs of winter gloves, and 2 down-filled coats (one that would keep you alive if you slept outside in -30 weather.) Also, I keep supplying him with high-end long johns, fleece pants and hiking socks, so his winter wardrobe is amazing. Mine is fine, but I could use some better quality long johns, a pair of snow pants and some proper winter gloves that would protect me from vicious wind chills. Last February in Alaska I was given a pair of Xtra Tufs: tall, waterproof, winterized boots that I have been sporting all weekend. I love them, and I want to kiss the woman in Haines, Alaska for giving me her extra pair.

Just down the street from us we discovered this car.

I'm grateful for every warm item of clothing I've bought, acquired, been given and refused to throw away even if they are a bit scruffy now. Here we are heading down Prescott Street on Saturday afternoon, wearing 3 layers each, looking for signs of electricity. (There were no signs of power anywhere.)

On Saturday morning January 4th, we awoke early and were enjoying oatmeal and coffee, listening to CBC report that the rolling blackouts that had plagued the island the night before were now over. A few minutes later, at 9:05am, our power went down and it was 13 hours until it came back on. Thirty eight centimetres of snow fell the night before and outside was windy and cold. Since we had no electricity, that meant we had no furnace, so we layered up and decided to clean the basement. It needed to be done anyway, and it kept us moving (at this point we figured power would be back on in a few hours tops.) Within the hour, the house had dropped a couple of degrees and our basement was clean. Sitting still was not a wise idea, so we suited up for a walk around town.

I'm happy to say that in trying times, my first instinct is to look on the bright side. We could still cook food on our gas stove and we had great leftovers in the fridge. We still had running water which meant we could drink coffee and tea to our hearts' delight. We are young, healthy and fit so other than a bit of discomfort and inconvenience, we ultimately knew that we'd be okay. We wore layers all day, and shovelled our driveway, and when we got too cold, we'd head to the car and listen to the press conferences by Newfoundland Power and Hydro, while warming our bums on the seat warmers. And, of course, we had each other, for snuggling and humour, and I am grateful for that. Our biggest worry was our pipes freezing, and we did everything we knew to keep that from happening.

I think before this weekend of power outages happened I held a naive belief that in 2014 no matter which city in Canada I lived in I would never be without power for too long in sub-zero temperatures. I'm not stupid, but I know how stupid that sounds. Especially since only weeks ago many homes in Toronto were without power for a week, and my own parents and sister who live in small town Ontario, were without hydro for days. This week, we're sorting out an improved emergency plan. We need to figure out how to keep the house from breaking should this happen again. We're stocking up on batteries, and putting all the blackout related stuff in one place (to be checked and topped up during the winter.) I'm going to buy a proper pair of snow pants and stock up on long johns. And we're going to keep a shovel inside the house, because it would have come in handy after the drifting snow trapped us inside our house.

Cooking by candlelight: romantic and warming.

For anyone wondering how I'm enjoying my first winter in my new home city, my answer is this: For years I've missed the proper snow falls I enjoyed as a child and in two weeks I've had more snow fun than I have since I was eight years old. I love the feeling of conquering the meanest weather. I feel stronger because I don't let it keep me down. I feel happy to live in a country with four distinct seasons, and I'm pale even at the sunniest of times, so this extra-white skin I'm sporting doesn't phase me in the slightest. All I wish, is that more of you were here with me to enjoy this weather with me.