Post #2033: A feature every house should have

Months after starting this project, Brian and I finally got this done over the weekend. Behold the life-changing spice cupboard!


You can’t see the whole thing, but along the bottom are also some vinegar bottles.

What started as a poorly placed ironing board in the kitchen (by the back door, it was a cramped place to iron out anything larger than a small shirt) has now become one of the most useful organizing spots I’ve ever had in a living space. Not only are the spices visible and easy to grab, but the use of small canning jars means that I can always stick a tea/tablespoon in rather than trying to pour it out of a bag or small jar.

No more drawers stuffed full, no more unlabelled jars – this spice rack has got it all. And here’s the before and after just for comparison:


THe Urban Crow: Before and After

After a period of particularly hard work, it’s important for me to step back and acknowledge that in just three years, we have done a hell of a lot of work to our home and garden. Here are some before and after pictures of the new paint job and front fence, but first for comparison –  this is what the house looked like when we bought it three years ago:

And now!

And just for fun – how about the backyard before and after?



Getting close to purged.

This is just some of what we are getting rid of (not the furniture, the stuff on top of it.....)

Here’s something funny: Just recently, B and I were discussing all the ways we could increase storage space in our home. More bookshelves in the bedroom, more storage for craft supplies in the office.

Less than two weeks later we’ve discovered exactly just how much space we have! That is, once everything we don’t need/don’t use/don’t want was removed from those rooms. In the office alone I removed two bags of garbage, one bag of fabric (garage sale), and one and a half bags of paper for recycling (Brian’s whole collection of academic articles in binders), plus a bag of binders and another half bag worth of garage sale bits and pieces plus a large basket of DVDs. Oh, we also moved out an extra table and a plastic storage tower.  That’s six large garbage bags of extra stuff, plus two extraneous pieces of furniture crammed into a room that is pretty small (9×8) and serves multiple functions. The bookshelves have gone from overflowing, to tidy and manageable. Sewing fabric is all tucked away in the closet, and supplies have been corralled and cubbied into much more manageable amounts.

Out of M’s over-filled room came several shopping bags worth of old clothing, a box of books, and a tower of unplayed board games (we have four board games we routinely play as a family and the rest go untouched). I’m hoping that after we get a smaller desk solution going on, we can also decrease her desk-footprint by about half and replace the large rolling office chair with a stool to give her as much space as possible.

In our bedroom? One unused weight bench plus weights, a broken printer, a working printer which we moved to the renovated office, an extra area rug that never looked good and served only to collect dust, a garbage bag of clothes, several bags picked up at convention, two pieces of broken/torn luggage, and a number of novels we had no interest in reading again. And a small garbage-can’s worth of old/unused/expired toiletries.

The basement – the mess which inspired me to action in the first place – heaved up: a classical guitar, three glass carboys for wine-making, an extra-small women’s backpack (I have a much nicer one now), a pair of expensive women’s hiking boots (which have always hurt my feet), two leather jackets, a woven wall-hanging, some miscellaneous tools, a large storage container full of KISS memorabilia (action figures and puzzles, but not the valuable releases of them), some bee-keeping supplies, some camping gear, a shitload of wine bottles, and many other bits and pieces destined for the curb in a couple of weeks.

This morning after a recycling run (dump run was Saturday) I dug a few choice (unused) pieces out of the kitchen – bowls, vases, and a number of rusted, burned and dented baking pans – to make room for all the stuff which sits on top of the cupboards (it’s all inside now!), and I’ve trucked the rest of the bits and pieces into the studio where it awaits  our garage sale on the May long weekend. I’ve been listing the larger items bit-by-bit on Craigslist with the intention that all money raised in the house-purge endeavour shall go towards some small repairs that need doing, a power-washing of the exterior, and some kitchen paint.

I’m hoping by the end we have a few hundred dollars, plus we will have made donations to the Purple Thistle (political library), Miscellany (enterprise thrift in our ‘hood), and cashed in some books for trade credit. And mostly? We will have saved ourselves the expense and time it would have taken to put up more shelving, and uncovered more space for actually living in. This little project is about so much more than money 🙂

As much as I have had some anxiety about this process (what if I want this/that/etc. again?), I have mostly enjoyed the act of purging – and B. has been super-awesome as well – he’s bravely dumped tons of personal papers, academic articles, DVDs (all burned to our central storage drive) in addition to sorting out basement bits and pieces and moving stuff around.

Now that all the saleable stuff is dealt with, my next project will be to tackle the sock and underwear drawers as well as the household paper. Neither of those are large tasks, but they are essential to completing this craziness we’ve begun around here.


Spring dreams – around the corner from green…..

Remember the garden last June?

After three heavy reading posts in a row – it’s time for something dreamier, lighter, more inspiring don’t you think? That is, it’s almost the end of January and I’m thinking about the garden again.

Though it’s hard to imagine when I look at the yard right now – sodden, muddy and partially frozen mess that it is – in only a few short months the signs of spring will be upon it, followed by the abundance of summer. Winter gardening, I’m convinced, is not appropriate for my backyard since its north-facing – though I’m curious to see if my winter veggies – brussels sprouts and broccoli – in the front yard take shape in the spring before the leaves come back on the trees and shade it all in again. They are still alive at least, and the plants look relatively healthy. I also have a single broccoli in the back which *is* still alive.

Already my garlic are peeking through, little green shoots of promise that they are every winter….. though it’s a long way off before anything else is going to go in given the very wet winter we are still having!

A first priority this year is going to be to finish the front yard. I’m actually considering getting some hardscaping done in the form of a front-fence/gate just to give our yard a little structure, though leaving the sides open and landscaping them instead of installing fencing. We’ll see how afforadable (or not) that ends up being. Other than that we’re going to keep mulching the lawn and installing perennials (food and decorative) as the finances allow.

In the food garden out back, on the first dry-ish day that allows it, I will be heading out to get compost and mushroom manure for the boxes which all need a top-up. To lighten up the soil, I think coir will be my choice, and I’m going to put a load of sand into at least one of my boxes to make a good carrot bed for a change. Last year I made the mistake of skimping on re-nutrifying my boxes and that lead to less than stellar yields – especially in the greens box which doesn’t get a ton of sun to start with.

In planning for the upcoming year, I like to think of what my favourite things from the last growing season were. Fortunately, I take lots of photos of the garden in progress which makes it easy to remember most of what went on!

Best things about the last growing season:

  • The Bean Tunnel: At the edge of two boxes I erected bamboo poles and grew beans up them – which turned out an incredible crop and the tunnel (vs. the traditional teepee) was easy to get inside and pick from. I’ll be changing the location of the tunnel this year for crop rotation purposes, but otherwise pursuing the same strategy.
  • The Garlic: This is just the easiest thing in the world to grow and I had a stellar crop last year. Not ony did I get lots of scapes during the growing season, but I still have lots of bulbs in my larder from the July harvest.
  • The Cauliflower: I only put a couple of these babies in because of space considerations, but it turns out my yard has perfect cauliflower (and cabbage) conditions. I am going to eschew some other plants in favour of more cauliflower this year. And the same amoung of cabbage as last year.
  • Berries! Both the blueberries and raspberries produced prodigiously last summer (one of my raspberry plants produces right into November). I planted some more bushes at the end of the season along with two plum trees and am looking forward to more fruits from the garden this year.
  • Dahlias: Last year was my first dahlia year, and while I didn’t successfully save the tubers – I am prepared to re-invest in some this year and work harder at keeping them over the winter. I loved having such incredible flowers late in the summer and look forward to more this year.

Worst performers last season:

  • Tomatoes and tomatillos: Not only do I have a cool-ish backyard, by the end of August (when these things are ripening) there is a lot less daylight back there once the sun shifts. I’m going to stick to container gardening a couple of tomato plants this year and otherwise forget about the hot weather crops unless the spring makes for a promising summer. Last year was late and cold, and I could have used the space better.
  • Summer Squash: I get excellent summer squash yields but they tend to get powdery mildew and blossom end-rot which I suspect is from overcrowding.   Perhaps this year I will only plant two summer squashes, far apart from each other and super-fertilize for better yield. Or I might find a climbing variety and a bush variety in order to rearrange my space use.
  • Potatoes: My potato yield hasn’t been great for all the work that goes into the bags (I grow them in burlap sacks). We’re not big potato eaters anyway, so I’m not sure if I’ll bother with them this year at all.

Things I would like to grow some or more of:

  • Snow peas: Every year I forget to buy snow peas for planting even though I have a trellis for peas. Not this year!
  • Fava beans: I know they aren’t a big producer and they get aphidy – but I love them anyway and I missed them last year when I didn’t plant any.
  • Winter squash: I skimped on planting location for these last year and got nothing as a result. But I *love* winter squash, so I’m thinking I might build a little box along the back fence this year in which to put a couple spaghetti squash plants and the scarlet runner beans.

All in all I’m planning for: snap peas, snow peas, carrots, beets, fennel bulb, cabbage, greens, pole beans, summer squash, winter squash, fava beans, scarlet runners, cauliflower, leeks, slicing cucumbers and radishes. The garlic, rhubarb and berries are already well in hand. Not to mention my plum trees which should at least come into leaf this spring.

Just writing this I feel the joy of spring coming on me and also forseeing the need to set some cash aside to pay for it all! But it’s all for the glory of having a productive and beautified outdoor space, and if I start now, I can spread the spending out over several months…..

New sewing– Table Runner


For those of you tired of the long school-oriented posts here is a quick pic of a table runner I finished last night. I have pledged to myself recently that I am not buying new fabric until I have worked through more of the stash… this fabric was a gift from my mother who took me fabric shopping for my birthday back in February. One stash-busting project down!

I also want to note that today I am wearing two made-by-me items. The blue dress from last week and a scarf I crochetes in early summer. Super satisfying!

Lovely weekend.

I’m having a hard time getting going this morning – Mondays are sometimes just like that but after a busy weekend – even worse! But at least I had a lovely and productive weekend to show for my exhaustion today. Sometimes I just feel truly blessed for my life – the love of it, the work of it, the friends and good fortune I’ve had over the past little while.

Starting with Thursday, Brian and I went to see Biographies of the Dead and Dying at the Fringe (Havana venue) – a friend’s play that I would definitely recommend about the processes of living, writing, death all told against the backdrop of a supposedly haunted house on Vancouver Island. Although some of the staging choices were questionable in that they overshadowed the acting and dialogue, overall this is a well-scripted and interesting piece of theatre – and a hell of a lot better than a lot of what plays at the Fringe.

Friday night was spent sortof working – demonstration for UNITE Local 40 at the new Coast Hotel on Hastings Street (Coast is closing their Stanley Park location, firing all the workers and opening a new hotel with new workers just down the street) – and then out for dinner with some union folks.

But Saturday! Saturday was a small breakfast, a hike to Dog Mountain (up on Seymour – 6 km, 2 hours rountrip), grocery shopping for an impromptu dinner party, building more raised beds for the back garden and preparing food for the aforementioned dinner affair. The dinner started with drinks and a meteor sighting from the backyard, progressed to a dinner that turned out pretty well (with the exception of the dinner rolls which would have been fabulous if the dog hadn’t eaten them all before people arrived), and ended late in the night with some singing around a small fire in our backyard. The only hitch to the day was a sofa-bed purchase that wouldn’t fit into our house after all and which Brian bruised himself trying to manipulate through the doors for over an hour….. but at least now we’ve got a sofabed for the studio when we finish it next year 🙂

And Sunday was breakfast in bed by the wonderful boyfriend (I was somewhat hungover from the night before), a drive out to Fort Langley for a union function, and then a trip to the nursery to purchase plants for fall planters and landscape fabric for the next iteration of our backyard project which starts next weekend. Had a brief dinner, a bath and climbed into bed early to read one of the last chapters of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, capping off what was an excellent and restorative weekend despite all the running around and work we did on the yard. I’ve several garden blog posts with photos in my mind at the moment, so will try and get some of that up today as well for more reading on the home front. Lovely weekend though, really.

Sunflowers! (and other goodies)

Red sunflowers.

This is my favourite recent garden shot. I sometimes feel like I haven’t done nearly enough with the garden – particularly when I look at the gardens of my friends – but then I remind myself we’ve only been here since the beginning of May (3 months) so it’s okay. I have a whole garden plan to start working on in the fall, planter boxes to construct and mulch to spread. Should be good. In the meantime you can see all my recent garden photos in the flickr set created for that purpose.

Garden love

Pink flowering dogwood.

One of the things I love most about our new backyard is the pink flowering dogwood tree, which has finished with its flower for the summer (this photo from three weeks ago) – but is now covered in glorious thick leaves which I can only imagine will create a lovely patch of shade in a few years when the tree has grown up a little more. A simple, healthy tree it is – I am charmed by it almost daily. But in general I’m finding myself entranced by our new little backyard – moreso than I have with past gardens. Although I’ve loved all the gardens I have grown and tended, I have to say I’ve never experienced the feeling of permanence I have right now – which I suspect has me a lot more invested in the process of rooting (pun intended). I find myself planning for asparagus, something that takes three years to get a crop from (and then gives for twenty more years), thinking about what type of climbers I would like to plant over the shed (once we’ve redone the roof on it next year), and plotting a long-term project in the front that will involve a pond and woodland plants.

It’s all very exciting, and assisted by the fact I haven’t had to travel at all lately, which has brought me back into the type of home life I enjoy and have missed for the past couple of years. My domestic side and all, something I’ve never been ashamed of even in my days of anarchy (which involved lots of large gardens, open-door potlucks, and home-brewed wine…. all things I want back in my life).

So I’ve got a crazy mix of stuff in the ground at the moment, some of it just seeded, some from starts – a mix of flowers and vegetables with a few perennials dotted about (most of which preceded us and I’ve decided to keep). Tomatos, eggplants, and peppers are something I’ve gone into this year – hoping that the warm weather will hold and I’ll actually get fruits without any greenhousing (my tomatos are already starting to fruit). My lettuces and radishes are ready to eat (planted the first weekend we lived in the house), I’ve got kale and cabbage growing strong and healthy, peas which I’m trying to train up the string trellis, bok choi, summer squash, cucumber, celery, spaghetti squash, and even some corn which I just put in this week (I figure there might not be enough for proper pollination but at the very least it’s an attractive plant for the side of the shed). Basil of course, oregano, dill, sage, thyme, lavender, a rosemary bush transplanted from the front, chives and parsely. And that’s not to mention the random cut-flower blends I’ve seeded in little patches all over the place, including sweet peas, cosmos and blackeyed susans. A little bit of everything tucked all over, I can hardly wait until the intensive weeding period is over and the stuff is established enough to really take over.

It’s a funny thing in a garden, how it seems to take so long to establish, and then overnight it’s almost overcrowded with growth. (I have a terrible problem with spacing, my gardens always look a little overstuffed). I figure I should actually document this garden, at least a few photos per week – so that I can remember next year when I double the amount of bed space with a querr little (patchy) yard I started out with.

I do find myself a lot more attentive to this garden than any before it though, watering twice a day in this heat, weeding every time I bend down to look at something, actually working on soil improvement (feeding all the plants eggshells when I have them), and hoping that my garden will love me back in return. It feels good to have this connection with home again, it’s been far too long since I’ve had one.

Thinking more about writing, post-move wrap

Well it’s done. We’re in the new house, unpacked, things set up and mostly put away, and on Saturday we even started in the garden. How’s that for a week after move day? Seriously impressive according to most of those who have come for a visit in the last week. Lucky us, we could afford to take a week off to get organized (and take lots of baths in our new fabulous bathtub from which you can see the mountains).

That really has been my whole last week though, working nonstop on the house, running errands to pick things up, drop things off, clean up the old apartment, put groceries in the empty fridge. It’s a hellofa job to move, but moving two houses simultaneously is exponentially more work. Not to mention the part where we had tradespeople in to do painting, build shelving and walk through our basement finishing project over the last few days as well. A lot to contend with, but once the art is on the walls you know you can relax and curl up with a book from time to time, the work isn’t everpresent when its visual cues are gone.

I started back on my writing schedule today, delving into a poem I wrote before moving which was critiqued at my writer’s group yesterday afternoon. (A very hungover group I might add, as we had thrown ourselves a little spring cocktail party just the night before). Our assignment before next group is to submit some piece of work somewhere, and I’m thinking the poem I am working on just might be it. If only I can finish the last three lines which I started rearranging this morning. Oh, and the title…. it still needs one that isn’t simply a “working” one. Though I now believe this body of work produced in the last several months is becoming an interlocked collection, it’s more difficult to separate out one or two pieces to go into the world alone. How much they lose when not alongside the others! Still, I want them to stand on their own, and so they must go out in the world soon. I have three poems perhaps ready, a short piece of flash fiction already submitted somewhere, and another four pieces partially worked.

I really feel the need to start turning out more than one piece per month, I’m hoping now with the move done I can focus more keenly on writing, but then I always hope that and it seems the only way is just to keep doing it. Fortunately I am very compelled by the world my characters are drawn in, so it makes it easy to enter and enter again to the same places. Daunted though, I think, and lazy too. Sometimes it just seems *too hard* to start a new piece, and I have to block my computer from accessing the internet so I don’t waste my time in the morning.

There is a part of me still secretly plotting to do a Creative Writing MFA one day. Perhaps if I ever give up the union gig, or lose an election and have no choice but to give it up – then I could justify the indulgence. For now I’ll just stick with trying to get something published…….

I’m faltering here because I just had a fairly extraordinary phone call that I can’t quite talk about just yet. A union matter, and certainly an interesting situation – so I will sign off and write more on that later.