Awesome Thing – Funky Festive Gourds


Festive gourd season! I know. It brings up images of dusty gourds, arranged in a basket, maybe with some Thanksgiving or Halloween tat to dress it up. But these are not the festive gourds of Grandma’s autumn table setting. These little guys are way cooler.

I came across this collection of festive gourds in a produce shop on Roncesvalles Avenue. $4.99 for the lot, they’re from a company called Sunrise Greenhouses and are marketed as “living decor”. They come packaged in a bubble tea cup and when arranged in a dish look like a cross between a bowl of fruit and a terrarium. They’re actually a selection of gourds, cucumbers and melons, and each container includes a red one, a white one, a green one, and five spiky/fuzzy ones. No, I couldn’t discover what each of them are called and the Sunrise website, sadly, has no info.

Why they’re awesome: because at any point, one of them might hatch an alien, or at least a small dragon. Also, because it’s a fun twist on a terribly twee tradition.

Bonus awesome: the fantastic green pressed glass dish that I scored for $2 at the big yard sale at Trinity Bellwoods park back in the spring.


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Lucky Dip – Wednesday, April 24th, 2014


The installations of floral artist Rebecca Louise Law require a lot of patience and absolutely no fear of heights. Law has done a variety of work for companies such as Jimmy Choo, Max Mara and others, and most of her work involves suspending individual flowers from very high ceilings. Amazingly beautiful, particularly the cathedral installations. [Via This Is Colossal]


You know when you bite into a persimmon and it makes your mouth all “sweatery”? Here’s betting that all of the food created by artist Jessica Dance does that as well. Dance works in set design and in collaboration with food photographer David Sykes has created a series of pieces reminiscent of classic meals including a full English breakfast and Christmas dinner. [Via This Is Colossal]


How is it that Paris, regardless of the image in the photo, always looks so romantic and intriguing? Now, get a daily dose of old French flavour with Charmade – Vintage French Photos, a Tumblr full of rare vintage French photos. [Via Messy Nessy Chic]

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Flowers from the Bird Lady


Parkdale, my neighbourhood since 1993, is known for its many characters. People who make the place unique and colourful, people who definitely dance to their own drummer. For 90 some-odd years, one of those characters was Annie Ross. Born in the building that stands on the south-west corner of Queen and Dunn in 1913, she lived there her entire life until her death in 2004. Miss Ross never married, instead running her family’s flower shop at the front of the building, and spending her retirement years in a small apartment at the back where she was known for feeding the local pigeons; thus her nickname, The Bird Lady.

Miss Ross could tell you stories of how Parkdale had changed and grown. She could remember when the lot directly across the street from her on Dunn was a field for horses. She could tell about how the buildings went up along Queen, or how the mansions along Jameson came down to make way for apartment buildings. And she could tell you about books. In a 4-minute short documentary filmed before her death, she talks about how she began keeping track of all the books she read in her lifetime, some 8,600 different titles.


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Flowers and Chocolate

I actually came across these dark chocolate and floral bars well before Valentine’s Day, and if I had my act together, would have posted about them before now. The collection is by Belgian chocolatier Dolfin and is called The Parfums d’Eden. It features 4 different flowers (rose, violet, verviene [lemon verbena] and orange blossom), offered in 30g bars of 60% chocolate.

We found these at Aren’t We Sweet in St. Lawrence Market, but they should be available wherever Dolfin chocolate is sold.

All of the bars smelled and tasted strongly of the included flower, although I didn’t get a lot of lemon either on the nose or the tongue with the verveine. In fact, the dried flowers within the chocolate had an almost tobacco-like taste and smell. No sign of lemon whatsoever. I wasn’t familiar with verveine as a flower – didn’t know it was “verbena”, so imagine my surprise to discover that the flavour is meant to be lemony.


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Fish Fight

If your favourite fish is salmon, tuna or cod (yes, sushi-eaters, I’m looking at you), you’re part of the problem.

It’s not so much of an over-fishing problem anymore, since fishers in most countries adhere to strict quotas. The problem is more that the quota system doesn’t really work.

Trawlers go out onto the ocean, drop net and scoop up everything that gets caught in that net. But they can only bring ashore anything that is within their quota. If they’ve already met their quota of cod, and there’s cod in that net, what happens to it? It gets dumped, usually dead, back into the sea. So besides doing absolutely nothing to stop the “overfishing” of cod, it wastes a lot of otherwise edible fish that could be going to feed people. In most cases, UK fishers are having to dump 50% of their catch because they are not legally allowed to bring it onto land. They can still *catch* it, they just can’t sell it.


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Moldy Oldies

In 2002 or so, I was tested for allergies and started immunotherapy. Mold, dust and a few other things were the culprits, and I had been having problems for years, especially in the summer. Unlike many people, immunotherapy (aka, a weekly needle) worked great for me. Except the doctor I was dealing with didn’t really explain the whole process to me. Like the fact that you do the shots for about 3 to 5 years, and then after another 3 to 5 years, the allergies usually come back.

I stopped getting the shots in 2005. I had broken my arm and it was inconvenient. And the program had worked. I thought I was cured. A couple of years ago the allergies started coming back. The first time was when the lunchlady from the daycare directly below us thought it would be a good idea to start an open pit compost system in the garden below our window. If you’re allergic to mold, rotting moldy produce is not something you want under your apartment windows.

This spring, when every person who had ever been allergic to anything experienced symptoms because of the weather, so did I. And it was bad. That whole itchy watery eyes thing became burning eyes, as if someone had thrown cayenne pepper in my face.


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Spring Things


Due to the mild winter and early spring, we are about 3 weeks ahead of the season here in Toronto in terms of plants and gardens. I’m hearing stories of fiddleheads and asparagus showing up at farmers’ markets already, and the lilacs (which usually are in bloom for Victoria Day) are fully in flower and smelling amazing. So I grabbed the camera when I was out doing errands earlier – here’s what the neighbourhood looks like right now.

I sometimes call this time of year “confetti season” because as the winds blow the petals off the apple trees, it makes the sidewalks look as if they’re covered in confetti. This apple tree on Gwynne Avenue is particularly fragrant.


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Signs of Spring

Out and about today, I saw a number of signs that winter is done and we’re moving on.

Birds – cardinals in the morning twilight as we walked the dogs, calling back and forth to one another. Mourning doves sitting on a hydro line, cooing softly. And while I was waiting for a bus, a whole swarm of chickadees (a group of chickadees is actually called a “banditry”, which is awesome, but these ones were almost swarming) were all over the pine trees in front of my building.

Flowers – no crocuses yet, but there are tiny white fritillaries in many of the yards nearby.

Spring cleaning – people are out raking leaves, picking up litter and cleaning windows. They’re also blasting the spring cleaning music – on my walk this afternoon I heard Lady Gaga, some funky jazz and Guns and Roses, all playing on radios while people worked nearby.

Drunk guys in the park by the medical centre. Here’s to a summer without setting anything on fire.

I also saw my first pair of sandals, to complement the many shorts that people were wearing.

It wasn’t an awful winter really – not a lot of snow, not especially cold. But spring sure is nicer.

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Everybody’s Heard About the Birds

Every year we go to the Royal Winter Fair on the first day, and every year we go home disappointed. Not because the Royal isn’t awesome, it is! But because we always forget that the poultry competitions don’t take place until mid-week. This year, we held off and attended the fair on Wednesday, specifically to check out the hundred of truly gorgeous birds.

I should have been taking notes because I have only a vague recollection of the names of the breeds for most of these, but these were definitely the best of the best. Slightly disappointed to see so few really rare breeds – a few silkies and a frizzle, but not a crested Poland in sight. Still, these birds are all really beautiful, and it’s really interesting to see how much they vary in size and colouration.

The observant will note the absence of any male turkeys  -despite my best efforts the buggers would all turn and shake their tail feather at me, every single time I tried to take a shot.

Thirty or so photos to follow, probably not of much interest unless you’re a bird lover, but they are pretty darn cool.


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Floral Study in Blue

Further to my post about wildflowers, I decided to gather some when Greg and I were at the farmers’ market at Liberty Village  last weekend. There’s a low fence around the parking lot where the market takes place and on a whim I plucked a few cornflowers, some huge red clover and a head of Queen Anne’s lace from the scrubby unmowed grass. I came home and popped them in a small vase and took some quick photos, hoping that I’d get some good ones; the colours match my shower curtain and I’ve been looking for some decent artwork to hang in the bathroom for a few years now.


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Wildflower – Crazy ‘Bout You, Yeah

However you feel about gentrification – and it has it pros and cons – it has to be said that part of its purpose is to clean places up. Clean out the grubby building, the grubby litter, the grubby people and all that grubby scrub at the side of the road. Gentrification means pristine lawns and swept walks. Sure there are flowers, but they’re there on purpose – well trimmed and watered and chosen to make a statement.


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Toronto is known as “the city within a park”. Just about every resident lives with walking distance of a park, although most of these are not huge multi-acre swaths of land, but are little in-fill parkettes. Parkettes pop up in the middle of residential streets, and at one point, probably had houses on them. Now they are mostly  home to swing sets, jungle gyms and a few benches.

The parkette closest to us, the place where we end up a couple of times a day while walking the dogs, has some landscaping along one side. It’s hard to tell if the city planted the bushes and shrubs or if they predate the park back to when there was a house on the property.

Last year, I joined a group of locals in cleaning up the park, as it regularly attracts crack dealers and hookers from the area. Underneath the hedges and shrubs, we came across a pair of quince bushes. The bushes were covered in vibrant scarlet flowers in spring, and piles of little green orbs in the summer.

Regular quinces grow on trees and get as big as apples. Quinces are, in fact, part of the same family that includes both apples and roses. But these were tiny fruit, about the size of crabapples. I had wondered if the fruit were edible, and a neighbour who is involved with the local horticultural society couldn’t tell me, but my Google-Fu told me that what we had stumbled across was an ornamental quince from Japan, appropriately known as a Japonica quince. Further Googling determined that not only were Japonica quinces edible, but they made awesome jam and jelly, because of the natural pectin.


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The Greening of Queen Street

The lifespan of the average street tree is a mere 10 years. Those spindly things sticking up out of 3-foot square gaps in the sidewalk never have a chance. They’re not watered regularly, and so much of their root system is covered by sidewalk, it wouldn’t matter if they were. Add to that the indignities of bicycle locks, overzealous posterers and every dog that passes by and it’s no wonder the trees along Toronto’s major arteries look as if Charlie Brown is in charge of their care.

Except that a few folks along a stretch of Queen Street West have taken matters into their own hands. By pulling up the cobblestone or metal grates that usually surround a street tree and planting other greenery, such as herbs, and even rosebushes, then adding a rustic bit of fencing and a big ol’ stump for sitting on, these trees between Euclid and Claremont Street are having a fine summer.


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House Mouse

We moved into an apartment building totally paranoid about sharing our space with the usual suspects – that is, roaches and bed bugs. We have neither. What we do have is an ongoing gnawing inside the wall under the windowsill in our office, and the occasional sighting of small grey mice in our kitchen.

Having come from an old turn-of-the-century house, we were accustomed to mice. And roaches and one particularly bad infestation of moths. So Mr. Mouse and his family aren’t finding much to eat in my kitchen where food is always stored in containers and never left out.

Before Spook died of cancer in March, the two cats would do regular kitchen stake-outs, and would catch the occasional mouse. One night Bowie joined in and proved that dogs are actually better mousers than cats. But since then, our remaining cat Mollie hasn’t had much interest.


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June Peonies

I had this great plan that I was going to take my camera everywhere this spring and record the progress of winter into summer. The best laid plans and all that, and I seem to have missed lilacs, apple blossoms, tulips, those trees whose name I don’t know but which produce a gazillion tiny little white flowers that smell like yum, and chestnut blossoms. Oh, and the wild roses that always send me hurtling back in time to my grandmother’s house when I was little and the hedge of wild roses that surrounded her front yard.

I did manage to snag a bouquet of peonies though, and kept them on my desk where I could enjoy them all day. They are such a perfect flower for the end of June, all froofy and frothy and pink like prom dresses and wedding gowns.

Despite the only a bit of hot weather so far (a bonus for me – I hate the heat), here it is already, the first day of summer. Longest day of the year. Now we head back in the other direction towards fall. Maybe not just yet -there’s still many more summer flowers to enjoy a while longer.

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Last One in is a Rotten Egg

I sort of wish I had used the video function for this. This is a huge puddle created by a blocked storm drain on a side street off Queen Street West. It doesn’t seem warm enough for bathing, but these pigeons didn’t seem to care.  The funniest was when they’d all flutter their wings and duck their heads in the water in unison. Unfortunately the water had a greasy mucky crust on the top, so nobody here was actually getting clean. But it sure looks like fun.

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Scrambled Eggs

The coo of a mourning dove is very distinctive. Likewise the whistling noise their wings make as they fly. The two sounds alerted me to some mourning dove action in the pine trees outside our apartment window last week and I was delighted when it appeared a pair of them were building a nest.

At first they only worked half days, appearing in the morning, back and forth with twigs and branches. Eventually the hen settled in while the male did the work; she waited patiently for hours at a time for him to return.

Earlier this week she took up full nesting behaviour, and settled into her spot for the long haul. They had chosen a lowish branch about 15 feet outside the kitchen window that seemed to accommodate the nest, and also gave me a good view of the proceedings. I named them Irma and Irving and found myself checking on them regularly.


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The Sweet Spot

Unlike most of Toronto, I’ve not been overly bothered by our cold, snowy winter. Also unlike most of Toronto, I’m out in the cold four or five times a day at least, which is what happens when you replace children in your life with two large drooling, fur-covered beasts. The huge gritty snowbanks can sometimes be an obstacle, and I will curse and wave my fist in the air with a zeal unknown to all but the emotionally disturbed upon encountering an uncleared sidewalk (shovel your snow, cocksuckers!), but the fresh cold air is bracing, the exercise imperative (for me and the dogs), and getting out of the house is a nice break in what can sometimes be a monotonous day.

Which is not to say that the experience is pleasant.

I try not to complain too much because I think of the other extreme. When the cold wind whips my cheeks to a scarlet red, and that little area above my eyebrows and just below the edge of my hat starts to go numb, I think of August. I look around me on the streets and remember the parched brown lawns, and the feel of sweat trickling down between my shoulder blades as I gasp for breath in the polluted Toronto air. I replace the shriek of wind in the trees with the eerie drill of cicadas. The energy to push on against the cold takes me back to the days when it felt too hot to put one foot in front of the other.


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