How to buy a piano in thirty easy steps

1. Be stuck in a chair, nursing. Idly browse kijiji on your phone because breastfeeding is so, so boring. Happen across an ad for a piano. Note the reasonableness of the price.

2. Reminisce about how nice it was to grow up with a piano in the house. Imagine how nice it will be for Anselm to do his piano practice on a real instrument instead of the electric keyboard. Imagine spending afternoons playing hymns and folk songs while your (cherubic and in-tune) children sing along.

3. Send the ad to your husband, subject line: “I want this.”

4. Phone conversation with husband: Should we buy the piano? Conclusion: Reach out and see if it’s still available.

5. Call the number listed on the ad. Talk to “Mike”. Mike can’t tell you if the piano is available since he’s not in the office. He’ll call you back within half an hour.

6. Wait.

7. Phone call from Mike: the piano is available. But can you remind him what the ad said the price was? Put the phone on speaker while you look for the ad. Why doesn’t Mike know this?

8. Kijiji app won’t load. Grab the link from your email’s sent folder and read it back to him.

9. Oh, “Midsize piano rich sound half price for piano and delivery” means that delivery will be half-price, not that delivery is included. Ask Mike how much delivery is. Mike tells you how much of a deal half-price delivery is, no other shop in the city will do it, you know a piano weighs four hundred, six hundred pounds and you’ve got to use the ramp and the sledge, and by the way, how many stairs do you have up to your house? Say you’ll call him back in half an hour.

10. Phone conversation with husband re. updated price: Should we still buy the piano? Conclusion: Mike seems… odd, but sure, let’s do it.

11. Phone call with Mike: Yes, you’ll take the piano. Confirm all-in price for instrument and delivery. Ask when he can do the delivery. Well, maybe tomorrow, maybe sometime in the next week or two, he’ll have to check and call you back, he’s not in the office right now.

12. Rearrange the family room to make room for the piano. Vacuum behind the bookshelf you just moved. Comfort Tertia, who is scared of the vacuum.

13: Phone call from Mike: miscellaneous thumping and crashing noises, muted yelling of men at work in the background. Hello? Hello? Phone call is apparently from Mike’s pocket. The call disconnects. You still don’t know when the piano is coming.

14. Husband is home from work. When is the piano coming? You can’t answer. How are we supposed to pay for it? Well, you’re not quite sure. You didn’t pay him already, did you? No, no. We’ll pay on delivery.

15. Eat dinner. Put the baby to bed. Start Anselm’s piano practice.

16. Text message from Mike: “. 7uhj”. Respond “?”. Receive reply “Who’s this”. Be in the middle of writing your answer when your phone rings.

17. Phone conversation with Mike: Man he’s busting his butt for this job all day and his f’n phone’s sending messages while it’s locked, I mean how does it even do that, well anyway where do you live again? Yeah, maybe tomorrow, he’ll let you know.

18. Resume piano practice. Mama, when is the real piano coming? You don’t know, buddy. Soon.

19. Start getting the children ready for bed. The phone rings. It’s Mike! Mike is right around the corner so he’s going to bring the piano now. What’s your address again?

20. Your husband runs out to the ATM for cash. Perpetua is too excited to eat and wants to stand at the window until the piano comes. Convince her to come back and finish her snack. Time passes.

21. Your husband is back from the ATM. Are they not here yet? No, not yet.

22. Get the children in their pyjamas. No piano. Start reading their bedtime story. No piano.

23. Phone call from Mike. What’s your address, again?

24. Two minutes later: phone call from Mike. Sorry, long day, what’s your address, again?

25. Finish reading bedtime story. Pray. Resign yourself to the fact that the children absolutely will not go to bed until the piano comes.

26. Oh, there’s a truck! And it’s backing over your lawn. There is a lot of inching, adjusting and yelling. The piano is coming! Briefly consider stapling your children’s pyjamas to the couch as a means of keeping them in place.

27. Explain to Mike that even though the family room is right there, the clearance is too tight and the piano will have to take the long way around: front room through kitchen through dining room through back hallway and finally through the family room to its far wall. Maybe this is why the previous owner kept her piano in the front room.

28. Realise that whatever Mike’s phone habits may be, he is a bonafide piano-moving savant. The piano goes all the way through and around the house with nary a hitch. He has been doing this job for twenty years and is in complete control of the instrument, his teammate, and his tools. Thank you, Mike.

29. Everything is in place. Mike and his associate leave with the cash, and a bottle of scotch for a tip. Notice the handy way the piano shows off the slope of your floor, which you hadn’t noticed before. Wrestle the kids to sleep.

30. Joy:

2020: the year that was

2020, amirite? I feel like that date is going to end up as a shorthand for all of us who lived through it: for coronavirus and cloth masks and toilet paper shortages and social distancing and online church and political scandal and civil unrest and case counts and quarantines and the anti-mask lunatic fringe and allllllllllll the rest of it which, frankly, I’m pretty tired of talking and thinking about. The pandemic fatigue is real. We don’t need another post about why 2020 was kind of a dumpster fire, so here is another take — the things from 2020 that I want to remember as good and lovely. They may have been harder to see, but they were there.

First of the list, of course, is Tertia’s birth — this little bobobean filled a hole in our family we didn’t even know was there. She just slotted right in, and it’s been a joy and a wonder to have a baby in the family this year. She is a cheerful, amiable little person. We are so lucky to have her. And we were lucky in our timing as well — she arrived two weeks before her due date, which meant that we just missed out on the first wave of hospital restrictions. The first pandemic closures, while scary, also meant that instead of taking two weeks of paternity leave before going back to work, my husband was able to work from home for about her first twelve or thirteen weeks. It was a real blessing to have him around for the whole of that newborn stage.

The big kids — as we mostly call them these days — have been growing like crazy. We started formally homeschooling this fall as Anselm entered grade one. Perpetua is doing junior kindergarten and it’s been amazing to see how far she’s come with her letters, numbers, and early math just since September. Recently I did some organizing in the basement that left me with a spare large tub, which meant I could finally get all of our craft supplies in one place; it’s so much easier to do art stuff with them now. Anselm has lost two teeth and Perpetua makes me crack up on a daily basis. I’ve been very glad that they have a close relationship, especially this year when it’s been so difficult (or flat-out prohibited) to hang out with other kids. Right now they are being chess pieces and also in a high-jumping contest and a sack of javelins is apparently also involved (?). I don’t try to understand, I just enjoy.

It was a good year for baking! I learned to make sourdough and challah, sometimes on the same day, and I am happy to report that Sheryl, my sourdough starter, is now nine months old and still going strong.

I also made three birthday cakes this year. A strawberry bunny with strawberry icing for Perpetua, a London Fog cake for my husband, and a rainbow sprinkle cake for Anselm (the interior was yellow cake, with vanilla icing). Now, the ‘rainbow’ inside layers were really only discernible under a camera flash, and I learned that next time I should spring for the good old artificial colours instead of the naturally-derived ones… which apparently do nothing. But it was still delicious!

The decorations? Also strawberry.
The London Fog cake: chocolate cake, earl grey vanilla icing, and salted caramel drizzle — all from scratch!
SPRINKLES.
The colours essentially baked themselves out; without the flash they were just variants of yellowy-brown. Oh, well.

It was a productive year for crochet. I completed 5 baby blankets, 6 dishcloths, 1 shawl, 1 decorative throw, 1 Christmas stocking, 1 hat, and 9 squares for my Eastern Jewels blanket. I also got about six or seven rows in to the 16 octagonal motifs for Eastern Jewels, and started a child’s scarf in the last few days of 2020 which I should finish tonight or tomorrow. It’s a fun, very ruffled self-drafted pattern and I’m looking forward to sharing that with you.

Because we bought our house late in the year in 2019, 2020 was our first full year here, and our first chance to experience the garden in the spring and summer. It was a delight to see all the flowers that came up in the spring, and wonderful to have such a nice big yard for the children to play in. The largest flower bed was extremely overgrown; we dug it out in the fall and are planning to put in raised beds for growing vegetables come spring.

What else, what else? I blogged some, I wrote some, I had a poem published, I read some wonderful books, and I continued to enjoy and achieved some personal goals in my favourite game. The recovery from my c-section was uneventful. I discovered, after nearly a year of living here, that there is a pull-out cutting board under one of our kitchen counters. Broadly speaking, we have been healthy, and even happy.

2020 had a lot of challenges. It’s been, at times, scary, frustrating, and lonely. But there are always things to be grateful for, even amid the other stuff. And I am grateful.

Merry & Bright

It was Xmas — Xmas with its mantle of white snow, scintillating from a thousand diamond points, Xmas with its good cheer, its peace on earth — Xmas with its feasting and merriment, Xmas with its — well, anyway, it was Xmas.

“Caroline’s Christmas, or, The Inexplicable Infant”, Nonsense Novels, Stephen Leacock

It was Xmas — sorry, Christmas — and we modestly feasted, went to church-on-the-couch, zoomed with the relations we’re not allowed to visit, and generally worked ourselves into various over-sugared, over-stimulated, over-tired tizzies. There were stockings and presents. There was pie. Some mistakes were made (in case you’ve ever idly wondered whether silly putty is easy to get out of a lite-brite: it’s not). All in all, it’s been a reasonably satisfying Christmas all round. We even woke up to fresh snow yesterday morning — although it has been too overcast to do much in the way of scintillating.

True to form, after having nearly all of 2020 in which to complete Tertia’s Christmas stocking, I finished it on December 23rd (this may be a personal best). I love having a family set of stockings, but I hate making them. There is nothing more boring than projects worked entirely in single crochet. Nothing. But I pushed through with the help of Downton Abbey and Holiday Baking Championship, and her stocking was hanging from the mantel with the others come Christmas morning. We’ll call it a win.

The other big news vis a vis Christmas actually has nothing to do with the holiday, except that it happened on it: I did some laundry. That’s not news in itself, goodness knows how much laundry it takes to keep this house running, but what was unique about this load was that it evidently also contained a sparkly red crayon. This crayon was washed. And then it was dried. I only found this when I pulled the load out of the dryer and found that all of the children’s clothes had glittery red wax spots on them. Merry Christmas to me!

Anyway, if you ever find yourself in a similar predicament, here is how to deal with a crayon that’s gone through the dryer:

  1. Wash everything. Use your hottest water and longest cycle, plenty of detergent, add some OxyClean if you have it, as well as at least a cup of baking soda. This took the spots off 90% of the clothes. Hang things to dry if you haven’t cleaned your dryer yet.
  2. Second round: spot-treat the clothes that are still stained with OxyClean and run them through again, still with the hot water and baking soda. This took care of very nearly everything, and the one pair of pants that still has visible marks on it also has some paint stains from before, so I’m not too bothered.
  3. To clean the dryer: run it for a few minutes so that it gets hot and the crayon bits soften, then open the door and scrub the surfaces with dryer sheets. You will have to do this several times since it gets progressively less effective as the machine cools. Don’t forget the back wall of the dryer, the inside of the door, and all the other little crevices where wax can hide. Once you think you’ve got it all, run a load of damp rags through to make sure.

And that, dear readers, just about sums up our little Christmas en famille. May your days be merry, your jammies be seasonal, and your dryers remain wax-free. Here’s to 2021.

Getting spooky all up in here

Happy almost hallowe’en! All hallows’ eve eve, I suppose it is. We carved our pumpkins this morning; as is tradition, each child got to pick exactly the design they wanted for their jack o’lantern. Perpetua chose a spooky cat:

Her stated goal is to, I quote, “spook the whole neighbourhood to bits!” Chase your dreams, girl. Chase them to bits.

This year Anselm also eschewed a traditional face design, in favour of…

… a milk jug. Why? I don’t know. To scare Americans and western Canadians with the concept of bagged milk? Because kids have bizarro-brains? Beats me. I asked Tertia for her input, but she only blew a raspberry.

Today I roasted chestnuts for the first time! Our grocery store had a big bin and so I thought, well, why not? This was also the first time I’ve tasted chestnuts, and what a delightful thing it is to still be running into novel flavours in one’s mid-thirties. I like them, but I’m not entirely sure what to make of them. They’re sweet, with an aftertaste somewhere between banana and butterscotch, but they’re also rather meaty. It’s a peculiar combination. 

Also on today’s roasting agenda: all those wonderful pumpkin seeds. Perpetua helped me sort the seeds from the goop, and after rinsing them off I added a new-to-me step: simmering them for 10 minutes or so in salted water. Supposedly it makes them roast more evenly; we’ll see how it goes. Right now they are waiting for the oven to preheat.

It’s well and truly fall in our city — the leaves are falling and the overnight temperatures are starting to dip below freezing. We’re stocked up on aniseed for the pan de muerto I’ll make on Sunday, and hot cocoa for when the kids come in from outside. It’s a glorious time of year.

How a loud bathroom fan triggered an entire second-floor renovation

When we bought our house about a year ago, we had in the back of our minds that we would be renovating at some point. The second floor is very 1970s: green shag carpeting, light fixtures that look just like these, and wood veneer wall panelling everywhere. It’s something else. And as we learned over the course of the year, the room we’re using as the master bedroom (previously an office) is not well insulated, which makes it either the coldest or hottest part of the house, but never in the way you’d want.

Still, a home reno is a pretty major project, and since we’d been assured by several people in the know that the bones of our house are solid, we were pretty content to keep it as a “someday” thing.

Enter the bathroom fan.

This fan is loud, y’all. And it started getting louder, and then it started making an alarming whapwhapcrunch sound when it was running, so I pulled the grate off to have a look. It turns out that the little rubber doohickey — yes, I know technical words — at the end of the fan shaft had cracked, which was letting the fan blades slip down the shaft and hit the metal guard bar. Well, not to worry — the other bathroom fan wasn’t working at all (less of a big deal since there is no shower in there) so I cannibalized that, which more or less worked, at least for a while. 

But while the fans were being fiddled with, we started to wonder: where were the fans venting to, anyway? A thorough examination of the outside of our house revealed part of the answer: wherever they’re venting, it’s not outside. Our next guess: the attic? We called in some qualified types to take a look, a process which involved removing part of the wall in Perpetua’s room because — surprise! — we actually don’t have attic access for most of the house. Why would anyone want that? So silly.

Well, we got into the attic enough to confirm that, spoiler alert, the fans don’t vent there either. A second visit confirmed that they are, in fact, venting into the floor joists between the first and second floors of the house. Ok, that’s not great. So now we’re going to have some fellas come out to install new fans, and run some vents out to the actual outdoors. Great! Of course, they can’t shove blindly through the space for fear of hitting wires and other nasty surprises, so they’ll have to go through the ceilings downstairs. Hmm. Well, we’re planning on replacing the upstairs carpet eventually anyway, so why not go through the upstairs floors instead? It’s settled: they’ll go through the floors.

Meanwhile, of course, we still have a gaping hole in Perpetua’s wall. But since that part of the attic is now accessible we might as well take advantage and get an energy audit done, right? The auditor came and did his thing and the upshot is that we really ought to re-insulate… well, basically everywhere. And if we’re going to do that, we might as well get rid of the panelling and the lovely ancient wallpaper we found covering the drywall:

And of course, since we’re taking the walls down to studs, we might as well do the floor at the same time, right? So long, old carpet! (We can see a tantalizing edge of original flooring under the plywood; in the lower part of the house we found beautiful hardwood beneath the carpet. Will our luck hold true upstairs? It’s too soon to tell.)

We did, however, find the chimney. 

And here ends our first update from renovation-land. I’m sure there will be many, many, many more to come.

A dragon for Michaelmas

Happy Michaelmas: a day for talking about angels, symbolically slaying dragons, and (apparently) blowing the dust off one’s long-neglected blog. Phooooot. Michaelmas is a new one for me, but in the spirit of slowly embracing/incorporating more of the church year I thought we’d give it a go. So I made a dragon. And then we killed and ate it. Good times!

The recipe is pretty easy:

1. Start with whatever basic biscuit recipe you’ve memorized. You have memorized a biscuit recipe, haven’t you?

2. Add half a cup of sugar. Yum.

3. Increase the liquid and butter a bit to make up for the added half-cup of dry ingredient.

4. Oops, too much liquid. Better add some more flour.

5. Sprinkle sprinkle, stir stir, sprinkle sprinkle, stir stir, sprinkle sprinkle, stir stir, why the sam-hey is this not coming together?

6. Make a dragon shape anyway. Get dough all over your hands because it’s really too goopy to do this. Fend off design criticisms from the preschoolers.

7. Decorate with whatever you have on hand: dried fruit, in this case.

8. Pop that baby in the oven. When your husband peeks in and asks “That’s a dragon?” tell him yes.

9. When the timer goes off, realise you’ve burned the dried apricots but the centre still isn’t baked through. Cover with tinfoil and return to oven. Forget to reset your timer.

10. Pull when it seems done. Eat dinner and talk about angels and the great war in heaven. Say “after you’ve finished your dinner” about eighteen times.

11. Slay that sucker and dig in.