The IKEA Sustainability Project

It’s time to throw back the curtain on a fun new project the family has been working on through the summer! We’ve been selected as participants in IKEA’s Sustainable Living project. Through the project, IKEA invited ordinary Canadian families to use their products to live life in a more sustainable way. What does that mean? It means making simple changes to save energy, conserve water, reduce waste and recycle more, and make healthier lifestyle choices. Saving the planet and her people, one RYET lightbulb at time!

This project could not have come at a better time. As a family, we’ve been talking a lot lately about healthy choices, both for our bodies and for the environment. We’re also becoming more and more conscious about “stuff”: from product packaging to ethical sources to sustainability. In other words, we’re trying to be mindful of ourselves and our environment, in all the dozens of little choices we make every day.

And also, we love IKEA. Seriously. I’m sure more products in our house have come from IKEA than any other single retail outlet. There’s not a room in our house that isn’t tricked out with more than one IKEA piece, from a dresser I was given way back in 1989 (still going strong!) to our dining room chairs (bought from AS IS the month we got married in 1999, reupholstered twice over the years with fresh IKEA textiles and still used every single day) to a zillion lamps and shelves and storage baskets and decorative items to our freshly renovated SEKTION kitchen.

So working with IKEA on a sustainable living project was just about as perfect a fit for us as I could imagine. Plus, I love any adventure that starts with a shopping trip.


That’s me with my new BFFs from the IKEA Ottawa store. 🙂


Our project has been focusing on three key areas: save energy (and $$$!), conserve water, and make healthier lifestyle choices. To that end, we’ve used IKEA products to make a handful of small but meaningful changes. We’ve switched our lightbulbs to energy-saving LED bulbs (did you know LED bulbs use 85% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and last up to 20 years?) and picked up a new cozy rug for the living room, a throw blanket and a warmer duvet so we can turn the temperature down an extra degree in winter. We’ve started using water decanters to keep in the fridge so we don’t waste water running the tap to get cold water – to say nothing of avoiding plastic disposable water bottles. And we’ve been using re-usable food containers to store leftovers and bring healthier lunches. These are just a few of the ideas and inspiration we’ve gotten through this project.

Want to know more, including one small change that will save us more than $100 each year on our hydro bill? Check out our project feed on the IKEA Canada Sustainable Living site. Some of the other participants have also been posting excellent tips for making better choices for people and the planet. My 10-minute update of our threadbare sofa cushions was inspired by, but not officially a part of, the sustainability project as well.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post, and writing about the project on this blog was not a condition of our participation in the project. In fact, I’m not sure IKEA knew I had a blog when we were selected to be participants.

Renovation project: a ten-minute update for an eight-year-old sofa

We’ve been meaning to do something about the sofa for quite some time now. Funny, not too long ago I came across the blog post I wrote in 2008 when we bought it. It’s been a great couch – oversized and slouchy, with plenty of room and plenty of tolerance for being at the hub of a busy life full of boys, dogs, cats, visitors, and a lot of spilled coffee.

blog Ikea old pillows and sofa

While it’s a comfy couch, it’s starting to look more than a little bedraggled. How did I let the pillows get to this state of threadbaseness? Life is busy, yanno?

blog Ikea old pillows

Also, I have to admit that the green and red colour scheme has worn almost as thin as the pillows. Since the first year we came back from PEI, I’ve had in my head that I’d like a “sand and sea” colour scheme in the living room. There’s no room for geometric green and red in my sand and sea vision.

A new sofa is simply not in the budget for now, though. As long as the existing one (and its durable chair-and-a-half companion piece, not shown) continue to do their jobs of keeping our collective toushies off the floor and are not visibly leaking stuffing or aggressively poking us with springs, we’ll tolerate the barely noticeable central sag in the frame.

We’ve been spending a LOT of time in IKEA this summer for a fun new project which will be announced anon. Part of that project was the rolling out of a beautiful new MARSLEV rug which DID match my vision of a sand and sea colour scheme, but which definitely did NOT match with the red and green cushions. You can see it peeking out under the “before” picture above. A new couch was not part of the project, nor were cushion covers. However, when I was perusing the Ikea website and saw not only that they had cushion covers that would fit both the large back cushions and the smaller cushions, and that they had them in colours that were within the realm of sand and sea AND harmonized with the new MARSLEV rug, I could not resist.

Originally, we were going to replace the red and keep the green to harmonize with the new blue cushions, but it was altogether a bit too cool. Instead, we kept the red for a bit of a PEI sandstone flavour, and covered the large green back cushions with a pair of deep turquoise SANELA cushion covers. We also covered the embarrassingly raggedy smaller throws with a pair of light blue SANELA covers, and kept a hint of green and beige with a contrasting OTTIL cover on the third one.

Whenever dealing with IKEA projects, I build potential exasperation with non-standard measurements into the plan. However, to my delight, each pillow fit snugly and exactly into the cushion covers. They were snug enough that I had to work to get them in, but that tautness makes the pillows look fresh and full.

Voilà, a brand new sand and sea colour scheme (and an end to those awful, threadbare cushions!)

blog Ikea new pillows

Total project cost: $62 in cushion covers, 10 minutes of effort. I’m so thrilled with the results! We’re now well on our way to that sand and sea colour scheme, AND we’ve averted the need to even consider browsing for new living room furniture for at least a year or so. That’s a huge double win in my books!

To my delight (and, let’s be honest, surprise) the colours pick up beautifully on the re-upholstered IKEA dining room chairs that I fixed up the last time I was feeling crafty. (Hey, I’m half Scottish and half Dutch; if I can extend the life of an existing piece rather than dump it in the landfill and buy more stuff, I’ll do that every single time!)

Stay tuned and I’ll tell you all about my new IKEA project soon!

(By the way, this was not in any way a sponsored post. I have been working with IKEA, but it was simply proximity to their products – and a lifelong love of IKEA – that inspired this instant-renovation.)

Kitchen renovation phase two: Destruction and chaos

We’ve arrived at the end of the first week of the great kitchen renovation project with sanity (barely) intact. In case you were wondering, it takes about a full week to adapt to the idea of not having a kitchen, and apparently longer to the idea of not having a sink, because I still catch myself moving toward where the sink used to be with the dregs of a can of soda or snack bowl to be rinsed or an apple to be washed.

We seem to be making good progress. We have passed through the destruction and discovery part of the remodel, which was definitely the most fraught with peril. We discovered several code violations in the wiring and a few outright fire hazards that added another chunk of change to the final bill for some electrical work, including no less than five (FIVE!) issues with the oven outlet alone. The previous owner’s habit of playing fast and loose with structural and electrical issues continues to haunt us six years after the fact, but at least the microwave hood fan will no longer vent to the gap between the walls (sigh) and we know that the household wiring is safer than it was before.

Here’s how we progressed each day of the renovation.

Day one was destruction and discovery day. Greasy stained drywall was removed, subfloor pulled up, mystery pipes were revealed, and electrical hazards became apparent.

Kitchen Day 1

Day two comprised more prep work, and the delivery of the bulk of the new cabinets and cupboards. Our dining room became a storage / staging area. Nerves frazzles and frayed.

Kitchen day 2

Day three was dedicated to electrical work. 15 amp wires that ran into 30 amp breakers were updated, dangling outlet boxes were secured, blatant code violations were remediated, and blessed routine was reclaimed from the chaos.

kitchen day 3

Day four brought fresh drywall and approved permits for the electrical, and a sea change from destruction to construction. Yay progress!

kitchen day 4

The one thing that the last week has illustrated is that we were insane to even consider taking on the kitchen renovation as a DIY project. There is no way we could have even identified, let alone dealt with, the issues that have come up so far. They weren’t devastating, and they were easily addressed by the contractors, but from tearing up the subfloor to the safety issues with the electrical, I have been grateful to have someone who knows what they are doing. Even if we did manage to install the cupboards and cabinets ourselves, it would have been putting lipstick on a pig because there were so many small but important structural issues that needed to be addressed so we could build upon a strong foundation.

I’m full of optimism for next week, which should bring subfloors and tile floors and fresh paint. I’m also relieved that the last of the major decisions has probably been nailed down, and I will no longer be frantically Googling various faucet models, ceiling fans and over-the-range microwave reviews. Trying to decide whether the drawer pulls need to harmonize with the sink fixtures may have been the nadir in decision-making “who really cares about this sort of thing?” hell, but we’ve made it through to the other side.

We’re managing meals with a mixture of takeout and sandwiches, and I bought more pre-packaged and processed foods in the grocery store today than I’ve probably bought in the last year. I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought packaged cookies, but hey, there were PC Points for Oreos today so I stocked up. An hour later, they’re already mostly gone, of course.

TL;DR? Week one was long and stressful, but could have been far worse. Having a team we trust doing the work has made all the difference in the world. And doing the dishes in the bathroom sink is far from ideal, but at least manageable. With the backdrop of the situation in Fort MacMurray playing out this weekend, I’m grateful to have my house intact and in one piece.

Stay tuned, the adventure continues on Monday!

Kitchen remodel phase one: In which the schedule gets accelerated

We’d just paid the deposit and signed the contract on our kitchen renovation, with work scheduled to begin in late May, when the contractor sent me an email. “We’ve had an opening and our next client wants to delay construction until June. How do you feel about starting on Monday?”

Um, Monday? Five days hence Monday, you mean? I looked up at the broken cupboards full of stuff that would need to be packed away, the clutter in the living room that would need to be removed to make way for a temporary kitchen, the dining room teeming with art projects and various paperwork that would need to be filed or recycled, and tried to wrap my head around the idea of having no kitchen to make meals or clean dishes for three to four weeks starting in five days. We’d have one weekend to finalize the last of the design plan (we need to pick flooring, a faucet, paint colour, counters and handles for the drawers and cupboards), pack the kitchen cupboards and drawers, empty most of the dining room, clear space in the garage for the delivery of the new cupboards, make a temporary kitchen, and plan a minimum of a week’s worth of no-stove meals.

“Sure,” I replied, because I have no sense of self preservation whatsoever. Carpe that diem, right?

We met with the contractor on Saturday to do a crash session on the remaining details: floors, counters, paint, faucet, and drawer and cupboard pulls. In other words, all the things that I thought were inconsequential. “I am more concerned with the fact of having a floor than what it looks like,” I told the contractor the last day we met to sign the contract. The contractor, who has gotten to know us fairly well by now, pointed at Beloved and said, “So, you’re coming with me to the tile store?” Meh, floors. Whatever.

To my surprise, though, picking out these finishing touches made me almost as excited as the idea of my coveted pot drawers. Since we are building on exactly the same footprint, with no new appliances, and on a very tight budget, I was really beginning to feel like the new kitchen might not be tens of thousands of dollars better than the old kitchen. Then I found out you can get ceramic tile floor that looks like knotty pine, and vintagey-cool drawer pulls that look like they might have come out of an old library. I am really happy now that I don’t have to wait for months to see it all come together, because for the first time I’m feeling really excited about the renovation, instead of just enduring it and grumbling about the cost.

Having said that, I am not looking forward to the next few weeks without a kitchen. We have our BBQ, which has a side burner for pots that I’ve never actually used but I checked and still works. We’ll have the microwave, although it will be displaced from its usual perch above the oven. And we’ll just roll the fridge into the dining room for the duration, so it will be accessible and functioning. I’ve picked up some big plastic bins to store food like cereal and snacks that might smell appealing to the dog, and I invested in a whackload of compostable paper plates. I think it is the dishwasher that we will miss most of all, and I am trying to decide whether washing dishes will work better in the (tiny) bathroom sink or the (awkwardly positioned and not incredibly clean) basement laundry sink or the bathtub is the least painful option.

Saturday and Sunday were a marathon of sorting and packing and discarding and wondering why the heck we have so many packages of yeast in the cupboard, and cursing the multitude of snack bags with less than six pretzels in each. I mostly stayed true to my inner environmentalist, filling the compost and cardboard recycling bins to capacity, but by late in the day Sunday I had abandoned any pretense of careful sorting and packing and was simply cramming stuff into any nearby container with capacity. And I swore to myself that we will never, ever move, because just packing the kitchen was enough to last me another decade.

Here’s the empty kitchen on Sunday evening, waiting for the destruction crew to arrive at 7 am on Monday morning. Before:

Photo 2016-05-01, 6 49 30 PM

After a full day of packing, trying to cook dinner on Sunday night in an empty kitchen was a bit of a disaster. You don’t realize how much muscle memory is involved in a familiar meal until you try to cook it when none of the tools or ingredients are where they are supposed to be! I can’t tell you how many times I opened a drawer or cupboard to find it empty – not unlike when the power goes out and you walk from room to room automatically hitting light switches and thinking “okay, I’ll watch TV – no wait, I’ll vacuum, no wait, I’ll….” Not to even mention the fun of meal planning for dinners that do not require a stove or much clean-up to execute. I’m seeing a lot of takeout and a lot of living room picnics in our future!

So tell me, bloggy peeps, what’s your favourite no-cook meal?

Weekend project: Re-upholstering the dining room chairs

We’ve had our dining room chairs for 15 years now. The summer we got married, we got them from the As-Is bin at Ikea, I know because the words “as is” are still written on the underside of them in indelible sharpie. For the $30 or so we paid for them, they’ve been worth their weight in gold – three moves, two dining room tables, three sloppy kids from high chairs to boosters to toddlers and beyond, and two puppies with the need to gnaw on things.

Back in 2007, when Tristan was five and Simon was three and Lucas was but a twinkle of an idea, the chairs were looking a little rough so I re-upholstered them. (Man, I have been blogging a l-o-o-o-n-g time! Blog is starting to outlast some of the fixtures and furniture!!) Seven years later, they were looking pretty ragged (actually, they started looking pretty ragged at least a year ago, and Bella did not do much to ameliorate the situation) and I’ve been idly thinking about re-re-upholstering them for quite a while.

Beloved and I were running errands in Ikea the other day and we found a pattern we liked, so I picked up three metres’ worth for the princely sum of $30. I vastly overestimated how much I’d need, but I figure I can stash the extras in case of emergency deployment of red wine or other indelible stain. If I were true to form, the bolt of material would sit untouched for months or perhaps years before I actually got around to doing anything with it, but it’s vacation season and my eyes were crossing from editing photos from my latest session, so I thought I’d see if upholstering the chairs would be as painless as I remembered.

Astonishingly, it was. Start to finish, stripping and upholstering five chairs took less than two hours. Here’s one “before” and one “after” chair – you can see why we thought perhaps it was time to re-cover them! I especially like the bit where the entire seam is torn out and you can see the original cushion. It’s only been like that for eight or nine months.

I had considered simply wrapping the new fabric around the earlier re-upholstery job, but decided it would likely be lumpy. The most time-consuming, if not difficult, part of the job was pulling out the staples and de-upholstering the 2007 job. I recruited minions to do that while I worked on the new upholstery.

The actual upholstering is dead easy. I cut the fabric into polygons the same shape as the cushion, leaving a margin of about a hand-width on all sides.

I centered the cushion in the middle and folded up one edge, doubling it over and tucking the raw seam under to make it a little stronger. One staple in the middle, turn 180 degrees and do the same on the opposite side, pulling the fabric taut but not so tight it pulled at the staples on the opposite side, then popped in another staple. At this point, I flipped the works over to make sure I liked where the pattern was centred and, erm, to ensure I was stapling the fabric right side up. (Never assume, my mother taught me.) I specifically chose this pattern because it would be very forgiving – no lines that must be straight, and the print pattern was random enough that it could go just about any which way, and small enough that it didn’t really matter where I centred the cushion. Very forgiving!

Once I was happy with how it was lined up, it was just a matter of doing the same to the other two sides and then stapling about a hundred more staples around each seam. Staples are cheap, don’t be stingy with them!

I didn’t take a close-up of the corners, but I more or less combined the way you tuck in a sheet to make hospital corners (I suck at making beds) with the way you make corners with gift wrap when you’re wrapping a present (I am much better at wrapping gifts.) The fabric is fairly forgiving, so I sort of made it up for each corner, but I did cut a triangle off the end of each corner to reduce the bulk of the fold. Just don’t cut too close to your edge or it will come untucked and fray. And staple the holy snot out of it.

I’m really happy with how they came out, and the fact that I managed to avoid stapling my finger to anything. I figure we’re good for another six or seven years. We’re certainly getting our As-Is money’s worth out of these chairs. 🙂 And then to top off a productive day, I made slow cooker bacon jalapeno beans, roast pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon (thank you Chef Michael Smith!) and roasted Roots and Shoots summer veggies – potatoes, onions, beets and carrots. Damn, I should take a vacation more often!

Hunting a Christmas Tree in Twelve Photos

We went back to Thomas Tree Farm in North Gower (rapidly becoming our favourite!) to get our Christmas tree this weekend. It was a little bit on the crazy busy side, but we still had a great morning out. I love that the boys are big enough to start taking on some responsibility for the carrying of the tree (and saw) if not yet for the actual cutting.

(I also love that they mostly tolerate and occasionally even pose for me when it comes to photos.)

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

Log jam at the tree farm

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

And today we decorate!

Curse you, Michael Pollan!

When I read Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto in 2008, it radically changed how I thought about food and eating. I took to heart then and still try hard to live by his simple prescriptive advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Every time I visit the grocery store, I think about his tests to ensure you are consuming actual food and not just foodlike substances: “would your great-grandmother recognize it as food” and “don’t eat it if it has ingredients you don’t recognize and/or can’t pronounce.”

Because I was so deeply moved by In Defense of Food, I knew I would like his latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. About two months ago, I read an interesting interview with Pollan in a blog on the NY Times. In that interview, he said:

“Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.”

When you cook, you choose the ingredients: “And you’re going to use higher-quality ingredients than whoever’s making your home-meal replacement would ever use. You’re not going to use additives. So the quality of the food will automatically be better.”

I believe that, wholeheartedly. I believe in just about everything Pollan in preaching, and so I was delighted last week to be stuck in the car for drive across the city long enough to catch all of Jian Ghomeshi’s interview of Michael Pollan on the radio program Q. Pollan discussed Big Food and how (pardon me as a paraphrase from my memory of something I heard a week ago) any industrialized food production will automatically choose the least expensive (and therefore lowest quality and least healthy) ingredients, because companies are all about making profits. But to cover up the fact that they are using marginal ingredients (think of the quality of cheese and flour, for example, used to make a frozen pizza) they add all sorts of other things that are salty or sugary or fatty because when our body detects those things it says YUM, and those salty/fatty/sugary additives mask the meh of the mediocre ingredients. And it’s those salty/fatty/sugary additives that are the problem, the huge problem, the biggest food problem of them all.

Jian Ghomeshi asked Pollan about adding things like butter, gobs of butter, to a home cooked meal to make it tastier and Pollan said that you basically can’t go wrong with home-cooked food, and no matter how much salt you shake out or butter you slather on, if you are cooking real food you are ingesting a mere fraction of what you get in pre-packaged Big Food foodlike products.

This makes so much sense to me. SO much. I totally buy this argument. Eating at home is a touchstone in our family. I’m also a rabid believer in the whole “family dinner” concept, and while we do takeout pizza about once a week, we mostly eat meals I cook at home.

387:1000 Cake baking

Before we had kids, cooking dinner meant taking a box from the freezer or fridge and making it warm. I’ve come a long way since then, I have to admit that much. But as I am listening to Michael cursed Pollan and nodding my head in agreement, I am beginning to think critically about what “cooking” means in our house. I think about how I make spaghetti and meatballs, for instance. Box of (whole wheat, natch) noodles, jar of sauce, frozen meatballs from M&M. Um, okay, so not exactly home cooked. But my veggie primavera with noodles and fresh zukes, peppers, snowpeas and mushrooms – I cook all that from scratch. Well, except for the noodles. And the jarred pesto. Hmm. Oh wait! Fajitas, my specialty, with guacamole from scratch and Farm Boy (but fresh, dammit!) salsa. Totally from scratch. Except the spice rub on the chicken. And the prepackaged tortillas.

Damn. There is almost nothing I cook that doesn’t come somehow from Big Food, that is not processed. Even hamburgers with meat I go out of my way to get from the local butcher (ethically and sustainably farmed!) goes on buns from a bag beside beans from a can.

I want to make the good choices, I honestly do. I have a local, organic CSA farm share, for god’s sake. I am But I stood in the grocery store the day after I listened to that interview and I was paralyzed. What can I buy? What can I make for dinner? How can I possibly conceptualize and home-cook from scratch seven dinners that all five people in my house will eat and not completely lose my ever-loving mind? And then do it all again the next week? And the next?

By the time I reached the check-out, I had completely capitulated. Not only were the usual suspects in my cart (cans of beans, jars of sauce, those amazing chicken dumplings from the freezer section) but also several signs of my utter resignation: sugary cereal, frozen waffles, a bag of chips so big it needed its own shopping bag.

Curse you, Michael Pollan. Curse you for opening my eyes, eyes which I thought were already wide open for the love of god, and making me think about eating all over again. I’m afraid to read your bloody damn book in case it makes me think even more because my head may just explode.

Deep breaths.

Now that we’ve eaten the can of beans and the pre-prepped macaroni salad, I’ve shaken off my ennui and vowed to try again. If I’ve made the leap from simply heating crap up to making large swaths of most of our meals, I can incrementally start to cook more and more from scratch, right? Maybe even start with the basics?

You think the family will mind if we have home-made from scratch spaghetti sauce on noodles from a box four times next week? Because the older I get, the harder it is for this dog to learn new tricks.

The one where she set the stove on fire

We’ve had the new oven for maybe three or four months now. I like it, which makes it seem even more odd that I’d set it on fire. My first kitchen fire EVER, no less. I know, lousy cook and hopeless klutz that I am, you’d think kitchen fires would be a regular occurence for me, yes?

Well, I didn’t SET it on fire. It sort of set itself on fire. Cautionary tale #1: don’t use the maximum burner settings. Did you know when you set the burners to max they get infinitely hot? My friend Yvonne once liquefied a high-end pot when it boiled dry and I have never forgotten that lesson she learned on my behalf. I’m sure if you left the burners on max for a day or three you could go thermonuclear with those little coils.

No, what happened was that the plastic bag on the corn tortillas melted and then fused with the nylon cutting board resting on top of them, and I think it might have been the tortillas that combusted. Cautionary tale #2: don’t put crap on your burners. Even when you think you’re not using them.

As I said, it’s been three or four months since we got the new oven, but I am clearly having a hard time adjusting to the fact that the dials that control each burner are in a different spot than they were on the old stove. The inside dial controls the FRONT burner on this stove, not the rear burner. I’ve made the mistake a few times before and always feared someone *ahemmeahem* would put their fingers on the front burner that I’d accidentally turned on to boil the pot on the rear burner, which is a really ineffective way to boil a pot of water, let me tell you. Cautionary tale #3: once you commit to a certain burner-dial configuration, you are wedded to it for all the stoves you will ever own in your entire life and YOU SHOULD NOT MESS WITH IT.

I was completely oblivious to the blaze on the stovetop as I was busy at the sink pouring bleach into the compost bin to kill a surprise mould build up while I waited for the pot to boil, and I am very grateful that Beloved in the dining room and Tristan coming up the stairs both shouted out some sort of “hey, is that a fire?” sort of alarm. Beloved and I managed to contain the blaze, me by flinging the melting tortilla-cutting-board-mass off the burner and him by using his Super Freeze Breath powers to blow it out. (And he wasn’t even wearing his T-shirt with the big S on it!) I was impressed that he could blow it out, since pretty much the whole burner was flaming. Cautionary tale #4: go check your fire extinguishers RIGHT NOW. I haven’t looked at ours since I stashed it under the sink when we moved it and I’m not sure I could have remembered how to use it in a panicked situation or whether or how often they need to be replaced. Also, check your smoke detector batteries while you’re at it. And hug your mother.

In the end, the damage was limited to one sacrificed cutting board, one inedible bag of corn tortillas, and a bit of a mess. We managed to rub, scrape and peel most of the charred plastic bits off the burner, and I’ll take one more go at it tonight before I retry the burner UNDER CAREFUL SUPERVISION to make sure we got all the flammable bits off. Cautionary tale #5: from what I’ve been told, had this been a smooth-top oven I would have had a lot more damage with which to contend. At worst I would have had to replace a single coil, but even that may not be necessary. And the coil-top range was way cheaper than the smooth-top ones, too. Cheap is good, if you plan to regularly set fire to them, right?

It was only much later that I realized the true travesty of this whole event was the missed opportunity for a visit from the local fire department. Damn. You think it’s too late to call them over? You know, just to make sure everything is safe? It’s not like they’re not familiar with the location

Okay bloggy peeps, ‘fess up. What have YOU set aflame in the kitchen? Surely I’m not the only one!

A very long ramble about about the time the coffee maker died and she lost an entire Sunday to the quest for a new one

On a Sunday morning already off to a rocky start by virtue of it starting at 5:15 am, and further compromised by the need to stand barefoot outside on the frozen patio bricks in nothing but a nightgown trying to encourage a suddenly willfull puppy to pee on the outside instead of the inside of the house, you can imagine my elevated level of dismay when I poured fresh water in to the coffee maker only to have it promptly pour back out of the coffee maker and all over the countertop and the floor.

Assuming it was some sort of fluke or gravitational flux or that perhaps I had just missed the reservoir entirely, I doggedly went through the motions of trying to force water into the coffee maker three more times before giving up. Water was definitely egressing from the coffee maker from parts that never previously leaked. And that’s how I ended up at the Manotick Tim’s drive-through before six on a Sunday morning, wearing boots but no socks and mismatched flannel pants with my nightgown under my coat. Don’t judge me, I needed BOTH of the XLs I ordered.

63:365 Please play again

In the way that only the highest magnitudes of crises can do, all potential plans for Sunday were scrapped in favour of acquiring a new coffee maker. While waiting the necessary aeons for the big box stores in Barrhaven to open, I surfed the web to read reviews, compare prices and hunt for sales. Did you know the highest-end coffee maker at Best Buy retails for a stunning $2100? That’s more than I paid for my camera. Seriously, that is stupid-expensive – for that much, it better come with a Barista named Cody who serves my daily coffee in his ripped jeans and a white t-shirt. […]

What? Oh sorry, are you still here? Got distracted by something for a minute there… ahem.

Anyway, long story shorter (but sadly for both of us, not by much) I started out at Bed, Bath and Beyond because I had a coupon. In my life, it’s always about the coupon. But they had only a few models, one or two bargain basement cheapies and several more progressing from $100 up to “are you kidding me?” They had one higher-end one I liked, and I knew my mom had picked up the same one. I was nervous, though, about the re-usable filter. We’re on a septic system and I am absurdly paranoid about coffee grounds going down the drain and somehow blocking up the holes in the pipes in the septic drainage bed. (Reason #297 you should never read the Internet – septic system paranoia.) Standing in Bed Bath and Beyond trying to google whether I could use paper filters, I found out they had the same model at Costco for about $50 less. AND that I could use paper filters for it.

Hmmm. $50 savings versus Costco on a Sunday morning. At what price sanity? Ah, what the hell, Beloved has the kids, I can just nip in and out. (Are you laughing? Yeah. My ability to delude myself astonishes me.) So I get to Costco and it’s a madhouse. Like Christmas-bananas. And when I finally give up searching for this elusive deal and find a clerk to help me (no small feat in itself) I hear those dreaded words: web-only deal. So I go back to the two or three models they actually have and start googling them and realize that the one they have in stock sells for $130 at Canadian Tire but is on sale here for $70 AND I have my annual rebate cheque thingee and I’m in Scottish-Dutch heaven with the good dealiness of it all. Totally worth my sanity and the hour of my time it takes to buy one coffee maker and a container of guacamole. (I never go to Costco without buying guacamole. It’s why I have a membership. I’m not one of those people who spends $400 every time I go, but I never leave without buying my guac.)

So I’m driving home and thinking that I’m going to unpack it right away because by now it’s lunch time and I’ve been up for seven hours and had only two XL cups of coffee and that’s clearly not going to get me through the rest of the day and I really need another cup of coffee now so let’s take this baby for a test drive. And I plunk it down on the counter, slide it against the wall and grab the cord – which only reaches half way to the socket. I pull and jiggle and tug and still have only about 30 cm of cord. WTF? So I check the instructions, which helpfully tell me that my machine is equipped with a short safety cord, and is not recommended for use with an extension cord. Seriously? That’s a feature?

And so it went back in the box and I went back in the car and drove to Canadian Tire, where I stood scowling and muttering at the row of coffee makers, now willfully refusing to pay full price after having been denied my most excellent deal. I refuse to consider the higher-end machines, but after a lifetime of coffee machine buying, I know the $20 model will probably only last a year and I do not want to be spending any more time in the coffee maker aisle in the foreseeable future. I briefly consider the Black and Decker that is on sale, but when I read the reviews I remember our last two B&D carafes which poured more coffee on to the counter than in to the mugs. I pace agitatedly up and down the aisle a few more times, thinking of the 20% off coupon I still have in my pocket for Bed, Bath and Beyond across the street, and finally give up and end up back where I started three and a half hours before.

Rankled that I now seem doomed to spend $100 (minus 20%) on a coffee maker, far more than I have ever previously spend on one, I narrow down my selections to three choices, now rating models first based on cord length and second on price and throwing pretty much every other feature to the fates. I do one last set of googling and find the reviews on the one I am about to buy are terrible, with more than half the reviewers giving the model one star and the main complaint being leakage. Um, isn’t that how I ended up here in the first place? The Krups model beside it gets moderately good reviews and I find out that Future Shop next door is selling it for $85 instead of $100. I haul it up to the cashier and am pleasantly surprised when she says yes, they will pricematch if I can show them the online price. Thrilled that my $100 coffee maker will only cost me $68, which still seems pricey but perhaps necessary for a life-giving source of coffee, I triumphantly whip out my 20% off coupon and am crushed when she looks at it and says “Oh no, sorry, we can give you the price match or the coupon, not both.” Too tired and weak from the hunt to put up a fuss, I hand over my debit card. Whatever. Take whatever you need, just please let me be done shopping for coffee makers now.

By the time I get home (again) it is midafternoon. I am a little too excited when I am able to plug in the machine, and run a quick cycle of water through before actually brewing a pot. Finally, nine hours (and four stores and three coffee makers) later, I have a pot of coffee.

Some things are worth waiting for!

So tell me, do you read online reviews when you’re shopping? There are some products (like coffee makers!) where I give them lots of credence, but for movies and camera equipment, I find the reviews annoy me more than they help. How much credence do you give online reviews in your decision-making process?

In which she decides that maybe she doesn’t like living in the countryside so much after all

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 1

What a gorgeous day to be outside. Yanno, I really don’t mind raking up the leaves. I rarely have an excuse to come out and enjoy the yard this time of year, and it will be a long cold winter. It’s nice to be able to get out and do a bit of raking. I’m sure if I break the task down over a couple of days, it won’t seem like much of a burden. Such a small price to pay for having so many big trees on our property, and great exercise, too! *whistles a happy raking tune*

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 4

Okay, seriously? Where are all the oak leaves coming from? We don’t even have an oak tree!!

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 7

Wow, I’ve already filled seven bags and I’ve barely moved out of this corner of the front yard. Maybe I’d better recruit the boys to give me a hand.

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 6

“Boys! Did you just dump that bag so you could jump in the leaf pile?!”

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 10

Man, I am going to write a brilliantly witty blog post as soon as I get my hands on the computer. I’m sure I’ll be able to remember these great ideas later!

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 11

What was that brilliantly witty idea I had again?

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 12

This is exhausting. Maybe I should try the electric leaf-blow/suck thing my parents brought over.

[45 sweaty minutes later, still bag 12]

Never mind.

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 14

Note to self: next year, try to cut the lawn at least once in September or October. This is less like raking leaves and more like combing out tangles in places.

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 19

Dear Mother Nature, why why oh WHY did you think it was a good idea to make the dead birch leaves look SO MUCH like dog poop? Really, was that necessary?

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 23

I think I’m starting to lose the feeling in my fingers. Also, I think the squirrels are mocking me.

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 25

Sweet farking Jebesus, will I never be finished raking these leaves? This is like Sisyphus meets Groundhog Day with leaves…

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 28

YOU! Silver maple in the corner! Drop yer goddam leaves already!! I’m not doing this again next week.

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 30

You know what I really love? I love it when the half-full bag collapses just when you’re inserting a gigantic load of leaves and it tips and spills not only what you’ve got on your rake but the leaves that were already in the bag because I’ve got nothing else to do except rake and since I’m raking I would really love to rake the same leaves more than once…

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 31

I’ve now lost all feeling up to my shoulders and can’t get the taste of pine needles out of my mouth. My hands are contorted, perhaps permanently, into rake-shaped claws. And still, I rake. And rake. And rake.

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 33

I see you, fancy neighbour with the fancy leaf-sucking tractor. Oh yes, I see you, don’t think I don’t, sitting high on your pretty little tractor with your jaunty little hat and NOT RAKING UP YOUR LEAVES AT ALL.

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 36

Stupid trees. Stupid leafs. Stupid semi-rural stupid countryside. That’s it, we’re moving into a condo downtown next week.

Annual leaf rake-up, Bag 39

“What do you mean ‘what am I doing?’ What does it look like I’m doing? I’m duct-taping this flashlight to my rake. It’s getting too dark to see and I’m not done yet. I can’t stop now, there are MORE LEAVES TO RAKE. MUST RAKE LEAVES. WHAT DO YOU MEAN I SHOULD STEP AWAY FROM THE RAKE?!?!?”

Final tallies for 2012:

Number of bags filled: 47
Number of canisters filled (mostly with twigs): 4
Number of rake-hours invested across the family: 17
Number of rake-hours invested by me personally: 12
Number of times I hit myself in the head with a rake: 6
Number of rakes destroyed: 1
Number of blisters and bruises on my hands despite wearing garden gloves: 4
Number of witty blog posts composed in my head while raking: 7
Number of witty blog posts actually written: I’ll leaf it to you to decide