Monthly Archives: December 2012

Photo Friday: The Christmas Tree

If I wanted to show off our Christmas tree, I should have done it before Christmas, right? I mean, that’s the point – share how ours looked so you can gain some inspiration and a few creative ideas. But, I didn’t share it before and I am going to share it now. We took it down yesterday in order to fit a new ginormous purchase that needed the space it was taking up, but that’s besides the point.

I liked our Christmas tree. This is the third year we’ve had it and the first year the ornaments have actually stayed on it. Mocha has learned and the kitty has stopped playing the accomplice. Perhaps next year, I’ll actually purchase a few ornaments to which I’ll attach some sentimental value.

This year, as well as the red and silver baubles we purchased in our first year, I added a few twine wrapped balls and the thread wrapped V I made for my fall vignette. And then, nestled among the branches, we shoved a cheap dog toy, the kind we knew would be destroyed in no time flat – and was, well before Christmas too.

The only other slightly unique ornament is this, a chunky salt dough bone with Mocha`s name on it. I made it last year, along with a whole whack of other salt dough ornaments that didn`t turn out so well. I love this one though. Kingsley needs an ornament now too, but, despite my best intentions, I never got around to it.

I have lots to show you next week. We spent a good portion of this week on the house. There are some new purchases to share, some exciting new additions to the guts of the house and a few plans I`m looking forward to telling you about. See you next week!

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Filed under Christmas tree

Three Things for Thursday

And, we’re back!

I took a break from blogging over Christmas. I’m sure you’re not surprised. I can’t promise that I’ll be a more regular blogger in the new year. There’s change in the air around here and I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to continue to focus on developing this space.

Then again, whenever I say that, I always seem to discover a hidden bit of motivation that pushes me along for another couple months. Fickle me.


Did you have an excellent Christmas? This was our first Christmas on our own, so it was a little odd and a little wonderful, and a little lonely, and a little perfect all wrapped up in one. I know. A Christmas of contradictions. See, we usually spend the weekend before Christmas with the Husband’s family and Christmas and Boxing Day with my family. But, since my brother got married and my sister had a baby, and since everyone lives so far away, this was the first year, the inevitable year, that no one came home to Ontario. My parents took the opportunity to escape all the artificial busyness of Christmas (and a little family drama) and skipped the province.

It was different. It was a little weird. It felt like Thanksgiving, not Christmas. But at the same time, it was nice. We went to our own church for the first time in the two years we’ve been married. We opened our gifts together after a quick lunch. We had chicken and mashed potatoes and honey glazed carrots and apple parsnip soup and apple pie with a pretty lattice top to finish it all off. The dogs had some delicious frozen soup bones.

And now, we have leftovers. Lots and lots of leftovers!


I do most of my clothing shopping around Christmas time. I’m not sure why exactly. Probably because everyone else is shopping around Christmas time. Also, probably because things are on sale. I love a good sale. So, naturally, two days after Christmas, I’ve been feeling the shopping bug a bit. I’m not so big on the crowds that exist in shopping malls around Christmas time though, so I’ve been satisfying my urges with Pinterest.

Over and over again, this is the look that’s catching my eye:

Skinny jeans or pants, tall boots, a loose sweater, and a scarf to top it all off. Comfortable, warm, pretty.

One of these days I’ll get to the mall.


Since welcoming Kingsley home, our couch has, well… suffered. Mocha already did a number on it, and then there was that time when Mark leaned his full weight onto the arm and snapped the frame. But now, with Kingsley’s claws flying, it’s no longer pretty, nor comfortable.

But, We’re in a bit of a difficult spot. He’s not grown up enough yet to trust him with anything nice. This means we’re not about go out and buy our forever couch, the beautiful chesterfield I’ve had my eye on for a long time. We want something cheap, something that looks good, something that’s comfortable, and something that will hold up to the abuse of two dogs, two people and a cat with grace and dignity.



Filed under Things for Thursday

Photo Friday: Plans for Christmas

This Dusty Household has been ill. Brutally, unexpectedly, suddenly, disgustingly ill. I caught it Wednesday morning, almost exactly 12 hours after returning home from the mall with a bundle of gifts for the Husband. Thursday morning, the Husband was thrown his curveball. He slept all evening last night in a bundle of blankets, his forehead burning.

But, we’ve made it through. And, as soon as 4:30 comes around this afternoon, we’re both unleashing ourselves from our daily routines for ten glorious days. I love Christmas time, when saving just a few days of vacation from the rest of the year means so many consecutive days for sleeping in.

I haven’t thought too much about my plans, but I do know these:

  1. Hang out with my gaggle of nephews. There are five of them! And they are energetic and fun and they’re not as good at reminding me that I don’t want children yet as other kids are because they’re so good
  2. Consume lots of food and good conversation with my in-laws. Fingers crossed I’m ready to consume a huge meal by Sunday. I mean, I’m feeling great again, but my appetite just doesn’t come back so quick after something like that. Know what I mean?
  3. Make a huge Christmas dinner. I’m thinking a beef Wellington. Anyone have any experience with them? Are they as delicious as they appear to be?
  4. Bake cinnamon buns. With maple syrup icing. Perhaps for Boxing Day morning.
  5. Enjoy yet another huge Christmas dinner with our College & Careers group at our church. Last year, we totally forgot about it. This year, we will not! 
  6. Bake cookies. Because I want to kick my animosity with baking. I really do. I want to fall in love with it. Perhaps I’ll try this Christmas.
  7. Clean my kitchen. Because it seems I’m planning on spending a lot of time in it.
There are other plans too. The Husband has his own list. (I suggested a couple days ago that I create a ‘Honey-Do list’ for him and he shook his head and said his list was already way too long and full of house stuff.) There are a whole bunch of little things we’ve left unfinished around the house and a whole bunch of new projects to take on. We have a busy winter ahead of us.


Filed under Christmas, Photo Friday

Almost there: 2012’s 19th book – The Pigeon Pie Mystery

The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart

I started this book with a little trepidation. I don’t usually like books that are set in the Victorian era or, really, any era that involves women taking four hours to get ready in the morning with the help of their ladies’ maids. There is far to much romanticizing, idealizing of these eras which, more often than not, results in a boring book. I picked it up, hoping against hope for a quick read, certain that, in fact, I was going to be bored out of my mind.

Oh boy. I was wrong.

Mink is the Maharaja’s daughter, granted a home at Hampton Court Palace as a grace-and-favour resident after the death of her father. Grace-and-favour warrants are leases granted free of charge by the monarch to subjects for their services to the queen. In this book, the residents consisted mainly of the widows of high ranking officials, especially after one of the few male residents keels over dead after eating a particularly ugly pigeon pie.

Of course, it’s a mystery. It falls to Mink to figure out whodunit because the inspector on the case seems useless and her maid is at the top of the suspect list.

But, the plot doesn’t matter in this particular book. It’s a stellar plot, really. But the point of this book is it’s complete and utter awareness of it’s genre – Victorian era mystery. From the very beginning, it sets out to make light of the setting, the people, the situations. Turn after turn of absurdity and suddenly, you’re at the end, and you’ll never look at a pigeon, a bicycle, or wallpaper the same way again.

This week, I’m on to 419, a book that’s already chilling me to the bone.


Filed under books

Ginger Cookies

I am not a baker.

Well, wait a minute. That’s not strictly true. I make bread. I love to make bread. And I’ll throw together a quick biscuit to go with a soup for supper. Also, I have this brownie recipe from my mom that whips up easy in 20 minutes with one bowl, a spoon, some measuring cups and a nine by nine pan. But beyond that?

I’d rather buy my cookies.

As with lots of stuff surrounding the holidays, I had great intentions for Christmas baking. My mom always used to do lots, starting sometime at the beginning of December and freezing the cookies in old yogurt containers. She brought out a whole spread for us to munch on as we opened our gifts together on Christmas Eve. I wanted to do the same. Of course, we are two people rather than five, so those old yogurt containers would be crucial to the preservation of my waist line. But, as of last night, I hadn’t touched my canister of flour in months. True, it’s not Christmas yet, but I am steadily running out of time.

So, last night, I pulled out a couple bowls, stacked a huge list of ingredients on my counter and went to work.

The problem I have with baking? I don’t know how to substitute. These Black-Bottom Coconut Bars would probably have been delicious if I had actually checked to make sure I have coconut before I set to work. By the time I realized it, the ‘black-bottom’ was already in the oven – there was no going back. No worries! I have oatmeal! Oatmeal replaces coconut perfectly in the chocolate macaroons I make.

No. Just. No.

Frustrated with the flop I pulled out of the oven, I turned my attention to the ginger cookies. No substitutions there. Well. Almost no substitutions. I cooked these up in batches. The first batch, I rolled in icing sugar before pressing down with the bottom of a cup. The cookies that came out didn’t taste bad – if slightly overcooked – but looked just slightly sickly. I switched over to the recommended granulated sugar for the second batch. Each cookie came out brown with the slightest shimmer of sugary stars on top.

I have one slight beef with this recipe: it’s peppery. Which, isn’t a terrible thing. Now that I’ve actually made ginger cookies, and then eaten the ginger cookies I made, I recognize that pepper is an important ingredient in them! I think this recipe though, may very well have a little too much pepper. They’ve got a bite. I would suggest cutting the pepper in half, down to a 1/4 of a teaspoon.

You can get two different kinds of ginger cookies out of this recipe: crunchy, perfect for dipping and getting crumbs all down your shirt; or chewy and soft. The difference is in just a minute or so in the oven. Bake for 9-10 minutes for a chewy cookie, just until their flattened and brown. Or, 11-12 minutes for a crunchy one. Be careful though; they’ll burn fast!

These cookies are delicious. But the whole baking extravaganza was overshadowed by the flop that sat on my stove taunting me – despite the Husband’s insistence that they really weren’t that bad – and the mess of bowls and flour spills and egg shells left behind to clean up.

Probably, I just need to bake more. But, you know… preserving my waist line and all that.

What are you guys baking for Christmas?

Martha’s Ginger Cookies
From Martha Stewart

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus some for coating
6 tablespoons molasses
1 large egg

1. Mix together the dry ingredients. That means the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, allspice, and ground pepper. Remember, if you don’t want it to be as peppery, adjust the amount of pepper as you feel appropriate. In fact, I would take a gander and say you could probably even leave it out entirely. But, the spice does add a nice bit of complexity to the cookie, so I wouldn’t recommend that.
2. Cream together the butter and sugars. Martha says to use a mixer, but I don’t have one (gasp!), so I used the Husband instead. Even if you don’t have a husband or a mixer, you can do this yourself – just put some muscle and consistency into it and cream everything together until it’s nice and smooth. Martha calls it ‘fluffy’, whatever that means. Perhaps if I had a mixer, I would know.
3. Into the creamed butter and sugar, mix the molasses and the egg. 
4. Slowly add the dry ingredients and stir to combine. It will be a little stiff, but just work it in until all the dry ingredients are moist and you’re left with a nice, solid lump of dough. 
5. This step is probably optional, but definitely useful! Spread out some plastic wrap on your counter and turn the dough out onto it. Using your hands, mould it into a flattened disk and wrap the plastic wrap around it completely. Throw the disk into the freezer for approximately 20 minutes. This will make it far easier to work with. I can attest to this: because I was working in batches, my last batch was completely thawed by the time I got to it. It was still manageable, but far more pleasant to work with when it was stiff and cold.
6. Probably a good time to preheat your oven. Set it to 350!
7. Roll the dough into approximately 2 inch balls. Or smaller. Or larger. It all depends on how large you want your cookies to be. Space them out on a cookie sheet (ungreased!) and press them down with a sugar-coated glass bottom. Make sure they have enough space. They will spread out and flatten a little more. I didn’t bother giving mine a lot of space (12 per cookie sheet) and they did end up touching slightly as you can see in my photos.
8. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Keep your eye on them. You want to take them out when they are nicely browned, but not burnt on the bottom. It may take you a few batches to figure out the ideal time for your oven, so I definitely recommend working in batches of 12 until you figure it out.


Filed under baking, food, This Dusty Kitchen

Kingsley and Nan

I found this photo buried in my photobucket albums. It’s from about a month ago. We had met up with Meagan from Row House Nest at the dog park and these two just didn’t stop playing the whole hour or so we were there. Kingsley has gotten even more energetic and crazy the past few weeks, but somehow, even more lovable. He has a serious cuddle streak in him that I just adore.

Hopefully, I’ll get some updated puppy photos for you guys soon. Kingsley has pretty much doubled in size and Mocha got a hair cut this week, so she is looking her best these days. I haven’t been struck with much of an urge to pick up my camera lately. Perhaps Christmas will change that.

More Blogger Dogs

Of course, Nan and Sheamie from Row House Nest
Olive and June from The Self Life
Ike from Decor and the Dog
Shalai and Beemer from The Flipping Couple
Brooklyn from The Centre of our Universe
Kona from Life with a Dog
Boss at Country Chis Renovator
Cody at Merrypad
Freckles at Hernando House
Mr. Mason at The 236
Franconia and Lemhi at House Bella
Mr. Harvey from House of Harvey
Finn from Living In A Green Room

I’m missing some. I know it. I’m probably missing my favourite ones. Help me finish this list, guys! Who else has dogs that we love to virtually snuggle over the series of tubes that is the Internet?


Filed under dogs, Kingsley

Three Things for Thursday

One: Dog Toys

Last night, I posted this on Instagram:

Yup. Mocha’s Kong, split in two like it was nothing. Mocha loved the Kong because it bounced, but she was particularly good at losing the thing, so it has lasted her almost her whole life. But now… we’ll still allow it for a little while longer, but it’s shooting home the frustrating time we have with dog toys. Every time we buy a new toy, especially one with a squeaker, she has it destroyed in 15 minutes. We’re hesitant to spend money on them to get a good quality one knowing that most toys will end up in her stomach – she is particularly fond of chewing them into little pieces and swallowing them, especially the ones with squeaky rubber.

(One day, this habit of hers is going to land us with a hugely expensive vet bill. Or a dead dog. I try not to think about this too hard.)

Now that we have two dogs in the house, having good toys for them, especially for Kingsley and his crazy puppy energy seems even more important. So, last night, I turned to Twitter and Facebook for a little help. This is what I learned:

  1. Kong makes a black version of their toys that is supposed to be tougher for the extreme chewers like Mocha. I was vaguely aware of this, but after so many people recommended it, I think we’ll be replacing this red one with a tough black one. Additionally, they may replace the Kong once – but not a second time. 
  2. There exists a store called Bark and Fitz in various places in Ontario, but unfortunately not Toronto, that will, I hear, replace their toys if the dog destroys them. The friend who suggested this noted that these toys tend to be a little more expensive. If they’re going to guarantee them for the lifetime of the dog, though? Totally worth it. Of course, I need to confirm this. They may have a similar deal to Kong’s guarantee that they’ll replace the toys a certain number of times. After all, they do need to be profitable.
  3. Nylabone. We got a couple of these for Kingsley, which Mocha, of course, stole, and then proceeded to eat. She got halfway through it before I reread the package and discovered that, even though they’re in the shape of a bone, they are not edible. Seriously, our dog has a gut of steel. I may look for a harder one for Mocha (we got puppy ones, since they were meant for Kingsley) and see how that goes.
  4. Deer antlers. This I can agree with! Mocha used to have a deer antler, scavenged by a coworker, and she loved it. We lost it somewhere in the move from the condo to the house, much to my disappointment. My only concern with all bone-like toys is our floor. Will it scratch?
I know I have plenty of dog-loving readers. Do you have any other suggestions? A toy we absolutely should splurge on because Mocha will not be able to destroy and she will absolutely love it? Please, share!
Two: Libraries

I said once that I find bookcases of books in homes to be kind of ugly. Books are shabby. Shelves of them look disorganized and messy. 
I would like to take that sentiment back.
Also, I really want that couch.
Three: Libraries of a different sort

On the weekend, I took a video of the Parliamentary library. I’m not a particularly good videographer (rookie mistake, holding my phone the wrong way…), so I highly doubt that it fully captures the grandeur of that place. But it is, I believe, the perfect library.

If you ever have a chance to go visit, do, just so you can experience that library.


Filed under Things for Thursday

Kitchen Pretty

A few months back, when I posted some shots of my living room, one of you observant readers commented on the range hood that had magically appeared above our stove. I promised that reader a post on it, a post which I never got around to. In fact, my own home has been much neglected on the blog lately. It’s been over a month since I showed you an updated shot of any one of my rooms. So, I thought I’d revisit the kitchen today. It’s my favourite room, the prettiest room in our house. It’s the room I’m most proud of, really.

When you first saw it, it looked like this:

And then we ripped out whole house apart and created a new one for less than $20,000. When you last saw it, it looked complete different, partially because we actually moved it from one part of the house to another.


We have a range hood! I love the look. It’s perfect for our little kitchen. The hood came from Ikea, the very affordable but stylish Luftig. And the way we chose to run the tile up just behind the stove and nowhere else? I love it. The blue is the perfect bit of almost neutral colour that sets off the stainless steel of both the stove and the range hood.
When we first put the range hood up, I was worried that it make the kitchen feel just a little smaller. It’s already small, so the added loss of the space above the stove, for the first few days, made it feel just a little claustrophobic. Then, I got used to it and realized that if I hadn’t known it without the hood, it would have felt as open and airy as it ever is.
These shots are a pretty honest glimpse into our kitchen. Some days are significantly messier than others, of course, and our counters can go days without being cleared off. But, when we do clean up, this is exactly how it looks: ugly bag in the composter, my container of spoons and ladles a disorganized mess, the contents of the window shelves just a little crazy. I’ve kept a string of drying chilies tied to the cupboard handle since the end of September and our counters are never completely clear. Yes, we have a patch around the outlet that probably won’t get painted until we repaint the whole entire room again. You’ll never see this kitchen in a magazine. But it’s my kitchen, a kitchen we built from scratch, and I love ever inch of it.
More of my kitchen:


Filed under kitchen

Bedbugs and The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen

Apparently, when I signed up for Goodreads in July, I decided I should read 20 books in 2012. I clearly remember making this decision, thinking it was a conservative goal for my first year of actually tracking what I’m reading. After all, I majored in English Literature in university! Do you know how much English majors read? (Approximately 8-10 books* per course, with at least 3 English courses a semester, but often more.)

20 books in a whole year? Pssh! I used to do that in 3 months!

As of today, I’m at 18. And a half.

I try to tell myself that it’s really not that bad. After all, one of those books was Madame Bovary, and another Jane Eyre. I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in February. Pretty much all of September, I was stuck on Wuthering Heights, slogging through, wishing it were done. I gave up at 51% complete. Putting a book down before it’s finished and picking up another one is something I just. don’t. do. In short, I haven’t been focusing my energies on easy books.

So, I thought I was doomed when December hit and I was sitting at 16 books out of 20. 4 books in a month when I hadn’t finished a single one in November? But. RandomHouse to the rescue!

While I was in the depths of novel writing in November, I entered a draw for a write-in at the RandomHouse offices here in Toronto and was fortunate enough to be among those who won a spot at their conference tables. It was an amazing experience, but even more amazing were the free books they brought out by the box full for each of us to take home. Advanced copies mostly, even a few for books not yet released. I packed as many as I could into my bag and came home with a nice selection of brand new reading material. If you haven’t noticed, I don’t actually end up with new, written-sometime-in-the-last-two-years reading material very often. So, suddenly, I had this stack of books all written within the last year. Dutifully, I finished my novel, devoured the rest of The Golden Compass, and was subsequently blown away by the first two books I chose to read from the stack.

Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters

Bedbugs freak me out. Pekoe has brought fleas into the house a couple times, which is creepy and itch-inducing in itself, but bedbugs? When I was a student, I got all freaked out about bedbugs once and went into a frenzy of research even though I didn’t have any reason to believe that I had them. This book is that research. It’s that feeling of a slow, ebbing terror that you tell yourself is utterly irrational, while at the same time completely succumbing to the terror.

Bedbugs is the story of a young family who moves into a new apartment in NYC with an eccentric landlady that lives downstairs and a suspicious, mysterious past. And then, Susan Wendt, protagonist, finds a drop of blood on her pillow and her world spirals out of control from there.

At times, the book did get just a little tedious, a little silly. There’s an assumption that develops about halfway through that makes the characters seem underdeveloped airy. But then, I hit the last part of the book and everything fell into place in this neat, terrifying package. Such a terrifying package. So perfect.

Definitely. Read this one.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen

After finishing Bedbugs, I kind of wanted something a little lighter. Something a little less dark.

I have a feeling anyone who has read this book is already laughing at me. 10 pages in I was absolutely hooked, but absolutely aware that the cover sets you up for a cruel awakening. This is not a light, humourous read. I mean, it’s humourous. But it’s not light. It’s the kind of book that has you grinning and nostalgic one moment and sobbing quietly behind your scarf on the bus the next, unable to stop reading.

As described, it’s written in a diary format, by one Henry Larsen who is starting a brand new school in a new city, his whole life shaken by the tragic death of his brother. It’s his journey to come to terms with the life now in front of him, a journey to come to terms with what his brother did.

The ending was perfect for me. Not exactly happy, certainly not finished, but full of such hope, even in the midst of intense brokenness.

And now? I’m reading this:

Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart

I have very few thoughts about this yet. I’m only on page 30 or so out of over 300. But I think I’ll enjoy this one too. Maybe not as much as The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen. Maybe differently than Bedbugs.

This is book 19.

I think I might make it to 20 after all.

And you? What books have you read recently? How many have you read this year? Do you keep track? What were the best ones you’ve read in 2012?

* 3-5 of which you will actually read thoroughly. The rest will, no doubt, just get skimmed. I’ve even written essays on books I didn’t actually read.

(PS. Want to be my Goodreads friend?)


Filed under books

A Bed and Breakfast Weekend: Christmas in Ottawa

I was three and standing with my family in line to go up the elevator to the Peace Tower. We had been waiting for a long time, especially when you’re three. And, here we were. Almost to the head of the line. But there was a problem. I was three years old and I had to go to the bathroom. Right now. My dad missed the short elevator ride and the beautiful view too.  

I only have a vague recollection of this and I don’t remember anything else about that trip to Ottawa. In fact, I’ll admit, I can’t even guarantee that this actually happened in Ottawa. Perhaps it was some other tall building in some other city with a beautiful view. Regardless, until this past weekend, that trip when I was three years old and missed experiencing the Peace Tower because I desperately had to pee was the only experience I’ve had with Ottawa.*

Occasionally, I still like to blame my elementary school for messing up my civic education. They used to do a grade 8 Ottawa trip, and perhaps they do again, but for some reason, when it was my turn to go, they opted to take everyone to Camp Celtic instead, which even the camp staff incorrectly pronounced with a soft C. When the group of us decided that it was time to visit the Ottawa contingent of the Husband’s university pals for our annual Christmas dinner, we decided it was a good time to rectify the situation and see a little bit of Canada’s fourth largest city. We booked a bed and breakfast and drove down Friday afternoon.

Our B & B was perfect. An old house decorated beautifully and simply. Immensely friendly hosts with some mad breakfast making skills. A beautiful, old Weimaraner to stave off any pangs of longing for my puppies.

(Need a bed and breakfast in Ottawa? I would highly recommend calling up Christine and Brock at the Avalon Bed and Breakfast. We stayed in the Sable – cute, comfortable, clean.)

We visited Parliament Saturday morning. My favourite part was all the ceilings.

And the library. Oh, be still my heart, the library.
On Sunday, before leaving town, we went to the Canadian Museum of Civilization. 

And, of course, we did plenty of walking around staring agog at the beautiful limestone house, the beautiful brick apartment buildings, the ancient churches. I could envision myself living in Ottawa. The list of cities I could see myself moving to is shrinking the longer I spend in Toronto, but Ottawa? Ottawa I could make my home.

I love Ottawa.

* We did drive around the city a few years ago when visiting family and friends on the outskirts, but nothing close to a proper experience of ones’ capital city.


Filed under Ottawa